Tag Archives: Learning and Development

neuroscience learning content

The Neuroscience of Great Learning Content: Attention, Memory, and Exploration [Podcast]

neuroscience learning content

Ask any business leader, and they’ll tell you they invest in the development of their workforce with the goal of improving performance. Yet the training and content delivery methods of the past aren’t keeping pace with the needs of the modern learner. No longer can you throw an hour of eLearning at a problem or slap a speaker in front of an audience and hope that knowledge will transfer and behaviors will change.

What gives? 

In today’s episode of We’re Only Human, I explore three critical components of great learning content based on neuroscience principles. In other words, I look at how people actually learn from experiences, interactions, and content and focus the discussion on those elements. In the discussion of how attention, memory, and self-exploration impact learning, I also provide helpful advice on how to create learning experiences that deliver impact and results.

Additionally, if you want to explore more deeply, you can check out my new eBook, the Neuroscience Principles of Great Learning Content, which can be found here: http://lhra.io/neuroscience

For more episodes of We’re Only Human or to learn more about the show, check out https://upstarthr.com/podcast

Check out the podcast embedded below:



3 Keys to Creating Engaging Learning Experiences

By now you’ve most likely heard about and begun thinking about the employee experience, because you can’t turn around without reading an article or hearing someone speak about it. In essence, it’s a deeper look at the practices you use across the board to create lasting value for employees in the workplace. Within that conversation, one area that I think is going to really explode in growth in the coming year is the learning space.

For instance, there’s a specific practice that high performers follow before developing learning content that separates them from low-performing companies. Hint: it’s more than just throwing out yet another eLearning module that employees have to click through and get credit for. 

The Truth About Creating Learning Experiences

It’s all about the experience. Learning content isn’t just about volume or format–it’s about creating a high-quality learning experience that resonates with your audience. Yet according to our new Learning Content Strategy research study, just one in four companies says their learning experiences are engaging and drive value for those that consume the content.

Yet high-performing companies, as identified in the study, are much more likely to say that great learning content leads to a variety of positive outcomes, from better business and individual performance to higher consumption of mission critical content. Creating engaging learning experiences isn’t just a “nice to have”–it’s essential for success.

And don’t forget: today’s learners have higher expectations than ever before. You’re not just competing with work tasks with your content–you’re competing with mobile apps, entertainment, and other sources of information for their attention and brainpower. In order to meet and exceed those expectations, we need to rethink how we approach learning content and the user experience.

Key Stats from the Data

The research data tell an interesting story. For instance:

  • One in five companies admits that their learning content doesn’t engage learners and doesn’t create a positive learner experience. 
  • Less than 3 in 10 companies say they have a strong L&D strategy in place that is driving content development and deployment.
  • The number one driver of learning content is to close skill gaps. This is validated by companies pointing out that, the most common measure of learning effectiveness is better performance.
  • Nearly half of companies are allocating 10-25% of their L&D budgets to content strategy, development, and delivery.

In a recent webinar on this topic I shared not only the research but also a few stories of companies that have taken a stand and said they are going to change their approach to be more employee-centric. The session not only covered the key pillars of learning content strategy (process, governance, user experience, etc.) but also how to target learner populations and more. If you’re interested in learning more don’t hesitate to reach out.

How Talent Technology Enables Employee Engagement [Podcast]

Talent management technology has come a long way in recent years. I can still remember seeing a demo for a technology solution back in 2014 and the salesperson was so proud of the fact that I could copy and paste data into the system. By the way:

  • It wasn’t searchable.
  • You couldn’t run reports.
  • You couldn’t export anything.

There was no way to actually USE the data in there, but I could put it in if I wanted. Sigh.

Anyway, today I am sharing a really fun podcast interview with you, featuring a recent conversation with Carsten Busch, CEO of the Talent Management Business Unit, and Laura Fuller, Country Sales Manager US for Lumesse. In the conversation we not only talked about how technology has become incredibly user friendly and more employee-focused, but about some of the age-old talent questions that companies face every day, such as why managers are willing to hire an external candidate even when there are perfectly qualified internal candidates available to take the job. Carsten’s answer to the question was phenomenal and I was taking notes because it will be my new default answer to that common issue.

