The pandemic has brought about numerous changes in the way we work and interact within our organizations, and it has also affected the way we develop, deliver, and assess employee training.
There has long been a push to incorporate more technology into training programs and the last two years have acted as the accelerant needed to push learning and development to new levels. Coupled with the new technologies is a shift away from more formal learning delivery and methods.
While many of these ideas were already in play, they have emerged as best practices in the virtual and work-from-home environment.
4 Learning and Development Lessons Learned
1. Breaking Down the Training
The concept of chunked learning isn’t new, in fact the research in which it is based dates to a 1956 study out of Harvard University about human cognition.
On average, the brain is only able to manipulate seven pieces of information at a time, therefore “chunking” the new information presented to learners into smaller pieces, enables them to better understand, synthesize, and apply their learning.
Several years ago, we revamped many of our online, self-paced courses into smaller, bite-size pieces. By allowing people to learn new concepts in smaller doses, their ability to retain information increases and the chance for overload decreases.
In 2021, we introduced our Remote Training Workouts, weekly webinars for both salespeople and sales leaders. Each episode focuses on a singular concept and the direct application in real-world scenarios. Lasting no more than 30 minutes, these digestible pieces of content offer a quick lesson for immediate and relevant application. As people return to the office or selling in the field, the workouts (and their recordings) offer just-in-time tidbits of learning. The series continues bi-weekly in 2022.
Another way to break down training is to use a variety of instructional and interactive methods. Attention spans are even shorter in a virtual setting and should be heavily considered when designing and delivering virtual, instructor-led training.
Alternate between slides and spotlighting the speaker to keep attention and allow participants to visually notice a transition from “lecture” to interactive segments. Polls and quizzing applications can help make the meeting more interactive and give the facilitator a feel for how well the participants are learning, not to mention they give a fun lift throughout the training.
2. Increase Training Frequency
Before the pandemic, much in-person learning still tended to be long-form with full-day workshops spanning multiple days in a row. Not to say that is the wrong approach, in-person facilitation is in a much more controlled environment with built-in breaks and movement coupled with human interaction.
When moving a workshop on-line, it is not good practice to simply recreate what was done in-person. Take for example our Talent Focused Management program, which was an on-site, 2-day experience. Presenting roughly 16-hours of content virtually over consecutive days will not have the same impact that the live training did. Instead, we now present the content over 10-weeks in two-hour virtual workshops.
By meeting more frequently, participants can more easily commit to carving out the time and avoid the dreaded Zoom fatigue that comes with overtly long virtual trainings.
3. Peer-to-Peer Learning
One of the tenets of Adult Education is that learning needs to be relevant. Although facilitators are subject matter experts and have practical knowledge and experience with the training subject, a lesson learned from a peer packs a huge punch.
Hearing what worked from someone facing the same challenges and obstacles in a real-world situation gives participants immediate tools to apply to their own work. Learning environments provide examples and potential roadblocks to success, but by using small group discussion learning becomes apparent with immediate usefulness.
Whenever possible, we integrate small group discussions or peer-led exercises into virtual instructor-led training. The feedback we receive from these portions of the training are extremely positive and elicit responses during the sessions that clearly suggest that they see the immediate applicability of the lessons learned.
Peer-to-peer opportunities allow others to share and show what they know and allow for that varied instructional strategy mentioned earlier. Moving from large to small group throughout the sessions integrates multiple best practices into learning and development and offers participants a rich and powerful experience.
4. Employee Learning and Development Can Benefit From Technology
These ideas are not new — in fact, here at The Center for Sales Strategy, we have been focused on chunked learning and peer-to-peer instruction even during our in-person workshops — but their overall adoption and successful integration into all aspects of Learning and Development programs has been slow. Faced with a crisis and an even greater need for impactful and creative learning, facilitators and learning professionals now realize the importance of varied methods and delivery.
When shifting learning online, there are a few important things to remember.
First, a Zoom meeting is NOT training, simply shifting what was done in a meeting to an online format will not result in the same outcomes, and in fact will probably cause a decrease in learning. Second, technology is there as an enhancement, not a distractor.
When integrating new technologies and learning methods, use them if and only if they serve an instructional purpose and be sure that the technology does not stand in the way of learning (a good way to stop this is to send a technology pre-assignment so they can try it out and have a level of familiarity before the live session).
The benefits of technology far outweigh the pitfalls and learning curves. Virtual trainings allow us to reach more people in multiple locations without the cost and logistical work, and they allow better peer-to-peer interactions as the learners interact with people outside their markets, companies, and environments.
Polling, quizzing, and game-based learning offer a variety of learning methods and democratize the training. We all learn in different ways and by presenting the same content with different methods, we open new possibilities and learning breakthroughs to everyone.
Moving forward, these new methods and formats should continue to be a part of the learning scene. Sure, classroom learning will return, but don’t lose sight of the impact these new methods have had. Mix the best of the old and new and continue to evolve and revise programs. Learning and Development should always Learn and Develop — it’s in our name!