I liked it. It was engaging. When you go to a lot of workshops, there’s a lot of lecture and then they might have you do an activity that feels forced, but nobody wants to get up at that point because they’ve already settled into their seats. This was nice in that while there was a brief introduction, you were moving around the entire time and not getting too comfortable. I think that helps you to be engaged in each topic and to really learn.
On a Wednesday afternoon in Portland, Oregon, sunlight streamed into a glass-paneled conference room at the corporate headquarters of Daimler Trucks, the largest heavy-duty truck manufacturer in North America.
A group of employees were gathered together to participate in a pilot study of our Cafeteria Learning product, Diversity Works, the first in a line of ready-made learning solutions designed to help companies implement Cafeteria Learning in a convenient and cost effective way. The Diversity Works product consists of an array of nine pre-designed diversity and inclusion activities that a facilitator can set up and facilitate with minimal time and effort. Daimler employees came together to participate in the pilot study from several different departments, including Finance, IT, HR, Diversity, and Legal.
We began by facilitating an initial priming activity and presenting participants with a brief introduction, then we set them free to explore and tinker around the room. Throughout the session, participants enjoyed the opportunity to take control of and choose their own learning, to interact and engage with other participants, and to learn experientially.
I do like the idea of the cafeteria. It provides different options, it keeps you moving, and it allows you to go through and look at the same concept in different ways. I like learning through engagement and being involved, but most trainings don’t offer much engagement at all, and those that do only engage you in one way. They don’t give you the choices where you can move from activity to activity and have different ways of learning like Cafeteria Learning does.
Participants also noted that they felt empowered by the inherent choice that the approach offers.
“I thought it was a very unique way to approach training,” shared one participant. “I think by giving folks the ability to choose what they learn or the style in which they want to learn, you open them up to learn more, because they’re selecting the activities and they feel empowered. So I think it’s a very powerful opportunity to take ownership of your learning."
He noted that he actively chose certain types of activities over others and appreciated having a variety of activities to choose from:
“I chose not to go to the drawing station because that makes me very uncomfortable, so I liked the idea of being able to mix it up a little bit.”
Another employee took the opposite approach, consciously choosing activities that pushed him outside his comfort zone:
“I made a conscious choice to pick an activity that made me feel uncomfortable because I knew that if I got in my comfort zone, I may not be able to learn more, whereas if I made myself a little bit uncomfortable maybe I could make myself vulnerable, which opens me up to learn," the participant shared.
“[My partner and I] both wanted to do the same stuff,” another man added, “and I found out why – we started talking, and it turns out he does the same kind of work that I do and we have the same mindset on how work gets done. I realized that he picked the same kind of analytical stuff as I did – solving the puzzle, the case studies, and this one over here because I can’t draw.” He laughed.
Experiences like this speak not only to the idea of allowing for individuals’ unique learning preferences, but also illustrate how the social and interactive nature of Cafeteria Learning opens up opportunities for learners to form new relationships with their peers – or to deepen those that may already exist.
“I’m from Eastern Europe,” one woman said, extending her hand as she introduced herself to a man she’d partnered with for an activity.
“I’m from Virginia!” the man responded. The two of them delved into the activity together; within minutes, they were deep in discussion.
At another table, two women shared with each other about the diverse qualities that make them the unique individuals they are, touching on topics such as spirituality (“I believe in a higher calling”), hobbies (“You won’t believe how much I love bowling!”), and personal challenges (“I’m dyslexic”). In a post-workshop survey, 80% of participants indicated that they had shared personal experiences related to the topic with others. More than half of participants indicated that others shared personal experiences with them that they were able to learn from, as well.
In addition to sharing about themselves, participants also exchanged their thoughts and viewpoints on various topics. While playing a diversity and inclusion board game, employees clapped when their peers answered a question right, occasionally pausing to discuss one of the questions among themselves. “Is that really the definition of homophobia?” one man asked. For the next few minutes, the group ping-ponged their thoughts back and forth among one another.
“This workshop was valuable because it actually allowed people to exchange viewpoints," commented one participant.
This kind of shared discussion and interaction is a key driver for experiential learning – i.e., learning that arises as a result of interactions with others and/or the activities rather than from an outside source. One activity, for example, was aimed at helping participants understand the concept of unconscious bias. At a typical training, a lecturer might present the definition of unconscious bias and explain to learners why it’s important to be aware of and to challenge the biases they form in their interactions with others.
In Cafeteria Learning, however, the learning happens in a more direct and experiential way. By choosing a photo of a stranger and answering discussion questions about the person they chose, participants began to gain a direct experience of their own unconscious biases. Based on a single snapshot of a person and a few facts about his or her occupation and hometown, participants began to realize that they had already formed snap judgments about whether they liked and trusted that person, about the person’s lifestyle and beliefs, and so on.
“He looks important and too serious,” one woman shared in reference to the photo of a man she had picked. “I don’t trust him.”
Another woman guessed that the woman in her photo, who was employed as a nanny, had a high school education.
“Nannies don’t have college degrees?” we asked.
“We all automatically form judgments and biases as we interact with the people around us,” our facilitator explained as she guided the group in their learning experience.
“It’s the way our brains work, and it’s neither good nor bad. It only becomes a problem when we are unaware of these judgments and carry them into our relationships without questioning their accuracy or validity. The point is to become aware of our unconscious biases and know that we have them so that we can learn to challenge them and not to carry them unexamined into our relationships with others.”
Several participants nodded their heads in agreement as the facilitator spoke. They weren’t just being lectured about an abstract concept; rather, they were experiencing their own unconscious bias in a concrete way.
By the time the session came to a close, some participants were surprised that it was already time to wind down.
“The time went by really quickly,” one participant shared. “Has it already been two hours?”
"It's a fun way to approach to learners. Engaging. It was anything but one-size-fits-all training,” commented another.
And learners appeared to have an appetite for more: In a post-workshop survey, 87% of participants indicated that they’d enjoy learning about another topic through Cafeteria Learning.
When it comes to transforming workplace learning, we’d accomplished our mission. One down, many more to go.
I wanted it to be provocative and it was.