7 Ways to Incorporate Active Learning as You Upskill Your Workforce

    Active learning is more effective than passive approaches. Here’s how to apply active learning strategies to programs for upskilling and reskilling workers.

    user-circle Credly Team
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    Portrait of a students studying in university library

    Society and technology continue to evolve at breakneck speeds, and all signs indicate the pace of change will only increase.

    High-velocity change means traditional learning approaches, often built around slower and less effective “passive learning” techniques, will no longer get the job done.

    Traditional education relied heavily on lectures, seminars, and presentations. Those techniques place ownership and responsibility for learning on an instructor — not on the people who need to develop new skills. Learners who are actively engaged in constructing their own understanding of new knowledge and skills, however, perform better than their passively taught peers.

    What is active learning?

    It’s a variety of learning strategies, often experiential and collaborative in nature, that makes it easier for people to translate what their learning into improved on-the-job performance. Workers of all ages are looking for active learning opportunities.

    For example, surveys of a multi-generational workforce have found that 87% of them considered the opportunity to learn from each other a positive way to build their experience

    Whether you manage a multi-generational workforce, a global workforce, a gig workforce, or some combination of all three, active learning gives your organization a competitive edge.

    A company culture built around active learning will improve productivity, attract, and retain top talent, increase opportunities for innovation, and close critical skills gaps in your talent pool.   

    When you facilitate active learning opportunities, you make it more likely you’ll retain the talent you already have and attract the talent you need.

    "More than 3-in-4 employed workers expect to continue learning and training opportunities throughout their entire career."

    Providing upskilling and reskilling opportunities to your workforce signals to them that your company is invested in them and cares about their success. Workers who feel valued are more motivated, and the employees likeliest to stay the longest are the ones who have been invested in the most.

    A culture of continuous learning appeals to talent of all ages (Gen Z rates professional development opportunities their top priority). A LinkedIn study found there was a 50% increase in the amount of educational video content Gen Z’ers consumed in 2020 vs 2019.  

    But they matter almost as much to others workers. Growth opportunities at work ranked the second highest priority for millennial (46%) and Gen X (42%) workers. According to our own data, (92%) of workers expect maintained learning and development opportunities, making it even more critical when attracting and keeping talent.

    Why Active Learning over Passive Learning

    The “learning loop” is a sequence of processes that help people learn new information and skills. They learn, apply, receive feedback, and then reflect. But passive learning doesn’t engage that learning loop as well. As a result of the “forgetting curve,” about 50 percent of new information is lost in the first hour and 70% after the first 24 hours.

    Incorporating review and repetition – going through the learning loop more than once – improves retention.

    Active learning, which places learners and their actions at the center of the learning process, more effectively engages the learning loop by requiring people to apply their learning, have opportunities for feedback, and then reflect on the learning.

    Building active learning techniques into your training, learning and development programs is more effective.

    Here are seven strategies for incorporating active learning in your upskilling and re-skilling initiatives.

    Focus on Competence Over Confidence 

    Studies show that while passive learners feel more confident, their abilities to perform are lower than their peers who engaged in active learning. 

    In comparison, active learners will often feel less prepared. However, once given the opportunity to apply their learning in a real-world situation, they perform better than they expect.

    That improved performance creates excitement and enthusiasm for more learning, sparking a positive upward spiral.

    Try Role Reversal

    The ultimate test of understanding is the ability to teach it to someone else. So provide your employees opportunities to step into teacher and trainer roles. This can include asking more experienced employees to supervise new employee training, asking people to host brown bag lunches, or other informal sessions to share what they know.

    Asking your employees to function as teachers has other benefits. It save you money, since you don’t have to hire outside subject matter experts or professional trainers. It also reinforces to workers who are asked to teach that they and their skills are valuable. That’s likely to increase their engagement, loyalty, and motivation.

    Nurture Group Interaction

    Small group settings give people the chance to learn and practice new skills in a setting that’s more like their actual work environment. That makes it easier for them to apply new skills when they return to the job after training sessions.

    Group interactions can also build and deepen relationships between employees, which increases engagement. And if carefully facilitated, group interactions can increase the all-important sense of psychological safety, a top factor for worker engagement, performance, and productivity.

    Large groups can be broken into smaller groups during learning activities, or departments can go through training in small teams.

    Encourage Reflection

    Learning activities that encourage brainstorming, doodling, and written reflections often increase retention while decreasing learner fatigue and boredom. Focused reflection time should encourage self-assessments, too. 

    Self-assessments encourage learners to think critically about what they’re learning, how they’re learning, and how effectively they’re learning. This kind of assessment and review helps people better understand the material. It also helps them better understand how they learn, a critical competency for a time when job roles are changing rapidly and a larger percentage of skills used now won’t be needed in a few years.

    Forgive Mistakes

    This can be tough for corporate leaders, managers, and ambitious workers to buy into, but it’s crucial. 

    When learners make mistakes, the feedback they receive expedites their development of new understanding and skills. But they’ll only feel comfortable stretching themselves and making mistakes if leaders and learning facilitators have created a safe environment where mistakes are OK.

    Of course, no leader wants employees to make mistakes on the job. But active learning environments provide opportunities for people to make mistakes in a safe environment. A nonjudgmental, non-punitive approach to mistakes will help them learn faster.

    Use Simulation and Role Play

    This one can be a tough one to get buy-in from some learners, even though it’s very effective. 

    Simulations and role playing in a professional setting can seem silly or childish. But it’s one of the most effective elements of many L&D programs. If you’ve already done a good job encouraging brainstorming and doodling, and you’ve established that you’ll forgive people who make honest mistakes, these kinds of experiential activities can be more engaging.

    Importantly, experiential activities give learners a chance to try out and test new knowledge and skills in ways that are very similar to how they work. This helps ensure that material learned in training sessions gets applied on the job. The easier it is to apply something, the more likely it is to be retained.

    Turn Your Organization into an Active Learner, Too

    Create a clear feedback loop from learners to L&D managers by making employees an integral part of planning, execution, and evaluation of learning materials and programs. You can think of this as a mindset shift: You don’t provide active learning opportunities, you facilitate them. 

    Here again, employees who feel more engaged will reward their employers with greater loyalty and on-the-job engagement. By involving them in the decision making around learning programs, they’ll also be more likely to take those programs seriously – being more engaged and energetic about learning.



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