Why Rethinking Learning Is Crucial
“Learning won't be restricted to set training periods, but will happen in all areas of your business, all day long” - Sir Richard Branson
Branson should know a thing or two about rethinking learning; as one of the world’s most respected businesses, Branson’s Virgin Group has made innovation an integral element that has driven the company in newer and more exciting areas of economic activity and human development with every passing year.
In today’s world, employees who are empowered to learn and innovate at great speeds are vital for organizations to survive in an environment characterized by increasing disruption by consumers, technology, and regulatory shifts.
Formal structured methods around classroom training and courses are increasingly insufficient and impractical – especially for employees. Such methods are expensive, logistically complex, often impossible to implement, and lack measurement criteria to gauge the effectiveness of the training that’s imparted. Therefore, there is need for a fundamental rethink in how knowledge is shared and leveraged in organizations.
4 Factors To Consider When Rethinking Learning
Let’s examine some of the underlying factors that are prompting rethinking learning:
1. “Knowledge” And “Skill” Have Equal Currency.
Take the example of a salesman in a mobile phone store. While they may have excellent selling skills, their poor knowledge about a specific feature on a new mobile may lead to them losing a walk-in customer. Employees’ knowledge related to the job/company/products makes a huge difference in critical parameters like productivity, sales enablement, and customer satisfaction. The more knowledgeable (trained) a worker is, the greater the chances of his / her success and that of the organization.
2. Rapid Changes In Products Cycles / Services And External Environment.
Staying with the above example, new mobile models are rolled out at ever faster rates. Forget quarterly/monthly/weekly cycles; new models are introduced more frequently, quite often within days of each other. By the time a training document is prepared and training can be scheduled, the product itself might be outdated. The complexity of features in most products is another challenge. All this means that every day real-time learning is mandatory to keep up with what each employee needs to know. Further, company procedures, work processes, and government policy changes are more frequent and complex today. The need to know such changes, adapt to them, or change business and sales practices to comply with such changes is mandatory. The focus on workplace learning today is not confined to any particular business sector or to specific group of employees. It has become vital across a wide range of industries, organizations, and governments.
3. Business Is “distributed” And “Global”.
Businesses today service global, virtual, or geographically-dispersed diverse population. Employees are more distributed than ever. This means challenges such as developing the ability to deliver learning virtually, or in multiple languages, across countries, across cities, or even different locations in the same city. Making sure everyone in the organization knows what they are supposed to know on a regular basis for every new product or service introduced, becomes even more of an imperative.
4. Learning Experience And Expectations.
No employee wants to ready a manual or a boring process document. With much more immersive and high quality experiences in the entertainment world, the average employee of today has a limited attention span and certainly does not want to sit through two days of training or read through a feature document. A more interesting method is running a short video with the best salesman in the team pitching the product and is closer to the “YouTube entertainment”-like experience the employees of today demand, with the ability to easily interact and ask questions.
6 Methods For Rethinking Learning In The Workplace
The challenges outlined above are very real for every organization and they must adapt to this reality by following new methods of learning and leveraging technology.
1. Biting Into Bite-Sized Learning.
Deliver “bite-sized” learning. Often small videos that require no more than 2 to 5 minutes each make more impact and deliver greater value. Learners don’t want/can’t engage in lengthy training sessions, and managers are increasingly reluctant to sanction time away from the workplace for their teams.
2. Make It Interesting, Incentivized, And Continuous.
This is closely related to the first point. Rather than herding employees into a classroom or handing them manuals, watching an expert explain the features of a product on a small video clip is far more interesting and effective. Using principles or gamification, getting participants to compete with others, and offering sufficient incentives (monetary or otherwise) encourages everyday learning and contributes to the learning process. As Branson points out above, every day learning means it happens all day long – not once a quarter or once a month or even once a week. Give employees the opportunity to use the “learn one thing today, learn something every day” model and you’d be very surprised to see that learning can become embedded into the DNA of the organization.
3. Enable Real-Time Learning.
As we saw in the mobile phone example, during a product launch the familiarity and knowledge of what is on offer needs to extend companywide; from the CEO to customer support to counter sales. So also is the case with product launches by a competitor: When a customer walks in the door asking for a comparison or when a journalist questions the company spokesperson he meets at an interview or event, it is a moment of truth for the business. And it signals a lost opportunity if information is not at fingertips of employees who need to know.
4. Provide Anytime, Anywhere Learning.
The penetration of mobile devices has made connectivity ubiquitous. Why wait for the employee to be seated at their desk? Everyone at anytime and anywhere should be able to access content through any device. If one has a busy work schedule, he/she should be able to access the content, take an assessment, and ask a question at any time that suits them. Those who can attend a live session must be able to attend from anywhere and the others should be able to access the recording at any time.
5. Learning Must Be Collaborative.
The ability to provide feedback, suggest options, and ask questions must be an integral part of the learning process. Learners themselves can contribute to the content by sharing related information/reference material or by asking the right questions. It is not a one-way lecture; rather it is a collaborative process where everyone collectively participates in sharing and spreading knowledge.
6. Embed Evaluation Into The Learning Process.
Organizations today are not willing to throw employees into training and hope something of value remains in their subconscious to be conjured up when it’s needed! Companies investing in learning want to see a return. Therefore, the ability to measure must be embedded into the learning process, and this evaluation must be done immediately after watching/reading the bite-sized content. This way, areas of weakness can be identified and corrective action can be taken so the employee can action what has been learnt.
To conclude, the concept of periodic training is passé for today’s businesses. Rethinking learning means that training needs to be continuous, accessible, and delivered in real-time. While aggregated training was the norm yesterday, bite-size training, accessible on any device, anywhere, and made part of one’s daily routine is imperative in today’s hyper-paced environment.
For learning to be truly effective, technology plays a more crucial role than ever before to achieve the new form of learning described above. It is the overarching framework that “learning” organizations use as a pivot to address the complete cycle of the creation–storage– management– delivery of content, and its evaluation.