Homework for Workplace Learners?

By: Elliott Masie, Chair, The Learning CONSORTIUM

Students in schools and colleges have come to expect and accept homework as an element of their learning process. But, what about homework for learners in the workplace.

If we imagine homework as a reading or lesson, our learners will not respond well. A great example of this includes the Pre-Training Readings that many organizations send out to participants in leadership development. If I am one of those participants, I will probably skim the articles on the plane ride to the leadership retreat. And, I will not be alone in my reaction.

Your colleagues are busy, distracted, and often have low confidence that the assigned readings are essential to their learnings. And, many classroom facilitators have come to accept this and laugh when they ask how many people have actually read the assigned articles.

But, homework for workplace learners can be effective if we design it in a creative, engaging, and “UserExperience-validated” format. 

Here are the reasons to design great homework for our learners:

  • Builds Motivation
  • Creates Context for the Content
  • Personalizes the Learning Experience
  • Triggers Learner Curiosity
  • Facilitates Learner Interaction
  • Supports Transfer of New Skills/Information to the Workflow

Let’s explore some alternative homework models for workplace learners:

Short SMS or Social System Question: Rather than requiring an in-depth learner survey as part of homework before a structured learning experience, consider sending each participant a short question to consider or answer:

“What behavior most annoys you as a listener in a meeting?”

“Which feature do you hope is easier to use in the new Sales System?”

“What are three words you would use to describe our new product?”

Purpose: These short question suggestions give workers a targeted and easy way to reflect on the content focus of the learning program. Sometimes a single question will instantly raise the learner’s curiosity and engagement. 

Observe a Process in the Workflow: Ask your learners to observe a process in the workflow over the next day or week. Ask them to be anthropologists of how a procedure or action takes place – and have them bring it into their class, webinar, or learning module:

  • For a Time Management Course: Observe what times of day you are most awake, send the most emails, and are most distracted.
  • For a Safety-in-the-Plant Program: Watch how your colleagues navigate the shop floor when a new rig is installed.
  • For a Leadership Program: What notes do you take during a meeting and how do you refer to or read them afterwards?
  • For a Data Analytics Self-Study Program: Note how many times managers use the word “data” and see how it is contextualized.
  • For a Public Speaking Program: Watch a random TED Talk and note how the speaker is similar to or different from you.

Purpose: Watching and observing is a powerful way to trigger the curiosity and interest of workers. Don’t give them a form or input page; instead, ask them to observe and comment.  You will be amazed at how engaged they become when making such observations in face-to-face or online moments.

Suggested Conversations: Give each learner a single card (print or digital) with a conversation you hope they have with 1, 2, or more people. Make it a targeted and engaging conversation that is easy to start with a colleague in the workplace or elsewhere:

  • Talk about how you learn differently today then when you were in grade school.
  • Ask colleagues about their most difficult customers to please.
  • Dialogue with co-workers about their fears or hopes for AI in the future.
  • Chat with colleagues from overseas about their views of the new brand.
  • Converse with a family member about how we use our mobile phones.

Purpose: Conversations yield “cognitive rehearsal” to support learners exploring the context or story side of a new skill or information set.

We can expand homework for workplace learners using other non-traditional suggestions, assignments, or even competitions. These can include:

  • Take 3 pictures of XXXX in the headquarters building. Post them on our Teams Page.
  • Watch a 15-minute clip from this famous movie and consider its message as it relates to our new topic.
  • Try to explain this new policy to one person in your workgroup and let’s talk about it when you come back to the learning center next week.

My guidelines with these homework assignments are to make them short, targeted, and personal – and not to grade or evaluate the answers/responses. Entice your learners to extend their learning!

Published in CLO Magazine, July 2019

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