‘Legoizing’ Your Learning

The way people learn is changing. Breaking learning down into short, concise pieces is an effective way to build expertise one block at a time.

Most kids have played with building blocks at some point in their lives. When you look at a finished structure as a whole, it looks daunting. But if you’re there, putting it together block by block, it makes sense.

The same concept applies to learning. Imagine the knowledge you obtain is a tall, adult version of a Lego tower. Unless you’re an architect, if you look at it all at once, it might seem impossible and complicated. But when you learn piece by piece, at your own pace, everything comes together much more clearly.

Clarity is important. We live in a world where information is coming at us more quickly than ever, and knowledge and new skills are being created more quickly than ever, said Mike Feerick, CEO and founder of Alison, a global, free online learning company.

With a learning environment that changes so quickly, “Legoizing” learning is one way to teach people new skills in a time-effective, low-cost way, he said.

“Legoization” means breaking down digital content into smaller chunks. You likely have heard of learning modules or bite-sized learning — it’s the same principle. Rather than tackling a lot of content at once, learners can focus on one building block at a time, leave when they need to leave and come back at a convenient time. They also can mix and match lessons from different subject areas to create a customized learning experience.

For example, Alison took advantage of this trend for a specific subset of U.S. learners: the formerly incarcerated. “We know that the concentration time of the formerly incarcerated is quite small,” said Feerick. So “we provide all these very short, quick lessons, no flowery information, just straight to the point. We have to get a lot in their heads in as little time as possible.”

The course — Advanced Diploma for Workforce Reentry for Formerly Incarcerated People — offers a quick, snappy curriculum of 20 hours total, which is broken down in sections like how to put a resume together, and why it’s important to show up to work on time. Learners received “pats on the back” along the way, certificates for completing individual lessons and an advanced diploma for completing the whole course.

Like former prisoners, workplace learners receive an advanced diploma after 20 hours, a regular diploma after 10 hours and a certificate after 1.5 hours. “That’s the sweet spot for most people. After that they want a pat on the back,” Feerick said. “And this is people from Africa to California.”

Time constraints make this type of learning very time-effective, he said, because rather than learning everything and only using some of it, learners get only what they need. This is the basis for Legoizing learning. Considering how quickly people have to learn new skills now, the more succinct the course, the better.

This is especially effective in areas like tech or engineering. When graduates enter the workforce after getting four-year degrees, they often find what they learned as freshmen has become irrelevant, Feerick said. Staying current becomes more difficult when the skill set needed changes rapidly, and people must be given the tools to learn quickly.

Another benefit of Legoizing learning is cost. The most effective way to train is often one-on-one, where a trainee can learn from a subject expert. But in a busy work environment, experts aren’t always available to give trainees attention. Also, teaching one individual might not be the best use of their time.

Legoization allows people who are experts in specific fields to create their own courses and post them online, so more people can learn simultaneously. For example, Alison recently developed a course on the Zika virus. Relying on expertise from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, they had all the information needed to create a concise course on the virus over a period of days. The company created the course on a Thursday and had 1,000 people studying it by the following Monday, Feerick said.

There are challenges along with these benefits, however. The biggest is often convincing senior management how important it is to change the way they teach employees. Feerick said it helps if you can give them concrete numbers. For example: If you follow this process, this productivity will result; this is how many people we can hire in a certain amount of time; and this is what they will learn.

Offering small blocks of learning can have a big impact.

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