4 min read

Learning Cycles

Huge thanks to all the folks who have set up time with me to see a demo of the simulation. The interviews are going well and I’ve learned a lot. I am so grateful for the feedback. I still have a few more scheduled and have not yet had time to synthesize the results of the completed interviews, so I’ll be covering highlights from the demos in a future newsletter.

If you are interested in seeing the simulation but have not yet signed up, it’s not too late! I have open slots for demos next week and beyond. (Worth reiterating: this is an exploratory conversation and most definitely NOT a sales call. There is nothing to buy. Although part of my goal with these demos is to gain insight into what aspects of the simulation could be a valuable product, I have nothing to sell you.)

Modern Training

It’s too early to draw conclusions from the interviews, but one idea keeps coming up over and over: using the simulation as the basis for some form of training.

Once upon a time I ran a tiny consulting practice where the bulk of my revenue came from teaching classes. I was heavily influenced by Jerry Weinberg’s style of immersive experience-based training. As a result my courses involved lots of games, simulations, exercises, and facilitated discussions. And yet ultimately they were still instructor-led multi-day in-person classes. As much fun as I had teaching those classes way back when, these days I just don't have the energy level needed to go back to doing that kind of training full time.

Fortunately it turns out there are more viable options for training formats these days. Recently I’ve been fascinated by two approaches that are growing in popularity: cohort-based learning and fully interactive online learning environments.

Cohort Based Learning

Back when I was running instructor-led classes, too many participants expected there to be a right answer and that I would have it. No matter how much I emphasized learning through experience and discussion, I was still the instructor and it was my job to have (or get) answers. By contrast, cohort-based learning emphasizes learning as a community.

My own experience with a cohort-based program was fabulous. I recently graduated from the On Deck Founders (ODF) fellowship. (Go #ODF9!) I met inspiring people from all over the world. Although there were some instructor-led sessions in the program, the emphasis was very much on the community. We all leaned on one another and learned from one another rather than looking to a named expert to be a font of knowledge. It was such a rich experience and I learned a ton.

There are a few things that make me interested in exploring what a cohort-based model might look like for training based around the simulation.

First, the answer to nearly any question about software process is “It depends.” A best practice in one context may well be a worst practice in another. So a cohort-based approach would enable participants to learn about and appreciate differences in context rather than seeking a supposedly “right” answer.

Second, the simulation lends itself to open ended “What If?” questions. What if I tweak these settings this way? How about that way? How could I make the graph change from this shape to that shape? A traditional curriculum would involve a defined progression of exercises leading to a specific learning objective. A cohort-based approach would involve setting up scenarios for people to explore and giving them a way to share insights.

If you are interested in a more detailed compare-and-contrast between cohort-based programs and other approaches, this overview is quite good.

Interactive Online Learning Environments

In a traditional computer-based training class, you typically access the course material (read a section or watch a video) and then do an exercise, often a quiz that checks for comprehension.

In an interactive online learning environment, the course material and a practice environment exist side-by-side in the same interface. There is zero friction between seeing a new concept and trying it out yourself. And it’s real practice rather than a multiple choice quiz.

The Kolb learning cycle model tells us that active experimentation is necessary to complete the learning cycle and tap into new knowledge. That application step is a feedback loop: you try to apply the new concept and see what happens. Maybe you got it the first time and you succeed in applying that learning. Or maybe you fail and realize you have to go back to the source material. Either way, you have increased your understanding.

This new generation of learning environments tightens that feedback loop to near zero: milliseconds rather than minutes. Speed up the feedback loop and you get more learning cycles from the same time investment. That combination of immediacy and real application fosters the kind of deep practice that Daniel Coyle talked about in The Talent Code.

So while the difference between old-fashioned computer-based training and an interactive online learning environment may seem small, the implications are huge for learners.

It’s hard to convey how powerful this is with words alone so I encourage you to try it yourself if you haven’t already. Scrimba does it quite well. (I tried out their Tailwind CSS course recently and found it super helpful.)

Next Up

I'm continuing to shore up the simulation prototype to make it robust enough to deploy to the web. It still won't be much more than a prototype, but at least you won't have to book time on my calendar to get your hands on it.

It's proving to be quite a bit of effort to take a hacked up prototype that runs in my local environment and make it safe to run on the web. There are just so many more moving pieces in the simulation than in the Guess the Pattern game I published earlier. There are a lot more things that can go wrong too. So I will likely do a soft launch in an attempt to get a little feedback sooner. Want to be on the list for early access? If so, please email me.

Stay curious,