Quarterly Publication of the Quality Assurance & Training Connection
Learning is Best Done in Community
By Nate Brown
When I use the phrase “corporate training,” what is the first emotion that crosses your mind?
Likely, the emotional equivalent of an eye roll. Too often, corporate training is designed to produce compliance, not creativity. Instead of inspiring employees toward a meaningful change, we are boring them to death with remedial information.
What if we could breathe new life into our training programs? What if we could establish an environment in which learners learn from one another? These are the questions I began to ask myself when I sat in my first of four sessions with MorrisHuml, a company that provides learning expences for leaders.
When we boil it down, the way humans learn has changed little for thousands of years. We still process information through stories, examples, and a continuum of relatable experiences. One of the most powerful learning levers talent development professionals can activate, but that has been drastically under-utilized, is a peer learning community. When people are in a similar life situation and facing similar challenges, the environment is ripe for the type of education that lasts a lifetime.
A humorous example of this principle recently played right on the street in front of my house. A neighbor’s stubborn seven-year-old son was half-heartedly attempting to ride his bike without training wheels. He was getting nowhere fast despite monumental attempts from both parents. However, when my six-year-old daughter rode her bike past him, he was suddenly inspired! He set his mind to the task and was riding his bike like a pro shortly thereafter.
People Learn Better in Groups
The fact is that we learn better (and faster) together. The real magic of the MorrisHuml experience was the fact that about 80 percent of the learning came from my peers. Our facilitators were able to simulate realistic and challenging learning experiences, requiring participants to learn from one another to succeed.
As I’ve had the great pleasure of teaching the CX Boot Camp for several ICMI Symposiums, I’ve capitalized on these principles in a big way. It’s always amazing to me how enriching the perspectives are to the training experience when everyone is given the freedom to meaningfully participate.
As we think about our training strategy in the contact center, it’s time to move well beyond compliance training. The job of the agent has changed dramatically; it’s time that our training approach did as well. By leveraging the enthusiasm and accountability of community learning, the ROI of your training program is likely to skyrocket. While this training methodology does not apply to every situation, it can be a great fit for things like onboarding, professional development, and continual learning in the contact center.
Here is a practical approach on how to enhance your training regimen with community learning with four key steps:
Step 1: Set the Framework
The first and most crucial element are the people. Bring trainees together who share a common objective. If the overall training objective is to change the organization’s culture, then select the “firestarters,” as Karin Hurt would call them. If the objective is professional development, bring together employees who are looking to acquire similar skills to advance their careers. Ideally, we are looking to create a group of 12 to 18 employees together in one place, however it can be done.
Once the group is established, a training path can be created.
Design a blended curriculum that will incorporate a variety of resources and learning styles. If there is a simple online learning component, make this a prerequisite before the group learning starts. From there, quickly incorporate group projects, hands-on simulations, and trainee-led modules to cover the range of topics.
The method by which facilitators deliver the information will make or break the training experience. With community learning, our main objective is to generate robust dialogue. The method of delivery must have enough freedom and time built in to allow for this outcome.
Community learning is as much about relationships as it is about information. As you build the curriculum, consider not just what but who you can bring into the experience as both resources and inspirational figures for the group. Look for the type of person who is friendly and available—as well as knowledgeable—who will enhance the community naturally.
Step 2: Provide Guiderails and Stand Back
The most critical facilitator responsibility of a community learning experience is to push the snowball down the hill. We provide the required resources, establish the basic flow, and set expectations for the group. A degree of chaos must be allowed to generate the organic collisions of insight we so desire.
People learn best when they are challenged with a different perspective from their own, and given an encouraging environment to wrestle through it together. MorrisHuml were remarkable in this regard. They provided just enough structure to guide the experience, but deftly drew wisdom out of each participant for the benefit of all.
At this point you may be feeling that community learning is just too risky. After all, someone is bound to say something out of left field or generate some type of drama. Yes, there is an element of risk. Every community of learning is unique, and facilitators give up a degree of control in favor of the unexpected. Even so, from my experience, the rewards far outweigh the risk.
