Why learn everything today when you can learn it slowly, over the next month?

When I was a kid, I used to talk with my friends about how cool it would be if we could just take some sort of pill so that we could know everything we needed to know, and we wouldn’t have to go to school any more.

I think it’s human nature to constantly be looking for shortcuts. There are a lot of times when we don’t need to master knowledge or content, a quick visit to Google or YouTube gives us everything we need. On the other hand, getting really, really good at what you do – whether it’s elearning design, classroom training design, whatever – takes time. There are no shortcuts to mastering your craft.

On this week’s podcast, I had an opportunity to talk with eLearning Launch’s Chief of Awesomeness, Alexander Salas, about the value of learning cohorts as well as the value of learning over time (as opposed to trying to cram all your learning into one event).

Transcript of the Conversation with Alexander Salas

Brian Washburn: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn with Endurance Learning and I am joined today by Alexander Salas, who is the Chief of Awesomeness at eLearning Launch. Alexander, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Alexander Salas: Oh, Brain, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here and I look forward to having this discussion. 

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I think this is going to be great because we’re going to be talking here about spaced learning and learning cohorts today. And, like we always do with all of our guests, we try to have people introduce themselves just briefly with a six-word biography. When I think of this topic of spaced learning and cohort learning, especially, if I had to introduce myself using exactly six words, I would say “I find some comfort in numbers”. How about you? How would you introduce yourself using exactly six words?

Alexander Salas: All right, you’re ready. Here we go. 

Brian Washburn: Let’s do it. 

Alexander Salas: “Show me what you can do.”

Brian Washburn: You know, I love that. And I’m going to get into that in just a minute, so we can dive a little bit more deeply into that, but before we go any further, I introduced you as the Chief of Awesomeness at eLearning Launch. Can you tell us a little bit more about what eLearning Launch is?

What Is eLearning Launch?

Alexander Salas: Absolutely. So eLearning Launch is an online academy that helps any aspiring learning professional to become an instructional designer or learning professional in any event.

Brian Washburn: You know, people are busy and you do offer a self-paced option, but what are some of the reasons that people give for wanting to be part of a learning cohort?

What’s the Value of a Learning Cohort?

Alexander Salas: Well, that’s always an interesting question. I think we always have to point back to the fact that we’re human and based on the recent conditions as well, we have the need to have that social interaction. Some of the cohorts that we do are different, right? So like one cohort, two of the cohorts actually, are very based on online collaboration. So we’ll break out Miro boards, you know, and we get people collaborating and adding things and making comments and, you know, and having discussions. 

And the main thing about this, that the cohorts that we do is that, again, it goes back to that biography:  “show me what you can do”. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah.

Alexander Salas: So we have a thing where we say, we don’t– we can understand that you may be a lurker at this point. Well, we’re going to break you out of that little shell. So yeah, so it’s a process that we help people to come out of the shell. You know, we make a safe environment and that’s the key point.

Brian Washburn: I really love this biography that you came up with, “show me what you can do,” and just before we started recording you and I were talking a little bit about the value of formal education and degrees and things like that. Can you talk just a little bit more about what you mean by “show me what you can do”? 

“Show Me What You Can Do”

Alexander Salas: I think, you know, the important thing today, and I think always has been the ability to create and the ability to express your ideas through your work. Sort of like an artist, right? When artists are great, you see their work. And now at this point, due to fame or due to recognition, you recognize the work. 

Brian Washburn: Sure. 

Alexander Salas: So, for that perspective, in the same light, I tell people, and you know, I profess the idea of get known by the quality of your work, not so much by how well you can talk about yourself. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah. And so those letters after your name, you know, to me, they don’t mean a lot unless you can actually show me what they’ve resulted in, right? And so, it’s one thing to have, you know, CPLP or whatever the alphabet soup that people use after the names, or MA or PhD even. But it’s another thing to actually be able to show that you can solve a problem or really be really creative in what you’re doing. Maybe you know how to use Storyline, but how creative can you get, I think, for me, is a really important piece. 

Alexander Salas: Yes, absolutely. You mentioned that part of you can use Storyline. That’s true. Cause you know, anybody can use Storyline. The one thing you can’t do is use my creativity. So, that’s — I love that. I love that piece.

Brian Washburn: Absolutely. So, and with your courses, each course takes place over a certain period of time, right? This isn’t just a, you know, show me what I need to learn and give-me-a-certificate-after -few-hours type of program. What advantages do you think that spacing the learning over a period of time, as opposed to just kind of cramming everything into a four hour session holds for you as somebody who designs the courses? And also what advantages does it have for the learners? 

The Advantages of Spaced Learning for Both Teachers and Students

Alexander Salas: Well, yes. So one thing we have to understand is that we have a couple of domains to be concerned with. So, cognitivism, behaviorism, effective psychomotor domains, all that stuff. So primarily you have to have a good balance of all those elements and you have to provide the opportunity for that new information or the new– you know, I say if you play video games, it’s kinda like when you’re playing RPGs, you know, role play games type, and you have this map that you haven’t uncovered yet; right? So it’s darkened out. And so now that you’re learning new stuff, you’re kind of shining a light into the dark area and it’s opening up more. 

