How Learning at Work Is (Finally) Changing

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What’s competing for your attention right now?

If you’re at work, you probably have one eye on your email inbox. You’re trying to figure out a new tool your team just adopted. Your phone buzzes with new texts from friends. Facebook always has something new to tell you. And there’s that deadline looming. Oh, new Twitter mention!

Our brains are crowded places these days. Focus is tough to achieve. But we’re all facing a growing tide of information and skills we need to learn, understand and use in our daily work.

The increasing amount of information means that learning at work will have to change. Here are three ways learning and development will evolve to help employees learn, grow and stay ahead.

Visual Learning

Peter Arvai is co-founder of the visual presentation tool Prezi. He’s on a mission to banish long paragraphs of text in corporate presentations. “People are less likely to retain that information than if you show them nothing at all,” Peter shared with us in the fall. “Our brains aren’t capable of listening to someone talk and reading text at the same time. Have you ever tried to listen to the radio and read a book at the same time? It’s impossible. Yet a lot of speakers ask people to listen to them and read a presentation at the same time.”

Instead of words, Prezi emphasizes images, which our brains are incredibly good at processing. “It’s important to reveal the relationships between ideas,” Peter says. “The relationships help people remember.”

Arvai says Prezi is experimenting with AR (augmented reality) to help learners feel like they’re inside the story. Prezi recently partnered with TED on a talk about a killer who’s deciding whether to pull the trigger on a gun. The audience was right inside the story.

“AR is a perfect way to create a virtual environment where you can get close and touch the ideas. If we help people get close to ideas so they’re literally touchable, we tell a better story and people remember. It creates a deeper relationship to the situation.”


Games are another way to break into employees’ crowded head space and help them retain new information.

Wharton professor Kevin Werbach teaches a course about gamification on the online learning platform Coursera. He explains: “The point of adding game elements to any business process is not to hide something inherently boring with flashy pop-ups. It’s to find the fun that makes the process into a more game-like experience.”

The key elements of a game are:

  • Motivation.
  • Specific, timely feedback.
  • Relevant practice spaced over time .
  • Narratives and stories.

Any learning program can incorporate elements of games to help employees learn and retain information.

The Personal Touch

Even as companies rely more on technology to train and educate employees, teaching soft skills through in-person training will become even more important, says Rob Volpe, CEO of Ignite 360, a consumer insights and consulting firm that offers an “Empathy Camp” training. “We’ve noticed a decline in empathy skills and being able to connect,” he says, both in business and in the larger society. Taking the time to build that connection can get people out of their own heads and really listening to each other, their managers and their customers, resulting in teams that collaborate better, are more productive and provide better products or services, he says.

Teaching empathy requires active training as well as modeling within the organization, Volpe says. His program involves in-person coaching through the steps that build empathy, including dismantling judgment, asking questions of others, actively listening, integrating that information into the understanding you have, and then developing solutions that work for everyone. “Empathy doesn’t mean you won’t disagree or avoid conflict, but it means you have the tools to work through it,” he says.

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