Additionally, Carsten and Laura talk about the shift in technology from the static, administrative-focused versions mentioned above to the talent-focused systems that Lumesse and other companies are developing today.

Also, at the tail end I mention how you can get one of my upcoming pieces of research entirely for free by signing up here for a webinar I’m doing with the team at Lumesse. Here’s the gist of what the webinar will be about:

The June edition of HR Magazine has a feature that focused on how some companies like Gap and Siemens are trying to create development opportunities that connect candidates and employees to the firms for a long period of time. The double benefit of this kind of development is that if businesses can drive retention, then they get the value of a more productive workforce for a longer period of time. This is the incredible value of talent mobility, and that’s the focus of the webinar and this upcoming piece of research.

I hope you’ll join us for that session, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast as well. It was a really fun conversation.

Learning Anarchy: The Risks and Rewards of Informal Learning

According to Deloitte, more than 80% of learning is informal in nature, yet many companies are still unsure how to harness this critical mass of activities to improve performance, minimize risk and deliver organizational value.

Consider this: if you have a toddler, that child can probably pick up your phone, unlock it and open their favorite app. But it’s likely that you haven’t formally created content or delivered a course to the child on how to accomplish this task. It is one of the many learned behaviors that are picked up informally. While simplistic, this example highlights the fact that not much has changed about how people learn new concepts. The difference is that we now have technologies in place to help track, curate and analyze the impact of those learning activities.

Value and Risk: It’s All About Perspective

Discussions around informal learning typically branch off in a few directions. The conversation either turns to the incredible risk associated with “handing over the keys” to the employees to curate and manage their own content or focuses on the supposed anarchy that will reign if learning resources aren’t governed by a single, cohesive L&D team. But there’s another story–one that tempers some of the fear by pointing out the value and opportunities presented by adopting a more informal approach to learning.

Consider the concept of investments: if you put money in a savings account, it is safe, but it doesn’t really grow or offer value. If you put money into a mutual fund, it has higher risk, but there’s also greater opportunity for growth in value. The same concept of risk/reward applies in the learning world.

In this case, we’d see traditional, formal training as the low-risk option, but it has opportunity costs associated with tying up resources, longer lead times due to content development, and requires that L&D either become experts in a variety of fields or source that expertise. Embracing informal learning may have some risk, but also unlocks incredible value at the same time by turning every single employee into a potential source for creating or curating content and resources to help others learn.

Key Questions About Informal Learning

When I’m speaking with learning leaders, there are some fairly common questions that come up, ranging from measurement and analytics to practical application and success stories. Here’s a sampling of questions and their requisite answers:

How Do We Measure It?

Informal learning is like any other learning activity, and it can be measured. Informal doesn’t mean immeasurable. While we can rely on the common Kirkpatrick questions around satisfaction, knowledge transfer and behavior implementations, we can also leverage more aggressive methods, such as focusing on skills acquisition or performance improvement. In this manner, we can not only measure learning, but also tie learning practices to a variety of outcomes.

When we consider that learning is already happening, regardless of measurement, it takes some of the stress away. Now all we need to do is look for ties between learning activities and observable outcomes to start determining the impact of informal learning on business objectives. By putting some effort into tracking what people are already doing, we can take advantage of what has historically been a missed opportunity…

Click here to continue reading the rest of this article

How Your Brain Works During Training

I’ve been reading a slew of books lately focused on neuroscience. One line in the latest hit me, and I thought it would be interesting to pull together some of the thoughts from a few to share. Here’s the tidbit (emphasis mine):

What do [scientific] studies show, viewed as a whole? Mostly this: if you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a cubicle. Source: Brain Rules

Wow. We have known for a while that classroom training was losing its luster compared to social, video, mobile, and other informal delivery methods. However, this is a stern indictment of the most commonly used method of training, with 40% of companies using classroom-based instructor led training (ILT) more than half the time.

