Getting technical: 3 ways to encourage people to take charge of their learning and development

Have you ever researched a task before making a start on it, only to find that the experience of seeing it through was totally different from what you expected?

Recently, we were blessed by the scrumptious return of Britain’s favourite baking show to the nation’s screens – as the Great British Bake Off kicked off its tenth series on the air with a smorgasbord of sweet treats to tempt the taste buds, from Britain’s best amateur bakers.

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll be familiar with the format that underpins it.

The budding star bakers take on three uniquely tricky challenges every week – the Signature, the Technical and the Showstopper. Each one putting the contestants’ skills to the test with a different take on a classic culinary concoction.

Whilst the bakers have access to the recipes for the Signature and Showstopper bakes before they take to the stove – and are even able to practice them at home first – the task that really puts them through their paces, is the devilishly deceiving Technical challenge.

Judged blind and with minimal instructions to guide the way, the bakers are tasked with creating exquisitely crafted and deliciously tempting bakes from scratch.

In the hope that their transferable knowledge, skills and experience will be just enough to take them to the top.

If you saw the first episode of the new series, you’ll recall that contestants were pitted against judge Prue Leith’s delectable angel cake slices – with many falling short of the standard needed to set them apart as the cream of this year’s crop.

It’s a classic example of why learning through instruction and prescription often isn’t quite enough to prepare us for the reality ahead of us.

The problem with traditional learning

You might have experienced this yourself. Perhaps you’ve previously attempted to channel your inner Star Baker by trying your hand at a particularly complex dish, thinking to yourself on first glance of the recipe: ‘this’ll be a piece of cake’ – only to realise halfway through that you didn’t quite appreciate exactly what you were letting yourself in for?

Or maybe you once got yourself all excited for a career move, seeking out every last tasty morsel of information about the amazing new organisation you’d soon be a part of – and ended up finding out that it wasn’t really your cup of tea after all?

If this is starting to sound familiar, you can likely relate to the fact that instruction and prescription only go so far in preparing us to deal with the different experiences we encounter.

At the end of the day, we don’t know what we don’t know.

For many of the Bake Off contestants, the Technical challenge is their worst nightmare – mainly because the recipe they’re given often isn’t enough to prepare them for the experience of actually creating the chosen dish.

Regardless of how much transferable experience they’ve acquired.

It’s really only the first step. A gentle nudge to get them off the starting block, and racing down the track ahead.

Where the learning experience really begins to bear fruit, is at the heart of the action.

So when it comes to learning and development in the workplace, traditional ‘formal’ training and workshops are a great catalyst to kick-start progression and growth.

But they can’t give us a genuine idea of what it’s like to put theory it into practice.

Much like there’s nothing that can really prepare you for becoming a parent, or driving independently for the first time – no matter how many articles you read or best-intention guidance you receive.

In short, the recipe is not the reality.

Taking learning and development beyond the Discovery workshop

The trouble is, learning and development – in schools and in workplaces – is often built around instruction and prescription.

People are told what to do and how to do it, and then left on their own to make it happen.

Does this sound familiar?

You may adopt a similar approach in your own L&D programmes.

If you use personality profiling tools as part of your L&D offering, you might start out with an initial Discovery session, followed by a few ‘formal’ 1:1 or team sessions to cement understanding and keep learning fresh.

Of course, this traditional approach is perfectly sound if the aim is simply to give someone the awareness of how to go about achieving a particular outcome.

But it’s not enough to build sustainable capability to make it a reality on its own.

Or to truly engage people in taking charge of their learning over the long term.

It may be surprising, but formal instruction and guidance only accounts for 10% of how we naturally learn about the world.

So you’re probably wondering – where does the rest come from?

Well, 20% comes from learning through our social interactions with others. Which can include mentoring and coaching activities.

And the other 70% – the main course, if you like – comes from learning through our experiences.

Cementing our understanding, by applying it in real situations.

This is called the 70:20:10 model.

