We, humans, tend to look at the world in terms of cause and effect: A happens because of B and B happened because of C. We apply causality to every part of our life, because it lets us navigate the complex world around us more easily.The downside to causality is that some processes just don’t fit the mold. Those processes are non-linear by nature. They don’t follow a linear path from A through B to C. One of those is learning. Children, for example, learn a language by mimicking sounds they pick up from their parents. School on the other side starts with simple present tense and basic idiom. Quite distinct approaches. And learning a language is just one example of our non-linear learning tendencies. You think ancient foragers developed their hunting skills linearly?
Incorporating non-linearity in corporate trainings
- Context at the core. People learn most effectively by applying new insights to day-to-day life. Context makes theory stick. That means curricula should be built around the concept of learning by doing, with facilitated sessions that allow for reflection. Sessions where learners share experiences, give feedback and discuss their learnings.
- No holding back. If non-linear learning doesn’t flow from A to B, how to get to Z? The key to non-linear learning is to start with everything there is. That means starting with a lot of unanswered questions. And more importantly: your own unanswered questions. Taking up full complex real life problems stimulates learners to discover their eagerness to understand the content and to connect the new with the familiar. It gives meaning to theory. Flipping the classroom (we wrote about that earlier) — in which learners study content privately and use facilitated sessions to connect theory to practice — is a first step towards this approach.
- Motivation throughout. Learning non-linearly means getting stuck. And nothing deteriorates learning enthusiasm more than lack of progress. Much more than in linear learning, facilitators have to keep spirits up. They should continuously emphasize that going through ups and downs is the natural way to learn.
By now you might consider non-linear learning as being unstructured and chaotic. But that’s not what it is. Non-linearity simply creates a more flexible, open and playful environment. An environment that eventually should (and will) become the standard in education, because it makes learning so much more impactful, interesting, diverse and personal. So let’s abandon our linear tendencies and wholeheartedly accept our brain as it is: non-linear.