Attention, Focus, and Work

Another book that quickly hooked me was Two Awesome Hours. The basic premise is that we were not meant to sit at a computer for eight plus hours a day working at a single repetitive task without breaks. That’s what robots are for. Josh Davis, PhD, says some people can get as much done in two good, productive hours as others can in an entire day. The concept has to do with a few different elements of work, but the part that has been most interesting for me is working on focused activities when I’m most “on.”

Making decisions isn’t a limitless activity. We have a finite amount of willpower and every small decision we make chips away at that reserve. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors examine the metaphor of the elephant and rider. The elephant (our subconscious) makes many small underlying decisions in our daily work and life. The rider (our conscious brain) makes larger, more complex decisions, but it has a limited amount of power to guide the elephant when tired, overtaxed, etc. That applies in the context of our work, where we make hundreds of decisions every day.

In other words, when you have that golden hour of focus and intensity in your workday, use it for critical thinking and other thought-heavy tasks, not for responding to emails, making phone calls, or chatting with coworkers. Then fit in those more routine/mundane tasks when needed. All too often we waste that precious time doing things that require little brainpower but ultimately leave us unprepared to handle strenuous mental work.

I recently read that more workers are opting to work from home as a way to avoid distractions and focus more intently on projects. Always seen as a nuisance, we now realize that interruptions of any kind have a more profound impact on work than previously believed. This experiment shows that it’s not just time that is affected by distractions, but overall work quality as well.

 The Learning Impact

What does this have to do with learning? Pretty much everything.

Brandon Hall Group’s principal learning analyst, David Wentworth, recently shared some amazing insights into how companies are transforming the classroom environment to be less traditional and more interactive. The way we structure our classes, for the most part, hasn’t changed over the years. But there are now phenomenal examples of companies pursuing more interactive methods of training, whether blended with the classroom approach or entirely separate. Like it or not, the most effective method for training, according to those organizations we surveyed, is still classroom-based ILT. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay the same as it was 10 years ago.

These principles that apply to work in general apply to the world of learning and development. Here are a few examples of how neuroscience can help us make better training decisions:

  • Don’t put people in a lecture for three hours and expect them to be attentive, alert, and engaged. Break up the session with discussions, opportunities for application, peer interactions, etc. This helps to ensure the content not only sticks, but has some real-world examples to make it more concrete.
  • What we see is more powerful than any other sense. Expecting people to multitask and read your slides while you talk is going to limit the effectiveness by forcing learners to split attention among your words and your text. In fact, John Medina, author of Brain Rules, suggests tossing your text-laden PowerPoint slides in favor of image-based ones that support your topics without overshadowing them. Studies show that we have an amazing capability to remember imagery, but only a mediocre recall rate for text.

I’m not sure that I will be ready to throw away my beloved slides anytime soon, but these ideas have given me something to consider next time I’m putting together a deck for a presentation. What are your thoughts on how our brains are wired for learning? Is the classroom giving us the results we need, or is something more needed to improve the retention and value of existing training.

This originally appeared on the Brandon Hall Group blog

Transformational Learning from 500+ Hours of Podcasts

listening to podcastsTransformational learning, or transformative learning, is focused in part on learning that drives us to do things. Today I’m going to talk about what listening to over 500 hours of podcast programs has done for my learning, but first I’d like to tell a quick story.

Back when I was in high school, I played football. I was one of the smallest defensive players but somehow managed to nab a slot on the front line as a defensive end. I don’t know about you, but being ~170 pounds and facing the midsection of a 325-pound offensive tackle after he has just pulverized you into the dirt for the fiftieth time in a row isn’t my idea of a good time.

Anyway, after the Friday night games I would drive to my girlfriend’s house and we’d watch movies and have dinner together until I had to get home for curfew.

