Category: Employee Awareness

How adults learn – what is the magic question?


There may be no stupid questions, but some are definitely better than others.

Ask the right questions about learning and development, about your workforce, about how adults learn. This is your first step towards enhanced security awareness and behaviour change.

“Successful people ask better questions and therefore get better answers.”
Tony Robbins

Outcomes, cost, compliance, time, application, diversity, measurements of success – these are just some of the challenges to address when thinking about learning and development across the workforce.

Even for just one topic; for example, insider threats, there are many questions to ask. These can include; How many employees do we train? Which roles are most critical? What do we want to achieve? What do we want employees to do differently? What are the direct costs of the training? What are the indirect costs associated with people’s time? What are the risks and costs associated with non-compliance?

There is a huge amount to consider before contacting a training provider. And the most important question, the magic question, isn’t even included:

What is the most effective way to enable my workforce to learn, retain and apply the knowledge?

If your employees do not learn, retain and apply the messages, their behaviour will not change, and the risks associated with non-compliance remain the same.

If your employees do not retain and apply the messages, your outcomes will not be achieved.

If your employees do not learn, retain and apply the messages, you will have invested heavily in learning and development with no perceivable benefit or quantifiable measurements of success.

Therefore, the question that has to be addressed is
‘What is the most effective way to enable my workforce
to learn, retain and apply the knowledge?’

Let’s start with retention.

We now know the magic question, but what is the magic number?…

Three is the magic number.

Retention of any learning is most effective when the message is repeated at least three times in different ways.

Ensure you have identified your key learning outcomes, three learning outcomes for any course is sufficient.

Cover these learning outcomes in at least three different ways.

The first-time people hear, read, see or think about the key message, it will enter the short-term memory.

Being exposed to it a second time will embed the importance of the message.

But research proves that the adult learner needs to be exposed to the message a third time before it has a chance of entering long-term memory.

Now, memory is all well and good for a tick-box, but in a workplace, the ability to understand and apply changes to behaviour is the pot of gold.

Application of knowledge – how does this happen?

Over the last few years, we too have adapted and enhanced our learning materials to utilise the power of three. Whether it is face-to-face training or e-Learning, we also apply the following principles:

  • Clear key messages
  • Focused learning outcomes
  • An identified starting point on the topic, from which to measure the success of the training

After the course

Learning does not stop when the course ends – remember, the pot of gold is changed behaviour.

Therefore consistent, varied and engaging ways of reinforcing the learning and acknowledgement of changed behaviour over a 6-month period will statistically improve your company’s ability to see applied change.

So where do I begin?

Post course communication strategies become critical in this picture. Taking an organisationally systemic approach to learning, development and behaviour change is also the key to success.

For now, focus on the magic question:

‘What is the most effective way to enable my workforce to learn, retain and apply the knowledge?’

Bebe brings 30 years’ experience in learning and development to her role as Head of Communications at The Security Company. This expertise in employee development is combined with her cybersecurity knowledge to enable us to offer cutting edge and dynamic solutions for our clients.

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