In 2013, I developed my ‘five secrets of accelerated learning’. These ‘secrets’ as I call them, were the culmination of research into a fascinating area.
This area had many contributors but, up until then, there was no one unifying model to cover everything we had learned about how to accelerate learning through an organisation.
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This is not just about how we learn, from the brain’s perspective, but how we can help to speed up the learning process by paying attention to some broad-brush areas. The five secrets are shown below.
In this series of five articles, I will be delving back into these five secrets, to bring them bang up-to-date with the latest research.
I hope that this will demonstrate to many eminent people in our profession how all that we are doing can be unified, rather than competing for a place as ‘top dog’ or ‘guru’, or the ‘one true way’.
As Ken Blanchard said, “none of us is as smart as all of us”. Perhaps we can come together to find a way to combine all the wonderful work being done out there to truly help learning, in whatever form, accelerate through our organisations.
The first and most important of all the secrets is of course the first one: business focused and learner centered objectives.
The importance of this cannot be underestimated and is echoed by many people.
As a recent McKinsey report noted: “every business leader would agree that L&D must align with a company’s overall priorities - yet research has found that many L&D functions fall short on this dimension.
“Only 40% of companies say that their learning strategy is aligned with business goals”.
In a recent report entitled L&D’s Relationship with Data, Towards Maturity found that, of the respondents that aspire to use data to support business change:
- Three out of five use data to help solve business problems.
- Two out of five are able to demonstrate business impact.
This almost seems like the Holy Grail: solving business problems and demonstrating business impact.
Understanding the issues at stake
In order to create business focused objectives that will allow you to access this grail, there has to be some form of analysis before beginning any change programme or learning.
If you do not know what your stakeholders’ greatest challenges are, how can you help them solve those challenges or even demonstrate business impact?
In its latest report, The Transformation Journey, Towards Maturity outlined the business benefits achieved by organisations who become more ‘mature’ in their L&D approach.
Clearly, business alignment is a key focus for the mature L&D function, but it cannot be seen as the only focus.
When learning provides a clear route to any business change or transformation, we cannot overlook the fact that ‘the business’ not only consists of stakeholders, but also employees who have to undergo and live out that change.
Getting the balance right
This is where we have to consider whether the objectives of these change programmes are also ‘learner-centred’.
Let’s get over any offense that may happen when I call people ‘learners’ - this is for convenience, so that we know whom we are addressing.
The McKinsey report also discusses the function of organisations in terms of employability – “people list ‘opportunities for learning and development’ among the top criteria for joining an organisation. Conversely, a lack of L&D is one of the key reasons people cite for leaving a company”.
In his book, How People Learn, Nick Shackleton-Jones describes his ‘affective context’ model and makes a radical claim about memory:
“We don’t actually remember any of the experiences that happen to us. Instead, we store our reactions to those events – how they made us feel - and use those emotional imprints to create memories on demand”.
This highlights the need for any learning to have significance for the learners, which takes me back to the first secret of accelerated learning: you need business-focused and learner-centred objectives.
Both the organisation and the individual need to benefit in order for lasting change or learning to take place.
There has to be a delicate balance between what the organisation has to do in order to thrive in today’s markets, and what the individual is willing to do, provided there is something in it for them.
In the next article I will be revisiting the second secret of accelerated learning and the latest research: that you should facilitate learning and not train.