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5 Opportunities to Narrow the #LearningPerforming Gap

What do you get when a learning scientist and a technologist get together? An idea to spark a conversation on reimaging how leaders today learn, develop, and perform. This is the third in our #LearningPerforming blog series.

By Barry Stern and Russ White

Learning Performing GapIn our first two blogs, we’ve presented a model for addressing the #learningperforming gap through a combination of learning science and appropriate actions based on fundamental shifts largely powered by technology. The individual, or group of individuals, who can successfully navigate these shifts, which we personified as a “Learning Experience Manager” stands a much greater chance for organizational credibility and impact.

Keeping up with seismic shifts

Despite the continued technological advances made relevant to the leadership development space, we continue to run in place as if going nowhere fast. Technological augmentation of learning presents us with many new possibilities, yet we have much work to do. For example, the DNA of hundreds of LMS systems is largely administrative; those of us skilled in learning science must push and partner with our technology partners as we attempt to mirror more of the significant advancements that have been made in areas such as social media and digital marketing. These advancements have changed the discipline of marketing in ways that we could never have imagined.

Many of our clients talk about learning curve acceleration, or the need to compress what might have been 25 years of knowledge into about 10. With the rate of “brain drain” today, we must accelerate the rate at which knowledge is gained by the younger generations—and it’s clear that it’s more than just yesterday’s pools of high flyers. Instead, the call is to gain significantly more traction in the development, engagement, and growth of younger generations in order to minimize the knowledge runoff as the Baby Boomers leave. It’s clear that the long game is getting shorter.

We’ve isolated five potentially game-changing opportunities for learning and development professionals to leverage. Learning Experience Managers of the future will seize these opportunities to create new levels of learner engagement and organizational impact.

1. Put search over sequence

The search button has opened up a virtual universe of knowledge possibilities. At the time of this writing, Google searches alone number over 53,000 per second. Intellectual curiosity in our opinion is far from dead; instead a technology has hacked its way into just about every aspect of human discourse, be it casual dinner conversation, formal, or informal learning environments. How do we lean into this reality?

Today, many of you are creating learning journeys for cohorts designed to produce a largely common set of knowledge and outcomes. These are important initiatives designed to create a greater degree of organizational readiness to meet the demands of the future. Yet, the “learner in charge” of today, assaulted by the 24/7 information avalanche, has been tuned to be highly selective in terms of the information she lets in. We may subject her to the neat swim lanes of our organized learning journeys, but she has many tools at her disposal that enable her to swim around the irrelevant and disregard your rules of lane etiquette.

Can we put search over sequence? Should we create algorithms that make the “right” informationcurated by learning specialists trained to provide the highest quality information and resources—easily searchable and accessible to accelerate the learning curve of leaders? The opportunity exists for you to create the conditions for learner engagement by providing high quality information at the head of the line around essential topics for the development of your leaders and specific organizational context.

2. Take advantage of reward immediacy

The behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner noted early in the 20th century that the best way to impact learning was to provide an immediate consequence based on a behavior. The closer the reward to the behavior, the more likely the behavior to be repeated. Put simply, we search, we find what we want to very quickly, we get stunningly rewarded for it, we search again, and the link between search behavior and immediate rewarding result strengthens. The power of this immediate reward over time is so all-consuming, primal, and powerful, that it has taken over the fiber of human interactions in our technologized world.

What other possibilities beyond search can we optimize? Augmented and virtual realities can provide immediate consequences for behavior that have the potential to impact learning in much the same way as the search button. Or perhaps a “Siri for leadership” can provide real time suggestions for the individual heading to the difficult meeting. This is but one example of how a highly efficient cognitive “scaffold” might be wrapped in the latest technology to take a learner down a real time path to best answers for a current situation. Virtual mentors equipped with natural language processing capabilities can be created to offer real-time advice to the struggling new manager making the transition from peer to first-time leader.

