Why You Should Teach People in the Way They Learn

Recently I read this CLO article that discusses corporate training and suggests that we need to think about how we train people in the workplace. I agree.

When Tandem Solutions launched our LongitudinaLearningTM practice a dozen or so years ago, we borrowed heavily from adult learning theory, which has been documenting and researching the way adults learn for at least 50 years.

Specifically, we applied the 70:20:10 approach to the corporate learning process. The 70:20:10 theory suggests that the way adults learn is:

  • 70% from their experience on the job
  • 20% from people they work with (in most cases, the boss or manager)
  • 10% from reading, courses and formal training

Traditionally, corporate learning and development programs have emphasized the 10% – training revolving around “event-based learning” such as full-day or even 2-day session in a classroom. With formal training like this, employees often showed up for a seminar and felt great about what they were taught in the classroom. They took lots of notes. They listened attentively. And then they left, went back to their jobs, and forgot everything they learned.

Corporate trainers decided that people would retain more if they made the sessions more interactive. So, the classroom seminars added pre-work, workbooks, questions and activities. It worked – a bit. People remembered things for a week and before forgetting it all.

We looked at these failed attempts at corporate development, as well as adult learning theory, and thought, “What if we structured the training process to match the learning process?”

What if we focused on the 70%?  The challenge is that this 70% is on-the-job training. The question then became, “How do you inject professional development into self-directed learning?”

Even though it is self-directed, there is still a process to this type of learning. It goes something like this:

  • We recognize the need to learn something
  • We find information on the topic about which we’re learning
  • We filter through the information to find the stuff that’s good
  • We hang onto the stuff that’s good and throw away everything else
  • We retrieve the good stuff time and again

Thus, the three stages in Tandem’s LongitudinaLearningTM process emphasize the 70%.

  • Prepare. During the prepare stage, we identify the fact that there are things we need to learn. We use a tool like a pre-assessment worksheet or provocative article that someone has to complete or read before they get into a training session, so participants are prepared to learn before the actual teaching begins.
  • Engage. We engage with people online or in a classroom. We present the materials in an interactive way to make it real – using stories, anecdotes or examples – and then when the session is over, we give people a tool or a template to use in their actual work environment, where they can “retrieve the good stuff.” Through this practical application, the materials learned in the classroom come to life.
  • Activate. A few weeks after the online or classroom training, we get together with people in a small group for a coaching session. We talk about how they used the tool or template in their work environment. We ask what happened when they tried it, what ideas or insight do they have as a result of the hands-on use, and what struck them as they engaged with it in their day-to-day work. In the activate stage we get to connect with people and have a dialogue on what actually worked, as well as what didn’t, and what they can adjust or tweak to make it work better.

LongitudinaLearningTM moves corporate learning from a point-in-time training event, where most people forget what they’ve learned as soon as they leave the training, to something that has a much more longitudinal path.

The CLO article offers research that substantiates the theory that in order to learn things you need multiple touchpoints.

We need to engage with folks in a number of different ways over a longer period of time, which provides stickiness to the concept and accountability for the learner. Learners need to take things in small bites, reiterate them, and practice them numerous times in order to have success.

We need to teach people in the way that they learn…because it works.

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