To actual shepherds, "sheep-dipping" — the practice of literally dipping sheep into insecticide to protect them from infection — is all about efficiency. Every sheep is treated to the same process all at once, and the job gets done quickly. However, sheep-dipping is not a great way to learn at work, because it's about throwing together one-size-fits-all refresher courses in an attempt to check a box rather than facilitate practical learning opportunities. Your employees aren't sheep! Being intentional and creating personalized learning paths for your employees will massively boost the success of your program and ensure your employees retain critical information.
Of course, the "sheep dipping" method of training has its benefits: low costs, easy to program, and a simple way to fulfill training requirements for whole teams at a time. But treating your employees like a herd of sheep never helped anyone learn what they needed to do their best work.
When it comes to learning at work, one size doesn’t fit all
Between different learning styles, generations, and training needs, it’s no wonder that sticking every employee in a room to watch the same webinar rarely drives results. Digging deeper into each team member’s individual learning path will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of one-size-fits-all learning, such as:
Lack of support up and down
When a training program is built for the median learner, those who are higher-performing and those who need more support are often left without the resources they need to take their learning to the next level.
Content that’s not always specific or up to date
Refresher-style courses are generalist, which means they likely don’t touch on some of the more specific issues users might be having with a process or program. And since they’re designed as more of an overview, they’re less likely to be backed by the most current information or industry trends.
Learning without practical reinforcement
We know that without consistent reinforcement and practice, learning goes out the window. Refresher classes that happen every six months are not a good use of company time or money because they don’t reinforce the teachings in the flow of work, and the information simply comes too late for employees to convert the training into knowledge. There's a name for this — it's called "the forgetting curve." The forgetting curve tells us that learners risk forgetting 90% of what they've learned within the first month after training.
So if you are expecting your employees to retain the information from sporadic mass training sessions for your herd, you are burning both time and money. Of course, not every organization feels they have the time to commit to individualized learning, but according to the Harvard Business Review , “if you want to build an exceptional, high-performing team, you’ll make the time.”
Personalized learning paths vs. traditional training
Creating personalized learning paths is a lot easier when you consider the purpose of training itself. Training is not about ticking boxes or providing occasional support, it’s about teaching behaviors and developing skills. If what you want to get across is not a skill or behavior, then a sheep-dipping approach should never be on the table.
“People treat 'training' as an umbrella term. They think any type of information, like a webinar, for example, is training, when really it's not. Training has to be the act of development of a skill.” Nick Lawrence, Curriculum Design Manager | Snowflake
Nick believes that before you develop a training program, you must first determine whether or not you’re teaching a skill. “If you’re unsure, you can ask yourself: does this need to be practiced, and do they need to receive coaching?” says Nick. “If the answer is no, it’s not a skill, so there are more efficient, more scalable ways to transfer knowledge or to provide access to knowledge when and where they need it.” This could be anything from accessible resource manuals, how-to videos, or information available in the flow of work to keep the task moving.
“If it’s not something people actually have to go and do, then it’s silly to have them sit in front of a one-hour webinar or anything like that.”
If you do have the skill to teach, you know that means it will require practice, so bake that into your lesson from the beginning. “Training should always mean active participation,” says Nick. “I like a presentation-to-application ratio of 20% to 80%."
Once you begin to approach learning at work through this lens — taking sheep-dipping and group sessions for the sake of training out of the picture — building personalized learning paths becomes more attainable. “You have to build the environment,” says Nick, “not the event.”
What does building a learning environment do for the learner?
Ensuring your place of work is a learning environment every day, rather than just on training days, is what will make a difference in the long run. According to Forbes , “76% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training.” For Garret Rafols, Senior Director of the Center of Excellence at Gympass , expanding his thinking around each instance of training helped create a continuous feeling while reinforcing his work and getting a better ROI on his enablement.
“We had to really think about pre-class, in-class, and post-class,” he says. “We understood we couldn’t just roll out training as one-off events, but as personalized learning paths where we were holding participants accountable, making the most of our time together, and reinforcing the concepts after.” Garret Rafols, Senior Director of the Center of Excellence | Gympass
For Gympass, that meant ensuring live sessions were engaging for different learning styles and punctuated with moments for trainees to reflect on the content. It also meant creating space for conversations outside of the training setting and prompting participants to think differently about questions they should be asking (rather than assuming they’d ask the right questions on their own). This was followed by traditional reinforcement.
“At the end of the day, we’re looking at expertise and confidence,” says Garrett. “Those are the sorts of phases we would use to organize any major learning initiative, especially ones in which we felt reps needed to be practicing the concepts, not just knowing the concepts.”
When employees are practiced, they’re more likely to be able to retrieve information themselves, which leads to knowledge-building.
The importance of retrieval in building knowledge
Because sheep-dipping is built for efficiency, not for engagement, one of the most important aspects of learning is lost in these one-size-fits-all training sessions.
“It's so important to be an active participant in your learning, because if I tell you something, there was no effort on your part to learn it. Learning doesn't happen when I tell you something, learning happens when you retrieve it.” Nick Lawrence, Curriculum Design Manager | Snowflake
That’s why reinforcement should be continuous, not six months apart. With so many processes and programs to learn these days, employees need to exercise their brains to maintain those strong connections — this exercise is done by applying the knowledge in their flow of work . One giant group session twice a year is not enough of a workout. “Memory is dependent on the strength of those connections,” says Nick.
Research-based science of learning says how people actually learn is through spaced retrieval practice, which requires consistent reminders. When you do that on a periodic, spaced-out basis, every time you retrieve something from memory, that connection gets a little bit stronger. When you create your personalized learning paths, ensure you are delivering bite-sized pieces of information with as less friction as possible. Doing so will empower your team with retrieval and retention so they can be even more efficient and successful in their jobs.
Providing your team with the tools they need to reinforce their learning through practice as often as they need is the best way to protect your training investment. Spekit is the number one-ranked just-in-time learning platform that helps you reinforce the training you spend so much money and time on. It closes that gap between learning and doing and ensures your employees are engaged and participating in their own professional growth.
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