Understand why learning gets unwieldy

Untidy room

Most Learning and Development professionals have a seminal story about when they said something like: “I can’t believe this is where this program ended up!” They certainly don’t set out to throw everything but the kitchen sink at their people, so how does it happen? Mostly this is the result of a few unconscious biases, along with other well-intentioned motivations:

The risk-aversion bias. Human beings are wired with a desire to avoid mistakes and loss. This leads to an inclination to not leave anything out, because it feels risky and wrong.

The “what you see is all there is” bias. As Daniel Kahneman noted, we have a difficult time seeing any perspective other than our own. Consequently, people often see their priorities in everything and jump at the chance to include their priority topic and content whenever they can — which leads to including everything, for everyone, all the time.

Over inclusiveness. When every group has a seat at every table, the result can be a hodgepodge of ideas. Seeking out other perspectives is essential and helpful — and requires a decider (or small set of them) to make the tough calls on when to say no.

Lack of understanding of what employees really need and want. If employees don’t clearly understand what’s in it for them — i.e., if the learning content you’re providing doesn’t address a pain point they have — they aren’t going to engage with the learning. That said, people often don’t know what they really need, and it can take time, effort, and expertise on the part of learning providers to understand the needs and how to frame the content so it’s appealing.

Deference to business leader requests. Last but highly common, the desire to have this or that covered in a forthcoming program because the leader’s gut intuition (rather than objective evidence) tells them it’s a good idea very often results in unnecessary content. (Bring on the AI guru, skip the essential basics!)

When Designing Employee Learning Programs, Less Is More

Heidi Grant and Tal Goldhamer, HBR