The 70:20:10 model in action

Take a moment to consider this from your own perspective. How would you say you personally learn best – through reading and research, conversations and feedback from your peers, or by overcoming real challenges whilst on the job?

It’s likely your answer will be learning on the job.

The 70:20:10 model (developed by Charles Jennings) suggests that learning through doing is the most effective way to embed understanding in the long-term.

It closely aligns with David Kolb’s four-stage Experiential Learning Cycle, which theorises that the springboard for creating solid understanding comes from being exposed to new experiences.

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” (Kolb, 1984)

This isn’t to say that guidance and instruction have no place in learning and development.

Clearly, they have an important part to play in imparting the initial understanding to create transferrable knowledge and skills.

As do social interactions and mentoring (the 20%).

But the reality is that many of us learn better (and enjoy it more!) though doing.

Learning through experience comes with several unique advantages:

  • It gives us valuable insight into what it’s like to apply the learning in practice
  • It enables us to make connections with previous experiences to consciously build on our learning
  • And it helps us to reflect on the learning so we can apply it more effectively again in the future.

This idea lines up scrumptiously with several other theories and insights from the world of employee engagement.

One example you may be familiar with is Dan Pink’s concept of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose – three key drivers of motivation that inspire real emotional investment and engagement beyond the carrot-and-stick approach.

In other words, give people the capabilities they need to take charge of their own learning and development – and be more engaged and invested in seeing it through.

And in workplaces where time is short, resource are finite and change is happening all the time – is it really best practice to try to facilitate all employees’ personal development in set sessions at set times, through only guidance and prescription?

Wouldn’t the best approach be to empower people to combine their learning with the day job, so neither one obstructs the other?

Creating a continuous cycle of development

Like us, you’ll know that learning and development needs to be a continuous cycle if it’s to be truly effective at creating new opportunities.

So it’s important that the learning is carried beyond initial workshops and insights sessions, and into people’s day-to-day.

This way, it can be properly cemented into their ways of working. And spark further engagement, growth and achievement.

But you may be thinking – in a world where employees are serially time-poor and up against relentless constricting deadlines, it can be difficult for them focus on applying what they’ve learned amid the ebb and flow of their daily routines.

And in turn, it can be challenging to actively support them in achieving this over the long run.

But it goes without saying that this is absolutely vital for the learnings to have the desired impact.

As an L&D coach or trainer, you have to be the recipe book that’s constantly there to help guide employees on creating their own dish of personal excellence.

Prominent initially to provide that first crucial spark of inspiration – then supporting from the side-lines to keep the momentum and investment going.

Ensuring your learners don’t feel like they’ve been pitted against a Bake Off Technical challenge!

So how can you encourage employees to put their learning front and centre after that first initial insights session – ensuring the learning sticks in the long run?

Read on to have your questions answered…

3 ways to help people take ownership of their learning and development

Embed a common language

One of the most palatable ways to facilitate continuous learning and development is to embed a common language to help bring the learning to life.

Utilising a common language around the learning makes it more accessible, resonant powerful.

Meaning anyone can instantly relate it to their everyday experience.

For instance, with PRINT®, people find out their Unconscious Motivators®, Triggers, Best Self and Shadow behaviours.

And once they have this information, they can use it to create a deeper understanding of the people and situations around them.

Knowing what events might Trigger them into Shadow can help them develop strategies to respond to the events more productively, and stay in Best Self.

You may be more familiar with alternative types of learning language if you use other personality insights tools.

If Myers-Briggs is your tool of choice then you’ll likely use language like Extraversion and Introversion, Judging and Perceiving.

And if you use DISC, then the four attributes Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness will spring to mind.

Having a common language to articulate their behaviours, motivations and preferences creates an even playing field where people can talk about their personal experiences with others simply and clearly.

Leading to shared understanding. Which supports better relationships and higher-performing teams.

But to ensure the language gets properly embedded, make it a fundamental part of the learning process – rather than just a bit of background technical theory.

