In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes, “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” This observation is part of Gladwell’s larger assertion, drawing on research subjects as varied as world chess masters to classical composers, that it takes about ten years to reach “expertise” in most complex fields. There’s little doubt it takes at least ten years for your senior leaders to gain the expertise necessary to oversee their divisions, but the vast majority of your employees have far more finite knowledge needs. We do, however, require them to become experts at what they do, capable of solving problems. The question is: How do we get them to expertise as quickly as possible? The answer has to focus on the preparation Gladwell speaks about.
When we are teaching employees how to excel at their jobs, we’re not going to get anywhere asking them to memorize facts and take multiple-choice tests. We’re preparing them to enter real-world jobs where they will interact with humans full of questions and encounter circumstances and technologies loaded with complexities. Like all employers, you’re looking for a means to expedite your employees’ movement from novice to expert. One central way to prepare them properly is to use structured field experiences. Structured field experiences are enhanced, carefully designed learning experiences where novices are matched with experts out in the “field” where the work actually happens. We design these experiences based on the principle that it is the quality and intensity of learning experiences that lead to expertise.
M-Pact Learning and Structured Field Experiences
M-Pact Learning uses structured field experiences to ensure high levels of learning. The key term here is “structured”. Most shadowing or mentoring programs are unstructured. New-hires simply spend time with an experienced employee and hope that learning transfer occurs. Shadowing and mentoring are usually reliant almost entirely on the mentor. What if that mentor is a poor teacher? M-Pact Learning puts the impetus for learning on the learner. The mentor then becomes more of a facilitator and supporter of the learning process rather than being solely responsible for learning outcomes. The structure we develop applying M-Pact Learning includes a participant field guide that ensures the learner knows precisely what to do and doesn’t require that the mentor be trained or take inordinate amounts of time to prepare. The field experience starts with simple activities and gradually moves to more complex interactions, applying the “building block” theory of learning. Structured field experiences are an application of experiential learning—learning by doing—but in a purposeful manner. Inherent in this approach, these experiences require learners to apply what they have learned, which is a critical prerequisite for knowledge transfer.
Observing an expert isn’t enough to make you an expert. But having a guiding hand designed to help you master applications of your job with an experienced mentor available to reinforce and discuss your learning will. I share more in my book M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage.