Be A Scientist – Set Up Your Own Learning Behavior Lab on Micro- Experiences and Stories – Tip #90

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Do you like to ride a roller coaster or go skydiving?

Have you tried scuba diving or deep cave hiking?

For many of us, these might be extreme experiences. We could not even begin to fathom the feeling or the emotions evoked by such adventures.

As trainers, designers and learning specialists – we are scientists. We should build our own small learning behavior laboratory. By introducing new experiences to our learners, we help them discover newer and better ways to learn.

Have your tried Google Cardboard?
More on Google Cardboard  

As part of my workshop Story-Based Learning, I bring in four pieces of the Google Cardboard and ask participants to play around with it.

These are some of the participants’ comments:

“I walked around Paris. And I was there.”

“It was fun. I had to bend my body and twist my waist to follow my surroundings. Strange feeling but very interesting.”

“Just using my smartphone and a Cardboard allowed me to skydive. It was real.”

“Wow, I actually drove a car!”

Affordable VR Tools
It was a fascinating experience. I, myself, have never before interacted with a form of media which allowed me into another world through virtual reality. I remembered what Jane McGonigal said in her book, Reality is Broken, 2011. 

My firm has done quite a few projects with simulation and scenario projects for the U.S. Department of Defense, using virtual reality. The large and expensive solutions would not be viable for small and easier to implement VR projects. Today however, with the Oculus Rift type of products we begin to see real possibilities.

We may be seeing a new wave of inexpensive VR tools that can help low-budget and easy-to-implement VR training courses. We now see this in health-care, high risk toxic wastes handling and other uses.
Accelerate learning new behaviors
When I see a new technology, because of my background in psychology, organizational development and software design and development, I often find it exciting to see the behaviors associated with the technology as well as how it is adapted. So every opportunity I have, I find ways to conduct small, crazy and fun experiments. I am probably one of those “wanna-be scientists.”

Let learners experience a behavior. 

  1. Google Cardboard, as a model, allows us to introduce new experiences to the learner. It is harmless, low risk, and takes a few minutes to set up.
  2. The Cardboard also uses the smartphones, which is what most of us have and are familiar with how it works. The Apps are free and easy to download.
  3. Having a micro-experience with Cardboard allows learners the opportunities to explore more advanced tools. The experience also adds to their confidence level and lowers the “anxiety” over trying new things.

Conduct your own learning behavior LAB
Why set up and conduct your own learning behavior lab? And why be a scientist?

I am probably over-simplifying the role of a scientist. Essentially, these experts conduct studies on empirical data and arrive at useful conclusions. Before the heavy-lifting science, data gathering, analysis and research publications, they are constantly “testing, observing, and running scenarios” in their minds. The analytical and curious mind is what drives the scientific endeavor.

As trainers, designers, learning specialists and technologists, we have to take a scientist’s outlook. We can conduct action-research type of studies: which means studying actual micro-experiments and reporting our findings. I emphasize micros since this is easiest and most convenient to do while we are doing our tasks.

Ideas for micro-experiments and research
These are some examples.

1. Testing Drones

Find an area that your company or leaders are curious about.

I recall a project we worked on with the U.S. State Department. One of the trainers bought a small drone and attached a camera. He then captured a video on some angles of a building that was hard to explain to trainees in terms of spotting possible threats. His video made it possible for him and his trainees to visualize some difficult situations and improved the learning and reduced the costs since now they were to avoid having to visit varied types of buildings physically. With this small experiment, today, part of their procedure is to use several drones for their training design and development.

Try a crazy idea: Bring a small and simple drone into your workshop or ask your learners to try and fly the drone then ask them this question: “What new experience did you go through? What might be practical applications of your experience in using the drone? Share your own micro-experiences and stories.

2. 3-D Printers

You can actually purchase a small 3-D printer from Staples or Best Buy or Amazon for $250.00. In my workshops, I manage to insert a small experiment (of course I have several hours of preparation), where teams are asked to design a very simple idea using the software and then produce the simple product with the 3-D Printers. My goal is not necessarily to make them masters of the technology, but to make them learn an important idea: “constant trial and error” which is a very effective learning process.

I often use this exercise to let learners, who are trainers and designers, understand that “people don’t learn by following perfect procedures, but by constant trial and error.” This exercise introduces learners to practical behaviors which are often only in their minds.

Try a crazy idea: Buy a small 3D-Printer and conduct an experiment in your classes. Make it voluntary. Some will do it. The key is to let them share their learning (this is where you act as a scientist.) Share your own micro-experiences and stories.

3. Balancing Nails

Have your tried the Balancing Nail Puzzle? This is a low-tech and easy-to-do experiment. I use this to show that scientific theories like gravity can be taught through very simple life experiences. In the Story-Based Design Workshop, I often get participants who say “that there are concepts where it’s hard to find real-life examples.” I disagree with this notion and to show them an example I ask them to go through the process.

Through this experiment I help learners undergo a real experience with an otherwise abstract concept.

Try this crazy idea: Don’t wait for a workshop to try ideas. Set up a small room or a table near your training department and call it a learning behavior lab. Ask your peers to suggest ideas on what might be good experiments to conduct. This will be fun to do. Share your own micro-experiences and stories.


One of my favorite trainer and scientist is Bill Nye, the TV personality, science guy.  


Now you see where my fondness for bow ties come from?

Bill Nye is practical, simple and a micro scientist. He makes learning new and simple by inviting others to test or experiment on an idea.

I think as trainers, designers, developers, learning technologists and specialists, we ought to be running our own learning behavior labs.


Google Cardboard


Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken, 2011

Oculus Rift type of products

Balancing Nail Puzzle?

Bill Nye, the TV personality, science guy

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”