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Is Technology Helpful or Harmful to the Personal Learning Experience?

As technology continues to advance, people are asking questions about whether it benefits or takes away from how we as humans learn best.

Right now, the impact of virtual options when it comes to learning and training is not 100% clear, and the verdict is still out. The number of variables is a big reason for this—what's being learned, how it's being learned, whether the learning is blended, and user preferences are all factors in the efficacy of virtual learning compared to non-virtual.

Society, Technology, and How We Learn

In today's world, distractions run amok. If we want to be present and focused on learning a new skill, we have to find a way to turn off the demands for our attention that come from our smartphones, our laptops, our general surroundings, our coworkers, and our families. On top of that, we have to decide what we want to learn and how. There's a lot to sift through.

From the perspective of a millennial (yes, that's me), I think there's a misconception that we're attached to technology and virtual options. I think the reverse is often true—we're craving engagement and connection. Just because technology often dominates how we take in information day-to-day doesn't mean it's always what we want. Nor does it say anything about how we as individuals learn most effectively.

What it really comes down to is how and when technology is being used in the learning process. It's beneficial when used in tandem with a holistic learning approach that includes other methods of learning, especially as it relates to training, but it can become a serious drawback if it's used as the sole learning tool.

I've found that for myself, different situations call for different learning methods. For example, I love the Headspace meditation app. It's more realistic for my schedule to learn meditation this way than take hours out of a day or week to learn it in-person with an instructor. However, there are other skills that lend themselves better to in-person learning. For instance, I typically go to in-person instruction for exercise or working on foreign language skills. The social pressure of classes or workshops can also be a useful tool for learning.

Reflecting on Powerful Client Experiences

Our case study with client Coast Capital highlights the results they produced in conjunction with Fierce training (read the full case study here). Their improvement percentages post-training led to huge shifts in both behavior and culture:

Confrontation +20%
Coaching +19%
Delegation +16%
Strategy Execution +13%
Feedback 12%
Collaboration +9%
Accountability +8%

Paul, a senior leader with Coast Capital, shared his experience with Fierce training: "It has allowed me to have more engaged conversations with my team and colleagues, resulting in greater clarity and understanding."

The increase in engagement, effective behaviors, and feelings of connection between colleagues were key factors in their success. The training took a holistic approach that included in-person workshops. It's doubtful that virtual training (without face-to-face interaction) alone could have produced the same level of results when you consider the fact that meaningful connections and conversations are such an essential part of developing relational skills. To really be seen and to see others, it requires us to be in each other's presence, engaging our eyes, ears, and hearts as we listen and share. These are the types of experiences that stay with us, longer after the training event is over.

Fierce Exploration of Virtual Learning

At Fierce, we currently approach technology as a useful supplement. It can aid the personal experience, but it hasn't fully replaced it—yet. People crave connection with self and others (no matter their generation), and if they're going to take time out to learn and grow, connection is required if you want what you learn to stick over time.

Our virtual training options have increased in popularity year over year. The reality is that some learning experiences are more easily translated to virtual simulation than others. If you're learning how to have conversations, the best results will be produced if these conversations happen live with real people, whether that's virtually or in person. There's a utility of mastering the skill of conversation in its used context. When you're learning a skill that is intended to shift how you behave and interact with other people, it only makes sense that you would practice these skills with other people during the learning process. If your virtual learning doesn't have the element of human connection integrated into it, it makes it much harder to translate the virtual learning experience into the real, human world.

However, virtual popularity continues to grow, and many businesses are opting for virtual to save on costs. We're continuing to experiment with the gradual development of skills and how certain skills can be practiced effectively through technology. Depending on the content, there are ways you can learn, and have it stick, without a formal training setting. From the Fierce angle, one of our goals is to incubate some of these virtual products so that people can learn some of the skills that do lend themselves well to technology.

Fierce teaches using emotions, and with good reason. Research shows that tapping into emotion positively influences learning, attention, and behavioral change. Certain tactics create an authentic emotional pull and help you make important connections, but with technology, it's harder to elicit emotion and visceral reactions in a way that makes the learning memorable and experiential.

And, in training, capturing the why is critical for participants—it creates context, and helps them understand how the training fits into the real world. Learning is hard, which is why training, virtual or non, needs to capture both the head and heart behind the why by eliciting emotion and providing research for support. Our training does an excellent job of creating a compelling why. That's why it's so sticky and so successful.

Virtual Learning in Your Organization

Here's a question I'll pose to you:

In your organization, what are you doing to help construct different types of learning experiences?

Providing participants with blended options can help facilitate the learning process—virtual training can offer more flexibility around scheduling and tends to be more self-paced, which some participants respond well to. In combination with the in-person experience, virtual can be an excellent supplemental tool, especially when it comes to reinforcement.

If we are incubating these experiences, we wouldn't say no technology. That said, there is a point to human connection. There isn't a true replacement for an immersive, connecting experience—whether in-person or virtual. The most important thing is to ensure the human spirit is involved in the process. 

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