Fast. Rapid. Quick. Isn’t it what we’ve all come to expect? What would we do without high speed internet access, rapid development and quick-turn-around-time? But how do fast, rapid and quick impact learning? Julian Stodd’s recent blog post on reflection time in learning got me to thinking.

Avoid This
We’ve all been in a training workshop where, after introductions, the instructor says something . . . usually in a sing song voice . . . along the lines of, “Oh-kay. . .we’ve got a lot to cover today!” Think about your internal response. I know for me, when I hear that statement, my stomach tightens, my eyes roll and I want to reach for a seatbelt to buckle in for the roller coaster ride of information that will be coming my way. Too often, the training session meets my expectation and I leave with binders of information but no idea of how to apply it to my job. There’s always a lot of information to share in training sessions and elearning courses but in order to maximize learning opportunities, we must provide time for learners to put that information in context and make meaningful connections.

Try This
“Soak time” is time allotted to the learner for absorption and reflection of the content presented. This “soak time” needs to be incorporated into the training session so that learners can reflect on past experiences in relation to the new information they’re receiving. It also allows them time to develop clarifying questions and brainstorm ideas for how they’re going to apply this new information. Analyzing and synthesizing information can’t happen when learners feels rushed or overwhelmed.

Soaking in the information is like a plant soaking up water. You have to water a plant at a steady pace, allowing time for the soil to moisten and the roots to draw the water up the stem before the plant responds by straightening, growing new leaves and maybe even producing a flower. Our learners need that same steady pace of information with time to absorb what is being conveyed.
If you’ve ever had the luxury of soaking in a hot tub, you’ll recall how it was soothing and calm. Your mind was clear. You weren’t in a rush to go anywhere. You were enjoying yourself. Now let’s apply that to instructor led training sessions and elearning.

Soak Time in Learning Design
In an instructor led training session, you can incorporate soak time by scheduling multiple 5 minute breaks throughout the session. I have found that eliminating the longer 15 minute mid-morning break and replacing it with three 5 minute “soak time” breaks throughout the morning works well. Five minute breaks keep the learners focused on the training content whereas a 15 minute break give learners enough time to become distracted by daily work issues.

Introduce an open-ended question prior to the soak-time breaks or ask a “what do you think about. . .” statement to keep their minds engaged in the course content. Encourage the leaners to stand up, walk around, get a drink of water, use the restroom and talk to other participants because it’s during this more relaxed, yet still focused time that they become honest and introspective. They’re more willing to come to me and ask questions they were hesitant to ask in front of the group. They’re also more willing to open up to each other and start brainstorming ideas or sharing their concerns.
The results of these spontaneous discussions are different from scheduled break-out sessions because during a breakout, learners still feel a need to “perform” or “produce”. Instead, these “soak time” interactions are relaxed . . . even enjoyable.

When the participants return to the session, leave time to discuss what they were thinking or talking about during the soak time break. You might suggest they jot down their questions, ideas and thoughts on paper as a way to reinforce their processing. The follow up discussions are lively, engaging and deeper than “scheduled” Q&A sessions. By building in this soak time, the learners have had time to think, to process, to reflect, to organize and contextualize. They return refreshed and ready to receive more information.
Easy enough in an instructor-led class, but how do you do it in elearning? Just plan for little breaks in the action. Suggest that the learner take one section of a course and then take a short break before moving on to build in this same reflection time. Pose a follow-up question for learners to respond to in a learning journal or guide after a suggested soak time break. It will reinforce the processing they’ve done and give the learners a place to capture thoughts.

The goal of learning is not to rush through content and end a session by saying, “Whew! We got through it all!” The goal is to encourage and reinforce learning and the application of that learning.
So, stand up, take a walk down the hall . . . maybe even outside . . . and take a minute to think about how you can incorporate soak time into your own training design.

This blog was written by Anne Darnell, an Instructional Designer at TorranceLearning.