5 Learning Interaction Types to Help Your Employees

How to transform your employee professional development plans with different learning models.

Think about how much information your employees remember from that last conference they attended. You may have an employee who has a preference to learn in person and another who benefits from listening to the information in small parts at night on their couch. The reality is that educators have long known that traditional ways of content delivery do not always align with adult learning preferences. However, we continue to educate employees all in the same way with the same delivery cadence.

Differentiated instruction, a concept ingrained in traditional classroom education for decades, focuses on tailoring instruction to individual learners. The core idea of differentiated instruction, popularized by Carol Ann Tomlinson in the late 1990s, is to provide personalized learning experiences that align with each learner’s preferences and needs.  

The concept of providing a personalized learning experience for each person, with their success in mind, is undeniably appealing. As a former special education teacher, I found the concept of differentiated learning intriguing, at least in theory. As a new teacher, I aimed to transform lives by providing the children in my classes with the opportunities they needed and deserved. 

The years before advanced learning software

Graduating with degrees in elementary education and special education, one assumes I possessed the skills to address the diverse needs in my six daily classes. Each class presented a mix of children with unique behavior and learning challenges. The daunting task of creating individualized learning plans for each child to ensure a quality education seemed impossible. Although I invested thousands of hours in crafting, building, and delivering learning experiences, the practical reality was that most children ended up learning at the same pace. What differed was the array of learning strategies and tools I used to facilitate instruction. 

When I entered teaching, my classroom had one computer–the only computer in the school–and I was curious, interested, and eager to push the envelope with innovation and learning. At the time, technology was new and scary, and few people knew how to use it. Learning software evolved over the next 10 years to deliver unique content to learners based on their assessment question responses, but we could not track behavioral improvements and had limited ability to track content paths and variations.

Today, though, user interaction types have evolved. Each interaction type, which combines two humans or a human and a learning medium, offers a distinct framework to guide individuals involved in implementing technology-enhanced learning. And while the concept is not new–interaction types in learning have been discussed for many decades–there are more options available now than there were years ago. 

Differentiated instruction translates to adult learning as well. Here are five interaction types you can implement today to revolutionize your employee training: 

  1. Learner-to-content interaction
    In the most common interaction type, learners engage with information to formulate new thinking structures. Instead of offering generic content that lacks relevance to the learning, consider creating just-in-time content that corresponds to real-world applications. For example, instead of sending employees a generic video on parking lot safety, now you can scan your specific parking lot with your smart phone and create an immersive experience within a few minutes that shows the employees all the hazards in that specific parking lot. 
  2. Learner-to-learner interaction
    This mode of learning relies on human connection. It should not be overlooked because human connection is crucial to an individual’s well-being and mental health. It is based on the premise that all employees have knowledge. Harness that knowledge by using discussion prompts to connect employees so they can learn from each other. For example, if most your employees are virtual, post an image of cup that they can download and color. Challenge them to fill it with ideas to spread gratitude and kindness at their organization. Each week assign an employee to share their cup and encourage other employees to act on the ideas and share their experiences.
  3. Learner-to-instructor interaction
    This type of interaction connects a novice learner with an expert learner. Connections are made through teaching or coaching. The expert imparts knowledge to the learner. Schedule online coaching sessions where you provide specific homework assignments that engage the employee as an active participant in their learning. For example, if the employee needs to learn to pitch your software, encourage them to go practice and then meet with you to virtually to convince you why your software is different. Be their guide on the side.
  4. Learner-to-machine interaction
    In these interactions, artificial intelligence (AI) or machines produce content, deliver programming, or provide feedback, entirely without human intervention. When the car beeps because we do not have our seat belt on, we’re involved in a learner-to-machine interaction. We can build similar data feedback loops in the workplace using AI applications.
  5. Learner-to-self interaction
    Learners access content by reflecting on their own experiences. These prompts promote engagement by asking learners to draw from prior knowledge. Bring these interactions to life through surveys, polls, and guided questions embedded in the learning. An example might be asking your employees what they want to learn and then embedding those experiences within training that they must do for the position. Often adults in the workplace are not asked what they want to learn.

Nearly three decades have passed since I had that first computer in my classroom, back when differentiated instruction was a somewhat new theory. Fast-forward to 2024, and the landscape has dramatically changed. The power to differentiate is now within reach. Thanks to readily available data, precise classification definitions, cloud-based processing, AI, and an in-depth understanding of how people learn, creating unique learning plans that change lives is not just a possibility, but a reality. Technology is revolutionizing the way we deliver learning and educate the workforce.

Article originally published on February 8, 2024 on Inc.com.

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