Our job as learning and development (L&D) leaders is to ensure we set everyone up for success by designing learning experiences using methods that address the diverse ways in which people learn. The work might take some time up front, but the result is spectacular: You’ll have more superstars in your office. To truly meet the needs of every learner, you need to develop an understanding of instructional diversity.

The Cost of One-size-fits-all Learning

Why is it that when you hire ten fabulous candidates, only one or two become top performers? Perhaps it’s because the successful ones’ learner preferences happen to line up with the way your organization structures its training. The rest might struggle to get acclimated and never catch up.

Research backs up this theory. Some 70% of employees report they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs. Some of the reasons cited for this include irrelevant training, not being able to put what they learn into practice and not learning the right information at the right time.

The cost of this irrelevant training is astounding: $130 billion was spent on it in 2020, and $97 billon of it was wasted. Then, there are the enormous associated costs: poor retention rates, employee stress and frustration, and subpar work.

Meet Multimodal Learning

Multimodal learning involves using multiple learning modalities so that people can select the learning and feedback methods that are most effective for them. Instruction is far more effective when each learner has access to the medium that promotes their greatest retention and application.

Organizations thrive when people thrive. And people thrive when their organization gives them the time to learn and practice the skills critical to their role.

With today’s accelerating rate of change affecting every organization, your secret sauce might be how you teach people to be successful at what they need to do. Put another way, it’s time for a learning revolution!

The power of letting people learn according to their preferences has significant spillover benefits. Some 94% of employees say they will stay longer at a company if it invested in their career — a huge bonus during The Great Resignation.

How to Embrace Multimodal Learning

Multimodal learning could be the key to energizing your culture and fast-tracking the success of your people. Here are some tactics for designing with instructional diversity.

  • Start with the end in mindCreate “doing” objectives. Capture what someone in a specific role really needs to be able to do to be successful at their job. Then leverage the Pareto principle, also known as the “80/20 rule:”
    • Design time: Spend 20% of your design time on what you are teaching. Spend 80% on how you will teach.
    • Learner time: Design so that 20% of your learners’ time is spent on learning the content and 80% is spent on practicing using the content.
    • Session time: Spend 20% of the session with you talking and teaching. Have learners spend the other 80% talking, practicing, and using their brains to retain and use the information.
  • Now create learning objectives. Once you have the “doing” objectives in place that will drive success, then create learning objectives — how people will learn what they need to learn.

Discover and share examples of what the best and brightest exemplars do. Start capturing the best samples you can find of what others have achieved on critical goals, tasks or skills. If people need to learn to write proposals, collect proposals that really knock it out of the park. If you want to share secrets to a great presentation, find out what exemplars with rave reviews do and save those in a dedicated file. Now that you have examples, when someone needs to learn to write reports, share with them an example of what a great report looks like.

  • Focus learners’ energy by showing them what a good job looks like before they start. When we see an example of an excellent job and how it was accomplished, it allows our brain to focus energy on doing the right thing instead of wasting energy on tasks that don’t contribute to success.

A simple example explains the logic: If I asked a group of people to draw a rock, everyone would draw something different — from pebbles to mountains. Think of the energy savings if I say, “Draw me a perfectly round rock,” and show you a picture of one. Clarity of outcome saves time, reduces stress, and increases success.

  • Teach the skills of an exemplar. Use multimodal learning to create different learning paths. To help, here is a brief overview of the six-step ENGAGE Model, outlined below to organize your teaching process, and unleash exemplary learning:

Energize Participants: Energize people before the learning session by creating a sense of urgency with emails from a senior leader. Make books, articles, and podcasts available ahead of time. Introducing material this way helps the brain learn naturally over time.

Navigate Content: Let learners navigate content with interactive lectures, demonstrations, stories, handouts, case studies, role-plays and more. Ensure your learners have opportunities to shine as individuals.

Generate Meaning: Help participants move the learning from short-term memory to long-term memory by asking them to share why the topic has real-world value to them. This brain trigger will rally commitment to applying the valuable content or skill they are learning.

Apply to the Real World: Instead of teaching people something they don’t need to know, you have now created powerful relevance. Next, put them in a situation that forces them to model their ability to demonstrate the right behaviors. Create a checklist and video describing how the behaviors should affect performance, then have people demonstrate the behaviors and get feedback on performance in a real situation again and again.

Gauge and Celebrate: Your celebration of success, final interactive exercise or quiz will give learners another chance to review — and thus retain — the material. Reviewing what they’ve learned creates deeper neural connectivity.

Ken Blanchard said, “Catch people doing something right.” People will want to repeat behaviors for which they’ve received praise because they will feel good about themselves and the learning experience. This helps create a culture of learning.

Repetition is another secret to the successful transfer from learning to doing. Your final celebration to test people’s knowledge might be a quiz, a crossword puzzle, a group mindmap or a stump-the-panel game where they create questions.

Extend Learning to Action

Create a space where people consistently act on their best intentions and turn the learning into action. Keep the learning alive by sending reminders, giving tip-of-the-week refreshers, doing lunch-and-learners learns or refreshers, sharing success stories or holding award ceremonies for early adopters.

Instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all approach, give your people the opportunity to select a training modality that best suits them. Set them up for success by sharing what great looks like. They will learn more and be better at their jobs, and you will have started a learning revolution that creates a culture of success.