Optimizing Leadership Training and Development by Leveraging Learning Science: A Brief Primer

Key Stakeholders: Chief Learning Officers, Chief Human Resource Officers, Learning and Development Directors and Managers, Corporate Trainers, Content and Learning Product Managers, Chief Executive Officer, C-suite, Managers Top Takeaways: If you want high-quality leadership at all levels of your organization then you need to provide employees with effective broad-based leadership training and development solutions. Optimized…

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Optimizing Sales Enablement and Sales Training by Leveraging Learning Science: A Brief Primer

Key Stakeholders: Chief Sales Officer, Sales Directors and Managers, Sales Operations Directors and Managers, Training Officers, Learning and Development Professionals

Top Takeaways: If you want an efficient sales team you need to provide them with the right tools and train them effectively. If you want sales enablement and training tools that are highly effective they need to be grounded in learning science – the marriage of psychology and brain science. Many sales teams and sales focused vendors have access to these tools. What is needed is an effective way to leverage these tools to maximum advantage. This is where learning science comes in. In this report, I briefly outline the learning science behind sales enablement, people skills training and situational awareness.

(Note: This report represents the first step in an ongoing research initiative focused on critically evaluating the effectiveness of sales enablement and sales training solutions on the market. My goal in this research is to critically evaluate and accurately reflect the current state of the sales enablement and sales training sector from the perspective of learning science.)

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Why Learning And Development Efforts Misuse Gamification (One-Size-Does-Not-Fit-All)

Approach-Avoidance

Recommended Audience: Chief Learning Officers, Chief Human Resources Officers, Learning and Development directors and managers, Corporate Trainers, Enterprise Librarians and Content Managers, Instructional Designers, Corporate Communications, Product Managers with a Content or Learning focus.

Key Takeaway: L&D-based gamification is ignoring major swathes of personality and human motivation, which prevents most current business approaches of gamification from being effective.

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Dual Learning Systems in the Brain: Implications for Corporate Training

Effective training is critical in all business sectors. In 2017, over $360 billion was spent on training worldwide, with over $160 billion spent in the U.S. alone. Given the ever-changing nature of the corporate landscape, as new technologies are introduced (e.g., AI) or upgraded (e.g., constant software upgrades), and as new challenges arise (e.g., sexual harassment in the workplace) corporate training must evolve to meet the growing need.
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How Does myTrailhead Excel and How Can Science Make myTrailhead Even Better

Astro, Einstein, and other Salesforce Trailhead characters
Salesforce’s Trailhead branding is both on-point and adorable.

Key Takeaways:

  • myTrailhead allows customized training content and incorporates useful motivational and performance testing tools.
  • myTrialhead could be enhanced by incorporating scientifically-validated best practices in training, which suggest that hard skills are best trained by a cognitive skill learning system in the brain and soft skills are best trained by a behavioral skill learning system in the brain
  • In its current implementation, myTrailhead is more nearly optimized for hard skill training, but is sub-optimal for soft skills training

Technology is progressing at an accelerating rate. Jobs are constantly being updated or redefined by, and with the help of technology. Employees are constantly being asked to learn new skills whether in the same job or in a new position. Constant training is the rule, not the exception, and training platforms must be built with this in mind.
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Why Computer Based Sexual Harassment Awareness Training is Ineffective and Why Virtual Reality (VR) Offers a Better Solution

Person participating in virtual reality simulation
Photo by Samuel Zeller

What do Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Michael Oreskes, Kevin Spacey and many others have in common (other than all being male)? Certainly not political beliefs or professional expertise. Whether left or right leaning in the political arena, or focused on entertainment, journalism or government service, all have been accused of, and in some cases admitted to, sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Sexual misconduct has been a cancer on society for as long as history has been recorded. Have we reached a tipping point? Has the “#MeToo” movement and the press coverage led to a fundamental shift in our thinking and will it permanently affect behavior? These are great questions, that I am not qualified to answer. Only time will tell.

What I am prepared to say is that our approach to sexual harassment awareness, in particular, training programs focused specifically on increasing awareness of sexual harassment and reducing the incidence of sexual harassment, are nearly all sub-optimal.

Why?

Computer-Based Sexual Harassment Awareness Training is Sub-Optimal

Whether developed for government or corporate entities large and small, nearly all sexual harassment awareness training programs are classroom or computer-based. They involve having individuals read text, or watch slideshows and videos that define sexual harassment and the behaviors that are appropriate or inappropriate. They describe power differentials that often exist in government or the corporate world and how that impacts the appropriateness of interpersonal interactions. They might even include video interactions so that individuals can “see” sexual harassment in action from a third-person perspective.

