Expand Your Learning Menu


What do cream of celery soup, potato chip tuna casserole, and broiled grapefruit have in common? Believe it or not, they were all listed as some of the most popular dishes to serve — in the 1950s.  The question is how do these items align with the interests and tastes of today’s customer? Let’s apply that same lens to your L/D offerings. Many companies are still serving up training content in the same way they did in the 1950s – expensive week long offsite session, instruction led lectures, and best of all big three ring binders. Does this learning approach align to the interests and tastes of your customers? I spoke about serving up bite sized learning at today’s Twin Cities SHRM Conference (#TCHRA.org) and we discussed understanding your customers’ palates, expanding your learning menu, and setting up a test kitchen.

Understanding your customers’ palates. I am a journalism major and remember that there was a time when breaking news came from newspapers.  Today it is comical to think that breaking news could be 24 hours old. But newspapers still play an important role in the world news. They bring the research and interview expertise and have the space to cover topics in depth. They are also still a viable source of news- a Pew Research study in 2016 found that 36% of U.S. adults got election news from a print newspaper. But papers don’t have the timeliness, flexibility, or portability to serve all the demands of today’s consumer. I would argue that the same is true of classroom leadership programs. These trainings can be incredibly valuable and give learners time to go deep on critical topics. But the reality is this approach alone doesn’t have the timeliness, flexibility, or portability to serve all the demands of busy leaders.  News now comes from a variety of mediums. I encourage you to think about how you can supplement your in-person training content with leader led discussions, short video clips, and/or other formats.

Expanding Your Learning Menu. When we talk about learning we often talk about the 70/20/10 model: that seventy percent of learning should be on the job, 20% should come from mentors, and 10% should come from classroom learning. The reality in many organizations is that 90% of IDPs focus on signing up for a class. So while we work on balancing our overall portfolio, how can we expand our menu of learning offerings? The good news is there are a lot of great resources out there.  Get Abstracts  summarizes thousands of business books. The Lean In website has a library of expert speakers.  Ted Talks is a website full of “ideas worth spreading.” The provided Ted Talk link is to a particular talk by Ramsey Musallam and three rules to spark learning. His talk is on chemistry- but his points can be applied to any topic. When presenting a topic, remind yourself of the following:

  1. Curiosity comes first. You can tell your audience or you can engage and inspire your audience- design for discussion.
  2. Embrace the mess. We spend a lot of time talking about theory but not enough time talking about what really happens when you try to put it into practice. Engage your audience to tell you their real experiences, fears, and successes when putting concepts into practice.
  3. Practice reflection. Help your learners reflect as they go, so they can see that each step forward- and step backward- is all part of the learning journey. Encourage them to journal, or set up check-in calls with a partner to keep the learning alive.

Set up a test kitchen. Here are two great ways to move your learning approach into a test kitchen. One is to use a flipped classroom approach to your content.  Traditional classrooms have lectures during the day, and homework at night. A flipped classroom asks kids to absorb the learning through online content, then uses the classroom time to talk about questions, insights and applications.  Think about how much more your classroom can be if you aren’t focused on pushing out content, but rather building on the team’s collective learning and understanding. Another non-traditional learning approach is an unconference.  Most conferences are built around pre-selected topics and speakers. At an unconference the attendees decide that morning what gets covered. Let’s say, for example, you wanted to cover the topic of interviewing with your managers.  This time, instead of preparing content you would kick off the session by asking the audience questions like, “What do you want to know about interviewing?”

“Where are you getting stuck in the interview process?”

“What have you learned that we would all benefit from knowing about interviewing?”

You may get responses like, “I want to understand more about unconscious bias.”

“I’m getting stuck assessing both technical and leadership skills.”

“I have finally figured out the best way to prepare for my interviews.”

Voila. You now have today’s topics. Scary? Maybe. But memorable, engaging, and an item I would encourage you to at least rotate on your learning menu.

According to the 2013 Corporate Learning fact book, U.S. businesses spend more than $60 billion a year in employee development. I don’t think we can afford for that to be spent on potato chip tuna casserole. So go back into the kitchen and whip up some new approaches to learning that reflect your customers’ palates, expand your learning menu, and push you to test some new ideas.

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