Do you remember the time when you first learned how to ride a bike without training wheels? You were hesitant and probably afraid at first, almost certain that you would fall if your Dad let go of the bike. You try to glide through and balance yourself, but then it happens. Your Dad lets go. You skid and you fall. You fail. However, your Dad encourages you to try again. After multiple knee scrapes and thuds, you figure out how to balance yourself and learn a skill that stays with you for life.
So how did you learn? You literally learned from each scrape, each thud, and each loss of balance. With every mistake, you learned what not to do. As Richard Branson said, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” We all learn from our mistakes – we learn by doing and we can all agree that nobody learned to fly a plane by practicing in a flight simulator alone. That is the fundamental principle of natural learning.
So why does corporate learning turn every training program into a series of topics that learners ought to know? What about an approach that follows a learning by doing approach and focuses learning on those tasks or activities that help learners do their job as effectively and efficiently as possible?
For example, you walk into a perfume store and tell the store assistant that you are looking for a perfume with floral notes. The store assistant ignores your preference and starts showing you the latest perfumes that she has an incentive to sell. Not focusing on a customer’s choice is one of the critical mistakes she makes and may not result in a sale at all. If her training program was just a checklist that covered points like – “Greet the customer when he or she walks in”, “show them the latest line of perfumes at the store”, then she is not even aware that she is making a mistake.
NIIT’s Critical Mistake Analysis methodology uses a method somewhat analogous to Pareto Analysis to identify what mistakes novices make on the job. By shadowing people on the job, interviewing experts and observing the mistakes that novices make, the methodology focuses on arriving at a set of mistakes that occur most frequently or have the most business impact in terms of cost or productivity. These mistakes are then prioritized and the most critical mistakes become teaching points for the learner. In our experience, we have found that it is usually 20% of the mistakes that lead to 80% of the business impact.
Realistic and true-to-life scenarios are derived from the teaching points so that learners can make informed decisions in the real world. If we go back to the store example, one of the scenarios could be asking a customer about their preference or their favorite perfume. By setting an actual context to an activity, learners can be coached to make optimal choices.