The Association for Talent Development reports that employers spend nearly $1,300 per employee each year on training and development. Think about what you spend on education at your company. Are you getting your money’s worth?
Demographic shifts, changes in technology and increased competition are putting pressure on insurers and agencies to get the most out of their development dollars. Yet the industry continues to educate its employees and agents in the same traditional ways, with limited results.
It’s time to rethink the way we educate our workers and look at new ways of delivering learning to meet today’s challenges. Learning must move the needle from knowing to action to help firms achieve their business goals — whether it’s increased office efficiency, better marketing or stronger customer relationships.
It begins with understanding the way adults learn and making sure education has real-world application. Malcolm Knowles, the pioneer in adult learning theory, popularized five teaching strategies for adult learners. He found that adults learn best when they:
- Understand why something is important to know or do.
- Have the freedom to learn in their own way.
- Learn experientially.
- Learn when the time is right for them.
- Learn in an environment that is positive and encouraging.
Employees don’t want to be told “what” they should know as if they were still in elementary school. Instead, they want to understand the “why” behind learning a new task or process. They also want to know the context of what they are learning — how it affects their job and their company.
Adult learners also want more control over the learning experience. They prefer to learn when it’s convenient for them, at their own pace and in an interactive environment. Of the three main styles of learning — visual, auditory and kinesthetic — adults are much more likely to be kinesthetic or tactile learners. They learn by doing through experiential or hands-on learning.
Take something as straightforward as learning to complete an insurance form. Adults want to understand the “why” of the form. What is its purpose? Who will be using it? How readily available is the data I need to complete the form? What happens to the form after I’ve filled it out? How will others in my agency use the form?
Old-school teaching might provide the basic steps to completing the form, but it takes new-school teaching to provide context and give the big picture. Employees are unlikely to be motivated by a class that spoon-feeds them information. They are much more engaged when they have a say in the teaching and can self-direct their learning. Give them ways to learn what they need to know but also understand how that piece fits in with the whole.
Adults also benefit from immersion-style learning. Immersion combines focused instruction with hands-on learning to give workers a jump-start on execution. Traditional education like a seminar may impart knowledge, but it doesn’t always lead to action when the student returns to the office. Immersion gets you to the implementation phase so that what you’ve learned has a bottom-line impact on your agency or firm.
To stay competitive today, education must go beyond rote learning. Education must engage employees and help drive organizational change. When you make learning applicable to the real world, you give agents and employees the tools they need to succeed.
Ivie is the learning experience manager for Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU).
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