JMReid Group Blog

John Reid
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When most employees hear the word “engagement” they may immediately think of one of those onerous employee engagement surveys. The irony of these surveys is that they are typically wildly unengaging. In addition, despite employees completing the survey, there is often little movement in overall employee engagement year after year.

At JMReid Group, one of the ways we encourage employee engagement is through good learning design. When employees are active participants in their own growth, they can make measurable improvement in their knowledge, skill and behaviors. This heightened engagement in the learning process also leads to an increase in the retention and retrieval of content.

Great adult learning in some ways reminds us of high stakes reality cooking competition shows,  like Top Chef. If you’ve never seen the show, roughly twenty chefs face off against one-another over the course of several months. The judges give the chefs a variety of challenges and it’s up to the chefs to use what they’re given to cook up something inspired. The Quickfire Challenge tests the individual chef’s ability. Other challenges, like Restaurant Wars, tests their ability to work in a more collaborative team setting.

Participants at a corporate training program, like Top Chef participants, are already fairly skilled at what they do. Good learning design follows a similar format to shows like Top Chef, using elements like a timer countdown, a blend of collaboration and independent work, creative ingredients and feedback from judges. These elements serve to enhance the chef’s current skill set. While the celebrity judges’ feedback and, ultimately, their final decision makes one chef the winner, the show is clearly more about the chef than the judges. In fact, the show’s creators are happiest when the chef participants gain celebrity status. Our programs are set up in a similar way. While our content and facilitators are well thought out and smart – the learner is the star of the show and driving their own engagement.

Research shows that adult learners benefit from a learning design that is targeted to their real world and leverages a variety of challenging exercises and practices. Retention of materials requires effort on the part of the learner, which is at the heart of a concept called desirable difficulties. Desirable difficulties require an understanding of the participants’ current world so we can effectively challenge them in a manner that is either not too easy or too hard to grasp. We use our discovery process to gauge desirable difficulties for participants before we design our programs so that we can create the most relevant and appropriate activities for maximum engagement and retention.

The Top Chef competition takes place over several months and so can learning programs – allowing time for reflection between concepts. Using this time to allow for some forgetting can also create the need for retrieval of content during the next session which further deepens the learning. Fortunately, in our world of virtual learning, spaced learning is easier to achieve. Well-designed 90-minute sessions spaced over time can achieve real impact, while creating more engagement due to the short time participants are required to pay attention in our fast-paced world.

At JMReid Group, we feel there is much to admire in the Top Chef design. To create engaging sessions, we recognize our learners’ existing skills and then set the challenge and program accordingly. Good learning is far less about the sage on the stage, or bore on the floor, and far more about making the talented participants the stars of the show.

At JMReid Group, we have all of the ingredients for great adult learning – save the most important one – your talented participants.