As we urgently dive back into another lockdown in Victoria, Australia, our schools had about an hour’s notice to pivot and plan how to enable learning to continue next week with everyone suddenly at home.
The fast response was to send kids home with their pencil cases, a pile of books and a journal. One of the key messages emailed home to parents was simply “read, read, read!”.
The months we spent at home during 2020 juggling the role of teacher to our children with our usual day to day jobs was a challenge for many. For me, while trying to reach the daily goals in both areas of parent and work was difficult, I took a keen interest in the teaching method for our children. A big part of my year was supporting my youngest is her first year of school learning to read. It was critical to not let this hugely disruptive year impact her foundation in reading and writing. Experiencing the way teachers demonstrate core principles and set key activities across each week to embed knowledge reminded me a lot about learning in general and the expectations we set on adults with learning across the Microsoft 365 platform.
The below core areas stood out to me as crucial in the learning journey, young or old, to consider when designing or supporting an individual.
Having a plan
Having a structure to guide you plays such a critical role. Knowing what you need to achieve each day and knowing the plan for the week helps guide you through ups and downs, and helps you know what to try and achieve each day.
To be honest, at times during home-school we just scraped through and delivered the minimal.
I felt a better parent if we ensured the daily Maths and English tasks were achieved, and anything else was a bonus. Some parents did considerably more, and to me they are amazing. I juggled a job, my own anxiety and stress, an autistic child, and others in the house with ADHD. For us it felt quite complicated, and our main focus was on mental health. We knew the education would catch up if anything fell behind. Keeping us all happy and healthy was the priority. By providing us with a weekly plan, the school helped reduce the thinking required and we just ticked of videos, activity sheets and books.
With adults, we often don’t have a plan and just assume they will take responsibility to complete learning. I always get concerned when an organisation has a ‘self-learning’ approach and staff are simply provided access to a library of content. People don’t know where to start or where they are falling short and need the guidance. There are great free learning modules out there, but guidance and structure help ensure a path is followed and achieved.
Historically we would attend a training course for a specific application, take away the guide and then apply it to our job. If a new system was rolled out, we would be shown the ropes and start using it. Microsoft 365 is different. It is not always forced change that we then live in across the day. Not all applications and features are constantly used. And it is not always realistic to show staff in a once off session and expect them to apply those skills straight away in their role. Also, the platform changes constantly. So it isn’t possible to adequately convey the knowledge in a single training session then simply set and forget.
Learning across Microsoft 365 is better handled in chunks; when a person is able to have a portion of time to review the new feature or process and apply that skill ongoing.
Taking it step by step is critical. If they attend a 1-hour session on OneDrive, think about what percentage of knowledge is obtained and then utilised in their job. However, if you deliver the same content broken down into smaller modules for them to see, try, and then come back for more when ready, it will result in greater success.
I love that in our home schooling there is a theme across each week. For example, learning how to read is broken down into phonemes and digraphs. The word ‘beach’ has 2 digraphs: ‘ea’ and then ‘ch’. The kids start the week talking about the work beach and break it down. They then learn a series of words with ‘ea’ in them to solidify that knowledge and move onto words with ‘ch’. They complete several activities that week each day in small chunks. It is a realistic and structured way to learn a concept bit by bit and is quite effective.
For adults with Microsoft 365, think about the concepts, the way you can split up content and move people through a learning journey. Also consider how they can learn in the flow of work, seeing a small chunk of knowledge and applying on the job. If it is too much and not delivered in a bite sized chunk, they will choke. Many staff already have. For some areas of the platform, the level of information and detail was simply too much, and as such old behaviour has been cemented.
What helps drive and embed the learning of those small chunks of knowledge? Repetition!
Again, it is the same with our kids. Writing the word ‘beach’ several times, then writing many words with the digraph ‘ea’, then colouring in a picture of a beach, then reading a book about the beach, and even pausing the recording of a teacher reading that book to stop and look for words with ‘ea’. It is all repeating the concepts and reinforcing the knowledge.
