L&D Lessons from Volleyball

As a recent observer at a volleyball practice, it occurred to me that there are definite lessons to be learned from athletic training that also translate to the work we do in Learning and Development. In volleyball practice, skills to be learned are taught, but also practiced again and again during the training.

One of the major struggles in the training and education world today is this notion of “application.” We attend training classes, watch videos, listen to a colleague tell us how to perform a specific job. However, where the rubber meets the road is in the learner’s ability to apply. Can and are employees really applying what they’ve learned to their role and position?

As you’re likely aware, even academic institutions struggle in this area. Recent graduates of universities, with diploma in hand, dive into the work world, only to find that the real world is quite different from “sitting and getting” in a higher ed class. Some employers report that some recent graduates are “not able to do” even with a college degree. The old adage of “knowing is not doing” becomes very real, very quickly.

In the same vein, corporate organizations have also struggled with application. Although employees may learn knowledge while in class, when they return to work, application is never a guarantee. Add the additional challenge of the forgetting curve, and you can see how problematic this can become.

Neuroscience reminds us that spaced repetition over time and consistent practice “doing” something with what one is learning helps sharpen focus, attention, learning, and application. For example, learners need to do talk about what they’re learning, write about it, apply it, receive corrective feedback, and then try it again.

Does this technique sound familiar?

This is exactly what we observe in athletic practices, and is similar to what I observed at volleyball practice. For volleyball, each skill was broken down into sub-parts, modeled first by an expert for all to see. Then the group practiced each sub-part of the skill together as a group, and then practiced on their own while receiving individual correction and feedback from coaches. After receiving correction, the players applied each skill and technique again and again. This practice continued over spaced intervals throughout the volleyball season. So notice how learning a skill is not a “one-time, learn it in a day” training event – similar to how we used to schedule corporate training classes or webinar instruction for employees.

The latest learning and development phrase of “flip and drip” comes a bit closer to improving how we provide corporate training. The idea of using flipped classrooms encourages learners to complete pre-work tasks that are more passive such as viewing a video or reading material before coming to class, and then reserve in-class time for more interactive activities, application, and discussion. The “drip” piece implies that after leaving the training, quizzes and reminders of content are pushed out to learners through apps to mobile devices or other venues as repetitive reminders for application.

So the next time you see the “volleyball” of training coming your way over the net, avoid the temptation to use training in the traditional way of “telling” or “talking” at learners for a one-time event. Because if your goal is ultimately, learner application, it’s going to require a different approach to “win” on the ball court of workplace learning.

What say you?

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