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Our approach to incredible experiences that work

learning Principles

Learning experiences should grow your people and move your business

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After years experimenting, honing our craft, and recognizing patterns in human behavior, we’ve identified a set of foundational beliefs, our Learning Principles, that shape our work. They’re based on the fundamental truth that learning is so much more than conveying subject matter—it’s also understanding people and how they learn.

Our Learning Principles serve as a powerhouse of practical, strategic guidance that shape and enhance every experience we create—resulting in effective, better experiences that truly empower teams and inspire positive change.

Learning should create change

It’s much more than delivering information

Learning itself is never our focus—instead, our goal is to empower and inspire real, meaningful, long-term change in the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of our learners. That’s how we grow as individuals and ultimately, how businesses reach their fullest potential.

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It’s not about the content, it’s about creating change

We always seek to identify the objective at the start of every project, and we strive to set goals that reflect behavior change. Bloom’s taxonomy is a helpful framework for clarifying learning goals, and we use it often to help ensure we’re making the most impact possible.

Our belief is that, most times, reacting to the experience or recalling information isn’t enough—which is why we place much more value on the two higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy. So often, we see learning produced to “check a box” instead of being designed to truly improve how learners perform in their roles everyday. In our minds, it’s a tragic waste of resources and of opportunity to really grow teams. Instead, the real goal should be for learners to apply the knowledge gained, every single day, as they do their jobs.

Or, in other words, learning that results in changing behavior.

For example, workplace safety training is not about getting employees to memorize safety protocols. Instead, the true goal is reducing the number of accidents and saving lives, by getting employees to proactively avoid any action that could cause accidents.

Measurement proves effectiveness and demonstrates value

Proving that behavior was changed can only be done through measurement. Positive results are how learning teams hold themselves accountable to their learners, and as a nice byproduct, show the value of the learning effort and justify the investment.

We look to the Kirkpatrick Model for analyzing the results and outcomes of learning engagements. Instead of prioritizing micro-level analysis in Kirkpatrick’s first two levels—which are based on learners’ subjective impressions of the content, and ability to recall information—we believe that the third and fourth levels, Behavioral Change and Organizational Performance, measure impact the best. These levels track whether learning was applied in real-world context, and whether the organization’s performance has changed.

These macro-level impacts can be difficult to measure, often requiring observation, additional access to learners, organizational data inputs, and more. But, measuring effectiveness is how we understand and continue to create experiences that best serve learners, and therefore, that best serve organizational goals.

Behavior is affected by more than just learning

We believe that—while learning is an incredibly powerful force—the potential to change behavior through learning can be limited by external factors. In other words, learning alone may not be enough.

To identify and isolate factors that affect behavior, we look to the ABC model. It suggests that an antecedent triggers a behavior, and that behavior has a consequence. Understanding the factors that influence how learners act enables us to identify alternate or supplemental solutions that help create the behavior change we seek.

To help us understand those external factors, we apply a nuanced version of the ABC Model.

Behaviors are the actions (or lack thereof) that people take in a given situation. We seek to influence behaviors through learning, by helping learners identify different and more effective ways to respond to situations. As an example, a nurse working in a hospital frequently draws blood and must dispose of the needles properly to prevent any workplace accidents. Through learning, we can share why it’s important to properly dispose of needles, show how to do it, simulate an experience for him to practice, and validate his ability to do it successfully. As a result, we may increase the rate of properly disposed needles.

Environment, inspired by ABC’s antecedent, can influence whether learners’ behavior follows what was learned. Using the same example, let’s say that after the learning experience, the nurse finds that the hospital rooms are often not adequately stocked with the needle disposal equipment. As a result, he might take the path of least resistance and dispose of the needles another way. His behavior is more a reaction to the environment than a lack of understanding proper needle disposal. Or, perhaps the need to dispose of needles occurs seldom enough that it is difficult to remember the proper steps, resulting in a high rate of improper disposal. In that case, a simple reference material posted in each hospital room might increase compliance without the need for more learning.

Incentives, our interpretation of ABC’s consequence, also motivate how one chooses to behave. Let’s suppose the nurse receives a bonus based on patient satisfaction scores, and proper needle disposal has no impact on those scores. This would actually be a disincentive for the nurse to dispose of needles properly, especially if he’s busy. Or, perhaps there is not a means of tracking which nurses properly disposed of their needles. In that case, there would be no extrinsic incentive for the nurse to floor proper protocol. Rather than hoping the nurse does the right thing out of intrinsic motivation, it may make more sense to modify the incentives to create the desired behavior.

Learning is a process

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory got it right

Getting new info to stick doesn’t happen in one shot, and yet, we see the one-and-done approach so often in learning today. It’s rare for someone to read a book, take a course, or watch a video and then perfectly apply a new skill or concept on the first try. For learning to be effective and really change the way we think and act, it must account for the way our brains process and absorb new information.

The discovery phase is about learning new information. L&D efforts can get derailed when singularly focusing on this phase instead of considering it a starting point in the learning process.

