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Pushing Beyond 101

By Jim Naughton, ILG Contributor

Teaching the Experienced Workforce

Why do most organizations put 80 percent of their learning resources into supporting less than 20 percent of the workforce? Look at your organization’s budget for learning and development and try to justify why almost every program is geared to new hires and those with less than a year of experience. That’s an 80/20 phenomenon that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So many organizations seem to forget about people after they’ve achieved a minimum level of proficiency and expect they’ll continue to grow on their own. Since the overwhelming majority of people are in jobs they’ve held for more than a year, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to focus more energy on the mid-level experience segment of the workforce?

Next-Level Challenges

It’s obvious and intuitive to provide formal training to people who are new. The hidden trap is for learning leaders to stay in the safe zone and only do the basics — the 101 and 102 classes. Teaching the novice learner is a no brainer, but it’s not enough.

The learning leader who thinks strategically knows the novice level isn’t the only level to worry about. The next tier holds a lot of potential to add ROI to the organization and shouldn’t be ignored. However, it’s also not always as easy to create. To get to mid-level competence, you need to teach application-oriented skills, whereas most 101 courses are often knowledge-based, which is typically more straightforward.

Application “Rules”

What’s the difference? Well, application training is more than just “content” — it requires a learner to immerse themself in an experience. It’s about understanding not only how to do the job… but how to do it well! Let’s consider the sales function as an example. The first level up involves getting the salesperson to know how to talk clearly about the product or service. The application level teaches them to have productive conversations that tap into customer interests and lead to the next stage in the sales process.

The other key difference is that application-oriented learning requires a different type of  learner interaction during the training experience. Passive turns to active. Think “muscle memory” versus brain infusion. We want learners to actively participate in the thing we want them to do. You can (and likely will) show them what to do, but learning how to apply something isn’t complete until you get them to actually do it themselves.

A Different Way to Learn

Let’s be clear… application isn’t simply interactivity. I’m not suggesting you add more drag-and-drop and hotspot activities into your e-learning for example. So, let’s look at a few examples of how to teach application to someone who has passed through the novice curriculum and is now closer to a mid-point level of competence.

  • Coaching. One of the most common approaches to helping someone refine their skills is to give them feedback on their current actions. Watch, listen, and observe them. And then have a rich discussion about what they’re doing well and what they could do better. Managers can coach them, but using a separate coach can be an effective way to work around the many challenges involved with managers as the coach.
  • Expert Network. Instead of getting feedback from a coach, some organizations have set up an expert network of individuals who are proven to be capable of high personal performance and also have the capacity to share their knowledge with others. By identifying the right people with the right skills, an expert network can provide just the right advice at the perfect time.
  • Simulation. Just like an airline pilot who has learned the basics and needs to practice in a variety of scenarios, simulation activities provide the opportunity to expand our ability to perform beyond the 101 basics. Simulation can be low-tech such as an intricate business game done as a team, or it can be high-tech such as a virtual reality application to safely practice high-risk activities.
  • Guided Practice. This approach involves providing a resource for an independent or group activity that involves a specific task. Practice can be guided by an instructor or virtual coach who can show and then guide the learner as they do it themselves. Practice activities can occur in a training environment away from the job or be structured to happen while people are at work.

These are only a few examples of learning strategies that can help teach those who are ready to go beyond the new hire curriculum. The important thing is to push forward beyond the new hire curriculum so the larger portion of your organization can get what they need.

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