New vs Repeated Learning Experiences

  • Ami Au-Yeung
  • April 1st, 2021

The balance between novel and established learning experiences can be a tricky one to maintain. Ami Au-Yeung of Ezra's Impact Lab discusses how a learner-centric approach to your development program makes the journey to effectiveness an easier one.

New vs Repeated Learning Experiences

Tried and true, or something completely new? If your life is anything like mine, that is the big question that you ask yourself and the other people in your household all the time.

This question takes on added importance during the pandemic, when choosing a takeout meal or Netflix movie is the big event of the day. And if you’re anything like me, you are torn between two basic options: a long-time favorite, or something new and unproven?

Searching through Netflix, I love the whole experience of searching for new movies and TV shows, but I also love to re-watch all of my favorite episodes of Friends. And when it comes to food, there’s that new burger place that I just heard about but then again, my favorite noodle restaurant consistently gives me comfort food just the way I like it.

This dynamic tension we all feel around things like food and streaming content plays out in a number of other aspects of our life. Like learning.

Research into Learning and Development strategies has confirmed that in order to get the most out of our learning experiences, we need to find a balance between novel and repeat experiences. And the only way to find that balance is to focus intently on the learner.

New or repeat – is there a clear benefit to one approach over the other?

Many L&D professionals have a predisposition for creating new content to help learners engage and absorb. It’s hardly surprising; given the option, many of us have a certain vanity around being able to create new content from scratch. And we are emboldened in this approach with the knowledge that human nature has clearly identified a bias in favor of new experiences.

Or, put another way, most people think that a new experience will almost always be better than a repeat experience.

That’s what we think, but that’s not necessarily the reality. Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of business, for example, found that when people do repeat pleasurable experiences, they almost always enjoy it more than they predicted they would. Or, as head researcher Ed O’Brien noted in his summary, “Many repeat experiences are not as dull as they appear.”

This is important knowledge whenever an L&D professional is trying to put together a program. But how exactly will you know when a new experience is appropriate and when it’s better to give people the old tried and true? The answer is to listen closely to your learners.

Know your audience

Taking the time to really get to know your audience can provide several important benefits. Not only will you gain insight into the expectations of learners, you will have a much better chance of ensuring that the learning content is designed specifically for their needs. In-depth audience analysis also creates opportunities to customize or personalize learning programs

Getting to know your audience is also important given that it’s likely to be quite diverse.

Your workplace population will include a broad array of individual contributors of different genders and cultural backgrounds. You may have a mix of senior leaders along with new, frontline managers. And your learners may also include employees located in different areas of the world. So, it’s essential to do as much as you can at the front end to ensure that the specific needs for each group are met.

The information you get from this getting-to-know-them process will help you determine how much of your content can be pre-existing, tried and true – perhaps even something that your learners have experienced before – and how much should be built from scratch.

Here are some questions to tackle before you determine the orientation of your learning program:

  • What are the characteristics of your learners? Pay particular attention to profession, role, career level, language, gender, educational background, geographical location.
  • How much time can your learners dedicate to learning? Are your people working remotely or constantly on the road? Or, do they spend most of their time at a desk? And regardless of where they work, do they have time during their working days to learn, or does it have to be done on personal time?
  • What are the goals of your learner population and how can the content help them reach those goals?
  • Do they have previous knowledge of the specific topic and have they completed similar programs? Or are they starting from scratch with a whole new area of learning?
  • How aware are your learners of their knowledge gap? Do you need to provide additional context, or build a business case for the learning? Or are they clear about what they want to learn and why?
  • What information do you need to provide the learner to get their buy-in to engage with the content?
  • What approaches and strategies will motivate them to learn?
  • How tech-savvy does your learner need to be? What equipment is required?

Once you know them better, trust your learners to guide you

There are only benefits to getting to know your learners. You can personalize their learning experiences, improve engagement and participation, get their attention and enhance their knowledge.

It also makes your job easier because the learners will tell you what they need or don’t need! That’s a great starting point for a bespoke learning design.

Stay curious and ask! Let your learners create their learning journey with you.

Ezra has redesigned leadership coaching for the digital age to transform your company’s workforce through affordable, scalable and high-impact solutions that promote equitable access through our world-class coaching app. Find out today how everyone can be better with a coach.

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