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Conquering information overload in learning and development

Recognizing there is a finite amount to what employees can take in
learning, training
The human brain isn't very good at retaining new information if it feels bombarded by multiple channels and sources. Shutterstock

By Brian Kreissl

I don’t know how others feel, but I am constantly bombarded with emails, meeting requests, deliverables, articles and social media posts relating to the workplace. While much of the content I read, watch and consume is interesting and relevant, I couldn’t possibly read everything I receive – and even when I do read, listen to or watch content, I often find myself asking, “What did I just read?” or “What was that all about again?”

Part of the problem is multitasking, which studies show the human brain isn’t very good at. It can also be difficult to retain new information when we feel like we’re being bombarded with information through multiple channels and from multiple sources. Communications with action items or deliverables can seem particularly daunting, with the result that employees feel like everyone seems to want a piece of them.

In the business world, we’re constantly being asked to do more with less, and the flow of information seems to be accelerating at an ever-increasing pace. It can often feel like drinking from the proverbial firehose, which can lead to information overload and burnout.

I can also attest to the fact that ignoring or skipping through important or highly relevant messages or other content can lead to a certain amount of guilt and feelings of inadequacy. Information overload can also lead to employees missing extremely important messages with urgent deliverables and time-sensitive tasks.

Learning and development programs

Learning and development is no different in that learners only have a finite amount of time to dedicate to workplace learning. They may also feel bombarded with requests to complete training programs, e-learning modules and other types of learning activities.

According to Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte, the average employee only has about 24 minutes per week to devote to formal learning. This is particularly true for managers, who are often stressed out, overworked and feel like they are being pulled in a million different directions.

Having been a line manager, I can attest to the competing priorities and the fact that human resources programs (including learning and development initiatives) sometimes feel like “flavour of the month from HR.” There has to be something in it for managers and employees in order to obtain buy-in for learning and other HR programs.

Executives are also increasingly requiring that learning and development programs have a measurable impact on the bottom line. While there is sometimes a tendency to want to design and implement full or multiple day workshops or training programs, shorter programs such as e-learning or even microlearning initiatives can provide sufficient content in many cases without taking people away from their jobs for a long period of time.

A new paradigm for learning and development

I am currently reading an interesting book titled Radical Outcomes: How to Create Extraordinary Teams That Get Tangible Results, by Juliana Stancampiano. This book is mainly focused on making the case for a new paradigm of learning and development.

Stancampiano argues there is only a finite amount of content people can learn at any one time. The book makes a case for avoiding information overload, connecting content to concrete, measurable goals and structuring learning in a learner-centric manner, while avoiding the misuse of company resources.

The book also makes a case for using a six-step methodology that involves envisioning outcomes at the outset, considering the environment, architecting learning in a structured, deliberate manner, designing the content and concept, building and iterating learning, and activating the learning while obtaining feedback. Stancampiano also argues for building agility into the process so that changes can be made and input is obtained from multiple stakeholders.

Learning should be interesting, enjoyable, practical, evaluated and focused on real outcomes. Nevertheless, evaluations should move beyond the typical “smile sheets” used in many organizations to evaluate training and should be about more than the instructor’s likeability and whether or not learners enjoyed the sessions.

Best practices in training and development

Readers who are interested in learning more about best practices in learning and development can subscribe to Best Practices: Training and Development, a looseleaf published by Thomson Reuters. This publication is available in print and online.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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