In all of these cases, the nature of the training content and the training procedures are such that they recruit the cognitive skills learning system in the brain. The cognitive skills learning system in the brain learns through observation, mimicry and mental repetition. This is an excellent brain system for learning hard skills such as: (a) learning new software, (b) becoming proficient with rules and regulations, or (c) learning a new programming language, but this learning system in the brain is less effective for learning soft skills such as appropriate interpersonal interactions and real-time communication, or for training true empathy for another’s situation.

Appropriate interpersonal interactions and real-time communication skills are best learned by the behavioral skills learning system in the brain that learns by doing and receiving immediate corrective feedback. Physical repetitions, not mental repetitions, are key. Genuine empathy for another’s situation is best trained through a first-person experience in which you “are” that other person.

The Promise of VR for Sexual Harassment Awareness Training

VR offerings currently come in two general types. One takes a first-person perspective and allows you to literally “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes. This approach involves passive, observational learning, much like computer based training, but the feeling of immersion, and more importantly the feeling that you are “someone else” is powerful. I believe that this offers one of the most effective tools for enhancing emotional intelligence and helping learners understand at a visceral level what it is like to be in a position of weakness and to be the direct target of sexual harassment. There is no better way for a middle-aged, Caucasian male to “feel” the prejudice or sexual harassment that a young, female African-American might experience or to “feel” the discrimination that many members of the LGBT community feel, than to put that man in a first-person VR environment where they are that other individual. Of course, the training content and the training scenarios must be realistic to be effective, but experts in this sector know how to create high-quality content. In my view, first-person VR experiences offer a great first step toward reducing the incidence of sexual harassment by increasing genuine empathy and understanding.

Although these passive, observational VR experiences offer a great tool for enhancing sexual harassment awareness, they are not focused specifically on behavior. The second type of VR offering, interactive VR, addresses this problem directly. Interactive VR platforms incorporate realistic interpersonal interaction and real-time communication into the mix. The learner can be placed in situations involving sexual harassment in which virtual agents react to the learner’s behavior in real-time. In other words, learners learn by doing and by receiving immediate feedback regarding the correctness of their behavior. This approach optimally recruits the behavioral skills learning system in the brain, which is the ideal system for reducing the incidence of inappropriate behaviors. Without taking a deep dive into brain neurochemistry, suffice it to say that behavioral skills learning is best when the brain circuits that initiated the behavior are still active when feedback is received. If the action is appropriate, then that behavior will be strengthened, and if the action is inappropriate, then that behavior will be weakened. Although there are clearly ethical limits to the intensity of the VR environments that one can be compelled to experience, interactive VR experiences with even mild levels of harassment will be effective in changing behavior.

Interactive VR approaches may also be useful in extreme cases as a rehabilitation procedure. Individuals already identified as sexual harassers by previous actions or complaints may benefit significantly from this type of rehabilitative behavioral therapy. In these situations, it may be ethically appropriate to increase the intensity of the interactive VR environments so that real changes in behavior will occur.

Disclaimer

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in our society. In many cases, the individual is fully aware of their behavior and simply does not care. In such cases, no training, whether computer-based or VR, will likely have any effect. These are situations involving a conscious bias and behavioral change may be difficult. It is the cases of unconscious bias, where the individual is less aware of the impact of their behavior, that there is hope. The point of this article is not to claim that all sexual harassment can be eradicated. That is unrealistic, wishful thinking. That said, I believe that we can reduce the incidence of sexual harassment through effective training. I believe that the science of learning suggests that VR may provide a better tool for achieving this goal than computer based training.

Conclusion

I am not an expert on sexual harassment, but I do understand the psychology of behavior and behavior change. Although traditional computer-based approaches do their best to define, describe and demonstrate sexual harassment behavior, they target the cognitive skills learning system in the brain. This system is ideal for hard skill training, but not soft skill training, such as the training needed to reduce the incidence sexual harassment. I believe that VR holds significant promise as a training tool for reducing the incidence of sexual harassment. By combining the passive, observational first-person VR experiences that allow one to see the world through someone else’s eyes and experience sexual harassment first hand, with interactive VR experiences that allow one to engage in interpersonal interaction and real-time communication focused on rewarding appropriate behaviors and punishing inappropriate behaviors we might be able to reduce the size of this cancer from our society. The science is clear, and it suggests that this VR approach has merit.