Organizational Training Lessons from Universities


This post is adapted from content originally posted on the Enspire Learning Blog

Better learning, better retention, better transfer, and better business results — critical goals of any organization’s training and development program. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve these training outcomes in our classrooms and online training offerings. Have you ever wondered about how our nation’s most prestigious universities pursue these same goals?

UT Austin is engaged “in reinventing higher education in the 21st century” by applying the latest evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning. We're excited to see these approaches in learning sciences and instructional technologies applied to corporate and non-profit organizations’ learning programs.

Below, I’ve distilled the basics of several higher-ed transformation lessons that you can integrate into your training.

Flip It
You’ve probably heard about and even used a flipped classroom approach: out-of-class readings or viewings (often in the form of video lectures) cover base content knowledge acquisition while in-class activities focus on deeper thinking and application. One skeptical faculty member said to me, “flipping the classroom used to be called homework.” But there’s actually quite a bit more to “flipping” instruction.

More than a methodology, the flipped classroom is a huge shift from teacher-centric instruction to learner-centered pedagogy. Beyond replacing the classroom lecture, it’s more about how to better use the social learning venue of the classroom. Done well, student participation, interaction, and personalization all increase. The instructor’s role is vital to guiding students to deeper thinking and applications of the content.

For additional information, check out UT Austin’s resources on “flipping” a class.


Trade Tasks
Too many instructional activities and too much class time concern “getting to the right answer.” However, the best of the academy say that “getting into the mistakes” is a highly effective instructional technique.

I attended an interactive talk by mathematician Dr. Michael Starbird in which he said “Mistakes are directive — they highlight unforeseen opportunities and holes in your understanding. They show you which way to turn next, what needs to change.”

Professor Starbird suggests that instructors “trade tasks.” Rather than a focus on producing right answers, focus student attention on investigating their mistakes and raising essential questions about a problem. Starbird said its far better to “use the insight from your mistakes to identify the features of a correct solution to your problem.”

This makes sense to me because it develops critical thinking and problem solving skills with the content, and in turn enables flexible transfer of learning to other problems.

Hear Dr. Starbird talk about the usefulness of mistakes in this Youtube video produced by the UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences.

Peer Instruction
We saw examples of peer instruction implemented with the Learning Catalytics system. Peer instruction – also originating from the Mazur Group at Harvard – posits a teaching “by questioning instead of telling” methodology.

Students prepare for class by doing readings and answering questions about those readings; the in class, the instructor poses prepared concept questions. Students answer the questions using Learning Catalytics and review the group responses with the instructor. Does he or she still support their response? Students then pair up with one or more other students to convince others of their thinking and answers. Afterward, students commit an individual answer again and review the results again.

While many instructors use activities that require students to “turn to your neighbor,” the main operational factor here is that nothing clarifies thinking and ideas better than explaining them to others. According to Mazur, peer instruction helps teachers drive out misconceptions, diagnose hang-ups, enable real understanding and real-world transfer, and quickly adapt to student needs for further review or explanation.

For more about peer instruction, check out Turn to Your Neighbor – The Official Peer Instruction Blog moderated by Dr. Julie Schell.

Questions Instructional Designers (Should) Ask Every Day

Questions Instructional Designers (Should) Ask Every Day

What are the business objectives?

It is always important for corporate trainers and instructional designers to remember the guiding question: What are the business objectives?

If this sounds over corporatized, there’s an angle of business learning that you’ll want to consider: program participants who feel their training isn’t relevant to their work are unlikely to be as invested. 

If you don’t know what the business objectives are and how they connect to your training, then your learners won’t either. This is not good.

Learning at Southwest Airlines

Last week the Abilitie team was lucky enough to spend some time with one of our long term partners, Southwest Airlines and got to take a tour of their Southwest University facilities. 


It was a treat to learn more about Southwest University and see where the magic happens for Southwest Airlines growing population of leaders.

“It is incredible to see an organization that truly does invest in it's people and those investments definitely pay off,” Lauren O’Neill. 


Abilitie is grateful for the 10 year relationship we have with this incredible organization and we are excited to see what the partnership holds in the future. 