3. Move to the video 2.0 era

Beginning in the 1970’s, the combination of Albert Bandura’s social learning theory coupled with the affordability of videotape technology dramatically impacted the nature of leadership development training. Companies such as ours sprung up like weeds and used this new technology to model effective and ineffective leadership behavior, grabbing attention and teeing up opportunities for practice and feedback based on the models. Today, video creation on the small and large screen can happen in an instant and in another blink of an eye can be distributed publicly or privately to an individual’s mentor, boss, or learning journey cohort. Video technology can also allow for highly interactive real-time virtual meetings. These video meetings offer not only classroom learning experiences, but also real-time coaching and learning reinforcement. Effectively exploited, video has exponentially built upon the successes that the era of videotape ushered in. And, much like the search button, video taps into similar primal learning mechanisms. For example, Cisco estimates that by next year video traffic will represent 79 percent of all internet traffic globally.

We propose that the growth of video traffic related to our field should follow suit to those like Netflix or Hulu. Yesterday we turned primarily to those trained in classical instructional design disciplines to provide new learning assets and experiences. Today we increasingly turn to those individuals trained in small screen and video engagement and pair them with our L&D professionals to produce the learning assets that leverage this trend with increasingly powerful results. It’s our experience that through this cross-disciplinary pairing we will provide meaningful content that draws the learner in and cements in content most conducive to impactful learning. Will video kill the LMS as Josh Bersin asks us to consider? We think not, however video is likely to be one of the factors that significantly coaxes the LMS world further away from its administrative DNA.

4. Put learning in motion

We all know that learning is occurring in smaller and smaller bursts or chunks. Our belief is that one of the reasons for this is that learning is increasingly happening “in motion,” that is as we are literally moving from one place to another. Consider these facts: According to Amit Singhai, SVP of Google Search, mobile device searches already outnumber those on personal computers in 10 countries including the US and Japan. A May 2015 Cisco VNI Forecast notes that mobile data traffic will increase 10-fold between 2014 and 2019, which is three times faster than fixed IP traffic during that same period.

How will we leverage this trend? For certain kinds of learning, our internal and external customers recognize that people will sit for some amount of time in a classroom or at a larger screen. Yet, we increasingly recognize that ultimately even those who do will end up absorbing additional information, reminders, and additional practice opportunities on smaller screens, in knowledge bursts and while they are on the move.

5. Merge social and search

Many of us embrace the notion of “likes, ratings, #hashtags and comments” as we seek to make more social experiences out of our learning interventions. These attempts are well founded, with the potential to be exploited much further. As our learners continue to hit the search button, they will increasingly look to see what others have experienced when they have landed in the same spot before they make a decision to engage. This mirrors a broader phenomenon, the convergence of social and search. Digital analyst and futurist Brian Solis notes that 88 percent of consumers online are influenced by reviews and online comments by other consumers.

Increasingly we recognize that our knowledge consumers are being impacted by such trends, and will set the bar higher and higher for independent verification that what they are about to experience is worth their while before they engage. Ironically, such verification has always existed in the conventional classroom where other learners could provide immediate verification, sometimes elicited by a skilled facilitator. Today, we must seek to replicate that dynamic on a broader and technological scale, and build our social acceptance mechanisms just as aggressively as we build search algorithms.

Now what?

For those of you skilled at creating learning journeys, these approaches can significantly “jailbreak” the experiences of learners who might feel more constrained in their experiences than they might find ideal. Recognizing these five opportunities can create greater learner engagement and organizational impact, and narrow the #LearningPerforming gap.

Join the #LearningPerforming conversation on Twitter with @barster1 and @_russ_white.

Barry Stern, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President of DDI’s Leadership Solutions. Russ White is Vice President of Technology Strategy in DDI’s Global Technology Group. They are committed to have more heated debates over many beers on the nexus of learning science fueled by technology.

Posted: 11 Mar, 2016,
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