Culture is so critical to the success of the group. When trainees are edifying and encouraging to one another, magic happens. It’s up to the facilitator to create this positive dynamic right out of the gate and ensure that everyone feels safe.
Step 3: Maintain Relationship Focus
In a community learning model, the relationships that learners create will likely be the single most valuable output. The community of knowledge that is forged is a gift that will keep on giving far beyond the training date. These three principles can help to accelerate meaningful connections:
No More Micromanagement
Our natural tendency (and often even our education as trainers) prompts us to maximize every minute by packing in as much as possible. That will not work with a community approach. People need time to think and digest material together. Conversations that happen around breaks and activities are essential. Create an agenda that allows, and even encourages, breathing room.
One common group motivator is to foster competition, which could include participants competing for points, prizes, monetary gain, or some form of exposure. While that can be effective in some cases, consider the power of bringing people together under a higher purpose instead. Competition can motivate in the short term, but will often create impediments to healthy relationships and reduce collaboration. Find ways to foster a passionate and supportive tribe above individual glory.
Put Thought Into Group Assignments
Historically, I’ve been quite haphazard when creating partnerships and small groups. (I’ve been guilty of having participants line up by shoe size and giving out random numbers.) Seeing how critical this part of the training experience is, I now take a more intentional approach. Create partnerships with learners who work in different functions or geographic regions whenever possible.
People are generally drawn toward others who act and think like them. A strong community will transcend these natural cliques and find valuable connections in unexpected places. When we take a human-centered approach to training design, the changes of making a true impact are exponentially higher.
Step 4: Keep the Big Picture
One of the primary ways we can enhance the effectiveness of training programs is to align our objectives to major organizational themes. Doing so helps to make the learning experience real and relevant. It harmonizes the training with our actual day-to-day work lives. As you build out your learning paths, three unifying themes should play a role in any training program:
We are all striving to serve our customers better. Bring VoC (Voice of the Customer) into your program! Employees want to know more about who the customers are and the role they each play in customers’ journeys to success. This shared desire is extremely powerful, and acts as a common thread across every function of an organization. Things like real-life customer testimonials generate a sense of urgency for participants. The learning community then becomes equipped with the tools, knowledge, and relationships needed to improve customers’ lives and ties directly into your CX initiative.
Your Unique Mission
There is something that makes your organization distinctive—something it does better than anyone else in the world. Remind employees often that this knowledge will help them better serve the company’s mission. Having clear and pertinent tie-ins are essential. When we fail to make the mission relevant to the content we’re teaching, we run the risk of marginalizing both the training and the mission itself. Design the training path to embed that mission into employees’ hearts and minds.
Eliminate the Finish-Line Mentality
People tend to fall into a rut quite quickly. We want our employees striving to continually grow and develop as corporate citizens. A great training program can help to make this a reality. Learning should evolve and take new forms to keep them fresh, relevant, and exciting. Be sure to celebrate milestones along the way, but also design the learning journey to be an ongoing cycle, just like a community.
As society becomes increasingly segmented and isolated by technology, individuals have to consciously come back together again to share experiences, insights, and opinions. This is an essential part of successful learning at any age, in any job role. When people learn in a community, it amplifies and solidifies both learning and learning retention. Take your next training to the next level by leveraging the power of community!
Nate Brown is a perpetual student of the world’s greatest experiences and the people who create them. Having spent the first decade of his career managing a complex technical support environment for Occupational Health and eLearning software, Nate transitioned to Customer Experience in 2015. After authoring The CX Primer, Brown was dubbed the “CX Influencer of the Year” by CloudCherry in 2019, and a top global CX thought leader by ICMI, Exceeders, Netomi, Martech and many more. As a passion project, Nate created CX Accelerator, a first-class virtual community for Customer Experience professionals. Nate currently serves as the Senior Director of Customer Experience for Arise Virtual Solutions.