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Is learning 'experience' even worth the effort?

As someone who prides himself on being candid and up-front with my clients. I'll maintain that mindset here and tell you, you're probably not going to like my conclusion, but lend me your eyes and I know this provocation will give you food for thought.

So, if you're involved in Learning at any level, you know the importance of these things in any learning (these are generalisations and are simplified):

  • The content is accurate

  • The knowledge and/or skills being learned can be applied effectively post-event

  • The modality of the learning is complimentary to the content and conducive to post-event application

  • The benefit of the learning should outweigh the cost of developing and delivering the learning

And finally...

  • The overall learning experience is positive

Now, one of the things learning professionals are tasked with, particularly those involved in the creation and curation of content, is to compromise on one of the above to account for a lack of budget, a lack of time or in some case an ignorance of the true role of learning in delivering personal and organisational growth.

My provocation is this: Above all else, prioritise the experience. Not the content. Not even the applicability of the learning. Or even the return on investment. Let me explain...

Imagine you've just completed learning (choose your own modality - it's your imagination) and after the event you realise that it was a bit pricey. But you loved it!

And imagine that while continuing the reflection you realised that the content was pretty basic you learned some new things but nothing mind blowing, nothing transformative.

Now imagine that it would have been much easier to have completed the learning in another modality (I.e. instead of face-to-face, you could have watched a video).

But anyway, you loved the experience.

Think of the big picture. The training was, in cash terms, expensive. It could have been done a different way. And honestly, it's going to have a minimal affect on your job, personal capability and life in general. But you know what, it was so much fun! You haven't been so engaged, so energised or so engrossed in the conversation and activities in the learning in any previous experience.

So was it really worth it? Absolutely!

The financially conservative and learning traditionalists among you will have already stopped reading by now, so I'll just focus on my rationale.

The rationale

Imagine you work in a global organisation, with thousands of hours of learning across your learning platforms. With thousands of learners to engage with. And possibly hundreds of stakeholders around the globe.

Or imagine that you're a small to medium business with around a hundred employees who's only experience of learning is the compliance manual you threw at them when they first walked through the door.

In both situations, at some point, you need to generate growth and improve profitability. You have a number of options:

  1. Charge more for your product/service - which means you either need to increase it's value to clients (without increasing costs) OR you need to focus on a powerful marketing campaign

  2. Reduce the cost of your product/service - which means you need an impressive marketing campaign to increase client volume (while not increasing costs)

  3. Reduce the cost of production - which means streamlining, cutting costs, reducing staff

  4. Find new revenue streams - which means more focus on R&D, marketing and managing the costs of this too

However you focus on growth and profitability, you will need to support your employees as they become more effective, more efficient, or more skilled.

Which means you need them to learn and grow. But if you're just a face in a gargantuan corporation or you're only learning experience was being told to read a manual, you're not likely to be the most responsive learner when your boss tells you that you're getting some learning.

What a surprise then, when you leave that first experience feeling great. True, it's not revolutionary and won't directly impact the bottom-line. But guess what. When your boss comes to you next time, with another learning programme, and this one really is going to change your world - while giving you an amazing experience, then you're all for it. You're jumping at the chance. And because your boss has had the same experience as you, he's coming with you. The whole team's coming!

And because the learning was over-subscribed, there's now demand for learning. There's now such a strong appetite for learning that your L&D department (or person) is flooded with requests to run training courses for all sorts of needs across the business - some that have been tried before, others that are new.

And now you've nailed the perfect learning experience for your audience - you can focus on making the content mind-blowing! The impact world-changing. And the return? Out of this world.

The conclusion...

When considering, is 'experience' worth the effort. My answer is unashamedly YES!

Because when have world-class content - delivered badly - your result will be apathy (maybe even open hatred)/ Or when you deliver learning that has a direct impact on sales (like cross-selling, for example) you'll have a peak in sales for a short period, but the rot sets in quickly if the experience is poor and you need to deliver regular 'refresher' training.

And you can have directly applicable knowledge/skills in your learning, but if I'm having a bad time, I'm not paying attention.

Now, when you have a memorable experience. You want to go again. And if the next time gives you some amazing results, or new skills, you're feeling even better. And if you want to continually grow capability (and business results) then you need people learning all-day every day. And this needs an empowering learning culture which generates demand. How do you develop a strong learning culture? A keystone of your culture is peoples perception of learning (remember - perception is reality in the eyes of your learners).

When people's experience of learning is positive, it follows that the perception of learning is positive. Which means the learning culture is positive, the appetite to learn is strong. So when you couple your strong experience with powerful content and applicable knowledge and skills, your people are driving the growth of your business because they're improving every day. And they want to. So they'll keep doing it.

I will always believe that Learning Experience is absolutely worth the effort - and I'd argue that it's the first thing to consider, before you even think about what content you're delivering.

And learning experience involves:

  • How easy it is to access learning (from the user's perspective)

  • All human-human, human-system and system-system interactions with learning

  • How users feel about the learning before, during and after the experience - and this involves an emotional focus.

So prioritise developing the right learning experience strategy and fit everything else into this and you'll notice, very quickly, that more people ask for learning. More people improve their knowledge and skills. And ultimately, more people will want to buy your products or use your services.

About the Author

Andy Appleby is a Learning Expert who has worked at all levels of organisational learning across Learning, Telecoms, Energy and Finance sectors since 2004. He supports a global client base with a clear vision make learning easy, always.

Questions about this article or want to chat?: Leave a comment, Call me (+44)7984920360 or E-mail me

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