Schemas and Mental Models are Valuable

Why are top performers adept at making the right decisions in new or unfamiliar settings?

Part of the reason is that they’ve developed schemas that help them quickly identify familiar patterns and draw on existing knowledge and experience.

It’s something we’ve seen time and again in our client organizations (including call centers, banks, brokerage firms, consulting firms, manufacturers, etc.). Top performer expertise is a big reason we typically spend time with them during the analysis and design processes. Our goal is to slow the top performers down to give them the time and space to explain their mental models and how their thought processes work.

During design, we strive to shine a light on the rules or underlying principles that differentiate situations or problems (1) to use them in realistic practice. Our goal is to accelerate the learning process by leveraging useful and proven patterns or rules.

Some thoughts about shaping the practice in a way that leverages the mental models:

  • Define the mix of real situations

  • Make sure the difficulty is appropriate (low difficulty initially, building to greater difficulty)

  • Identify the context clues used in each situation

  • Connect the dots between the information/content/documentation the individual accesses

  • Show and explain the decision tree (or sequence of filters) followed

Research shows (and our own experience aligns with it) that spacing, interleaving, and varying the practice helps learners pick up and apply the patterns.

Building your Best Employee: Learning Strategies that Drive Results

(1) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel