‘Rewire your learning’ by Gerry Griffin, Training Journal, September 2013
This author is billed as the founder of ‘Skill-Pill Learning’, a company name which immediately made me want to challenge everything he writes. But, having overcome my prejudice, I found the article to be thought provoking, covering the key issues that learning professionals should be addressing as the world of technology and social behaviour change the way we deliver learning.
It is true that the author falls into the trap of being too black and white, and of expressing choices as ‘either/or’ when there is no need to do so. It is only at the end that he admits that it is a reframing rather than a complete overhaul of learning strategy that is required in most cases. This is however an acceptable approach because it makes those who are emotionally attached to the old ways think more seriously about the continuing relevance of what they do.
The article’s main argument is that the normal approach of learning professionals is the ‘push’ style which provides employees with learning opportunities when it suits the organisation; these are however forgotten and/or irrelevant by the time the learner has to apply them. The author suggests only 10% learning retention, even lower than I had heard before and a frightening statistic. He ignores the fact that many tailored programmes can be modular and include continuous reinforcement but the point is well made.
It is however easier to make the point than to solve the problem. The author’s view is that the development of improved technology and trends towards social media provide the opportunity – and the necessity – to move to a new ‘pull’ approach whereby learners access and select the information they need at the time they are to apply it. The example provided is the training of sales people in product understanding; they will have forgotten the content of the course they attended on induction and need a new learning process when they start selling that product some time later. This was when I first questioned the author’s black and white approach; surely you can have both, one to provide a foundation and another to ‘top-up’ at the appropriate time.
The author then moves on to ask a series of powerful questions that we should all be asking as we try to adapt to the new environment. He rather cleverly expresses the questions as new and old; for example the old question has been – how do we blend learning?; the new question is – ‘how do we enable? The argument is that employees are no longer the passive players they used to be; they are now more technologically skilled and more able to access multiple learning sources. Therefore they want and need to be take responsibility for their own learning.
This latter point is really the nub of the whole issue and I would like to have seen the author take it further because a lot depends on the motivation of the learner and the culture within which they operate. If the culture does not support an employee giving time to self-generated learning – for instance a line manager who doesn’t regard such time as ‘real work’ – the opportunities are not going to be taken and there will not even be 10% learning retention. And our own experience with a range of companies is that learning cultures vary enormously and in those which are least developed, structured ‘push’ learning can be the most effective way to deliver in the short term.
The other powerful question asked by the author is how can we ‘socialise’ the material? The modern trend with social media requires two new competences; the ability to convert material into short ‘bite-sized’ learning opportunities and creating the means by which these can easily be shared and discussed on-line with peers. MTP is already going down this route with tailored Interactive Video Podcasts for a number of our more far-sighted clients and our experience indicates that the author may be underestimating the investment required to shorten complex content into concise summaries. We do however share his view that this ability to shorten without losing learning value will be a key skill for learning professionals going forward.
The other ‘new’ question is ‘how do we tag learning’? The point is made that the new technology creates problems that we have not had to cope with before – the sheer volume of material on websites, both internal and external, makes it difficult for employees to manage their own learning. Therefore learning professionals need to become skilled at developing new ways of accessing and selecting material, based on business issues and employee challenges. The sales person starting on the road must be able to find easy access to all the material needed – from product knowledge to selling skills to company values – at the right time. Learning retention is then much more likely as it is at the time of application.
A helpful illustration of the modern approach is provided by a description of what happens at Talk Talk, an example that made me want more of the same. The ‘straightforward’ approach described by their Head of Talent Management is to ‘populate our offices with QR codes and augmented reality triggers …. employees simply hover their mobile over the AR or QR enabled posters and training material instantly streams via their mobile device’.
I had to go to my more technologically expert and innovative colleagues at MTP to find out more about the meaning and implications of this description and for learning professionals who need similar advice, this article should be seen as a wake-up call. The world may not be as black and white as the author suggests and many of the old approaches may still have value. But times they are a changing!