What We'll Learn in 2014

Happy New Year 2014 1 1 resized 600A New Year has arrived, and it’s time for predictions. I’ll make one and add some suggestions to help deal with a change I see on the horizon relating to learning investments.
My prediction is that organizations will increasingly look at learning effectiveness as opposed to learning delivery with a more careful, thoughtful approach than they have in the past. Particularly for important subjects that affect culture, productivity, and risk, leaders intent on business results will ask:  “What’s the most cost-effective way to convey learning which has an impact on daily job conduct?” rather than “What’s the most cost-effective way to communicate information?” This shift in focus will result in a qualitative analysis of learning effectiveness in terms of individual offerings and whole curricula.   It’s time for this to happen.
Workplace learning requires time and money. Actually, according to recent data, it involves massive investments of both[1].  As an investment, however, learning should yield much more than simply communicating and tracking completion, which has been the focus of many organizations over the past few years. There’s a big difference between checking the box and truly understanding and applying key lessons.
That’s going to begin to change in 2014 with organizations asking the same questions as our schools and universities, which are struggling to understand how to make learning worthwhile. They’ve learned that passing tests whose lessons are quickly forgotten, and are narrow in their application to begin with, don’t insure mastery of key topics and the ability to apply what they have been taught.
Ironically, organizations will look at learning in the same way they look at other financial allocations – i.e., the payoff and the most useful way to get results will begin to drive more decisions.
There are essays, books, conferences, and mounds of data and information on learning effectiveness and application. This field is exploding as advances in what I’ll call “learning physiology” (the combination of pedagogy and brain research) proliferate. Your goal should be to make workplace learning effective as opposed to simply delivering the learning.  Actual application of your initiatives is critical to organizational success and risk avoidance. Here are a few simple tips to serve as a reminder when developing your workplace learning initiatives.

  • If lessons aren’t plain, you won’t retain; if you don’t retain, you can’t sustain. The key point of learning that focuses on behavior is that the behavior actually change. If you provide information without a linked model on how to actually apply the skills on the job, most of what’s taught will remain on the desktop or in the classroom. In other words: You forget volumes very fast, and data dumped will never last.
  • What you don’t use, you will surely lose.  If there’s not a plan for key learning points to be applied consistently on the job by learners, then they won’t be. They will be forgotten in the deluge of other stuff that people need to remember. Stated another way: If you’ve been taught but forgot, then do it, you will not.
  • If you want to reach, you must not preach. Adults apply what they believe is important. Telling them a subject is vital won’t work unless they see how it applies to them in their daily responsibilities. If you want your participants to absorb and apply the learning, start by letting them tell you why a topic or action is important as opposed to your telling them.
  • A story told well casts a learning spell. We remember stories and experiences rather than data and facts. Key points should be reinforced with anecdotes and actions that learners will retain and apply after the class is over.
  • Proving you took is not proving you learned. Think about all the many mindless lectures you’ve taken at various times in your life. Chances are, the only things you remember from these experience are the boredom and frustration at having to sit through a lecture or presentation with no other purpose than making sure you did so. I’d suggest everyone look at their learning initiatives and ask if the bulk of the participants will see planned deliveries the same way. If the answer is yes, then your learning’s a mess!

[1] 2012 ASTD State of the Industry Annual Report
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