Organizational Learning and the Last Cruisade

With an estimated US$300 billion spent every year on training and development across the globe (1), the pressure is on to make every cent count—to find the best, most effective, most suitable training approach. Technology has had a disruptive and irrevocable impact on the way we do business, on the way we operate daily, and, of course, on the way we learn. But the promises of “digital learning” have created expectations that have not always been met, and have led to confusion, varying definitions of “e-learning” among organizations, and a tainted image of everything related to “e-learning.” This has resulted in a certain reluctance and caution towards technology-supported learning and development approaches.

More than ever, we get lost in a maze of apps, MOOCs, webinars, virtual or augmented reality, wearables – to name just a few. This leaves us, despite all advancements in technology, still looking for the “Holy Grail” of L&D: the one best fit for our own organization, perfectly aligned with the strategic initiatives. Something, an idea, tool or concept, which will make learning real, achieve behavioral change, create high engagement, and influence learning outcomes in a way that can be measured in financial terms. Bottom line, something that has a real business impact on the organization, which closes the problematic strategy execution gap. Something that sounds exciting and will attract (and, equally importantly, retain) that volatile but coveted group of millennials – which is one of the key pain points of many talent management initiatives. Of course, whatever solution it is, it should be useable across the globe, leave cultural boundaries behind, and be both cost-effective and easy to implement. Similar to the Grail quest, no one is 100% certain that a solution like this can actually exist. But having dedicated part of your life and a fair amount of your career to creating the best and most impactful outcome for your participants and clients, you keep hoping – and searching.

Trends come and go (performance measurement is one good example), buzzwords come and go (lean training, anyone?), technologies come and go even more quickly. When trying to keep up with the latest trends becomes overwhelming, try to stop, reflect, and move in the opposite direction. You may call it: back to the basics. We keep trying to grasp the magnitude of the growing forest and completely lose track of the individual tree. We try to master “big data” instead of breaking it down into sizeable bits – and ask ourselves what might be relevant before we even collect it.

As Jamie Martin so accurately put it in his article: “The best innovations seek to augment traditional excellence rather than replace it.”(2) We need to leverage technology, but not just for the sake of using it. Maybe the best way to prepare leaders to face complexity and interconnectivity is to try to make it simple again. And even though there is no way to accurately predict the future, there are certainly many ways to prepare for it.

 Experience and research alike show that it is the most powerful and effective experience when people network, exchange, and learn from each other. Make them apply, immediately, and repeatedly, whatever it is you are trying to teach them. Create that emotional connection to the learning experience that will make them remember. Foster collaboration, make it fun. Empower them, make them feel good, provide excitement. If you are allowed to use the word: gamify the learning journey. If games are not serious enough for your organization, look at it as high-impact-learning.

There is not, and never will be, the one-size-fits-all magical solution. Observation shows, however, that a well-designed and implemented simulation-based Organizational Development or Learning and Development approach checks a lot of the boxes mentioned above. These solutions give participants control, make them experience and live a holistic perspective, and allow them to make mistakes, grow, and learn at their own pace in their own way—like a pilot would in a flight simulator, but in a collective, dynamic, and even competitive setting. As a result, you are able to create a safe environment in which learners can acquire tools that they can immediately use and apply in their day-to-day activities, resulting in measurable impact and observable behavior change. A major challenge of organizations is that they need their people to have experience without forcefully having to go through the painful—and long—learning process. A (business) simulation helps achieve just that, making participants “age” in experience and knowledge by a few years in just a couple of hours/days. Learning through a process of trial and error in a risk-free environment. Making them immediately apply and re-apply their learning. And, as is so important with learners, making them feel good about all of it.

Having used and successfully implemented simulation-based learning, training, change, and OD initiatives across the globe and across industries – as well as across the HR value chain from recruitment to senior leadership development – I find this a part of the Grail journey worth sharing. We are only just starting to tackle the potential of this approach, and already the results are very promising. Maybe this is a journey you would like to join.

(1) Trainingindustry.com 2014 estimates

(2) Raconteur.net #0406 28/09/2016 „Tech is transforming teaching and learning“, Jamie Martin

Angela Vale-Feigl

Angela Vale-Feigl

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