How to make learning more engaging

Organisations churning out webinars and leadership talks in the name of learning, are causing more fatigue than providing any actual learning to the employees.

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Ever since the lockdown that relegated employees to their homes, there has been an overemphasis on learning and upskilling for the workforce. While the intention is directed quite right here, the manner of going about it may need redirection.

In the name of learning, employees are subjected to leadership sessions and webinars, which more often than not are monologues. They achieve little, consume time and end up as a futile effort. Webinar fatigue is already a known thing among leaders. Ramesh Mitragotri, CHRO, UltraTech Cement, shares his own experience of facing a deluge of webinar requests every day!

Not surprisingly, today, there is an overload of content that an employee has access to. What needs to be re-looked at is the way that content is delivered. Mitragotri adds that most of the time a webinar or a talk may not address the questions an employee may have, and at other times, the format is just not interesting enough.

There is a difference in getting employees to learn and upskill today versus a work-as-usual scenario. Even though employees are at home, work has increased. Between office and household chores, it is unlikely that long monologues on upskilling will be appreciated. The current situation calls for attention to delivering content in a different way.

Short and crisp

Sriharsha Achar, CHRO, HDFC Ergo, believes that content should be delivered in small doses of 30 minutes, and maximum 45 minutes each; and that use of humour is a good way to get across a point. “All my meetings last for no more than 20 minutes and I use a lot of humour in them. It keeps people engaged and drives the point home,” says Achar.

Ramesh Mitragotri

It is not just about knowing but also about doing something. When that happens, all the necessary changes—behavioural, knowledge and skill— will follow

Learning is not an activity to be indulged in every day. “Not more than once or twice in a week,” suggests Achar. He explains that people already have too much on their minds, with household work and official work coupled with the uncertainty of the entire situation.

Devoting a certain section of time every day for learning is a challenge for everyone.
According to Achar, the learner should have the option to learn at his or her own pace. As Achar rightly points out, “Even in a classroom setting, seven minutes is all the attention that one can hold!”

Format

Leadership talks and webinars are often long monologues with no interaction or a short Q/A at the end, by which time the interest levels have already waned.

Employees will sign up for a session because of some interest in the topic. However, if the format of the session itself puts them off, any residual interest will dry up and learning will not happen.

Taking a classroom presentation and dumping it on a webinar is not going to help. The online medium demands a different format. By asking employees to sign up for a session, managers are already competing with hundreds of other on-demand content that the employee have access to. Be it short videos on learning platforms or TED talks, they are well designed and structured to retain the interest of the viewers.

Therefore, the mode of engaging has to be at par. The classroom approach of come, talk and go, cannot be applied here. The medium is different, and hence, the approach has to be different as well.

It can start with the basics—being mindful of room lighting, keeping eye contact and voice level— that is, things often overlooked according HR pundits.

“We are all new literates of working with applications, such as Zoom and the issue is that the format for interaction is the same everywhere. It needs to be audience and context specific,” suggests Mitragotri.

Learning by observing

Usually, employees learning on the job are assigned to seniors who show them the ropes. This way, learning is efficient, because relevant learning happens when you work with someone who is good at it. The same approach can be applied in remote working as well.

Sriharsha Achar

Learning is not an activity to be indulged in every day. Not more than once or twice in a week

He gives the example of the sales force at UltraTech, who were having a tough time figuring out how to carry out work while sitting at home. That is when the managers with previous experience of remote work, stepped in and handled all calls with clients for some time while the juniors merely sat in. Through observation, they soon learned the ropes and within a few days they began managing on their own.

Learning needs practice

A follow-up session is as important as the content itself. A person can find programmes and courses to learn on the company’s campus learning portal, but without some sort of task or practice afterwards, the leaning will not be fruitful.

“When there is a task afterwards for the employees, there is enough curiosity to delve deeper into the subject matter,” explains Mitragotri.

“It is not just about knowing but also about doing something. When that happens, all the necessary changes—behavioural, knowledge and skill— will follow,” assures Mitragotri.

To conclude, the manner of presenting and delivering learning requires an overhaul. What worked in a classroom will not work online. There are too many distractions in the latter.

This means, taking a re-look at the basics. Online sessions or courses are merely an attempt by the organisation to enable the employee to learn. The actual learning, however, comes from within the employee. Therefore, that attempt at enabling learning needs to be sufficiently engaging.

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