When it comes to organizational learning, it’s time to expand our thinking.

Organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on learning each year. We face challenges around accessibility, travel expenses, time away from the job and learning relevancy. We need to find new ways to make learning effective, so that it makes a positive impact on the organization.

In an interview with Corporate Learning Network, Casper Moerck, head of learning technology for the Americas at Siemens, talked about the future of learning in organizations. When asked, “From your perspective, what does the future of learning look like for companies/organizations?”, Moerck responded, “I believe that L&D will go through the same type of transformation that marketing and advertising went through in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, where there was a significant move from analog to digital tools, systems, approaches and last but not least, mindsets.”

What does that transformation require of the teams who offer corporate learning solutions, either internally or externally?

It requires a new kind of impact.

We need a new approach to learning design that ensures deeper learning and “stickiness” for the learner and greater impact for the organization. The traditional approach of “tell, show, do” creates learning programs that begin by telling learners something, then show them something, then have them do it for themselves. We need to go further. We need to look at not only what the learner needs but also how to make certain the learning impacts the organization.

Impact model

It’s been said that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we discuss with others, and 95% of what we teach others. The specific percentages vary, but the point is that the more we are involved in learning, the more we learn and retain.

Employees need to be engaged, not just trained. As training professionals, we have to compete for attention with all types of devises and mediums, especially in a remote learning environment. As a result, we need to step up our learning engagement. People want to connect at an emotional level. Let’s break down a “4 Es” model to understand how we can engage learners better:

Explain

The first “E” is straightforward: What are the models, formulas or desired behaviors, and why are they important? Learning must start here. Provide written materials, digital content, models, supporting information and research to gain credibility and show relevance. The important part is to be clear on what you want participants to learn. What do you want them to walk away with?

Expand

Show examples of how to perform the new skill using step-by-step documentation, narratives and/or demonstrations (depending on the subject matter). You can do it using printed or digital materials, visual roadmaps, or descriptions. Most organizations are pretty good at this “E,” but our content is often not as dynamic as it could be.

Linking the Learning

It’s important in this step to make sure you link the learning to something that already exists for the learners and for the organization; this way, you can guide learners in making meaningful connections.

Take it to the next level using videos of experts who can add detail or flavor to a topic. For example, you might link learning to:

    • Leadership or management programs.
    • Personality profiles the company uses.
    • An innovation that is currently happening or will be needed in the future.
    • Customer service values or programs.
    • Sales initiatives that are growing the business.
    • Performance management and employee development practices.

Engage

The third “E” is where this impact model differs from traditional approaches to learning. We have told participants the information we want to impart, we have illustrated that example using examples and demonstration, and we have started to link the learning to the current organizational context. Now, we want them to feel the learning.

In a recent article from ATD, Carole Bower, head of learning at Saba, wrote, “Learning can be an emotional process: People naturally remember events and experiences that make them feel something emotionally. Emotion greatly affects learning, memory, and performance; savvy learning experience designers tap into that. By designing experiences that invoke emotions—either positive or negative—there is a greater chance that learners will take notice of and encode, store, and retrieve the information when needed. Essentially, it’s about making things stick.”

Axonify’s 2018 “State of Workplace Training” report found that 92% of employees believe “formal workplace training positively impacts their job engagement,” but they want more. 90% of employees want training that is “engaging and fun” (up from 85% in a 2016 study), and “41% of employees identify this aspect as very important.”

Here’s how we can give our learners what they want:

    • Relevant real-life scenarios, acted out in a group.
    • Videos that tell a compelling story, with a follow-up discussion.
    • Role-playing with interactive improv sketches.
    • Providing an experience from a new perspective. (For example, rather than a traditional role-play, create an undesired outcome, and have participants act out the path to reach it.)
    • Use movie clips (following copyright restrictions) that represent the emotion you want learners to feel or videos that are directly related to the situation at hand.
    • Have learners tell a personal story related to the topic, and ask them what they felt during that experience.
    • Use an assessment that relates directly to employees and their experiences, such as a personality profile or a culture survey.
    • Align to current initiatives, and ask participants how the learning can help them.

Embed

This final “E” is where the learning grows legs. Often, training teams develop programs and roll them out to the whole organization, putting everyone through the program in an attempt to make an impact. However, rolling out non-engaging training to everyone costs a lot of money and, in the end, may only put more people through learning that doesn’t stick.

Instead, take a more strategic approach to rolling out new programs. Think about where the learning can make the greatest impact first. For example, choose strategic small groups of employees who are visible in the organization to bring on board first. Then, make them ambassadors for the learning program.

Don’t make the learning a standalone event. Link it to internal initiatives that impact the culture, such as becoming a “Best Place to Work,” diversity and inclusion, customer satisfaction, company values and guiding principles, and employee and management competencies. Build the desired behaviors into performance reviews, objectives and organizational goals, and vision statements. Then, make sure you’re rewarding employees who are role models in demonstrating the desirable behaviors.

In the end, learning is not an event or a presentation of information. It is something that learners experience and feel, and it makes an impact on the organization. It’s time to understand what the organizers of sporting events, movies and concerts have known for a long time: Engage people, and appeal to their emotions!

Do it well, and your talent will cheer you on.

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