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Why does the ‘completer finisher’ mindset apply to soft skills learning?

Alice New

We all understand the importance of employees having a growth mindset and engaging in lifelong learning. These are essential habits to foster at a cultural level. What’s interesting is that attitudes among employees, particularly for voluntary learning and building on soft skills, has changed. Contributor Alice New, Learning Coach – GoodHabitz.

Having the chance to develop personally and ‘put my talents to good use’ is one of the top 5 things that employees of all age groups value most in life and we also know that learning is a key driver of workplace happiness.

This was cited as very important by 80 percent of working adults in our recent study. It shows that people want the opportunity to keep on learning and challenging themselves, especially when it means they can learn new skills that benefit them personally and professionally. Lifelong learning has finally become accepted as an integral part of professional life and this is true across all educational backgrounds, although the desire to learn tends to be strongest among graduates.

Interestingly though, in the same way that appetites for learning are increasing, so too is the expectation that employers also need to allow for time off work to facilitate learning. 86 percent of employees in our study thought they should be given time off during working hours to dedicate to learning and development, with 23 percent expecting this as standard, a 10 percent increase on previous years. 1 in 5 employees believed that professional learning should only take place during working hours. That might be acceptable for compliance based training, but for life skills like time management, dealing with stress, influence and negotiation, that’s just not feasible.

For employers to free up time and deliver in line with these high expectations requires a shift away from traditional classroom study to online methods. It’s not economically viable otherwise. More significantly, it requires a change in thinking away from expecting employees to complete online courses in one sitting, to being able to dip in and out of their learning, to suit competing time constraints.

We know from experience that if you ask employees what stops them from undertaking voluntary training courses, the vast majority will state ‘a lack of time’.  Even the most engaged learners can only dedicate 5 or 10 minutes a day at best. We need to be facilitating what Josh Bersin describes as “learning in the flow of work”, in which employees have the chance to learn constantly, when it suits them, taking advantage of odd moments. They might be on the train, waiting for a conference call to start or maybe even during the call if it’s a dull one, whilst eating lunch at their desks, or as a podcast when sitting in traffic. Provided the training content has been designed to allow for micro-learning, there is no reason why this isn’t equally or even more effective than completing an entire course in a single setting.

Researchers have shown that when information is delivered in small chunks, it’s much easier to retain and the learning process is much more efficient – almost 20 percent higher – according to the Journal of Applied Psychology. It more closely matches the brain’s ability to process information and recall is much higher.  This is because learners can work at their own pace, they are not overwhelmed with information and most importantly, they are in the right ‘zone’ to learn. Typically, micro-learning content addresses only 1-2 learning objectives, but psychologists have measured that it generates on average, 4-5 learned takeaways.

But for micro-learning to be really successful needs a mindset shift at the organisational level. Ten minutes spent learning about presenting for success for example, is much better than nothing. It might have been just enough to give the person the tips they needed to improve performance. That’s learning in the flow of work.

To embed that into an organisations’ culture, we need to stop ticking boxes or measuring completion rates and instead look at the wider ‘diversity of learning’ that’s happening. The ‘completer finisher’ learning attitude has come about as a result of classroom based training. A person had to be present to get their certificate of completion and from traditional e-learning that was compliance focused. Personal development is different and much less rigid.

Why not simply facilitate the process and adopt an ‘all learning is better than no learning’ approach instead? Let people take responsibility for their own self development and just provide the resources and encouragement. 

If employees complete part of a course on a topic, they will have benefitted and got what they needed at that time, plus they know where to go when they want to continue and may well come back to finish it. It’s better to think of online learning as a vast resource of learning material, like a library.  Irrespective of whether they receive a certificate or not, they have learned something new that they can apply in their working or professional life. 


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