In a world where humanity's knowledge is more readily available than ever before, the question is: How can we learn best? Masterplan blog author Manfred Rump talks in a video interview with Masterplan Lead Instructional Design Kolja Wohlleben about learning in times of ChatGPT and the biggest learning myths that often stand in the way of efficient learning in companies.
Learning myth 1: Are there different types of learners?
Visual, auditory, kinesthetic or communicative type? Many have heard of these "learning types". The idea behind this is that each person learns best in a certain way.
Accordingly, a visual learner, for example, is said to absorb information best when it is presented in the form of pictures or graphics. An auditory learner, on the other hand, is said to be able to learn better when information is read or spoken to him.
Kolja Wohlleben takes a critical and even dangerous view of this classification: "There are surveys of educators, up to 90 percent of whom believe in these learning types and use them in practice."
Which, according to Kolja, is true to begin with: Of course, he says, we all have preferences and talents that can help us better absorb and retain certain types of information.
One example, he says, is perfect pitch, which makes it easier to remember melodies or sounds. A better spatial imagination, on the other hand, can help us better understand maps.
However, Kolja clarifies: "Learning types are scientifically disproved. There are an insane amount of studies that have looked at this." In these studies, learners would be given learning materials according to their stated type, which they would use to study for a test.
However, the subjects would in no way perform better on the test. So assigning learning materials according to learning type made no difference in terms of learning success!
"The danger is that people confuse their own preferences with an efficient learning method. It's not always the same thing." Rather, he said, the principle is that it's the mix that makes the difference, or multimodal engagement.
"When we engage multiple pathways in our brain at the same time, it's much easier for us to process the information and remember things."
This applies to both analog and digital forms of learning at the same time, and also for blended learning: It is important, for example, not just to stand there and talk in a workshop, but to use different modes; or in a video course, to enrich central statements with text inserts, images, etc.
Rather than targeting learning to supposed learning types, he said, it's important to "have as many different ways as possible to deliver the same information."
Learning myth 2: Does ChatGPT make learning unimportant?
Google CEO Sundar Pichai once called artificial intelligence (AI) one of the most important human inventions since fire.
Kolja distinguishes between short-term and long-term effects of ChatGPT and AI in the context of learning: Currently, ChatGPT would often still "hallucinate", which means: ChatGPT's answers would not be free of false claims.
According to Kolja, this makes it all the more important to have broad knowledge and a deep interest in various topics, because only then can you critically question what is presented to you and recognize false information.
In the long term, the question for Kolja is what these models should be used for. Only by remaining open to new things and staying mentally flexible can you take advantage of new technologies. As in the past, those who are open to change will benefit the most from new technologies.
So learning will continue to play a key role in keeping pace with rapidly evolving technology. But it's not just about learning facts, it's also about the ability to think critically and be open to change.
"The people who are able to maintain an openness to new things and a mental flexibility are also the ones who will end up benefiting the most from new technology."
How ChatGPT can support learning
According to Kolja, there are different areas where corporate learners and L&D managers can also proactively use ChatGPT to support learning.
For learners, ChatGPT can be used as an individualized tutor that can be consulted during a course, for example, to refresh knowledge gaps on a fundamental concept that is required in that particular course.
At the same time, according to Kolja, you can also use it to test your own knowledge and challenge yourself, for example with the following prompt:
I think I understood topic X super well, but I'm not quite sure. Ask me a few questions and evaluate them.
According to studies, if you use it smartly, your own productivity and creativity would get an insane boost in efficiency, Kolja said.
How L&D managers can use ChatGPT
As a training designer, one cannot be an expert for all topics. Therefore, one would normally sit down with the respective subject matter experts from the company to explore the content of a course. According to Kolja, this is made much easier by ChatGPT.
For a possible course structure, Kolja has already consulted ChatGPT. The result?
"First suggestions on how to build up a creativity course and what kind of learning content could be included - also really concrete models. You still have to polish it and, of course, improve it yourself, but otherwise it would have taken me a lot of time to research it and see: Are these valid things?"
Learning myth 3: Is the 70:20:10 rule scientifically sound?
The 70-20-10 model of learning is often interpreted as learning from three sources, with formal learning accounting for only 10 percent, direct interaction with colleagues (also: social learning) 20 percent, and almost unconscious learning through experience 70 percent.
However, one should be skeptical of such simple models, especially if they are structured like a pyramid and can be easily marketed, Kolja said. The main problem with this model, he said, is that it implies that you should either focus on one of these forms of learning or that they can be considered independently.
In reality, the different forms of learning are much more complexly interwoven. Formal learning can be just as important as informal learning through experience, and there are many ways to acquire skills. The 70-20-10 model is therefore too simplistic to capture all aspects of learning.
A formal push - supposedly only 10 percent - is insanely important and in many cases a basic prerequisite in learning, he says. Kolja illustrates this with an example:
Better feedback skills could not necessarily be achieved by "doing" alone. In this case, formal teaching of new feedback techniques is needed first in order to achieve positive learning effects in everyday work.
And what's more, according to Kolja, the 70-20-10 rule is based on a survey of a few hundred managers in the 1980s and 1990s. These survey results were retrospectively divided into three categories, resulting in the aforementioned rule, which has endured to this day.
Informal and formal learning are important components, but the 70:20:10 model does not do justice to the flexible weighting and interlocking in practice.
Myths debunked: Learning types, AI and 70:20:10 rule
In summary, it can be said that
- there are no scientifically proven learning types,
- the 70-20-10 rule is based only on a retrospective survey and is therefore extremely questionable in its validity,
- ChatGPT and artificial intelligence do not mean an end to learning. On the contrary, critical thinking is becoming essential to successfully use new technologies and programs like ChatGPT can already be used to support learning - both on the part of learners and on the part of training designers and L&D managers in companies.