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What if we didn't have technology?

Imagine you wake up one day—maybe tomorrow—and the technology we have come to rely on in modern learning development suddenly doesn’t exist. Now, I’m not talking about an apocalyptic vision of society in which we are thrown back to some savage environment where we all learn to build fires with flint and kill game with homemade stone weapons and end up as some crocodile’s dinner.

What I am talking about is that the technology driving our communication systems, our learning systems, our sales systems, our management system is suddenly gone. So instead of moving back in the chronology of technology several thousand years, move back, say... a hundred.

So, what’s it like under those conditions? Well, to conduct correspondence with anyone located other than in the immediate area means a cycle that stretches from minutes to months.

Contact is limited to the verbal or the written word. Penmanship counts because typewriters are not common. Storage is a factor of physical space. And a file is really a file... full of paper.

As a modern-day trainer, could you exist in this environment? What techniques could you apply that would engage a learner and cause the learning process to unfold?

In such a world, learning is limited to a classroom and green chalkboard–or is it?

Remember, the Middle Ages gave birth to the apprentice system of studying under a master for years before applying your trade. Today’s skilled trades are vestiges of that system. To be sure, a new hire might require months or years to learn the basics of the job, rather than days or weeks. But other tools are available even if Articulate and HTML5 aren’t.

What would you do? Where would you begin?

Begin with the basics.

What base knowledge needs to be imparted? This could be delivered directly, spoken or written. Ergo, the schoolmarm or class book. But the process hardly stops there. Even in a world with little to no technology, there are other means to create a rich learning experience.

What does the learner need to do to acquire the knowledge? Are there ways they can apply it? And by watching the learner’s progress, can you adjust the instruction to close the gaps? This is the essence of the apprenticeship method we mentioned earlier. Its origins are as early as mankind itself.

Can the learner use the knowledge and skills in new ways? Deconstructing the knowledge and then reassembling it in new ways to achieve new results propels learning to higher levels of comprehension. Putting together pieces of a process in a new way to achieve new results demonstrates deep understanding.

Can the learner be given the responsibility to teach others? One of the most effective ways to learn a body of knowledge is taking the responsibility to teach it to others. The learner is placed in a position of not just knowing the content but creating mental models in others to understand and comprehend the information enough to move it into their long-term memory.

Can the learner critique the subject? Can they evaluate and assess the information itself, considering alternatives and displaying sensitivity to nuance? This requires a deep level of understanding of not only the subject material, but also of similar constructs and models and how they compare–how they differ.

Sound familiar? It’s Bloom taxonomy. Bloom didn’t create the taxonomy as much as he discovered it and give it a name. It existed long before the 1950s, when Benjamin Bloom gave it life. It existed long before modern technology. It provides a map on how humans learn.

Well, technology has not disappeared and we are not reading by firelight, writing with a goose quill or battling crocodiles for survival. We have marvelous tools at our disposal that allow us to create learning engagements as well as performance tools and simulated environments that rival reality and move beyond it. We have tools that can create nearly anything our imaginations can conjure, even on a modest budget.

Yet, in spite of those wonderful tools, the basics of human learning remain. It is our job to remain committed to these proven theories. Then, we can achieve a meaningful and rewarding learning experience for our learners and then use technology to deliver it.

You see, even without technology, the essentials of learning don’t change. Developing successful training has less to do with technology and more to do with your design to create learning experiences that address the way humans learn. Remember that the next time you sit down to transform a body of content into a learning experience.

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