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The phrase “practice makes perfect” is guidance most people get at an early age. Although perfection as a goal is problematic and largely unattainable, the phrase’s fundamental idea—that the best way to learn is through repetition—is solid, time-tested, and scientifically supported1.

Nevertheless, this idea had been largely lost on learning in the workplace and elsewhere—until about a decade ago, due to rapidly advancing technology, shifting demographics, and a deeper understanding of how people learn. These influences have pushed learning leaders away from an approach that provides one-size-fits-all, “cookie-cutter” learning as the sole means of training, and closer to a philosophy built on the idea that practice stimulates learning, and that the best way to learn depends on the person, the subject matter, the goal, and the specific situation.

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In recent years, overhauling corporate L&D has gained a new urgency. As we noted in last week’s post, findings from Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report show that, among executives, improving employee careers and transforming corporate learning is rated the second most important issue, up from fifth the previous year. In addition, 45 percent of executives surveyed for the report say that the ability to keep up with employees’ learning and development demands is “urgent” or “very important,” which is also an increase over the previous year.

Learning leaders have begun to experiment with alternatives to traditional classroom training and learning management systems. This is a good sign—transformation is not achieved by following one well-worn path, but by trying many different routes, creating new ones, and experiencing successes as well as failures. Knowing a bit about the landscape can help you reach your goal more quickly.

It’s important for organizations to keep the journey in mind, instead of just focusing on “transformation” as the end goal. Trying out different approaches and learning what does and doesn’t work enables you to find the right balance.

In a recent article, HR expert Josh Bersin, principal and founder of research firm Bersin by Deloitte, writes that much of the learning content today falls into one of two categories: macro and micro.

Macro-learning is studying something new, such as Power BI, VBA, or SEO. This type of learning requires a time commitment, and courses are often instructor-led (in person or via video/webcast). These courses tend to take hours and days, as opposed to just-in-time learning to get information quickly and get back to work. Sources for this type of learning include a full curriculum of content, longer courses with hours of time commitment, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and others.

Micro-learning is what you search for when you need help right away with a specific problem or topic. These learning objects tend to be one to five minutes in length and cover only one or two learning objectives in a bite-size chunk. Micro-learning includes short videos, quick how-to demos, job aids, e-learning snippets, blogs, or other content you can read, view, or absorb in five minutes or less.

Micro-learning is found in many places, including self-help portals, news sites, social networks, instructional videos (via YouTube or other providers), via chat or phone support desks, via software coaches and peers, and more. These small, independent learning objects are reusable and provide organizations the ability to use this content for on-demand support, or for a prescribed learning path with a formal end-to-end training solution for learning complex topics. Micro-learning also supports the development of a “knowledge-able” culture to inspire learners to return for quick answers, and aids in building “habit-forming” best practices within your learning ecosystem.

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On a grander scale, this shift means that learning will increasingly become more practical. Its intent will no longer be about checking a box when an employee finishes a course on Topic A. With people as the focus, corporate L&D will become more about providing them with what they need to be more efficient, productive, engaged, and innovative.

When thinking about “practice makes perfect,” especially in the context of a new approach to learning—from process-centered to people-focused—perhaps the expression should be tweaked. We suggest “practice makes proficient, proficiency leads to mastery and empowerment, and empowerment encourages innovation.”

NEXT WEEK: Best practices for organizations to use as a guide as they transform. Stay tuned.


1. See research about the “Forgetting Curve” and “Spaced Learning.”

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