The evolution of corporate learning isn’t an option any longer—it’s a must.
This was the opening statement made by Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, during last week’s webinar that was hosted by Chief Learning Officer (CLO), an award-winning multimedia publication that focuses on the benefits and advancements of a properly trained workforce.
To say, we have moved rapidly into the modern age would be an understatement. A variety of factors, such as technological advances and the characteristics of the 21st century workforce, have coalesced to motivate businesses to modernize corporate learning. Compounding this urgency is the fact that today’s employees need to know more. Necessary information is ever-changing and yet, the modern worker only has 1% of the work day to devote to learning and development.
There’s also a disturbing disconnect between what employees want and what employers need. Here are the results from a recent Axonify survey:
Business leaders want…
- Help achieving their business objectives
- More engaged, knowledgeable, and confident employees who execute the right actions
- A way to connect with their “deskless” workforce at a moment’s notice
- A fun and engaging work and learning experience
- Personalized and relevant learning content
- For learning materials and resources to be accessible anytime, anywhere
The challenge for learning and development (L&D) is to find a resolution that will deliver on both of these competing agendas. Unfortunately, many companies are still stuck in a traditional mindset that’s reinforced with outdated solutions, like the learning management system (LMS). This static one-and-done, check-the-box for compliance approach is not built for the modern employee.
The result? Your employees are not as knowledgeable as the business needs them to be. They’re not engaged, they’re not continuously learning, and they’re actively finding ways around L&D efforts.
Employees want to learn, but business leaders need to stop looking at them as students who need to be taught. The corporate environment is evolving, so our approach and attitude toward learning has to change with it.
Common concerns facing businesses today
This is the epiphany Chad McIntosh, V.P. of Asset Protection and Risk Management at Bloomingdale’s, had before he decided to completely reinvent the company’s approach to learning. He recognized the disconnect between what he needed out of corporate learning professionals and what he needed as a business leader at Bloomingdale’s. But, he also felt that he had a secret weapon: his employees.
Similar to many large organizations, there were several issues he needed to address in his existing program:
- Associates expected to know more information than ever before
- A hard to reach deskless workforce
- Inconsistencies in corporate messaging between departments and stores
- No clear way to measure learning retention or operationalize learning
- Company-wide lack of engagement in learning
- Lack of metrics for baseline knowledge levels or retention
- Lack of agility, with no capacity to push out learning or communication in a moment of urgency
Simply put, his employees were not digesting, remembering or operationalizing what they needed to know to do their jobs. It’s a scenario we see again and again in environments with highly mobile, turnover-prone, geographically dispersed employees.
The hard question business leaders need to ask themselves is, “Is your company stuck in the old modalities and systems associated with academic learning?” Imparting knowledge, checking boxes and doing exit tests are not enough in today’s business environment. Nor does this approach provide the infrastructure that will allow you to push out the inevitable, sudden changes needed in knowledge.
When change occurs as it always does, many businesses react by layering another module onto a static system and pushing it out blindly to a widely unreceptive audience. Then, they cross their fingers and hope for the best. This approach fails to drive long-term knowledge, fuel employee performance or translate into business results. It does nothing but overwhelm the busy employee with another large body of information that is quickly forgotten.
How Bloomingdale’s evolved its corporate learning
Faced with these realities, McIntosh decided to think outside of the box and look for tools and techniques that would give him the bottom-line impact he believed was achievable. He planned his approach by focusing on nine essential principles of modern workplace learning:
1. Identify measurable business outcomes first
Like McIntosh, ask yourself, “What are the areas of business I’m responsible for?” and “What areas of loss could be directly associated with a financial outcome that results from people doing the right or wrong things in the business?” McIntosh looked at those measurable outcomes and turned his focus to finding a solution that would tackle those specific issues, versus simply boiling the ocean.
2. Leverage the science of learning
A number of advancements in cognitive science research have been made that impact the way humans learn, retain and recall information. McIntosh knew he needed a solution that was built on this principle to maximize the learning and training of his employees.
3. Integrate social and collaborative learning opportunities
Whether businesses are aware of it or not, employees learn from each other. McIntosh wanted to provide a mechanism to harness this collaborative teaching and learning. Enable your employees with the right tools so they can amplify the ability to help each other.
4. Embrace both familiar and modern technology
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t own a smartphone these days. These devices have essentially become an extension of ourselves. So, whether businesses like it or not, employees are using their devices in the workplace. Organizations need to provide an easy way for employees to have access to knowledge, anytime and anywhere. If you make information difficult to reach, employees will rarely seek it out on their own accord.
5. Offer learning in the moment of need
This principle is closely tied to the one above. Allow your employees to access information in the moment of need. Forward-thinking businesses want to break away from the traditional format where employees had to wait to be formally trained or to watch a 30-minute video, whenever they had a half an hour to spare. Instead, empower your employees to support their performance right when they need it.
6. Make learning continuous
People actually do want to learn—every day. And frankly, they need to learn every day. If you can break up learning and make it accessible for whenever employees have three to five minutes to consume one piece of information, then you’re exercising the principle of continuous reinforcement. This concept is mapped to how the brain processes and remembers information.
7. Create personal (and adaptive) learning experiences
What’s the fastest way to get an employee to mentally checkout? Present them information they already know. McIntosh knew that a one-size-fits-all approach wasn’t going to work for his organization. He wanted personalized learning for each individual to keep them engaged throughout. If you can create a mechanism that delivers knowledge catered to each employee’s needs and wants and adapts to fill in the gaps, you will keep them engaged and attuned to your message.
8. Make learning more engaging
There’s a ton of information out there about the gamification of learning. This is a highly effective technique to motivate employees to participate voluntarily in corporate learning. Embed learning in a feeling of enjoyment, fun, and excitement for your workers. By challenging each other and employing other social elements like leaderboards, you create a desire in employees to look for those learning experiences every day.
9. Deliver learning in a variety of formats
Deliver learning not only on a variety of devices, but through different mediums as well. By using video, short and highly targeted SCORM modules, animation, voice-overs, images, etc. you can deepen the coding of information in the part of the brain that increases engagement and the ability to remember.
The new learning and training approach designed around these nine principles was wildly successful for Bloomingdale’s. McIntosh deployed the new solution to all 15,000 employees and very quickly had 90% voluntary participation. Suddenly, his employees were actively looking for learning moments every day. Bloomingdale’s achieved a 41% reduction in safety incidents in the first 12 months and a cost savings of $10 million over the course of three and half years. Bloomingdale’s has fundamentally changed how it delivers associate learning, and as a result, it has a smarter, more engaged workforce.
Evolving corporate learning is no longer simply an option for forward-thinking companies. Today’s organizations and employees require a different approach and your business needs demand it.