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5 ways to create mistake-based learning environments

Why making mistakes is actually a good thing.

In December 2021, we virtually attended the World of Learning conference. Andy Lancaster (CIPD’s Head of Learning) talked about mistake-based learning, and it got us thinking: if 2020 has taught businesses anything, it's that they need to adapt to survive. Rapid changes, such as expansion, implementing new systems and processes, and diversifying products and customer bases, can all lead to mistakes. In the corporate world, these may be costly. Mistakes could damage a company’s reputation, jeopardize employee safety, or put a dint in company finances.

Yet, making mistakes is a great way to learn. When we make a mistake, our first instinct may be to downplay it, or avoid it altogether. However, when learners — whether they are new or experienced employees — acknowledge their mistakes and reflect, they begin to take responsibility for their own learning.

The best way for learners to try new skills and make mistakes is in a safe, realistic learning environment, without real-life consequences. Encouraging mistake-making gives learners the freedom to problem solve, think critically, and question their assumptions. This approach has strong links to double loop, scenario-based, and inquiry-based learning strategies, which encourage critical and reflective thinking, and help employees to develop skills they will need on the job. Coupled with timely feedback, employees who are free to make mistakes become more independent in the workplace as they learn to ask themselves questions. 

Cartoon graphic showing critical thinking questions that deal with learning from mistakes. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? How can I get more information? Who can I ask for support? What could I do differently next time?

With the current trend of remote working seemingly here to stay, creating safe learning environments can be an effective way to onboard and upskill employees, particularly during periods of organizational change such as during rapid expansion, when introducing new software, or exploring new customer bases.

So, what are the best environments to encourage mistake-based learning?

1. Simulations

Simulations are a snapshot of a programme or app. They allow users to explore a limited number of designated functions with customizable levels of scaffolding. Simulations either allow newfound knowledge to be put into practice, or offer an opportunity for employees to learn as they go.

Simulations can help learners to discover:
 
  • The basics of new software.

  • How to complete important activities using HR programs.

  • An overview of a new app.

  • How to navigate the UI of a new product.

  • How to resolve errors on machines, such as card payment terminals or mobile phones.

  • How to code.

2. Sandboxes

Sandboxes provide an isolated, secure copy of a website or program, so any tasks performed using it have no effect on the original. Data can be copied over from the main site or platform, and, if the data is sensitive or personal, it can be anonymized. Sandboxes are typically used to test new pieces of software, but they are being used more and more within Learning and Development. They allow learners to engage with a wider variety of functions than a simulation, and are typically used without scaffolding.

Sandboxes can help learners to explore:

  • How changes to processes can affect other employees or customers.
  • Solutions to customer-based scenarios, such as ordering replacement parts or responding to communications.
  • The effects of changes to website coding or database designs.
  • Changes to measurements, materials, or environmental conditions in product, interior, or architectural designs.

3. Chatbots

Chatbots are programmed to respond to human input, such as customer queries sent through a chat function on a website. Levels of complexity vary drastically depending on the chatbot type and the intended use. Basic chatbots follow a script and may only respond in limited ways, whereas chatbots with AI  draw on large databases of information and can replicate human communication. Chatbots can be combined with other approaches to mistake-based learning, such as VR, for more immersive learning experiences, or used as a standalone resource.

Chatbots can help learners to:

  • Practise resolving customer queries in a contact center environment.
  • Explore sales techniques when talking to retail customers.
  • Pitch to potential clients.
  • Investigate different approaches for coaching or HR conversations.
  • Practice interview techniques.
  • Test different voice commands for products.

Animation demonstrating the virtual try-on experience for WearOS by Google

4. AR (Augmented Reality)

Augmented reality (AR) inserts a virtual, computer-generated image into a person’s view of the real world. Wear OS by Google have created a virtual try-on experience for Fossil smartwatches to help both customers and employees to learn about different smartwatch models, and it can also help employees to understand the sales journey from a customer perspective. Using AR like this in training can help learners understand how their decisions affect the real world, and by using AR through a mobile phone or tablet app, screenshots of their decisions could be used to inform discussion and reflection.  

AR can help learners to visualize: 

  • How furniture or product placement could affect employee or customer Health and Safety.
  • The setup of different product bundles in a home or workplace.
  • Different product materials, dimensions and features, to evaluate which are best suited for particular environments or locations.
  • Plans for marketing and product placement within a store or showroom.

Person gleefully wearing a virtual reality headset.

5. VR (Virtual Reality)

Virtual reality (VR) places the learner in 360° computer-generated surroundings which they can navigate and interact with. The logistics and aviation industry in particular has been ahead of the game using VR as an immersive training experience, allowing employees to learn in a safe, fun and truly memorable way.

In 2017, IATA launched their RampVR(™) solution, the First Virtual Reality Training Tool for Ground Operations, enabling ground crew to safely immerse themselves in ramp operations and experience a variety of scenarios in different operating conditions.

VR can help employees to make judgements about the environment they are in, and changeable factors within that environment.

VR can help learners to experiment with:

  • The layouts of buildings, stores, and offices.
  • Driving and piloting vehicles.
  • Customer interactions.
  • Different resolutions to problems they may encounter with their industry or workplace.

These approaches are effective when they are used for short, structured activities as a part of a training session or training curriculum. The outcomes of different scenarios can be used purely for reflection, or to inform the differentiation and personalization of future training for individual learners.

Get in touch to find out more about our virtual training services.

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