Today on the blog, Janine Truitt dives into learning and development. From time to time, we invite guest contributors to provide their personal perspectives about trending HCM topics. The views, opinions, and comments expressed below are solely those of the author and do not represent Ultimate Software. This post was commissioned by Ultimate Software and the author has or will receive compensation for their work.
According to the World Economic Forum, “without urgent and targeted action today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment, inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base.” Organizations should be paying attention and doubling down on their learning and development efforts.
In my opinion, the dawn of the 2000s and all its technological promise may have given businesses a false sense of security around learning and development. Whereas training and development had been a cornerstone in previous decades, more and more businesses started expecting better-qualified individuals and focused less on investments in this area. A few progressive players continued to invest heavily in learning and development, adopting e-learning methods and expanding the dissemination of information beyond a traditional classroom, but much of the workforce began to question how they could progress to being regarded as a true asset without the help of their employers.
The Origins of Learning and Development
The history of learning and development can be traced as far back as the pre-1800’s, where apprenticeships and on-the-job training were commonplace. Throughout the years we have experimented with many different modalities of learning and development in an effort to solve for things like productivity, the basic operation of various types of machinery, and on-the-job safety precautions in the earlier days of the industrial revolution.
Fast forward to the current landscape of learning and development, and we have more learning models and technologies than ever before to ensure we are preparing the next generation of workers to rise to the occasion of the growing demands of business and global economy. Yet, some companies are applying an archaic lens to learning that is not only punitive but disregards the individual continuum for learning.
Everyone learns differently.
This premise of understanding has been true of education and learning since the beginning of time: everyone learns differently. Some of us need visuals yet others can hear something once and have command of it. The type of learning at hand, the learner experience, and even the time between the initiation of learning and expected achievement of mastery all play an integral role in how people synthesize information.
Much of our current system has it that you must learn something on demand, within a specific time, and in a linear and conventional way. We test our learners to ensure that a certain level of mastery and recall has been achieved. When the person fails to recall information as we would like or—more importantly—as quickly as we would like, we punish them with what we have all come to know as a failing grade or just a failure to pass. As a result, most learners have a distorted relationship with learning that will almost always result in recall, but never mastery.
Add in the added pressure of having to learn something because the company is being audited, or to quickly fill a staffing gap because of attrition, or simply because the learning is tied to a strategic goal for the organization, and you will find that people will do whatever they need to reach a positive outcome even if no new knowledge was actually retained.
Positive Impact Learning and Development
I once had a situation where the organization I was working for had several near-miss and actual accidents with crane operators. We were in danger of cuts to funding and other punitive measures if we didn’t put a procedure in place to retrain crane operators and decrease these incidents.
A committee was formed to create a new procedure, identify learning gaps, as well as to monitor incidents. When we dug deep as a team, the least of the concern was whether or not the crane operators were trained; it was the conditions they had to work under that was leading to these incidents.
The knee-jerk reaction when issues arise at work is to train and document the training to prove the organization did its due diligence. In this case, training alone was not the culprit. There were considerable developmental deficits on the part of the supervisors overseeing these operators that needed to be addressed.
“Positive Impact Learning” ensures that learning and development are done with intention and leaves no human behind who has the capability to learn. Here are three ways you can begin to refresh and reframe your current learning and development efforts so you can have a positive impact on your workforce.
- Create a learning environment where employees can not only learn as the environment dictates, but they can choose to learn out of curiosity and a willingness to take their own development into their own hands.
- Learning should be embraced and positioned as a continuous process where every learner is given the chance to absorb information in a way that is most meaningful to them. You are competing for attention-span with social media, life, and other media that serve as learning vehicles on demand. As an organization, you should be considering how you make learning and development accessible in a way that compliments a variety of abilities and beyond the confines of a classroom or your physical place of business.
- Remove the shame and stigma from failure. If you must attribute a grade or pass/fail to any learning you disseminate use it as a means for both the organization and learner to identify areas where different methods of learning can be employed and gaps in understanding can be identified. Failure just means there is something more to understand or figure out. Relinquish the need to use learning opportunities as punitive measures to either discount learners’ abilities or potential for internal mobility.
Learning is supposed to be fun and the path to employees discovering who and what they want to be should be fertile ground for curiosity, excitement, and growth on their own terms. A quote every learning professional and trainer should commit to memory is by Albert Mercier: “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”
Make learning accessible. Make it attainable, and make it fun.