Do and learn method best in perfecting skills

Rote learning adds little value

In Summary

•Research shows that little is remembered three weeks after a seminar

To change people's behaviour little actions make a bigger impact

MPs attending a seminar at Pride Inn Hotel in Shanzu, Mombasa/FILE
MPs attending a seminar at Pride Inn Hotel in Shanzu, Mombasa/FILE

Last week, as I was talking to a senior executive, he dropped something. It was a smart certificate he had earned from one of our major audit and consultancy firms for ‘participation’ in one of their programmes. While we were admiring it, he admitted that he couldn’t remember a thing about the course, just six months after the event.

Much of the adult skills development training available in Africa is still based on the principle of ‘Learn and Do’. We have enough problems overcoming the impact of rote learning in school, without further reinforcing the importance of course completion and test results over learning value.

Data from the Research Institute of America indicates, in very precise terms, that only 33 minutes after a typical training seminar, 42 per cent of material delivered has been forgotten. After two weeks only 33 percent of knowledge is retained, and after three weeks that drops to 20 percent. Imagine if we accepted that everything else in life was one fifth as effective as it should be?

By contrast, most of us enjoy the excitement of new experiences. Whether it's engaging in a new relationship, renting a new home or even trying a new dish in a restaurant. So training should provide an opportunity to explore new horizons, mix with new people and stretch yourself a bit.

Not surprisingly, the solution to this challenge has already been mooted.

The Ancient Greek thinker Aristotle pronounced: ‘For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.’ Most practical workskills have traditionally been learnt through apprenticeship - practising new skills under expert direction.

Digital technology provides ample opportunity to interact with new content, mentors and fellow participants. But still we confine e-learning to the rote learning principle. We also tend to make staff do this outside working hours, so completion becomes a lonely chore.

In my world of culture change, I’ve had greater success with online platforms that are designed the other way round. Programmes that enable employees to ‘do something different’, ‘reflect on the outcome’ and therefore ‘adopt new behaviours’.

Typically these schemes provide a series of small tasks that the participant can carry out during the working day.

For example:Spend the first five minutes of your next sales conversation asking about the prospect’s wellbeing and family situation. Reflect on how that seemed to make the prospect more open to a commercial conversation. Practise this more often and develop a few more personal conversational openers. Tell us if this improves your sales conversion.’

In behaviour change, the small actions tend to make the most impact.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside