Our approach to incredible experiences that work
Learning experiences should grow your people and move your business
- Learning should create change
- Learning is a process
- Learning should be built with empathy
- Learning works best when beautifully designed
Learning should create change
It’s much more than delivering information
Learning itself is never our sole 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.
It’s not about the content, it’s about creating change
At the start of every project, we always work to identify the true objective, and from there, set goals that reflect real behavior change. So often, we see learning produced to “check a box” instead of being designed to truly improve how learners perform in their roles every day. In our minds, it’s a tragic waste of resources and of opportunity to really grow teams.
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. Bloom’s taxonomy is a helpful framework for clarifying learning goals, and we use it often to ensure we’re making the most impact possible.
Our belief is that, most times, reacting to an experience or recalling information isn’t enough. That’s why we place much more value on the two higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy, which focus on evaluating and using the knowledge obtained.
Consider your typical workplace safety training: it’s not about getting employees to simply 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. 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
Measurement is the only reliable way to prove behavior change. Learning teams need measurement to hold themselves accountable to their learners, and as a nice byproduct, positive results help demonstrate the value of the learning effort and justify the investment.
The Kirkpatrick Model is our go-to framework 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 best. These levels track whether learning was applied in real-world context, and whether the organization’s performance has changed.
Even though these macro-level impacts can be difficult to measure—often requiring observation, additional access to learners, and organizational data inputs—it’s worth the extra effort. Measuring effectiveness, especially through the lens of behavior change and organizational performance, is how we continue to create experiences that best serve learners, and therefore, 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.
We look to the ABC Model to identify and isolate factors that affect behavior. It suggests that an antecedent triggers a behavior, and that behavior has a consequence. When we understand the factors that influence how learners behave, we can then identify alternate or supplemental solutions that help trigger the behavior we hope to see instead.
To help us understand the external factors facing our own learner audiences, 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’ behaviors 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 follow 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.
We’re inspired by the way Kolb’s Model breaks down cognitive processes. In a nutshell, this model identifies the four phases of the learning process as discovery, planning, application, and reflection. We structure our learning experiences according to this model, and when implemented thoughtfully and repeated as necessary, we’ve found that this process drives real behavior change.
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: by having learners first practice and perfect their skills, learning is more likely to stick and on-the-job performance increases. Application also 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. Reflection encourages learners to take ownership of their learning journey and ensures that the full learning process is completed. This phase often occurs organically right after application, but it can also happen formally through independent activities like journaling, or more structured experiences like coaching.
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.
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 their 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. Piaget’s theory of cognitive constructivism helps illuminate exactly why this step is so crucial. Others have expanded on it over time, but the foundation of Piaget’s theory is that learning happens by building onto previous knowledge. In short, learners are not blank slates, and what they already know affects how they interpret new ideas.
This thinking inspires how we approach our own learner audiences. We 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.
At the start of a learning project, we dedicate time to intimately understanding 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, all with their own benefits and drawbacks. We know that our learners are unique, and so are their day-to-day lives—the tool that’s right for one audience may not work for another.
In some cases, choosing the best tool is based on experience and intuition. But generally, the tools we recommend for each phase of the learning process closely align with the Learning Ecology Matrix. This matrix helps to separate thinking about content from application, as well as self-guided versus instructor-led learning—ultimately, matching the right tool to the job.
Think beyond formal learning
We recognize that much of 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 integrating more real-world, social experiences into the learning process.
Learning should be inclusive for all
We appreciate 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, and we’re actively committed to leading by example to promote change.
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 users to believe the product actually works better. We believe that learning experiences are no exception, and hold ourselves to a consumer-grade level of design quality. Learners deserve an experience that performs beautifully—and helps them to do the same.
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 inspire the way we approach every project and the solutions we recommend. They guide our exploration and adoption of new strategies and tools. And because it’s in our wiring to always aspire for more and do better, we’re constantly finding new ways to bring our learning principles to life, challenge them, and transform how people grow.See how our learning principles guide amazing work