One night I was pretty tired (probably from a hard night of playing crash test dummy for a handful of 325-pound linemen, but I digress), and I was switching the radio around to find a station that would help me to stay awake for the 20 minute drive home. I happened across what sounded like an old radio program, and I realized it was a Twilight Zone episode that had been recorded for radio listeners. I was instantly hooked.

From that point on, I would leave her house every Friday night in time to listen to the first of the episode in the car. When I got home, I would park the car, wait for a commercial break, run into the house, and turn on my radio in my bedroom to listen to the rest of the episode. It was a strange and wonderful ritual, and I can still remember listening intently to some of the stories in my dark room after midnight. Spooky, but fun.

Even then I knew that audio was a more intense experience for me. I’ve read hundreds of nonfiction books in my lifetime, and I think my imagination is better for that. But I also love the opportunity to listen to stories and learn in the audio format. When I’m listening to fiction it feeds that imaginative nature and builds creativity, and when I’m listening to informational/nonfiction work I get the chance to boost my performance in all areas of life without having to dedicate the time I would if I was exclusively reading for transformational learning and personal development.

500 hours of podcasts – check

I popped open Stitcher, my favorite podcasting app, the other day and was surprised to see my “total hours of listening” number had reached 500.

In the big picture, 500 hours isn’t too much of my life. But to put it in perspective:

  • I used to count ~2000 hours as the workload for a full time staffer for one year. So if I was employed to listen to podcasts, it would be a full time job for three whole months.
  • If I follow the principles in The First 20 Hours, I could learn 25 new skills with that time.
  • If the average TV show is ~40 minutes without commercials, I could have watched about 750 shows.

Now, I know that 500 hour figure is scattered over the past two or three years that I have been using the Stitcher app on my Android, but I’m amazed at it nonetheless. In case it’s not apparent, I very much enjoy listening to audio.

But this isn’t just about my preferences. I think you would enjoy it, too. In the rest of this article I’m going to talk about what I listen to, why, how, and when/where. I hope this helps you to get a better understanding and maybe even drives you to check out some of the options out there.

Podcasts I listen to

I listen to a variety of podcasts and am always searching for more to add. I don’t do profanity, but otherwise I’m open to checking out pretty much anything.

  • HR Happy Hour–a show that lasts less than an hour, but is packed with fun conversation, interesting people, and trends affecting the world of HR.
  • Smart Passive Income–this show features great topics surrounding the world of internet marketing and has helped me with this site as well as with HRevolution.
  • 48 Days to the Work You Love–I have listened to Dan Miller on this podcast for over 8 years now. I can remember listening to an episode while driving on my honeymoon back in 2007. Great content on careers, doing what you love, and entrepreneurship. Very positive.
  • Entreleadership–Dave Ramsey’s small business/leadership focused content. They usually interview a nonfiction author and discuss the person’s latest book. Good for content focused in small chunks on specific topics.
  • Michael Hyatt–I recently added Michael to my list after several stops and starts. I like some of the content but other parts are too general/generic for me. He was the former CEO for Thomas Nelson publishers, so I like the book publishing information but some of his leadership stuff just isn’t hard-hitting enough for me.
  • Pseudopod–Last year I added some content like this and the next one as a way to get more “fun” out of the podcast medium. Pseudopod is a horror fiction show (they also produce both SciFi and fantasy options) with great narration and stories. Not every story is a winner, but often times they are.
  • No Sleep Podcast–This is the first podcast I’ve ever paid for. David, the editor, started the podcast on a whim a few years back. I was listening from the beginning. A year later he quit his job to do podcasting full time. The NSP typically covers several shorter stories and are less subtle than Pseudopod, but still great.
  • How to Do Everything–this is an NPR podcast where the hosts talk about news, listener calls, and how to do, well, everything. For instance, recently a listener called and asked why they couldn’t wear a penguin costume for the “penguin encounter” at their local aquarium. The hosts interviewed someone about penguin life in the aquarium and it was very interesting. Another recent episode talked about how one college in the UK used micropigs to help lessen testing stress. Yes, it’s usually funny as well.
  • Freakonomics–I’ve mentioned my love for Freakonomics here several times. Being a college economics professor was always one of those things I dreamed about doing but somehow made it into HR instead. I love economics and learning more about some of the unasked questions these guys focus on in the show. Very entertaining and informative.