In the planning phase, we think through how we might apply what we just learned. If knowledge gaps are recognized, discovery is revisited. This phase often occurs organically for many of us, and actually, it can happen almost simultaneously with discovery. However, it can also be formalized by posing questions that prompt critical thinking on what was learned.

Application pushes learners to make use of what they learned. It’s arguably the most critical phase because it helps learning stick and increases on-the-job performance by having learners first practice and perfect their skills. Not to mention that application builds awareness of knowledge blind spots, which is especially useful since we, as in all humans, tend to think we comprehend new ideas better than we actually do (we aren’t hating, that’s the Illusion of Explanatory Depth!) We use learning tactics like games, role play, simulations, and other activities to help learners apply their new knowledge.

Reflection is where learners spend time thinking about how they applied the new idea or knowledge. We love that it helps learners take ownership of their learning journey and ensures that the necessary learning is actually happening. This phase often happens organically right after application, but can happen formally in many formats. Unstructured and independent reflection could be encouraging learners to spend time thinking by themselves, and structured, independent reflection could be journaling about the experience. Structured and synchronous reflection might be coaching or debriefing discussions.

Learning should be built with empathy

We must meet our learners where they are

We wholeheartedly believe in getting to know the learner audience and tailoring the experience to both suit their needs and minimize barriers. We think of this as meeting learners where they are—rather than making one-size-fits-all assumptions, we tailor our approach to best serve them.

Knowles nailed it—Learners need to know what’s in it for them

Most L&D professionals know Malcolm Knowles’ belief that learning must address an immediate and relevant challenge for the learner. If that challenge can also be rooted in an emotion and extrinsic motivation, a higher purpose beyond the individual learner, all the better. The key, and where learning often falls short, is relevancy. We must challenge our assumptions as learning creators to truly understand what resonates with learners. We do this by talking to a representative group of learners, ideally through interviews, to understand current knowledge, preferences, constraints, and motivations.

Learning builds upon previous experiences

When getting to know the learner audience, it’s important to understand their frame of reference—or their past experiences, understanding, and feelings—related to the learning topic. The reason is explained through Piaget’s theory of cognitive constructivism. Expanded upon by others afterwards, the theory states that learning happens by building onto previous knowledge. In short, learners are not blank slates; what they already know affects how they interpret new ideas.

This thinking has inspired us to work out their existing understanding, and use that input to create experiences with an appropriate degree of difficulty to keep them engaged. We like to use a “test and teach” model, where knowledge is evaluated prior to learning in order to determine which learning path best suits learners’ needs.

Choose the appropriate tone

It may seem obvious, but it‘s worth noting that an appropriate tone can make a learning experience more relatable. Rather than defaulting to “fun” or exciting” for every learning experience, which we sometimes see in L&D, it’s critical to match the tone expected by the learner. Those expectations are based on the seriousness of the subject matter and the personality of the brand. A framework like the four dimensions of tone of voice as identified by the Nielsen Norman Group can help identify the right tone.

Delivery matters

We dedicate time at the beginning of a learning project to intimately understand our learners, in part so that we can select the most approachable, practical tool for their needs. There is an almost overwhelming number of learning solution options, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. And given how unique our learners and their day-to-day lives are, the tool that’s right for one situation may not be for another.

In many cases, choosing the best tool is based on experience and intuition. But generally, the tools we recommend for each phase in the learning process closely align with the Learning Ecology Matrix. This matrix helps to separate thinking about content from application, and to further separate those into self-guided and instructor-guided categories— Ultimately, matching the right tool to the job.

Think beyond formal learning

We recognize that much learning takes place informally. Many learning professionals cite the 70-20-10 concept frequently, which states that 70% of learning happens through everyday experiences, 20% through social connections, and 10% through formal learning. While there are no empirical studies backing this model and some may disagree with the ratios, we believe in the idea of integrating more real world and social experiences into the learning process.

Learning should be inclusive for all

We get that learners come from different backgrounds and have different life circumstances. Whenever possible, we believe that learning solutions should be designed to fully support the needs of all people. This idea of building with empathy has even informed our approach to accessibility.

Learning works best when beautifully designed

Well-designed experiences resonate better

Fantastic design is a driving passion and part of the promise we make to our clients and their learners. And not just because studies like those from Stanford to The New York Times have proven it. We are fanatical about incredible design because we know, as learners ourselves, that it directly shapes the way we think and feel about every experience we consume.

Putting care into every experience

The Aesthetic Usability Effect is the proven idea that great-looking visual design creates a subconscious positive response and leads them to believe the product actually works better. We wholeheartedly believe that this applies to learning and hold ourselves to a consumer-grade level of design quality.

There’s power in these principles

We follow these principles because we’ve seen how they produce incredible experiences that create lasting change and real results. They impact the way we approach every project and the solutions we recommend. They guide our exploration and adoption of new strategies and tools. And we are constantly finding new ways to challenge them, to apply them, and to shape them over time so that they are always ready and always relevant.

See how our learning principles guide amazing work