Corporate Training Needs to Embrace Self-Directed Learning

Self-Directed Learning (SDL) has become more prominent as companies explore ways to educate employees and create relevant, meaningful experiences.

Training Magazine

Technology innovations, digital retail environments, social media, and unlimited sources offering real-time information have turbo-charged the evolution of how people learn about and engage with brands.

Not surprisingly, this trend is impacting the workplace as the line blurs between sales and CRM. Employees seek self-directed learning and training programs that are decentralized, flexible, and steeped in digital content. The upshot is that Self-Directed Learning (SDL) has become more prominent as companies explore ways to educate employees and create relevant, meaningful experiences for retail learners and customers.

The Power of Self-Directed Training

The effectiveness of SDL is based on human neurology. Discovering something on your own feels like an epiphany; it’s exhilarating. It’s satisfying. It sends a surge of endorphins that rewards curiosity and the effort we spent learning and discovering. When these feelings are associated with a specific situation, product, activity, and success, the reaction is to delve deeper—to learn even more. This is much more effective than being told or even shown something, regardless of how beneficial the message is. Designed correctly, SDL allows participants to learn at their own pace and delivers true “A-Ha!” moments that translate into success.

Employees Want More Input and Control

According to the 2020 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, 94 percent of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. Of those, almost half of millennial and Generation Z respondents prefer fully self-directed learning opportunities.

SDL puts employees in the driver’s seat, allowing them to take the initiative. But contrary to what the name may suggest, SDL isn’t a hands-off process. It requires a sound ID plan, appropriate informational resources, the right technology platform, and expert facilitators to ensure that:

  • Learning needs are accurately assessed and addressed
  • Measurable, realistic goals are established
  • Training content is current, effective, and accessible
  • Leadership buy-in to guarantee long-term success

We know customers want and increasingly expect authenticity. The long-held importance of transitioning from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side,” is particularly significant today as companies struggle to create meaningful training strategies that help employees connect, inform, and educate. The primary difference is direction, with younger employees preferring to pull information toward them instead of having management push it on them.

This means any SDL curriculum should focus on situational and contextual insights that deliver a meaningful understanding of the customer and provide relevant, real-world anecdotes that make genuine, product-based communication possible. Consider these three concepts:

  1. Treat Training Goals Like Marketing Challenges

In recent years, video marketing has exploded in popularity, with 70 percent of marketers saying video content showed a positive ROI. Corporate training programs – which for far too long relied on videos that were too long and too boring – should borrow best practices from content marketing video strategies.

For example, a series of short-form videos on specific topics and scenarios can live on YouTube where employees can dive into topics whenever and as deeply as they choose. Keeping each asset focused on one scenario or skill ensures video content will be focused and easily consumed.

A company like Hubspot does this extremely well by leveraging online training modules for those seeking expertise and certification in content marketing and lead generation. They also do a great job at multi-format video marketing. Their YouTube channel is loaded with case studies, success stories, podcasts, guides, and training tools.

  1. Engage Employees in Creating Training Content

Training should address real-world customer needs and current mindsets with scenarios that help solve challenges and shift perceptions. Getting employees involved in topics for training content will spark ideas about additional pain points or opportunities they have with customer interactions, technology, and real-world use cases.

One universally accepted customer pain point in the retail automotive industry is how millennials view buying cars and, specifically, interacting with auto dealerships. According to the New York Times, millennials bought more new cars than any other group last year. But they hate the hassle and overly sales approach of car dealers.

Consider a training curriculum that facilitates small groups of employees who create relevant experiences that address current, even regionalized issues. In this way, participants are invested; training becomes more of a workshop, where sales teams are facilitated, not presented to and learners become solution creators and curators of their own success.

  1. Training AS CRM: The Convergence of Self-Learning Employees and Consumers

Connecting with today’s retail customers helps when retailers meet their customers where they are in honest, authentic ways. Customers appreciate being guided by professionals who are customers too, who understand them implicitly, understand how they think, and what they ultimately need.

For example, a dealer who specializes in off-road up fitting could organize a rut-runner group where sales personnel and customers come together. In this scenario, the dealer becomes a hub for fun, and expert product experience, as well as a source of new vehicle, parts, and service income. The caveat here is that web-savvy employees can spot a marketing campaign a mile off and merely placing a salesperson in a fully-formed group won’t work. Modern sales need to be an inside resource bringing informational goods from the manufacturer to the tribal consumer groups, not just a mouthpiece from the Ivory Tower. The key is 21st- century dialogue, not a 20th-century monologue.

As employees or customers, we are already consumers of SDL, whether using an iPad to research our next car, reading movie reviews for making decisions, or watching user-generated content on how to disassemble a dryer when it clunks. Companies ignoring SDL do so at their own peril and are at the risk of seeming out of touch.

Jeff Lewis
Jeff Lewis is the creative director for S1Concepts, a complete solution experiential marketing agency with deep ties to the automotive and mobility spaces. Jeff has more than 25 years of experience helping clients improve the customer experience with innovative training methods and exhibition content that educates and delivers.