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Learning isn’t working: it’s time for fresh thinking on corporate education

You know your organisation can achieve competitive advantage through people. So you invest in them. In the UK alone, businesses invest almost £43bn a year in employee training – much of it in running conventional ‘stand and deliver’ courses or developing e-learning modules. But there’s plenty of evidence that those options may not be the most effective.

Out with the old

Training that focuses on trying to squeeze as much content into people’s heads as possible rarely succeeds. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus demonstrated more than a hundred years ago, that we struggle to retain information for longer than a few hours unless we actively try to remember it. (Why would we? It’s easy to find information online.) So, if we forget most of what we’ve heard almost as soon as we escape the training room, courses are having little impact once we get back to work. Employees’ experience of learning at work often fails to reflect the way technology has transformed their lives outside work.

Not many people join an organisation nowadays expecting to make steady progress up a career ladder. They’re looking for a series of experiences that help them develop, perhaps in different parts of the organisation. They want support to perform successfully in each new situation, not training in the core capabilities required for one specific role. They expect to be able to ‘figure it out’ for themselves.

We think organisations should put less emphasis on conventional courses and prioritise giving people resources. That means making better use of technology to offer a more satisfying and effective learning experience – one that provides ‘just-in-time’ guidance to direct and enhance performance. Why waste days in a classroom when you can achieve the same outcome in minutes on the job?

In with the new

How does this shift from courses to resources look in the real world? We worked with HS2, the organisation responsible for building the UK’s new high speed railway, to develop and set expectations for a key group of more than 300 senior leaders and line managers. The resources we developed included an online learning portal with checklists, video shorts and ‘how to’ guides people can use to get practical support whenever they need it. Topics cover everything from conducting an interview to running a performance review. 

BP has put a similar approach into action. They developed checklists, short videos and one-page guides for new leaders covering, for example, ‘ten things to do in your first week’ and ‘what to cover when you talk to new recruits’.

There’s even more potential with apps. An app could help new leaders encourage engagement in their teams. The app collects data on people’s activity, interprets this to report on individual levels of engagement and suggests appropriate interventions to increase motivation and boost engagement. It provides just-in-time guidance that actually improves performance.

From courses to resources

This move works for everyone.

For employers, it eliminates inertia that comes from training employees for specific roles. Focusing on just-in-time support creates a more flexible workforce – a workforce where people can move more easily into new roles to respond to changing priorities and challenges. And they have the resources they need to perform effectively in each new context.

For employees, the new approach puts an end to days spent out of action on training courses. With resources built around the latest technology, they get the guidance they need to develop in new roles, delivered in a way that’s mobile, social and available exactly when and where they need it.

Find out more about our work in people and talent.

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