Well, the thing about it is I’m always diving into neuroscience and the different discoveries. And I see doing neuroscience as more of a confirmation mechanism of what we already knew, right? So, back in the 1900s, you had Thorndike telling us about the law of effect, the law of exercise. And those are things that are kind of hard to dispute. So, you know, law of effect: things that you usually like, you will repeat. And the law of exercise is if you don’t– I basically simplify it and I say, if you don’t use it, you lose it. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah.

Alexander Salas: So in this situation, we space things out because you get that first exposure, you go to sleep and then the magic happens. You know, learning actually happens when you sleep, not when you’re doing things. Which is something that I learned from a neuroscientist that has a YouTube channel that is very popular. I can’t remember the name right now, but it is an interesting thing. 

And the other part was that the duration of time is also important, so 90 minutes is kind of like the top notch there, the ideal spot. So we do that. I do 90 minutes. We go for twice a week, in some cases. And most of my other partners here, like Betty Dannewitz and Myra Roldan, they actually do hybrid approaches. They provide a lot of video content up front and they meet once a week and that works for what they do.

But it works in the sense that people have time to rest. People have time to come back and refresh, recap on what we did and then build on what has already been constructed in the brain, right? So those neural structures, the synapses and the strengthening of those new neural pathways.

Brain Washburn: Yep. That all makes sense. And I buy into that and I think that a lot of people who are listening understand that. And I’d love to know, for people who are listening, if you have any advice here because if they’re working with organizations where they’re thinking this makes sense, right? People need to digest information. They need to be able to use it over a period of time or else they’re going to forget it. But they might get pushback from their actual– people– their audience, their intended audience who are going to say, “look, you know, we’re busy. We can’t really do a weekly course over a month or two months. Let’s just rip the bandaid off and let’s sit down for half a day and be done with it.” What advice would you have for them to be able to sell this idea of spacing the learning and spacing their programs a little bit more.

Justifying Spaced Learning Programs

Alexander Salas: The main thing to be concerned with in business always, you know, you have to learn the business you’re in and then also explain the benefits of the actions involved. So, you know, what is better? We will say if we put it in regular terms, you’re going to learn how to fly a plane. Do you want to learn it all in one day or would you like to learn one hour for the next two months? So, you know, and that way you can scaffold and that way you can have some self-study, some self-regulation, right?

All those benefits fall in play. So the main idea here in business is, instead of doing 8 hours without any application in the business. Why don’t you do 90 minutes with direct application in the business. And see, you know, that’s going to yield better results. 

Brian Washburn: I could talk about this for days. This is a– I think this is a really important conversation and I think that– I would love to have you back. 

Get to Know Alexander Salas

Brian Washburn: We’re going to run out of time here, but before we do, I have a few speed-round questions so that our audience can get to know you just a little bit better. Are you ready for the speed round? 

Alexander Salas: All right, let’s do it. 

Brian Washburn: What is your favorite thing about your career in learning and development?

Alexander Salas: Helping others.

Brian Washburn: What’s the best piece of advice, either professional or career advice, that you’ve ever received?

Alexander Salas: Learn how to accept feedback. 

Brian Washburn: Ooooh. That is a good one. What are you reading or listening to that maybe other people should be paying attention to these days? 

Alexander Salas: I tend to go outside of the realm, so I would say right now I’m  reading an excellent book. It’s called An African American and Latinx History of the United States, and I’m learning a ton of stuff that’s changing perspectives and providing all of that, so that’s what I would say for that. 

Brian Washburn: That’s such an interesting one because a lot of times guests will say, “look, we need to get outside of our bubble of L&D in order to become better within our bubble.” And I think that’s a great example. Last question for you is, do you have any shameless plugs? 

Alexander Salas: Absolutely. So no, we have, you know, Escape Rooms in Storyline. It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to take your Storyline skills to the highest level you can think of and that happens here in June. We’re hot. So in June it’s Camtasia and Storyline at the end of the month, check it out. You’ll definitely love it. A lot of people love it and we promote the work that they do. 

Brian Washburn: Alexander, this has been such a fun conversation, thank you so much for joining us. I really do want to have this conversation as a part two. I think there’s a lot of other directions we could go. For everybody else, thank you so much for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen which can be found on Spotify, on Apple, iHeart radio, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you hear, go ahead and give us a rating. That’s how other people will find us and don’t forget to subscribe.

One last shameless plug, next week on June 29th, my own book comes out called What’s Your Formula?: Combined Learning Elements for Impactful Training. You can find that on Amazon or the ATD website. Until next time, happy training everyone!

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox. Sign up today for a free demo below.

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