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Science of Learning: The 2017 Spring Tour

One of my favorite parts of the Spring is the various meetings and symposia I am invited to – whether face-to-face or virtual – the opportunity to learn from and share with various learning professionals is perhaps my favorite part of being a Chief Learning Officer.

Over the next month or so I will be leading a session at the 2nd Annual Learning-Technology-Design Conference hosted by Tagoras, as well as Keynoting the America Medical Writer Association Annual Meeting and the Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Innovation in Education Meeting. Each meeting allows me to engage with an audience of peers and to continue to advocate for the Science of Learning.

While the commitment of time and planning can be overwhelming at times, I fully subscribe to the adage that, “if you really want to learn something, teach it…” – and this year I have committed to work on three separate, but related topics. As I get closer to each presentation, I thought I might share a few new ideas I have come to learn!

Later this week, the Spring tour begins with a session entitled, “Measure Well: ‘Hacking’ Learning Analytics.” The goals of this session are to help learning professionals develop their own ‘work smarter, not harder’ approaches to gathering, understanding, and leveraging learning data. In preparing for this session I reflected on how frustrating ‘outcomes’ can be for those professionals that fail to effectively operationalize a framework and quickly find their efforts being wasted – efforts that should take minutes, instead take hours (or weeks) – or simply fail altogether. This recognition is summarized in one of my introductory slides:

Stop #2 on the Spring tour takes place a few weeks later with a session entitled, “What Do We Really Know About Learning?” The goals of the second session are to deconstruct learning and to simplify its foundational science. This is a talk I have given dozens of times, but each time I prepare I challenge myself to find a new angle – to tell the story in a slightly different way. This time I’ve forced myself to revisit the fore-fathers of behavioral economics and to look for ways to apply this seemingly unrelated field to better understand the science of learning. In doing so I may have stumbled on the most (simple and) critical lesson an educational designer may ever learn:

Stop #3 on the Spring tour takes place in April when I will visit colleagues at LVHN where my Keynote is entitled, “(Effective) Learning and Behavior Change Requires Time.” In this third session I will make the case that one-off and episodic educational interventions are – with very few exceptions – never going to help us achieve the outcomes we desire! The simple truth is that learning is rarely ever a moment, instead it is a process – as is teaching – and therefore both learners and educators need time:

In preparing for each of these sessions I can spend hours and hours huddled away in my office re-crafting, honing, and simplifying my stories…and it is all worth it!

Each time I walk on stage, I whole-heartedly believe that we are moving the community forward; I believe that sharing from the gospel of ‘learning science’ will empower educational professionals; and I believe that only when advancing collectively will the continuing education of healthcare professionals drive achievement of the triple aim.

And when I look at the big picture this way, I just can’t help but get a bit fired up!

(Though, to be fair, the downside of all this preparing for the Spring tour is that I really need to get out more…or at least move near an open window…)

Brian S McGowan, PhD

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Brian is a research scientist and educational technologist. He helped transform Pfizer’s Medical Education Group and previously served in educational leadership roles at HealthAnswers, Inc.; Acumentis, LLC.; Cephalon; and Wyeth. He taught graduate medical education programs at Arcadia University for 10 years. Dr. McGowan recently authored the book "#socialQI: Simple Solutions for Improving Your Healthcare" and has been invited to speak internationally on the subject of information flow, technology, and learning in healthcare.

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