Here is an excerpt from an article written by Steve Glaveski for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
Credit: Gregor Schuster/Getty Images
* * *
Organizations spent $359 billion globally on training in 2016, but was it worth it?
Not when you consider the following:
- 75% of 1,500 managers surveyed from across 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s Learning & Development (L&D) function;
- 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs;
- Only 12% of employees apply new skills learned in L&D programs to their jobs; and
- Only 25% of respondents to a recent McKinsey survey believe that training measurably improved performance.
Not only is the majority of training in today’s companies ineffective, but the purpose, timing, and content of training is flawed.
Learning for the Wrong Reasons
Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, and author of The Case Against Education, says in his book that education often isn’t so much about learning useful job skills, but about people showing off, or “signaling.
Preparing the next generation of leaders.
Today’s employees often signal through continuous professional education (CPE) credits so that they can make a case for a promotion. L&D staff also signal their worth by meeting flawed KPIs, such as the total CPE credits employees earn, rather than focusing on the business impact created. The former is easier to measure, but flawed incentives beget flawed outcomes, such as the following:
We’re learning at the wrong time. People learn best when they have to learn. Applying what’s learned to real-world situations strengthens one’s focus and determination to learn. And while psychologist Edwin Locke showed the impact of short feedback loops back in 1968 with his theory of motivation, it’s still not widely practiced when it comes to corporate training. Today’s employees often learn uniform topics, on L&D’s schedule, and at a time when it bears little immediate relevance to their role — and their learning suffers as a result.
We’re learning the wrong things. Want to see eyes glaze over quicker than you can finish this sentence? Mandate that busy employees attend a training session on “business writing skills”, or “conflict resolution”, or some other such course with little alignment to their needs.
We quickly forget what we’ve learned. Like first year college students who forget 60% of what they learn in high school, studying merely to get the CPE credit suggests that employees, too, will quickly forget what they learn. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered experimental studies of memory in the late 19th Century, culminating with his discovery of “The Forgetting Curve.” He found that if new information isn’t applied, we’ll forget about 75% of it after just six days.
Use It or Lose It
We can blame biology — and our innate, evolutionary desire for survival — for the fact that humans quickly forget what we learn. As Matthieu Boisgontier, of the University of British Columbia’s brain behavior lab put it, “Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators.” As a result, our brains quickly forget what we don’t use. Incorporating new learning into your work is one way to retain knowledge. Another is spaced repetition. Originally proposed by psychologist Cecil Alec Mace in 1932, it refers to spreading learning out over time (material should be reviewed in gradually increasing intervals of roughly one day, two days, four days, eight days, and so on). This approach takes advantage of the psychological spacing effect, which demonstrates a strong link between the periodic exposure to information and retention. Studies show that by using spaced repetition, we can remember about 80% of what we learn after 60 days — a significant improvement.
Sadly, most L&D programs overlook these biological realities and invest billions of dollars into what amounts to transfers of quickly forgotten information.
What needs to change
Today’s fast-moving business landscape calls for organizations and their people to adapt to changing circumstances rapidly, and to always be learning. As Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly puts it, “Get good at beginner mode, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, and teaching others what you learn.”
Lean learning, which pays homage to Toyota’s lean manufacturing system, stresses using effort only when it’s needed, improving outcomes, and cutting waste; it’s short, affordable, and provides employees and organizations with an immediate capability update.
Lean learning is about:
- Learning the core of what you need to learn
- Applying it to real-world situations immediately
- Receiving immediate feedback and refining your understanding
- Repeating the cycle
Like lean manufacturing and the lean startup before it, lean learning supports the adaptability that gives organizations a competitive advantage in today’s market.
* * *
Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Steve Glaveski is CEO and co-founder of Collective Campus, a corporate innovation and start-up accelerator based in Melbourne, Australia. He hosts the Future Squared podcast and is the author of Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters.