We live in a fascinating world. In just over 20 hours, we can fly from New York to Manila, more than 8,500 miles. We can conduct high-definition, face-to-face meetings at a moment’s notice, even from our smartphones, many times using free, easy-to-install software. We can send large documents around the world at the touch of a button. Technology has evolved dramatically, and it has revolutionized the way we live.
Our technology-dependant lifestyle also dictates the way we learn. This begs the question: Shouldn’t today’s tech-abundant world bring with it revolutionary ways of learning? In some ways it has, and learning has evolved significantly from being primarily considered a childhood requirement to an ongoing process which never stops.
Even the way we teach has changed: In the past students weren’t supposed to question their instructors’ information, logic, motives, or accuracy. Today, we see learning as a two-way conversation. Adult learning principles, for example, focus on involving adults in a discussion and steer away from talking at, or down to, them. Learners demand less lecturing and more practical application and clear answers to their question, “What’s in it for me?”
The fundamental principles of learning have remained the same: We still value practicing what we’ve learned, preferably in a real-life environment, but where there aren’t any dire ramifications for making mistakes—and we’re thirsty for coaching and feedback. However, two key developments have evolved to accommodate the move towards a more connected and tech-savvy world:
- Today, learners are exposed to rapidly increasing media options. In fact, recently released figures by the Consumer Electronics Association show that a third of adults in the United States watch more video content than they did a year ago, with 66 percent using consumer electronic devices while watching television.
- This concurrent meditated consumption of information from different sources has led to the development of continuous partial attention. Researcher Linda Stone describes this as a trend in which people pay partial attention continuously, which is fueled by “the desire to be a live node on the network.”
Despite the recognition of this two-pronged change, corporate learning is still often stuck in a paradigm developed for the Industrial Age where workers were expected to be at their station when the whistle blows to comply and perform relatively repetitive unskilled tasks in a manufacturing environment. We are still tempted to measure the success of adults in corporate training based on attendance, test scores, and class participation. This sends the message that our predecessors were giving children years ago: Sit up straight, face front, and keep your mouth shut unless it’s in response to a question. But if we’ve determined that this approach doesn’t work with children, how do we expect it to be successful in a corporate setting?
Rather than focusing on repetition and compliance, today’s knowledge workers learn best through practice, experimentation and feedback in job simulations that increase in diversity and complexity as they gain more sophisticated skills. This is how the most successful video games work: as the player gains more skill and experience, the games gets more challenging. Maintaining that moving sweet spot is part of a good design—if the game is too easy, players get bored; if it’s too hard, players give up. Similar to well-designed games, successful learning programs and technologies provide simulation opportunities for learners to practice real-life situations in safe environments, with coaches at hand to give them feedback and tips for further development. The evolution of this job-simulation learning technology is realized when the interaction is with real people, like today’s online gaming, versus a computer-generated persona.
For example, contact center associates are better prepared for real-world success when they practice live call simulations with their peers, trainers, team leaders, or the client management team. These simulated calls are more than standard role plays. They are “real plays,” where interaction types are randomized, learners speak with people they don’t know, their calls are recorded and scored, and they receive learner-specific coaching and development from trainers, team leaders, and quality specialists. By the time the training is complete, the learner has handled hundreds of calls based on top call drivers and received daily coaching sessions with performance feedback. Additionally, a subset of the calls are evaluated by management staff, giving valuable feedback that the learner can use for improvement. This means that the job-simulation learning technology is driving the best habits and behaviors early on in the training and giving learners a powerful voice to speak with their peers about ideas and information that might otherwise be lost or forgotten.
Well-designed job simulations address the needs of an evolving, tech-savvy world by engaging the learners’ full attention in realistic, challenging situations that minimize distractions, enhance retention and reduce time to performance.
Best of all, well-designed job simulations can deliver impressive results. For example, a telecommunications company achieved a 40 percent reduction in attrition and a 260 percent improvement in average call handling times. A financial institution achieved an 18 percent increase in speed to proficiency, while a healthcare organization saw quality increase by close to 5 percentage points—resulting in millions of savings (since each submitted quality error costs healthcare providers thousands of dollars in penalties).
In today’s fascinating world, we must constantly adapt to the changing needs of our businesses, our learners and the broader world. To do so, we need to combine state-of-the-art technology with learning best practices that provide real-play practice, increasingly challenging scenarios, as well as mentored feedback that prepares learners for real-world success. Finally, we need to shift our focus from punctuality, compliance, and written test scores to the ultimate measure of training excellence—real -world job performance.