L&D Podcast Recap - Nick Shackleton-Jones
Training & Learning

How People Really Learn—And What it Means for L&D Teams—With Nick Shackleton-Jones

Do you remember the algebra, chemistry, and geography classes you were taught at school? No, I don’t either.

The reality is that the vast majority of what we learn, we forget. That’s because we don’t go on to apply these lessons in our day to day lives. This truth has a significant impact on corporate training programs. When implemented incorrectly, L&D teams risk their learners forgetting the contents of programs as surely as I forgot my high-school algebra. 

In this recap of the L&D Podcast, I talk with Nick Shackleton-Jones, author of How People Learn. A well-regarded thought leader in the Learning and Development field, Nick has a lot to say about how people really learn, and what that means for L&D teams. 

Here, Nick and I discuss how our challenges drive our learning, give guidance on how to improve learner outcomes and performance and, highlight what to consider when redefining L&D strategies.

Our challenges drive our learning

One of the issues Nick highlights with the traditional model of corporate education is that L&D teams struggle to find the time to understand what problems employees have, and how to overcome them. As a result, employees are simply given standardized information that doesn’t relate to their job setting. Then, they’re tested on it as part of the course program.

What's so perverse about the corporate educational model is it's not focused on people’s challenges.

Nick refers to this as ‘content dumping’. He argues that L&D teams know this method doesn't work, but because it's the way things have always been done, there is resistance to making any sort of change. Consequently, L&D teams stay in their comfort zone, rather than taking a chance on something new.

So, how can L&D teams break the mold? Read on to find out.

Why L&D teams need to connect with learner challenges 

Nick argues that it’s imperative to create a connection between the challenges employees face in real life and what they learn as part of training programs. Nick gave an example of this in practice: while visiting an oil refinery, he noticed that staff members had a picture of their family on their desk. Each picture was signed, "This is why I stay safe at work." 

In this example, the person who designed the safety program understood that challenges drive learning. They knew that without a motivating factor, employees could easily forget about their safety training. But by reminding workers they have people at home they care about, the course creator made safety a very real issue. This connection to real-life challenges created a shift in the learner's approach to the material. 

Connecting with what learners care about is critical. But how can L&D teams get started with determining learner challenges? Knowing your audience.

Want to understand more about what your learners really want? Check out our data-driven findings from our latest employee engagement survey.

employee engagement survey

We surveyed 600 learners. This is what they said.

Why knowing your audience is key to driving better learning outcomes

For L&D teams, relating course content to learner challenges requires getting to know your audience. If you take the time to understand who you're teaching, and the things that are important to them, you can make content more engaging for your audience.

Nick gave the example of a physics teacher who discovers that one of their students is interested in football. By relating the information being taught to the forces on the ball and the bodies of the players, the teacher can spark a deeper interest in the subject matter, driving better knowledge retention. 

This example highlights that effective L&D programs aren’t just about hammering what leadership teams want employees to learn. Instead, they’re about finding ways to make the content interesting enough for employees to want to learn it.

This is why top-down learning isn’t effective. On this, Nick says, "Let's not deliver PowerPoint presentations that people will read once and forget. Instead, L&D teams and employees should have valuable time together to talk about what people think, to share experiences, and to learn from each other."  

This collaborative approach to learning helps to build stronger connections between learners. But how can L&D teams ensure employees retain the information they’re taught? The pull and push method is a valuable tool to leverage.

Related: How to Create an Effective Collaborative Learning Environment

Let's not deliver PowerPoint presentations that people will read once and forget.

The power of the 'pull and push' approach

Nick highlights that most people will remember pieces of information that gauge strong reactions. This is an important takeaway for learning organizations. If an employee attends a conference with a variety of sessions they find interesting, they'll be pulled to those sessions and will remember the experience. On the other hand, if someone is forced to pay attention to a session they have no interest in, they’re unlikely to retain anything learned for very long. 

Everything we learn, Nick says, is either push or pull. Where training is concerned, either the content is pushed onto an employee, or an employee is drawn to it. The key for L&D professionals is to identify which of those reactions an employee has to your content. This is a critical step in understanding who is already engaged with your content versus who needs more dedicated attention.

So how can this understanding help L&D teams redefine L&D strategies? There are three things to consider.

3 things to consider when redesigning L&D strategies

In order to make the most out of these takeaways on how people learn, L&D leaders should incorporate three major elements when redefining their strategies. 

  1. Creating resources: L&D teams should determine ways to understand what your audience is pulled in by, then create resources to capitalize on that. A good way to identify learner challenges and needs is to incorporate this in your learning management system and have employees upvote their learning needs. 
  2. Designing experiences: This is about creating real-life challenges that will help pull employees in. Designing experiences that can include simulation or gamification elements, for example, give people the chance to practice something they might experience in their line of work. 
  3. Adapt to change: Technology is constantly evolving, and each set of learners bring with them a unique set of needs and interests. A good L&D program adapts on the fly to these changes in order to stay as effective and relevant as possible. 

These three considerations all have one thing in common—they require L&D leaders to have a good understanding of learner challenges. This will be a key aspect of redesigning L&D strategies and improving learner outcomes and performance.

Thanks again to Nick Shackleton-Jones for speaking with us about how people learn and what it means for L&D teams. If you'd like to learn more about how L&D operations can be more adaptive to changes, check out our discussion with Tracey Waters on Agile in L&D.

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