We’ve all heard how the workforce is changing. I don’t think there is much question about the need for change in how corporate training meets the needs of the business as well as the learner. But I do think the question we should be focused on is, “Do we really know what we should be changing to?”

There has been lots of information published on how millennials learn differently than previous generations. Speaking as a baby boomer, I’m not convinced that’s true. Although I’m not as technologically savvy as my younger colleagues, I would like to think I learn as well as I did when I was in my 20s. So, is the issue that people learn differently today than before, or do they just use different tools to learn? Depending on the answer to this, it will speak to what changes we should be focused on.

To better understand whether people learn differently now than in previous years, let’s review some industry research. In the late 1800s, a German scientist named Dr. Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted extensive research to understand how people learn. His conclusions formed three very important principles.

  1. Learning occurs better when information is consumed, or tasks are performed over an extended period of time, as opposed to being consumed in large chunks in a single event.
  2. Through repetition, learning increases faster early on, and exponentially slows down over the number of repetitions.
  3. When repetition or reinforcement is not adequate or appropriate, forgetting can and will occur.

More recent research by Dr. Anders Ericsson takes these principles further by stating that learning occurs best by “doing,” or rather, studying, practicing or performing the task repetitiously. But Ericsson states that to achieve a level of performance considered to be at an expert level, we must practice that skill through purposeful and deliberate practice.

I think we are all interested in helping our constituents reach a high level of performance on the job. And neither Ebbinghaus, Bloom, B.F. Skinner, Ericsson or any of our most influential learning scientists found that the learning was different based on the age of the adult learner.

So, this brings us back to the question of what are we trying to change to? Is transforming the training function about creating more digital content? Will infusing more technology into the delivery of courses change the learning process? Technologies are wonderful enablers to help us provide information to the learner in unique and interesting ways. But if we don’t fully embrace the idea that learning occurs over time, through repetitious exposure to information, through practice and doing, then creating single events of technology-based courses means we are spending a lot of effort and dollars trying to do the same wrong things more creatively.

Creating high-performance training is about integrating many of the elements of learning into a well-planned, comprehensive, curated, role-based personalized development program. It’s about integrating assessments for measuring skills, correctly onboarding, providing formal classroom training at the right time, having access to on-demand microlearning objects when the need arises, and providing well-trained coaches to assist in the development cycle. And it’s about being deliberate in designing embedded practice into the day-to-day job routines.

Yes, it does include using technology, but for the purpose of providing the learner greater access and timeliness to information during the learning process. Not just for making it more interesting or aesthetically pleasing.

From where I sit, we have many questions to ask about how we change, and of course what we should change to. But the most important thing we as learning leaders can do is take responsibility for leading the change. Not following the trends or behaviors of the past but being innovatively creative in changing the learning process and evolving from an events-based world of training to a systems-based view of learning.