Blog Post

Three Steps to Make Learning Last

Dr. Tom Tonkin

Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services

I think it’s fair to say we all want our learning to last. I think we call it ’sticky’. We spend many hours reading, watching videos or in training classes, we want to see our efforts (and our expense) pay off. From a corporate perspective, CEB, a research firm, reports that sales representatives are forgetting 70 percent of the content that they receive in one week, and 90 percent in one month. That’s from the learner side of the equation. From another point of view, leaders are looking for lasting learning to go to the next step and provide bottom line impact. An ATD/ROI Institute study found that 96 percent percent of CEOs stated that their number one concern in learning is the associated impact it may bring. They want proof that their investment in learning has a corporate payoff.

In this post, I break down two learning ingredients, the learning process and the learning content into the two areas for consideration to make learning last.

Making Learning Last

The first key ingredient, the learning process, at the lowest level, is to move the new, learned material from short-term memory (STM) to long-term memory (LTM) such that it can be accessed when needed for many years to come. This process is called . This process also transcends age, gender, experience and other demographics when we consider creating learning content because we are addressing the human brain. Whenever we consume information, we are storing it first in short-term memory. This is a very similar paradigm of that of a PC. When we are entering information, we are entering it into memory. When we hit the save button, that moves the data from memory to the hard drive for later retrieval and use. So, how do we 'hit the save button'?

The way to move information we consumed from STM to LTM is through rehearsal and repetition, however, we must be sure that that the information consumed is correct. The adage "practice makes perfect" is false, practice makes permanent. Be sure you have the correct information when the student rehearses and repeats as we are not only moving information from STM to LTM, but we are also creating new information that is generated from the experience itself.

The second key ingredient, the learning content, suggests that we also need to understand that the human brain is composed, at the highest level, of two sides, the right brain and the left brain. We know that the right brain addresses aspects that are abstract; it concerns itself with the big picture, while the left brain addresses the detailed piece; it creates the linear directions needed to accomplish something. The left brain makes the ideas of the right brain come to life.

The last key ingredient, also concerning content is that we need to ensure that the information correctly stored in the brain and easily retrieved. The default way that the brain stores all sorts of information is using schemas (Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2005)). Think of schemas as little cubbyholes created from our previous experiences. When we learn new information, if not given a new schema, we will utilize older schemas to store this new information. Sometimes the schema could not match-up to the learning purpose.

To illustrate this, in a recent meeting with top level executives at a for profit organization, I conducted a word association exercise. I presented the group with a word, with no context, or, in our case, a schema, and then gave them 15 seconds to write down other words that described the given word. The word I gave them was ’baseball’. After fifteen seconds, we went around the room to see what everyone wrote. There were some standard answers like ’past time and ’sport’, but there was one person that gave us another set of words. He chose ’passion’ and ’dream’. When we discussed his words, he told us that when we was a child, his dream was to be a professional baseball player. As a matter of fact, he tried out for the Majors at one point. His schema was based on his experience and without context for the word, that is where his brain placed the word baseball.

So, what do we need to do to make our learning last. Below are three steps, based on these findings that will make your learning investment last.

Practical Application

  1. Be sure you have a process of learning that allows the learner to rehearse and repeat information.
  2. Insist that the content is sorted in such a way that the learner is consuming the right content for the right reason. Tell them what and for what purpose they need to learn something. Connecting the right (abstract) part of the brain to the left (linear) part of the brain.
  3. Lastly, Does the learner know for what purpose they are consuming the content? This allows them to classify the learning for greater retention in the correct, created schema.

Looking at your on-going learning efforts, are you making learning last? Let me know via Twitter @DrTomTonkin -- #LearningLast.

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.

Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

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Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.

Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

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Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock

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