Encourage your teams or clients to openly talk about their experiences in those terms as often as they can.

Regularly ask them to feedback on times when they’ve recognised themselves as being in Best Self or Shadow, or have altered their own behaviour to work better with people who have different driving characteristics.

Or if you’re heading up an organisation-wide learning and development programme, encourage the IC professionals and senior leaders to infuse the culture with the language, by regularly blending it into their own communications with the front line.

In short, make the shared language the central focus of any further conversations – ensuring it’s always at the forefront of the learning experience.

Ensure they recognise the ‘personal’ in personal development

For people to really take their learning on board, it’s important that they understand that it’s not all down to the coach or trainer to help them apply it in their day-to-day activities.

There has to be shared ownership of making the learning happen. And that requires people taking personal responsibility for their own development.

Your teams or clients must be aware that it’s up to them to keep what they’ve learned in Discovery workshops front of mind, so they can consciously put it into practice afterwards.

So ensure you lay the groundwork for long-term engagement and growth by putting regular refresh activities in place to keep the learning alive and current.

Encourage them to reflect on their experience of applying the theory in practice at regular intervals.

Inspire them to engage in conversations with their team members or peers, so they can translate their insights across different experiences and discover new perspectives on their learning.

And engage with them monthly or even weekly in one-to-one or team catch-ups, to reinforce their learning and help them better connect the learning insights to their personal experiences.

Of course, this all depends on them having the capabilities to put the learning into action.

So make sure that they leave the initial insights sessions with the strategies and understanding to apply it in the day-to-day.

If you’re an in-house coach or trainer, make a point of regularly sitting down with your team to reflect on how the insights have helped them be more productive and confident in their role.

You might be familiar with the miscalculation that it takes people around 21 days to form a new habit – but the real figure is somewhere in the region of 66 days (or two months).

Which means that unless an activity is prioritised, it often falls totally off the radar. Never to be thought about again.

And that’s disastrous for long-term learning.

So help it stick by formally putting these regular sit-down sessions onto the agenda and the organisational calendar.

And encourage your teams to take ownership of this by requesting a meeting of their own accord if they have any questions, or are struggling to get a grasp on applying the learning in action.

You’ll soon find it becomes as engrained as the weekly project-progress review!

And finally – make it visible

This point follows nicely on from our previous one.

Often, it can be hard to remember to properly reflect on what we’ve learnt in order to improve our experience in the future.

Think about it: how many times have you raced through a project, only to be dragged by the leash of unremitting deadlines straight into the next one – without so much as a pause for thought on what made the first project so successful, or how you could potentially make it better?

Imagine just how useful would these insights be, if we did actively take the time to properly think them over.

Just as it’s important to inspire people to take ownership of their own learning, it’s equally critical to make sure it’s always in front of them so it’s always on their mind.

So that in every situation and in every encounter – they’re consciously developing and growing themselves.

So make a point of creating regular connection with the individual or team to bring a new perspective to light, or reinforce what they’ve already learnt.

Why not share an interesting idea or insight with them to help them think differently about a particular scenario or experience, or encourage people to write down 3-5 key personal learnings from the Discovery workshop on post-it notes and stick them around their workspace so they don’t forget about them?

Or if you’re in-house, why not get your IC colleagues to share an L&D success story of how a team member has successfully applied the learning in their day-to-day – to keep up the motivation for others to do the same?

As the old adage goes – people need to see your message around seven times in order to buy-in.

So creating continuous connections will help to ensure your L&D message gets the cut-through (and uptake) you need to facilitate sustained learning and growth.

To achieve successful learning and growth in the long run, it’s important that guidance and prescription are married up with experiential learning so that people have the opportunity to put theory into practice in a meaningful and engaging way.

Hopefully we’ve shed some light on how you can make this happen with your own teams or clients.

And helped to pave the way for a rewarding two-pronged L&D approach – that’s as fulfilling and successful as a winning Bake Off showstopper!