Backwards Chaining in Corporate Training

I recently started a new job and have been undergoing the necessary training to bring me up to speed. I came at an odd point in the work cycle, so they had to decide where they were going to start training me. Finally, it was decided that they would give me an overview of the Big Picture and then let me start by learning the end of the process.

This ended up not being what happened (instead, I was given the overview and then started in the middle of the process), but it brought to mind a concept that I learned about while working on my thesis a few years ago (has it really been that long?).

There is a concept among the Inuit people called isumaqsayuq, which is defined as “the way of passing along knowledge through observation and imitation embedded in daily family and community activities, integration into the immediate shared social structure being the principal goal. The focus is on values and identity, developed through the learner’s relationship to other persons and to the environment.” (attributed to Arleen Stairs in my notes)

Essentially, these children are trained into the tasks that will become part of their daily lives through this method, also known as backward chaining. They begin at the end of a process, where they learn how to finish the process until they can do it proficiently on their own. Then, they are taught the next earliest part of the process until they can successfully complete it on their own. At this point, the student is expected to handle the process from the new part through to the completion of the process. It continues in this method until the student has learned all the way to the beginning of the process.

I look at that, and I think about how I felt when I thought that was how my training was going to happen. To me, this makes sense. If I am taught in this backward chaining method, then it reduces the time I will ask, “What now?” because I will know what comes next. The learning is not out of context. In fact, it may even make steps easier to learn because I’ll understand why things are done in a certain way because I will already be familiar with the later part of the process that is prepared for by an earlier step.

While backwards chaining may not be possible in all learning ventures, I do have to wonder how many would be made easier if this method was considered.


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