“Why do I need this training course? “How does it benefit me?” These are questions employees ask of corporate training. Instructors may ask themselves, “How will my students retain what was learned?” and “How will they apply what was learning to their jobs?” All of these questions can be answered by implementing contextual learning. So what is it exactly?
Contextual learning was started by educators Robert Berns and Patricia Erickson as a way for students to retain and understand why they were learning what they were being taught. Simply put, educators teach a course and then apply key elements of this course to real-life examples their students can understand. In return, students then think of their own scenarios where they can apply this new knowledge. The end result is students understand courses better since they have “contextualized” the material.
Why use contextual learning?
Now that you know what contextual learning is, why is it more beneficial than other corporate learning strategies? What are the key benefits?
1. Less learning curve
According to Harvard Business Review, new hires who use old classroom learning methods require at least 8 to 12 months to become fully productive. This in contrast to HireMe who found contextual learning saved employees on average one and half hours per week.
2. Subject matter more meaningful
For employees who ask, “Why am I sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer learning this?” Contextual learning answers this. When employees start to apply their own real-life examples to what they are learning, they will find meaning in the material. And when they see that there is meaning, they are more engaged and will commit more to memory what was learned.
3. More impactful learning
Using contextual learning, employees have more freedom in how they apply what is learned. Instead of being forced to memorize a bunch of facts, they choose how to remember the information through their own experiences. This makes learning more individualized and more impactful using personal examples.
4. Makes complex subjects easier
When there are several components to a course or lesson plan, employees tend to zone out. Or some employees master one part of that course and miss the remaining sections. With contextual learning, material is presented in a way where one component builds upon another. That way, employees master each section of a lesson before moving onto the next. The end result is comprehensive learning by all employees.
5. Immediate results
Most teaching methods involve learning something and then after a course is over, applying it. This is not very useful because employees often forget what they were taught before they are even expected to apply it. Or worse, they revert back to their old methods because they can’t remember how to use the new ones. With contextual learning, employees are taught material and immediately are expected to apply it. This forces employees to apply real-life examples while they are learning. This way new techniques are used from the start building a learned behavior.
How to implement contextual learning
Now that you know some of the reasons for choosing contextual learning over other learning methods, let’s discuss how to start using it in your organization. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before implementation:
1. What training is needed?
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s very important you think about what training you are giving to your employees and at what stage. For example, your company may have six different training programs going on at the same time. Maybe it’s onboarding, sales, compliance, new product strategy, safety, and soft skills training. And within these training sessions, you have several levels of employees from new to seasoned.
Take a look at your learning objectives for each of these programs. What are you hoping to accomplish with each one? Then figure out how contextual learning can be used to accomplish each of these goals.
2. How will I exceed my learning objectives?
The benefit of contextual learning is really mastering a topic, committing it to memory, and utilizing it on the job immediately. In order to do this right, once you figure out how to use contextual learning to meet each learning objective, you then need to develop the correct training tactics. Use tactics or teaching methods where employees see how they can use what is being taught after returning to their work activity for the day. You want to improve the behavior of how employees function on the job.
3. What will make my employees successful?
As much as you think your employees think training is unnecessary, this is actually not the case. According to a study from Bridge by Instructure, they polled more than 1,000 working women and men across the U.S. and found that all of them value continuous education programs within their organizations. In fact, 36 percent of respondents agreed information training was more important, ahead of mentorship, a tuition reimbursement program and International fellowships. So, you want to make the most of your training program. You also don’t want to lose valuable employees to competitors since you know it costs more to hire new employees than train existing ones.
So using contextual learning, you can make the most of your valuable training program and keep your employees happier and less likely to leave. How? Since it’s easier to retain information using this learning platform, it’s also easier to build upon this learning. Because of this, you can easily train employees from level to level awarding them more marketable skills as they grow within your organization. Plus, since you are increasing your employees’ skill levels, promotion can be done from within saving you the added cost of looking outside your organization.