A Better Way To Train: Synchronous, Active Learning

Technology training is important. Competence-based assessments are a great technology training tool. At the outset, assessments permit trainees to test out of training they do not need. By identifying competencies and deficiencies, assessments serve as the basis for tailored training plans. Assessments then validate that training has been effective.

As formulated above, training occurs separate from the competence-based assessments. It need not be this way. Competence-based assessments can be paired with synchronous, active learning to deliver an immediate, individualized training curriculum.

Synchronous learning is premised on immediate feedback. A standard assessment runs the trainee through a series of tasks and returns a score at the conclusion of the assessment. The scoresheet identifies what was missed and serves as a guide to remedial training. By contrast, a training assessment informs the trainee after each individual task whether or not they performed the task correctly. If the trainee performs the task correctly, they move on. If the trainee performs a task incorrectly, the trainee can hit a Back button and then a Help button to get immediate training (e.g., a video walkthrough). Once the training is complete, the trainee can try the task again. A synchronous training loop is created: try->feedback->train->try->succeed.

The “try” links in the loop are the active component of the learning. Rather than passively taking in a demonstration, active learning permits the trainee to practice the target skill. How much practice is needed varies by trainee. The advantages of active learning for skill acquisition and retention has considerable support in the pedagogical literature.

To provide a concrete example, imagine training on a simple Word function like Turn Off Track Changes. Traditionally, a trainer or video would demonstrate the steps. Depending on how in-depth they wanted to get, the demonstration might take between 1 and 3 minutes. A trainee utilizing a competence-based assessment and already familiar with the function would perform the task in about 10 seconds. They could move directly to the next task instead of sitting through unnecessary training. 

A trainee unfamiliar with the function would still be prompted to try to figure it out. That is, the live environment encourages them to explore and engage. If they are unable to come to the right conclusion through their own efforts, they are, upon hitting the Submit button, informed that they did not perform the task correctly. They can then hit the Back and Help buttons to go through the training. The trainee then re-attempts the task and, if necessary, reviews the training, until they complete the task correctly. If they prove unable to get it on their own, the trainee and the task demand the personal attention of a professional trainer.

In the above scenario, every trainee eventually demonstrates the ability to use the function. In traditional training, all we know is they sat through a demonstration. Likewise, in traditional training, ever trainee sits through every demonstration regardless of their pre-existing knowledge. With competence-based assessments paired with synchronous, learning, total training time is drastically reduced because no one has to re-learn that which they demonstrably know.

Importantly, competence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning do not replace professional trainers. The machine is an augmentation that ensures that the trainer’s time is properly leveraged.  First, we are in the nascent stages of computer-mediated training. There are very few tools for which competence-based assessment and synchronous, active learning are currently available. Second, even when the machine can deliver training content synchronously, the content being delivered is still the product of professional trainers. Third, computer-mediated training is an intermediary step that identifies who requires live training. The assessment convinces the user of the need and provides the trainer with a list of identified deficiencies that the user has been unable to address through self-directed learning.

I want to make training more efficient and effective because I am so convinced of its importance. “Legal rules and procedures, when placed alongside ever-changing technology, produce professional challenges that attorneys must meet to remain competent.” Training is essential to meeting these challenges.

Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

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