Thank you to the SWA Learning & Development team for hosting us! 

Margin Notes: Are you utilizing surprise in your corporate learning?

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Be honest. Were you expecting to see a cat playing with a fidget spinner on Abilitie’s blog? Do you know what that GIF and your amygdala, a pleasure center in your brain, have to do with each other?

I’ll hazard a guess that you were not expecting the cat and that you don’t know the connection between the cat and your amygdala. It will all come together.

You’ll remember this post as the one on Abilitie’s blog that kicked off with a GIF of a cat playing with a fidget spinner (surprise hit of 2017) and then asked you if you know anything about the amygdala. 

The image was unexpected, I’ve repeated the statement in different words four times, and (bonus) I picked a picture that was likely to make you laugh. Moments of surprise, especially moments of surprise pleasure, help to anchor memories in the brain. This post is a basic example of the power of surprise.

This is a margin note meant to get our brains moving a little bit, so I won’t dig too deeply into the science (you can read up on that here and here). 

All I’ll do is prompt the following question: are you spending much time thinking about your learners’ attention? If you are, how are you optimizing your learning to keep their attention? Do you use moments of surprise and unpredictability?


Margin Notes: Managing for Rest

Margin Notes: Managing for Rest

Note: Margins Notes are quick, 250-word or shorter posts that aim to pose a question and get our mental juices flowing. Check out the first Margin Notes post here.

Is it a manager’s business to think about if her employees are resting? This may sound like micromanaging. That’s an understandable fear, but there is evidence to suggest that managers who think about their team’s work but not their rest are missing out.

We learn best through experience — so how can you make that happen?

We learn best through experience — so how can you make that happen?

We think a lot about experiential learning at Abilitie. Clearly, we believe in its power -- learning through experience is at the core of each of our business simulation offerings. That said, experiential learning is not a learning tool that begins and ends with simulations. There are many ways that you can begin to incorporate experiential learning methods into your organizational development programs. In this post, I’ll outline what experiential learning is, why you should be capitalizing on it in your corporate learning, and how to incorporate it seamlessly into what you’re already doing.

Who Should You Share Your Leadership Development Plan With?

Who Should You Share Your Leadership Development Plan With?

Understanding the “Action” of your Development Plans

The phrase “Development Plan” gets thrown around in learning and development departments so often that, for many, it has lost its meaning. Far too often, organizations make a goal to create employee development plans, they meet and craft goals, and then they never see any action taken. Business returns to usual and the development plan is left in the dust.

There is an argument for keeping your action plan to yourself. Studies show that telling people about your goals can actually result in a momentary feeling of success that can knock you off your path to real success. The thinking goes that if you tell people about your plans to be better, their support is as encouraging as success is and can actually decrease your motivation to succeed -- what’s the point when you’ve already gotten the positive affirmation from the people you told about your plan?

While there’s good science behind that belief, we think it’s not quite so simple.

Margin Notes: Hyper-specialization in an Organization

Margin Notes: Hyper-specialization in an Organization

As early as 2011, experts were concerned and excited by hyperspecialization in the 21st Century. The basic idea: As the market explores the potential of the knowledge economy, specialization can surpass traditional divisions of marketing, sales, operations, and research. New organizational structure allows for micro-divisions of labor -- let’s take marketing for example.

October Funday: Archery Training

We found out a couple things at our most recent Friday fun day company outing -- archery and bowling are apparently the two safest sports & our Director of Engineering Trey Reynolds is as excellent a shot as he is a colleague. 

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When it was Lila's turn to plan our fun day, she knew exactly what she wanted to organize: archery. Like the truly thoughtful person she is, she provided an excellent selection of snacks and beverages to accompany our team archery lessons just before Halloweekend. We had a group lesson followed by several rounds of arrows for each of us. 

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We were glad that we got to share our monthly fun day with our European operations head, Nathan Kracklauer. He doesn't get to see everyone too often, but it was a happy coincidence that his annual visit fell on the day we went to the archery range and spent some time team building.


The experience was a ton of fun. We recommend a group archery lesson to any team that is looking for something fun and creative to get them out of the office!


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