Many companies have cut back on their training budgets in today’s economic climate, as they put their attention on surviving and ensuring every penny is well-invested.
But this doesn’t mean they have to neglect the development and progress of their people. In fact, if you know how people learn, grow, advance and develop, you can identify ways of coaching your teams to make progress a natural part of the working environment.
To do this, you have to be aware of how people learn and grow. If you can understand the fundamentals of how the brain works, you can establish a motivated workforce that enjoys expanding their knowledge and applying it in the real world.
Learning is physical. We have found through brain research that learning new ideas, concepts and skills actually modifies, grows and prunes our neural networks, through experience.
You may have come across the ‘Learning Cycle’ or the 4 stages of learning:
Stage One: We have a concrete experience
Stage Two: We develop reflective observations and connections
Stage Three: We generate abstract hypotheses
Stage Four: We actively test those hypotheses and see if they work. If they do, we learn.
In that last stage, we have another concrete experience and the cycle continues.
So, how it works is 1) we get information (activating the sensory cortex in our brain), 2) we make meaning of that information (in the rear integrative cortex), 3) we create new ideas from these meanings (in the front integrative cortex) and 4) we act on those ideas (using the motor cortex).
This is how we learn: by gathering information, analysing it, creating new ideas from it, and acting on it.
How can you use this knowledge in developing people’s skills? Well, a key condition for learning is self-driven motivation, a kind of ‘ownership’. To feel in control, to feel that we are making progress, it’s necessary for us to feel that the learning cycle is self-perpetuating. That is, if we find learning fun and easy, we want to continue doing it, and we will open ourselves up to new creative thoughts and ideas.
Coaching is the best way we ever found to encourage learning in the workplace. If we consider the four stages of learning again, give people a concrete experience at work (that is, get them to carry out a task). Ask them what they learned from it that could be improved. Discuss what ideas they can formulate to ensure any improvements are made to work in the future. And then assist them in putting those ides into practice.
As we become more informed about the structure of learning, we can apply them more and more in the workplace. Having a small training budget doesn’t mean we have to neglect the development of our team members. We can use these ideas of how people learn and coach them to improve, develop and progress through practice and application.
Head of Training
Originally published: 10 February, 2012
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