Starting With "Why" in the Modern Learning Experience

by Carl Crisostomo | Posted | Learning

Starting With "Why" in the Modern Learning Experience

It's a not-quite-yet-accepted truth: In the modern learning experience, learners have the right to be selfish. They have the right to ask why they are being told they need to take on learning activities – what's in it for them?

Why it's okay for learners to be "selfish"

Leadership expert and bestselling author Simon Sinek famously told us to "start with why" and that also applies to how we approach learning in the workplace. Too often, we're told to take a new course or do some training without really understanding the value or the driving need to take on this learning.

It's important to remember that the learning experience is a strategy, not a product. Making the connections to why learning is so important is a key ingredient for securing initial buy-in from your people, and engagement throughout the learning process.

If you, your employees, teams or organization are unclear about why you're taking on new learning activities, you're not going to see that engagement from your learners, you're not going to get buy-in, your people are not going to learn and hone those valuable new skills, and in this age of digital transformation, your organization will ultimately get left behind. The steps to success first begin by connecting learning to goals and performance outcomes.

Our modern learning experience conversation: Here's what's in it for you

Listen in to my first of four Q&A-style chats with Brandon Hall Group's Principal Learning Analyst, David Wentworth, as we dive into the topic of the modern learner experience.

In our conversation, you'll hear key insights about:

  • Why do we need to align the modern learning experience to learner and organizational goals
  • Why learner engagement is so key to success and some steps to get you started
  • Why learners should approach learning from the "what's-in-it-for-me?" mindset

It's time to listen in and learn like you:

Full Transcript:

David Wentworth: Hi, and welcome to our series of Audio Blogs on the Learner Experience. I'm David Wentworth, Principal Learning Analyst here at Brandon Hall Group. I'm joined by Carl Crisostomo, who's the Product Manager for Content at Saba Software.

In this series of Audio Blogs, we're going to dig in a little bit into the learner experience, what it's all about, and what it means for the organization?

The first question I have for you Carl is, just curious to know, in your thoughts everyone's talking about this modern learning experience, how is it matter? Why does an organization actually need to think about this? What does the modern learning experience mean and why is it beneficial to an organization?

Carl Crisostomo: Great. Well, firstly, thank you for the introduction. Yeah, I think for a long time now probably say about a decade, the corporate learning experience has not really changed that much the way we deliver learning, the way we kind of measure learning and also the technology we use to support learning has not really changed.

If we look at the world around us, a lot is changing and it's driven by digital. And this change is happening in both our business and personal lives. Looking at kind of modern learning experience, I think, it's a little bit about playing catch up and delivering something that's more akin to what we interact within other parts of our lives.

Why that's important? Well, I think, firstly, it's all about the big "E" word: Engagement. If you don't create an experience as engaging and personal then you won't catch your audience and why is that important? Well, we're back to this thing of digital, digital is forcing businesses to change and some are changing pretty dramatically.

I speak to companies who are pivoting their businesses in such a way; they're going to be unrecognizable from say, five years ago. This change requires a lot of people to learn a lot of new skills.

David Wentworth: I also think that this is one of these times when the generational questions seem to arise and whether there is some disparity between the different generations in the workforce. Typically, when we've talked about sort of technological changes, one of the push backs we hear from organizations is – well, we've got an older-skewed workforce, it's hard to push these changes through, and people are hesitant. But I think in terms of what we're discussing with this modern learning experience and the way people interact with technology, it's actually the other way around in that the organizations seem to be slow to respond to what everyone wants. It's not just millennials that are after this stuff, everyone sort of is now accustomed to the way technology works in their personal lives and they are sort of expecting to see that now when they're at work and the technology, the interactions that they have there in their journey to find information, right? That's really what it's all about.

I think the only real difference between the generations in this case is that when we talk about the millennials, who are now, in the U.S. at least, the biggest section of the workforce, they don't know that things work any differently than this, right? They don't have this background of well, we used to do it this way and now we want to do it this way. This is how things have always worked for them and they expect that now from the organization they work in.

