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.

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