I love it. Imagine a training program where we start with a specific app, on Monday talk about what it is for, how you could apply the features in your role, then each day have time to select a feature, try it, discuss it, try again with a colleague, have it repeated in practice across the week. Bang! Embedded ways of working. But we don’t allow staff to learn this way. Compare this to a video in a library that we hope people will watch, or a lunch and learn and then it isn’t spoken of again. Strong adoption comes from a multi-pronged approach and opportunity to repeat things to really drive it home.
Importance of a strong foundation
I love going back to the core concepts and reviewing where people are at in their Microsoft 365 journey.
I also love reviewing tenant usage data, and the Productivity Score, to review an organisations maturity and drive further learning across key areas.
With children, you cannot teach reading by memorising words. They can recall the word ‘beach’, but will they know to apply the concepts and then reading similar words such as ‘reach’ or ‘teach’?
Teaching them to break down words into concepts and then apply those concepts to problems helps solve and work out other words.
If you don’t solidify the parts along the way the whole won’t come together. You cannot be a strong collaborator if you don’t know how to share a file, how to work with comments, or work with tracked changes.
It is ever-so crucial to ensure that staff being with concepts, and that as an organisation you have a clear set of foundational behaviour that everyone needs to grasp. From there you have a clear path for learning, goals for new starters, and the skills to embed organisation-wide in order to increase staff capability.
Other key lessons
Also key to strong learning is relevance, and the importance of feedback.
When it comes to relevance, don’t discuss use cases that are not applicable to your staff. For example, if you are rolling out apps to frontline staff like sport centre trainers, a nurse, an outdoor worker or other roles that might use a tool to communicate across a group, don’t train on OneNote or Planner and discuss corporate head office examples. Don’t show a receptionist how to go into Do-Not-Disturb when it would mean they miss calls that are a core aspect to their role. From the schoolwork, applying the knowledge of the word beach included talking about the word itself, but also using stories about ice cream at the beach. These help the kids connect as they are relevant and makes it fun while reinforcing.
Additionally, ensure that not only is the content relevant, but so is the mode of learning. The way learning is targeted to different personalities, as well as multi-sense learning impacts the level of success. Some staff want the 100-page text-heavy printed guide to read and analyse, whereas others are more visual and want images, and then there are people who want to get straight into hands-on use. Using two or more senses increases the rate of retention and caters for the diversity of individual learning styles.
It is crucial to ensure you have a feedback loop. Many people have used the statement ‘practice makes perfect’, but I prefer my daughter’s teacher’s version: “practice makes progress”. Feedback improves the skills and can help redirect people where necessary, to work on learning and how they are applying the skills. Use it to correct and then ongoing support and reinforcement to lock down the desired behaviour.
While home-schooling during lockdown was a very specific situation that applied to children, these principles do still carry relevance, and are a great reminder or opportunity to reflect on the adult learning in the workplace.
Finally, a key factor I haven’t touched on is motivation – learning doesn’t happen unless the person is ready and wants to learn. When a person is ready to learn and has moments of success, this fuels their motivation to keep going and try more. And that learning is more effective with lower stress and an atmosphere of security and belonging, or psychological safety’.
Happy, comfortable staff absorb knowledge, just like happy children. As I touched on at the start, a big focus in our household first and foremost is to be happy and healthy, and then do what we can with what we have to keep learning going. If children or adults are in a state of stress and anxiety, the absorption of knowledge and change in the way they work simply will not happen. So, make clear your expectations and understand what is realistic for your people.
As you can see, it is a complex field. Learning is not simply giving access to an online library and expecting that people will go forth and achieve great things. There are many aspects to consider. Are your videos relevant? Do staff know what the plan is and what’s expected of them? Are they in a state of stress? Have you ensured there is time for them to be in the right head space to learn?
Create a journey for your people and guide them through it in order to increase your organisation maturity across the platform, in order to see the benefits and value of your investment in Microsoft 365 (and really any technology for that matter).