Carl Crisostomo: Yeah, I'd agree with you. I think, sometimes the generational thing is sometimes used as an excuse to not do something. I really think if you look at the expectations of millennials, you see that experience, but I think everyone is looking from experience, I think, they're looking for modern learning experiences that are a lot more personal and a lot more relevant. I think this is key. I think this is one thing that's probably not done very well from an L&D perspective in the past.

David Wentworth: Right. I think what's also important to think about is, it's not that -- we're simply talking about engagement in terms of making sure people enjoy the learning, right? Or that it's fun. I think that's what people start to think about when they really focus on the experience, they start to think of that user experience, such as the colors, right? Or is everything in the right place?

This is much, much bigger than that. This is actually about performance and outcomes, right? This is not about simply making things easier to use, you're actually in the pursuit of outcomes, both individual performance outcomes as well as business outcomes.

What we've seen in our research and others is that when you are able to deliver this type of modern learning experience, it has an impact on those outcomes, you're much more able to directly tie the learning and delivering to those outcomes, you're able to put the learning into the flow of work, so that it's right there at the point of need. It's also able to create more agile and flexible learning environments that are able to adjust with the needs of the business as those continue to change more rapidly. Frankly, learning hasn't been able to keep up with those type of changes the way it's been delivered in the past.

Carl Crisostomo: Yeah. I'd agree with you. It should start with the strategy. The strategy is your beginning point. You need to ask yourself, why do I need a modern learning experience? What outcomes do I want to achieve? I think that really only reflecting on the "why" of the learning need, can we kind of fully explore how we can deliver the most beneficial learning experiences.

We need to create experiences driven by the individual, team and organizational goals – that's really, really important.

David Wentworth: I think the last thought for me on the "why" around this type of experience. I think in the past and in the more traditional environments, the one real, key element missing from learning is the "what's-in-it-for-me factor," where it's not really a selfish thing for people to think that way and that you're presenting me with this opportunity with these learning engagements. What's in it for me?

In the past, I think, learning has just assumed that by creating these programs and delivering them, the "what's in it for me?" is implicit. I've given you this [learning activity], so clearly it's important and it's meaningful to you, so you don't need to ask and you don't need to know why just do it.

In this new modern experience and you mentioned the personalization and the contextualization piece, really starting to frame the learning and look, here's why this is important not only to you and your personal goals and your development and your growth. Here's why it's important to your team, here's why it's important to the organization, here are the goals and outcomes that we expect you to achieve by engaging in this learning.

By making those kinds of connections, you've now started with engagement from the get-go. Somebody's already engaged even perhaps before they've begun to take the learning because now they understand why it's being presented.

Then you're far more likely to achieve the outcomes, because you've got, that buy-in. I mean, that's what this type of modern learning environment is able to create as opposed to a one-size-fits-all course or putting everybody in a classroom. You're giving them this, "look, here's why this matters" message. I mean, if we were assigning someone a project to do, we would obviously want them to know the purpose behind the project, what the outcome is expected of the project, and the timelines, so I don't know why we treat learning something different than that.

Carl Crisostomo: Yeah. I think learners have a right to be selfish. I think that's fair. You talked about what's in it for them, it needs to be relevant. They're sitting there thinking, how's this going to support what the business wants me to do? How can it help me in my next career step? How can it help me achieve what my mentor and coach are discussing? I'd say even how it can have an impact on their personal life. We need to appeal to this, an experience needs to be able to at least tick one of those boxes because without that you're going to lose your learner.

David Wentworth: This has been a great quick little discussion about the "why" behind the learning experience. I encourage everyone to check out some of the other Audio Blogs in this series on Learner Experience, where we delve into things like what goes into a good learning experience and how do you actually implement one and also a little bit into measurement. Please join Carl and I for other Audio Blogs on the Learner Experience. Thanks.

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