L&D Best Practices

Learning is a Process, Not an Event

Melissa Suzuno

HR and L&D Insights Writer at Udemy for Business

November 8, 2018

Learning isn’t just a one-time event, it’s an ongoing process that helps employees pick up new skills and prepare for the challenges of the future. The Experiential Learning Cycle theory suggests that learning is an ongoing, cyclical process that involves concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Complete learning occurs when a learner moves through each stage and the new knowledge or skills become the basis of new behavior. Research also shows it takes repetitive tasks and an average of 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic. Clearly, a one-time workshop isn’t going to do the trick.

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Effective training is highly iterative and involves everything leading up to and after the training event. For example, an L&D program that trains employees how to give feedback might begin with on-demand online courses and then follow with role-playing feedback sessions in a classroom. But it shouldn’t end there.

Managers could help employees practice their newly learned skill through exercises and live practice on the job. Coaches, mentors, and the L&D team can also help employees hone this new skill throughout the year through constant reminders. For example, the L&D team can continuously share curated videos, articles, and other tips to help keep feedback top of mind and remind learners to apply their newly learned skill.

Here are five ways to encourage learning as a process, not an event.

1. Nudge learners to learn

When thinking about learning as a process, it’s important to consider how you can help employees make lasting changes to their behavior. It’s not enough to simply take one course—employees need to be guided towards revisiting and repeating newly acquired skills. In order to help people make lasting change, behavioral economist Richard Thaler explains the importance of “choice architecture” that nudges and reminds people. In an L&D context, David Perring of the Fosway Group recommends creating an ecosystem that nudges employees in the right direction after they’ve participated in a training. This can involve a number of touch points such as videos, contests, and posters around the office. To learn more about nudges and encouraging lasting behavior change, see 5 Ways to Change Behavior at Work.

The Udemy for Business Adoption Dashboard can help facilitate the nudging process by providing visibility into whether employees have accepted invitations, enrolled in courses, and watched their first lecture. Admins and managers can then send emails to remind employees to enroll in a course or begin watching the lectures. See how Udemy for Business creates the right ecosystem to help nudge your employees to learn.

2. Personalize the learning experience

Personalizing the learning experience taps into intrinsic motivation and increases the likelihood that employees will continue to treat learning as a process. Research published in a CLO article on self-expression highlights how personalization can boost performance. When learners find relevance in the subject matter and can tie it to their personal goals, it’s much easier for them to feel motivated and engaged. One study at UNC found that personalized new hire onboarding, which focused more on the individual than the organization, led to longer-term retention and greater job satisfaction in the future.

Udemy for Business’ Smart Recommendations drives skill progression by drawing upon individual learning behavior and the billions of learning interactions on Udemy and Udemy for Business to identify what employees should learn next. It delivers a continuous learning journey powered by relevant and personalized content recommendations. For example, employees who take Python courses might receive content recommendations on Natural Language Processing because it’s an area of computer science that uses Python and a natural progression from Machine Learning. See how Udemy for Business can help create personalized learning experiences for your employees.

3. Embed learning in the workflow

Another way to move away from a one-off event approach is to embed learning in employees’ workflows and build the right infrastructure to support a culture of learning.

Lucia Guillory, Head of People at Patreon takes both a micro and macro level approach to embed learning into employees’ workflow. At the micro level, she considers if an employee learns how to use a particular application, what would be the next step to delivery and what are the overarching goals, so they can curate relevant learning content and deliver it to employees within the flow of their work. On the macro level, they map learning to the employee lifecycle, considering when employees tend to become open to promotions and stretch opportunities. See How Patreon’s Lucia Guillory Approaches L&D with a UX Design Lens.

4. Empower managers to facilitate learning

Managers’ close relationship with their team members puts them in an ideal position to identify the skill gaps and career goals of their employees—setting the stage for a more personalized learning journey and increasing the likelihood that employees will engage in learning over time. Team managers also play an important role as development coaches, making sure learning is applied on the job and that ultimately, employee performance improves.

Managers can use 1:1 meetings to explore their direct reports’ career goals and develop personalized learning journeys. Using the “Group Admin” feature on Udemy for Business, they can even recommend specific courses to their direct reports and track learning progress. For more tips on how managers can support learning, see 6 Ways Managers Can Help Drive Learning.

5. Leverage on-demand online learning over stipends

In the context of promoting learning as a process, offering one-off learning stipends for an employee to attend a conference or enroll in a classroom course isn’t as effective as providing continuous on-demand learning in the workplace. A blended learning approach that enables you to layer online learning with role-playing sessions, one-on-one coaching, and peer-to-peer social learning creates the right ecosystem to make learning stick.

Approaching learning in this more holistic way benefits your organization as a whole. In an article on the Association for Talent Development blog, Joanne Wells writes, “Continuous learning benefits individuals by growing knowledge and skills so they don’t stagnate. The same can be said for organizations that foster a culture of learning. When employees get to look at their work through the lens of new information and ideas, it spurs new and creative ways to complete work or deliver a better product.”

Learning has become a more integrated part of our personal and professional lives, but most people still need a little extra support. The strategies we’ve recommended here can help ensure that your employees approach learning as a process rather than a one-off event, and establish learning behaviors that will last them a lifetime.

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in the digital transformation of the workplace by offering fresh, relevant, and personalized on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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