The future of workplace training

Learning and development techniques shift towards technology and gamification
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/21/2017
Workplace Training
AFPics (Shutterstock)

Each year, companies across North America spend a collective $160 billion on ineffective workplace training, according to Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, a technology firm in Waterloo, Ont.

“Most of that goes to waste,” she said. “It doesn’t stick and it doesn’t get translated into behaviour, which of course affects the business outcome.”

That needs to change if HR departments are to retain their value, said Leaman, speaking at a recent Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto.

 “People feel good about having trained people within the organization because they’ve done their job. They can check that box. But the reality is it’s not effective.”

As HR begins to distance itself from “one-and-done” learning programs, Axonify is on the cutting edge, promoting training via micro-learning, gamification, brain science and personalization, she said.

“We call ourselves an employee knowledge platform, and essentially what we’re doing is using technology to drive memory and retention in the human brain,” said Leaman. “It’s completely different than the way we have trained employees traditionally.”

Axonify’s mission is to make employees more knowledgeable in hopes they can perform better, allowing organizations to realize their full potential. Performance pains inside an organization are often a direct result of low levels of employee knowledge, according to Leaman.

Her fourth technology company was created in opposition to one-and-done learning in which workers are blasted with information in hopes of behavioural change, she said. The company incorporates its technology to drive employee knowledge development, support constant organizational change and drive business results.

Tenets of modern learning

Today’s employees want workplace training to be fast, fun, effective and personalized, said Leaman.

Lessons administered through Axonify contain up to five learning points, which adapt alongside individual workers’ responses to ensure everyone learns at their own pace.

“We found a way to get employees to want to do it every day on their own,” she said. “We do adjust person by person based on your demonstrated knowledge.”

Typically, Axonify training is implemented via three to five repetitions over 30 days, with expected long-term memory retention rates as high as 90 per cent.

Learning via gamification has received solid participatory levels from all age categories, said Leaman.

“In some organizations, there are five different generations in the workforce,” she said. “Each one has very unique characteristics and needs.”

Over time, Axonify has identified nine essential principles for a modern learning environment: leveraging current brain science, measuring business objectives, including social and collaborative techniques, familiar and modern interfaces, use of game mechanics, personalized and adaptive content, continuous daily training, ability to learn on demand, and compatibility across devices.

Effective training guides staffers to make good decisions and strengthens workplace culture, said Leaman.

“Every single decision everybody makes has a ripple effect to everyone else,” she said. “At the end of the day, culture is about how people feel when they come into work every day. Are they giving it their all?”

Struggle is real

Learning and development (L&D) professionals in charge of creating and delivering training content are struggling to meet the expectations of the modern learner, said Leaman.

“L&D is really struggling with how to do that most effectively,” she said, noting the gap between employee expectations and L&D’s ability to provide is now at 430 per cent, according to Axonify research.

In addition, 70 per cent of line-of-business leaders are now bypassing their L&D departments to find solutions to their training needs, said Leaman.

“HR is perceived — especially in large organizations — as a necessary evil. They’re not a strategic enabler of the business.” 

Much of today’s training still consists of “check-the-box, one-and-done” programming, even while research by Axonify insists 70 per cent of employees prefer learning via short, easily consumable processes.

Leaman likened the current training methodology to cramming for exams, where students take in copious amounts of information for a fast-approaching test.

Unfortunately, she said, just five to seven per cent of that knowledge will be remembered 30 days later.

With the use of technology and mobile devices increasing, it’s up to HR to stay on top of current trends, said Leaman.

“Your job as HR is to stay aware of what’s out there and try to channel the use of technology in a way that’s most conducive to your organization, and not necessarily just clamp down,” she said. “You almost have to be as technology-savvy as your workforce, so that you’re not saying ‘No.’”

“You understand how it will be employed, what the options are, and how best to enable the workforce, because that’s just the way of the world.”

How HR should adjust

The effect the gamification movement will have on human resources professionals is expected to be enormous, said Leaman.

“We’re on the cusp of seeing a different attitude to the value of HR in the enterprise,” she said. “We need to rethink this from the ground up and not be stuck in the old just because we’ve invested millions of dollars in the last 10 years in traditional ways to do things. We need to start the journey of transforming how we get our employees to be as knowledgeable as possible,” she said.

“Bottom-line results start and end with what people know, because they do what they know.”

Still, not all HR traditions are becoming redundant, said Leaman.

Learning opportunities at multi-day conferences remain invaluable, as the average employee devotes just one per cent of his workweek to learning something new, she said.

Conferences provide quality opportunities to meet likeminded peers, compare corporate strategy and discuss thought leadership.

Going forward, HR professionals remain tasked with recruiting and retaining top human capital — whose knowledge is the “secret weapon people always forget about,” said Leaman.

And with priority once again shifting towards employing a knowledgeable workforce rather than training towards specific applications, it is the HR and L&D departments who are ultimately responsible, she said.

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