Balancing Guidance With User-Driven Learning Strategies

Author: emick
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Brenda Sugrue, EY's global chief learning officer.
Brenda Sugrue, EY’s global chief learning officer.

As the volume of learning content explodes, how do we guide learners to make good choices? How do we ensure that fast content, like fast food, has the nutritional ingredients that the human mind, like the human body, needs? How do we avoid empty calories and wasted time spent searching for relevant material? How can we engineer the fastest path to expertise and avoid cognitive overload?

Recent research by global research and advisory firm Gartner indicates that when organizations move to self-serve and user-driven content strategies, learning and performance suffer. Learners are overwhelmed and confused. This reaffirms academic research published in the 2006 Educational Psychologist article, “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Doesn’t Work,” which concludes that, when left to their own devices, learners do not know what learning activities are best for them.

How can we solve this problem? Wisdom-of-crowd techniques such as artificial intelligence-driven recommendations based on user ratings and consumption can help, but they still assume that users know what is good for them. It may be that high-quality video, charismatic presenters or easy assessments create an illusion of competence and inflate user ratings. It may be that learners avoid challenging content that requires more time and effort to build deeper knowledge.

Content curation that combines domain and design expertise is the answer, according to a 2013 Science article, “Instructional Complexity and the Science to Constrain It.” Domain experts select the content that best represents the skills needed on the job. Instructional designers sequence the content to support the cognitive processes involved in learning and identify missing ingredients, such as context-relevant examples and practice. Off-the-shelf content often needs to be supplemented with custom elements such as overviews, examples and practice activities. On-demand content may need to be interspersed with facilitated content previews, reviews and discussions. In the end, the learner is guided through a coherent experience that guarantees a consistent level of knowledge and confidence to perform certain tasks. The time and resources required to build the guidance is more than offset by the time and cognitive overload avoided by learners.

At EY, we balance guidance through learning for role and business-critical skills with freedom to explore based on personal interests and career aspirations. We assign content to individuals who fit particular profiles. We carefully curate small collection of the most relevant and best internal and external content for technical and nontechnical domains such as data analytics and personal leadership. We design blended programs which control and track progress through a sequence of self-directed and facilitated activities.

We leverage learning platform functionality to provide all this guidance in one place. Guided learning coexists with sophisticated search-and-recommendation functionality so people can also consume a la carte. It’s the best of both worlds.

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Balancing Guidance With User-Driven Learning Strategies
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