How can you make business learning stick?
15 Apr 2016

How can you make business learning stick?

categories: Business Simulations, Experiential Learning, Learning methodology

Anyone involved in Learning and Development in businesses knows how hard it can be to achieve ‘stickiness’ – lasting results from training programmes. How can you get constant application on the job, and a serious return from your investment? Here are some answers.

The factors for success in applying learning include:

1. Passing the Threshold

If you are not competent at a new task- or you do not feel confident – you won’t do it at work. But if you get enough practice at it, to gain both competence and confidence, you will do it, and use it regularly as a matter of course. So don’t just tell people what they need to do or just show them; let them get hands-on and practice. If they can fail safely until they build the skill (ideally with coaching feedback to speed the learning), they will reach the confidence to be self-propelled. This is one of the keys to the success of business simulations, compared with other learning environments.

2. Peer Reinforcement

Where there is a climate of positive encouragement and personal examples from one’s peers, within a team ethos, then new behaviour becomes much easier to adopt and apply, and will persist.

3. Manager Reinforcement

Managers need to know, before the learning takes place, what to do
• if it is used,
• if it is not used, and
• if it succeeds in use, or
• if it fails initially.

If they have thought this through, it is not a burden added to their workload, but rather a small part of the job, making sure that they get the best return from their investment of time and money in the employee’s development. If they show they are interested, and care about the outcome, the learning will be used, and will get results. And if positive results are reinforced, the new behaviours will become embedded. Management really must walk the talk, and demonstrate in word and deed that they fully endorse what the participants have learned.

4. Having a Plan

To ensure that the learning does not wither away when you leave the programme, you must commit to where, when and how you are going to use your newly-acquired skills and knowledge. Plan, mentally rehearse and diarise the contexts in which you will do this. Specify what you stand to gain from doing so, or lose by not doing it.

At the conclusion of our ProfitAbility hands-on experiential learning programmes we make participants complete an Action Plan. And we ask them key questions – such as ‘who will support you to make this easier?’

We require them to discuss this, there and then, with a colleague. Sometimes we get them to speak to the group, commit publicly to what they will do, and elicit comments and suggestions from their peers.

Achieving Mastery

Experiential Learning can help enormously with Passing the Threshold, and Peer Reinforcement. This is why experiential learning is often so much more effective than traditional training methods. But another issue is setting the goal at mastery instead of basic competence.

In the learning journey of our lives, but more specifically in our work, we go through “Four Stages of Learning Any New Skill” (a concept first developed by Noel Burch):

1. Unconscious Incompetence: we don’t know what we don’t know
2. Conscious Incompetence: we know what we should know how to do, but we can’t do it
3. Conscious Competence: we can do it when we think hard
4. Unconscious Competence: we do it without having to think, like changing gears in a car

The final step leads on to mastery. Sadly, most training is only intended to take you to level 3, and designed to take you to level 2, at best reaching a basic ability that falls short of true competence, let alone the level of mastery that companies today really need. Courses are designed with so much delivery of content that the learner has virtually no opportunity to practise using it. It creates far more value to teach one skill so that everyone can do it, rather than teach about five which nobody actually learns to do.

The individual that has been through a truly immersive and relevant business simulation, tailored to his or her organisation’s needs and experiences, will have practised so that they get it right more often: and they will keep on trying until it is simply “how they do it”.

These individuals can achieve not only mastery: but can also acquire the confidence to go further and coach others. We teach them how to give feedback that helps others to learn and improve.

Just as I don’t advocate simply telling people to read a training manual, I don’t expect you to achieve unconscious competence in experiential learning just from this article. I do instead urge you to immerse yourself by trying out our business simulations in one of our free Open Days for L&D managers. To register for a free Open Day session, click here.

Brian Helweg-Larsen is co-founder of ProfitAbility and is Practice Head, Business and Financial Acumen.

For more insight into what we do, check out our infographics page.

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