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Learning Out Loud: “If you want to learn something, start teaching it!” – Interview with Ellen Herschel of the Edutrainment Company

Learning Out Loud: “If you want to learn something, start teaching it!” – Interview with Ellen Herschel of the Edutrainment Company

Ellen Herschel is a Key Account Manager and Learning Experience Designer at Edutrainment Company GmbH. Together with her colleagues, she designs learning solutions for companies. The aim: to enable employees to implement what they have learned from their everyday work and to keep their desire to learn high. In an interview, she explains how this is achieved, how employees learn in a networked way, and how managers create a good learning environment.

Working Out Loud (WOL) is already familiar to many. Your company, Edutrainment, teaches “learning out loud.” Where are the parallels with WOL and what does Learning Out Loud (LOL) actually look like?

Learning Out Loud is a method that promotes networked learning in the company. In this context, it is also referred to as “social learning.” Anyone who has a topic he or she would like to learn something about meets regularly with like-minded people in a structured process over several weeks, defines goals, plans and produces a micro-learning unit and then makes it available to all colleagues. The principle follows the motto “If you want to learn something, start teaching it.” Thus, you are the participant and producer all in one. One great effect of this is that the learning content is highly accepted by employees, firstly because it comes from valued colleagues and secondly because it is super relevant to the workplace.

The processes of WOL and LOL are similar, with LOL focusing more on internal knowledge and working with methods, while WOL is more task oriented. Learning Out Loud is also more embedded in the business context and less oriented towards personal goals. We know from research that social learning is very effective. After normal training, participants do not even put ten percent of what they have learned into practice. With learning groups and a self-agreement, it is three times as much. This is exactly why we try to establish this approach in companies together with our partner, DIE LERNFUTURISTEN (The Learning Futurists).

What do you think are the most important skills that people have or need to learn in a changing work environment?

Even if it sounds banal: soft skills and especially communication skills! You can be as fit as you want to be with digital tools and complex processes – at the end of the day it is crucial whether and how you can work with people who have different experiences and lifestyles. The classics like “active listening,” “mirroring,” or “giving real feedback” are indispensable basics for me. In a working world where you have to learn more and more in less and less time, for me it also means learning to say “NO” in order to stay healthy and capable of action. You can then build on this foundation, depending on the industry and area of responsibility. I recently talked to a cooperation partner about future skills. He advises managing directors to consistently hire social workers and to further develop their skills.  A daring thesis, but it’s worth thinking in this direction.

There are certainly different “learning types.” Is Learning Out Loud just for certain personalities? And if so, how do they tick?

Yes, there are quite different types of learners. Some have to visualize everything, others start immediately, others have to understand everything in detail in order to start. For Learning Out Loud, however, this is not a criterion, everyone can do it regardless of the type of learner. Most learners are “mixed types” anyway. And LOL aims at other learning success criteria, as mentioned above, such as the relevance of learning content or social learning. Last but not least, LOL is supported by experienced didacticians and learning coaches whose task it is to accommodate the participants based on their learning type.

How do companies create a learning culture in which employees want to develop themselves further and can do so in addition to their tasks?

A short anecdote: Just today I had a discussion in the day care committee in which the main point was that the parents really wanted to force the educators (and thus their own children) to learn something that they as parents felt was right because it was considered necessary for school. So the children were taken completely out of the equation. Parents thus prevent children from learning what they enjoy. The example shows just how different people’s learning biographies can be. From my experience with different companies, I can say that you have to plan the learning process for the employees. At Edutrainment, we have long been concerned with a holistic approach, “Learning and Experience Design.” So we look at exactly where employees and companies stand, identify learning types and derive from this which channels are used to reach them and how. Then we send them on a journey where they collect positive experiences at various stations; for example, through different formats that are easy for the brain to process. Positive learning experiences give you the desire to learn and the motivation to stay on the ball. In marketing, such experiences have been used for a long time for customers and purchase decisions. The area of learning and personnel development is developing slowly. It is important that management is on board and supports learning.

Companies often don’t even know which talents lie dormant in their employees. In your experience, how can an internal transfer of learning and knowledge be successful?

I can absolutely confirm that. In our leadership training courses, we have an exercise called “Do you know your employee?” Managers simply write down what they know about their employees. The results are often shocking: even for employees who have been with the company for a long time, there are sometimes only two meaningless key points. How can that be? I have two recommendations for managers – first, just talk more to your employees! Be interested! Get to know them better in private. That doesn’t mean that you have to spend the next garden party together. But knowing the life and experiences of my counterpart creates understanding and new possibilities. And sometimes talents come to light that you as a manager didn’t know anything about because they weren’t needed in a professional context. And secondly, create space for ideas; let people try them out and make mistakes. One of our customers is currently testing a model with the 80-20 formula; i.e. 80 percent typical activities, 20 percent time for special projects and personal learning. We need more of it!

What role do digital tools play in organizational learning? Can they promote the learning process?

Tools are always helpful when they bring added value for employees. It is important that new tools are not simply introduced and that employees are informed by e-mail that, as of today, everyone is only using Tool XY. Every introduction of even the smallest tool is always a small change for employees. This makes transparency and appropriate internal communication (to clarify why the introduction is considered sensible) all the more important. Even better: ask your people what they need to work well and involve them in the decision! We have also had very good experiences with kick-off events, so that all employees were on board and aware: Here we go! It’s very frustrating when employees are overloaded with too many new tools in too short a time – in that case, they usually go right back to the old tools where they can feel safe.

What are you currently learning? Or what was the last thing you’ve learned recently?

I’m learning how to clean and assemble our coffee machine in the office so I can enjoy my perfect coffee in the morning. In the past, a colleague always did that. Since the relevance for me is so high, the motivation is also high (laughs). Another week and I’ll probably be a pro at it. By the way, that former colleague even made a screencast to help with it.  So we also embrace user-generated content at Edutrainment.

Thank you for the inspiring conversation, Ellen.

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