Digital technology may present more learning opportunities than ever before, but the key to successful training is to get back to basics and understand how people learn.
In a constantly evolving workplace, the need to embrace new technologies, processes and skills is becoming common practice. For those who are not ‘natural learners’, or feel overwhelmed by the increasing digitisation of working life, this can be a daunting prospect.
Furthermore, this fear often holds many employees back from achieving their true potential at work.
In order to maximise the impact of any training or development programmes, the secret lies in understanding how people learn. Once this is mastered, the potential for development is limitless.
A question I am often asked by both employees and HR/training managers is how I can help them to take their learning capabilities to the next level. The trouble with this question is that the solution can vary greatly from one individual to another.
This is because we have to understand the basics of how people process, store and recall information, along with the varying factors that affect why it can be easier for some to learn, but much harder for others.
The good news is that we all have the potential to access our inner ‘genius’, it is just that most people are never taught how to access it.
What is the best environment for learning?
It is a common assumption that your efficiency levels are determined by where a person happens to be located at any given point in time. We all have those particular locations which tend to work well for us, the quiet meeting room, the Tube journey home, the office, and so on.
There won’t be a one-size fits all approach, so it is important to help employees to understand what works best for them personally.
The trouble with limiting your beliefs in this way means that you become less effective in other locations or conditions, simply because you expect it to be the case.
Instead of wishing the environment was different, one of the basic principles to improving the ability to learn, is not wishing the environment was different, but understanding how to create the best conditions for learning, wherever you may be.
Individual learning patterns
When considering teams, departments and even entire organisations, it is clear that everyone will have a different set of factors that will enhance, or hamper, their learning.
There won’t be a one-size fits all approach, so it is important to create a learning culture and help employees to understand what works best for them personally. Here are a few key points to consider.
The kind of ‘intelligence’ an individual possesses will affect what kind of environments work best for them.
For example, those who have a ‘naturalist’ intelligence are likely to find that their learning improves when they are outdoors, or take regular breaks in the fresh air whilst learning.
For those with a ‘kinesthetic’ intelligence, you may find that they learn and retain information better when moving around, rather than being confined to a desk or seat.
This concept was first developed by Howard Gardner in 1983 and although opinions about its validity vary, there is a wealth of information available to help organisations fully understand this theory, along with how to successfully incorporate it into your learning programmes.
Music and sounds
The trouble with many organisations is that most workspaces are shared, meaning that there is likely to be one music or sound preference that dominates the space, which may or may not be productive for some employees.
Learning can be affected by too much noise, too little, or simply the wrong ‘type’ of background music or sounds.
By actively asking questions and engaging your mind whilst you read, you are far more likely to remain focused on the subject.
Helping employees to actively explore what kind of background music or sounds are most impactful on their learning, and providing opportunities for them to work within these environments, will help to ensure that everyone has the potential to maximise their learning.
Health and wellbeing continues to remain high on the agenda with regards to employee motivation, productivity and engagement, and with good reason.
Being in the right frame of mind before embarking on learning or tasks is critical and it is unsurprising that many issues relating to employee performance are often linked to mental or emotional wellbeing.
Providing opportunities for employees to engage in relaxation prior to learning, such as brief meditations, are helpful for allowing employees to destress, refocus and get into the right headspace for learning.
We are all familiar with the challenges of trying to focus on learning something and finding our minds wandering at every opportunity. A great example of this is being engrossed in a novel but struggling to focus on a page in the work manual.
The reason behind this is that when reading a novel, most people are doing their best to guess what happens next. By actively asking questions and engaging your mind whilst you read, you are far more likely to remain focused on the subject.
When you have guessed the correct outcome, you’ll be pleased with yourself and will remember the achievement. Likewise, if you are wrong, you’ll remember it too, perhaps more so, as no one likes to be wrong.
This is a simple technique, but one which can transform how much information can be absorbed through reading.
These few brief points are just the tip of the iceberg, but what you have hopefully gained from this article is the knowledge that learning improvements are possible for everyone, once you have a better understanding of the factors which contribute to the way people individually learn, store and recall important information.
Interested in this topic? Read Why learning should be a holistic experience.