Future of Learning

You Can Feel it Working: How to Build a Learning Program for the 21st Century

Written by Grovo

In Grovo’s newest webinar, “You Can Feel it Working: How to Build a Learning Program for the 21st Century,” Director of Learning Alex Khurgin today presented a stark portrait of the current crisis in training and a road map for how companies can get out of it. Check out the white paper if you want the full story, but here’s a primer.

The problem

How much money do you think companies currently lose on ineffectively training one thousand employees for one year? $500,000? $5 million? It’s actually closer to an annual loss of $14 million. And that’s just for 1,000 trainees. At large companies, it could be many multiples of that.

That amount is the sum of three primary stages of an employee’s life cycle, each of which carries a monetary cost due to employee disengagement. The digital skills gap itself costs a whopping $10 million per year per thousand employees. The problem is, it also causes an additional cost when those employees become frustrated and disengaged at work. This costs another $2 million per thousand. This group will eventually leave, either voluntarily or by getting pushed out of their positions, and cost the company another $1.5 million in turnover expense. All of this amounts to $13.5 million per thousand employees per year. It’s also a lot of hassle; none of this includes the joyous experience of going to the labor market to find skills that are generally lacking and expensive.

Two things make this sad state of affairs particularly worrisome. For one, it’s not like companies aren’t aware of the need to train their employees. Business are pouring billions into L&D—they’re just getting far too little back. Second, there’s the looming specter of a millennial workforce to contend with. As is the nature of things, young employees are projected to take over the workplace rapidly in the coming decades: they’ll comprise almost half the workforce in five years and 75% in fifteen. They’re a contingent of workers who innately understand the rapid evolution of modern tech, and therefore understand the need for continuous training. 59% of millennials say that the presence of state-of-the-art training is an important factor in their decision about whether to take a job or not.

All of this means that large organizations need to figure out how to solve the immanent crisis in training, quick.

How to create a learning program for the 21st century

The fundamental issue with training today is that it’s trying to adapt old, outdated methods to new challenges. Obsolete training is failing grossly—90% of workers report being uncomfortable with the digital tools they use every day—because it’s straining to keep up with technological developments. The way forward is to flip this around and use the emerging challenges of training in the digital age as starting points for delivering training.

When we at Grovo refer to “the 21st century brain,” we’re talking about the unique way in which technology has affected the individuals and populations who interact with it. Attention spans are shorter today than ever before—8 seconds today, down from 12 seconds just a generation ago. It’s not a good or a bad thing, just a logical adaptation to a diversity and quantity of stimuli that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.

It’s hard to deliver training that people care about in such an environment. Even digital skills that help employees in their daily jobs are harder to communicate: there’s no way a two-day Excel course can reach modern employees to the depths that their Facebook feed does.

The solution is to design training that leans into these digital challenges. Yes, digital technology is sapping attention spans. That just means that training content has to be short. Yes, technology is evolving faster than ever. Learners now intuitively understand the need for continuous education. Yes, digital users expect highly personal experiences. That’s convenient, because it’s been proven that learners retain emotionally and psychologically affective learning more than learning that doesn’t connect with them. All digital-age challenges present opportunities upon which training can capitalize.

We also believe that it’s important to ground these new evolutions in age-old best practices. We’re not trying to discard everything about training as it’s existed to this point, just the elements of it that are unsuited to a fast-moving, on-demand world. Some of the core principles of didactics are still as relevant as ever. Frankly, there’s been a lot of timeless best practices that we’ve long known about that have been ignored lately.

For example, it’s become trendy to disparage training that primarily benefits the company. Learners don’t care about what their managers want them to train on, chirp the doubters. Grovo feels the opposite: training that is truly aligned with company goals and culture carries with it an automatic legitimacy. It helps achieve broad buy-in, from executives trying to advance strategy to learners interested in participating in company culture. How about the idea of realistic practice? We’ve known forever that practice helps learners internalize their new knowledge or skills. In the digital age, we can simulate immersion in most any kind of skill, which is part of the reason why Grovo’s developed a method for designing training that provides holistic practice.

This combination of timeless, proven strategies and new digital opportunities forms the core of Grovo’s approach to designing training in the 21st century. It meets the new needs of learners and companies, and it leverages the technology they use instead of fighting against it.

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