This is not necessarily a podcast, but I also use iHeartRadio to listen to the Dave Ramsey show replay whenever I have exhausted current episodes in my podast list or when I need something that is safe for family listening. 

Why I listen

Three simple words: enjoyment, entertainment, and education.

  • Enjoyment: I just want something interesting to listen to (I rarely, if ever, listen to music in the car #fact).
  • Entertainment: I’m doing something unpleasant and want a distraction (dishes, cleaning the garage, or organizing my office).
  • Education: I am focused on a specific area and want to improve my learning (marketing, writing better copy, improving knowledge of enterprise HR vendors, etc.)

I love sharing things I hear and learn. Last week I was coaching a lady at a job fair and asked her what kinds of things she watched, read, and listened to. Her response was “junk.” I gently reminded her that what we have to say is a direct result of what we’re putting into our brains. If we want to be positive, engaged people with intelligent things to say, then we need to be putting those kinds of things into our heads.

Years ago Earl Nightingale released what some consider to be the first ever motivational audio recording (it was on an actual record, if that tells you how far back). It was called The Strangest Secret. The gist of it was this: we become what we think about. If you spend the majority of your nonworking time thinking about TV, celebrities, and other things that have zero impact on your life, then you will ultimately see the results. Similarly, if you spend a portion of that time listening and reading, you’ll see those results as well. I have documented well my love for reading, which is due in part to great quotes like this:

“The difference between where you are today and where you’ll be five years from now will be found in the quality of books you’ve read.” – Jim Rohn

But today we’re focusing not on reading, but on tranformational learning via audio. It breaks down the barrier of “I don’t like reading” for those of you that use that as a reason to avoid any sort of personal development.

I would encourage you to open your favorite podcast app and do a few quick searches for things you like. This doesn’t have to becessarily be about learning HR and leadership, although it doesn’t hurt to pick up some new ideas in those areas. For instance:

  • If you like cars, find a car/auto show
  • If you like knitting, find a knitting/crafts show
  • If you like small business, find an entrepreneurship show
  • If you love being a parent, find a parenting show
  • If you enjoy inspirational stories, find an inspiring/uplifting show

There are hundreds of options. Once you start narrowing them down you’ll have your own custom playlist, and I’d love for you to share it with me in the comments below. If you already listen to podcasts, what is your favorite show?

How I listen

I use the Stitcher app on my Android Moto X to play the podcasts. It was funny, because on a recent weekend trip we were in an area without service for a period of the drive. My wife asked how I was able to listen to the podcasts because she wasn’t even able to get Facebook up on her phone. :-)

What I do in order to save date usage is I’ll turn on the app when I’m at home or somewhere with WiFi (which is pretty much anywhere these days). It will automatically download and sync the latest episodes of my favorite shows for offline listening on the go.

For what it’s worth, I use a basic set of headphones (like these) but I’d love to have a wireless/Bluetooth pair at some point.

Where/when I listen

As I said above, I listen to podcasts when I’m driving, when I’m doing physical labor somewhere, or when I am trying to keep myself awake.

When I am doing dishes or something where I’m fairly stationary, I will often keep headphones off and let it play out loud as long as it’s family friendly (some of the horror shows are a bit much for everyone else in the house). I love the idea of the kids growing up listening to positive, encouraging audio like Zig Ziglar and Dan Miller’s 48 Days show, though.

Funny enough, here are the times I rarely listen:

  • When I’m running
  • When I’m working

Yes, I know. That is when many people most want to listen. I’m not saying that this is the “right” way to do it; I’m just saying that it is an example of my own personal preference for the medium. Enough about me and my habits, what about yours?

Do you listen to podcasts? What kinds? Where is your favorite place to listen? Why?