There are different opinions and statistics about how much information sticks once a learning intervention comes to a close. Regardless of the differences, none of these predictions are flattering for instructional designers or trainers. People seem to forget a lot, and with the growing need for re-skilling and cost reduction, this is becoming a major issue.
One of the main reasons why there is such a low information retention rate is that most training is designed in the form of events rather than experiences. That causes the learner to miss out on the emotional component necessary for any type of behavioral change.
Taking a page from the best teachers
If you think back to your school days, you always liked some subjects due to personal preferences and aptitudes and some were more memorable thanks to your teachers’ skills. The textbooks were quite similar for all subjects, yet some have stayed with you longer than others due to the very subjective experiences you had in those classes.
Great educators know how to engage students and adapt any content to the unique situation of the audience. And this, mind you, was an audience that knew they had to learn to get a passing grade.
Taking another page from marketing
Marketers have an ultimate goal – to sell a product or service. Good marketers also recognize the importance of turning any customer into a long-term partner. While the quality of what is being sold is of major importance, the client journey is the sum of experiences one has with a company or a provider at every checkpoint.
A good experience can even make up for some product shortcomings. Still, even the best possible item or service cannot be redeemed in the aftermath of a negative customer experience. Great marketing solutions come from employing UX and CX techniques to ensure the best and most memorable client journey.
The key is to know who you are designing for
Getting into the realm of corporate L&D, the key to providing the learners with relevant material that sticks is to know precisely who you are designing for. And I don’t mean you just need to know the departments, the job roles, or the challenges they have to face to meet organizational goals.
User-centric design begins with finding out precisely the user’s expectations and prior experience. If most participants are new hires, it’s safe to assume they are digital natives, used to highly interactive content. It’s even safer, rather than to assume, to check with a representative group and find out what they want, need, and look for in a learning module.
Where it usually goes wrong
If the ground I’ve covered above comes mainly from online research and picking the brains of my L&D friends, this I can vouch for at a very personal level: most often, learning programs fail before they even start because stakeholders are convinced they are right and learning specialists don’t argue (or can’t, in organizations that are stuck on a hierarchical model).
Though it might seem that a request for training is for the employees, it generally is for their managers who have identified a problem and believe that a learning intervention is the answer to everything. Is the sales team not meeting its quota? Let’s have sales techniques workshops. Is customer service not responding to requests fast enough? Let’s enroll them in time management training. Sometimes these work, but more often than not, the issues (in the examples I’ve given above) are with the products or the internal processes.
Why training programs fail
When you take a highly qualified sales representative who has been delivering poor results lately and ask them to go through a sales techniques workshop, the experience will be not only dull but frustrating. If there were results at some point, that person knows how to do the job. Furthermore, if the entire team shows a slowing of pace, it most definitely does not have to do with competency, and a thorough analysis of the real causes needs to be done.
If the business needs are not correlated with learner needs and the possible constraints are not considered, the learning intervention will be no more than a checked item in a dry presentation about what was done to address an organizational issue.
Designing an experience, not an event
Moving past the idea that learning is to be used as a quick fix for any need in the organization or a particular team, L&D specialists should focus on getting out the best-finished product for the user.
That is not to say that business goals ought to be ignored – quite the contrary. Yet, it is crucial for all parties involved to understand that learner experience influences mindset, mindset influences behavior, and behavior influences outcomes.
Organizational objectives will be sooner and better met if at the center of any training program is the learner, instead of other considerations that seem closely related to business but don’t really help it in the least.
Corporate L&D is no stranger to transformation. The dynamic business environment, market evolutions, constant shifts in customer demands, and, as of late, a world-wide crisis that has everybody rethinking everything have ensured that learning specialists are constantly ready to change gears and navigate turbulent waters. Switching stakeholder mindset from business-oriented to learner-centric is yet another challenge, one that will have tremendously positive results once it is overcome.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.