Three Ways People Learn – Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences (Part II)

Our clients often think that installing tools that affords them new, efficient processes are the most important considerations when it comes to a digital transformation strategy. But the approach needs to be far more holistic and can’t omit a crucial component: people.

In a recent McKinsey article “Building a great data platform”, five insights were posed for companies looking to evolve their workflows. The fourth seemed equally critical as the others combined:

“Invest twice as much in your talent, culture, and processes as in tools. […] Ensure you focus on people and processes, not tools. No matter how advanced the tool, it will be worthless without the talent and structures for managing and using it.”

In Part 1 of Three Ways People Learn, I described three types of learners based on this book by Marcus Buckingham: analyzers, doers, and watchers. I also described this in the context context of a firm who relied heavily on a self-learning video-based cloud platform for skills uplift. In our strategic engagement, we recommended that they expand their training offerings to better address the varying needs of different learning styles: analyzers learn before action, doers learn during action, and watchers mimic after observation.

How can training be improved?

Training is an important component for evolving a business’ skills and needs. They are dedicated time folks can receive direct instruction when it comes to a new process or technology that will be useful in your firm. While many businesses classify training as an overhead expense, we see training as an important investment – it can be used to instill skills that can increase efficiency, open up innovative possibilities in practice, stay current on evolving standards of practice, and reduce risk in delivering services.

While many businesses classify training as an overhead expense, we see training as an important investment – it can be used to instill skills that can increase efficiency, open up innovative possibilities in practice, stay current on evolving standards of practice, and reduce risk in delivering services.

There are a few simple tactics I utilize when delivering software training for our clients. Consider a group of architects learning Power BI – a data visualization and analysis platform – for the first time. A business may have determined that training in this technology is important because it will help their team better manage complex data sets and project requirements. Here’s how a firm may consider catering to different learning types:

State the outcome of the next few steps:

“We will be adding a new data source so that we can analyze the data through visuals we place on the canvas.”

  • This will activate doers to attempt steps to accomplish the goal, even if they’ve never done it before.
  • This will help analyzers understand how the next steps play a role in achieving the goal.
  • This will give watchers the context of what’s about to be demonstrated.

Demonstrate the steps to complete the task:

“First, click on the ‘data source’ button in the ribbon, find your source, and select the file…”

  • A good doer already figured this out. Hurry up, you’re behind!
  • An analyzer will have already decided what potential steps are needed to complete the task; you’re just confirming which of their guesses aligns with the actual process.
  • A watcher is absorbing the tasks but may not understand what’s happening until all the steps are complete and may need to observe it a few more times before they attempt to mimic it.

Complete the task by repeating the outcome, the steps taken, and how it fits into the overall picture:

“We added a new data source so that we could visualize the data using visuals on the canvas. The steps we took included […]. Adding a data source is needed so we can pipe actual data into visuals.”

  • A doer will hear the desired outcome again and may see where they made a mistake on their initial attempts.
  • An analyzer will continue to learn about how each step is needed to achieve the goal and will identify the steps they need to practice.
  • A watcher will continue to absorb the process as it is demonstrated to them, adding parts of the composition to the big picture they’re seeking.

Consider how someone learns when they ask questions:

  • Doers – Questions that demonstrate a step was missed may imply a doer was distracted by trying on their own.
  • Analyzers – Questions that revolve around the purpose of a step might imply an analyzer wants more knowledge.
  • Watchers – Questions focused on contextual understanding may imply a watcher needs to see it done again.

What other types of learning experiences can help?

Remember, analyzers love the classroom – let them have their fun! When it comes to doers, assign exploratory tasks by defining an outcome and allow space for learning (including mistakes) on their own. Finally, care for your watchers by arranging a job shadow with an expert who excels at a specific task or skill set.

Further Thoughts

Investments in learning and support of talent is crucial to enabling digital transformations in a business – and the investment goes well beyond the purchase of software. We’ve seen architects, contractors, and owners procure the latest technology with implications of benefit falter in adoption due to lacking support for things like training and needed patience for increased gains to be realized.

Proving Ground’s focus is to help apply technology to achieve a data-driven building industry, which includes supporting the people implementing these new processes. We believe transformation is achieved through leadership – a key component of which requires knowing your colleagues and finding ways to support them in the context of these new endeavors.

I hope you can further consider the needs of your team by applying the three types of learning to bring more robust change where you work.