E. S. Soon | Engaging Today’s Distracted Learners

Engaging Today’s Distracted Learners

If you’ve observed a lack of participation in your training participants, you’re not alone. I wrote this article for humanresourcesonline.net about how to create the ‘Candy Crush’ effect in corporate learning.

Have you have observed a noticeable lack of participation and engagement in meetings, conference calls, and training classes by your peers or other staff members?

Well, you are not alone.

Several senior executives have shared their frustrations that people in their organisations seem unfocused and overwhelmed with information. Research by Bersin by Deloitte, Meet the Modern Learner, has found that “companies and learners have all changed faster than many learning and development organisations have kept up.” The research paper further validated senior executives’ suspicions by concluding that modern learners are simply overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient.

They seek highly targeted access to useful information, as and when needed in short bursts of learning, and formats that are entertaining and engaging.

What’s up with modern-day learners?

So how do business leaders ensure critical business knowledge will stick with their employees?

Companies need to explore the use of non-traditional ways to re-capture their employees’ imagination and attention. Making learning real-time, bite-sized, adaptive to individuals, smart and innovative can be achieved through leveraging technology.

The question becomes, are companies ready to adopt newer technology in learning? In Deloitte’s 2015 Human Capital Trends report, less than 25% of companies felt comfortable with today’s digital learning environment. However, there is also research that demonstrates spending on e-learning and digital learning is on the uptrend. Millennials may have been a leading force in the wide adoption of technology, but this learning phenomenon is affecting every generation.

It is not an uncommon scene at restaurants these days where groups of diners, regardless of age, seem to be more occupied with their smart phones than interacting with one another. The go-to person in the workplace may no longer be John or Mary, but Google (or Yahoo or Bing). The last time I rejected “online learning” was in 2007. Last year, however, I acquired some knowledge and skills critical for me and my business, from massive open online courses (MOOC) such as those from coursera.org.

The MOOCs are offered by distinguished professors from top universities from Stanford to Fudan to NUS, for free. And from knowledge acquisition to talent acquisition, more than 350 companies now cooperate with Coursera and Udacity to identify the best students as possible candidates for relevant jobs. It is a fascinating trend.

Technology can’t do it alone

I want to stress that although technology is an important element, so are playfulness, mindfulness, and analytics. And some good old ways of learning are still vital and effective. The ability to blend, or to put the different elements together, can make learning intelligent, fun, engaging, and attractive again. I call that creating the “Candy Crush” effect in corporate learning.

Data and predictive analytics can provide insightful information to business executives and help them make better decisions. For example, figuring out how much and how confident each employee is about the company’s products; how often they access the information and what they look for; and how much they can and cannot retain. Wrong information leads to errors at work and it can be costly. Knowing how much of the wrong information they retained can be equally insightful. Data and predictive analytics have taken on new dimensions with the help of  technology.

What’s playfulness got to do with it

The notion of injecting playfulness into learning is not a new one. Some 16 years ago I attended a workshop on “Making Training Fun”. In that class, we designed our own Bingo game on a piece of paper that we could use in our next training. Again, with technology intervention, the innovations we see in game-based learning and gamified learning, are breathtaking.

Gamification for example, has been successful in helping businesses push their customer engagement to new heights. The Nike+ app, has successfully engaged millions of customers in making running fun with game mechanics such as leaderboard, challenges, and social functions.

Axonify, an e-learning platform using gamification and brain science, has helped major global companies engage their learners and achieve learning ROI at levels not seen in the past. Consider this – if game play can help get the attention of a technologically plugged-in and emotionally-distracted workforce, and allow them to focus on business-critical information, why not?

We are living in an exciting era. Neuroscientists have been able to discover so much more about human brains with the presence of advanced imaging technology and biological researches.

The emerging field in “brain science” and the links to leadership and professional behaviours such as the work done by David Rock, have been astonishing.

There is now new information about our attention, memory, and decision-making functions. Many learning organisations have started to fine tune the way they deliver spaced repetition, bite-sized learning, and retrieval practice to achieve optimal learning from the human brains.

Lastly, the inevitable – the next batch of incoming graduate hires is probably going to expect something more exciting and innovative to be unleashed at their disposal. Let’s get the evolution in corporate learning ready for that.

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