Why Less Is More in Corporate Learning

In a lot of things, quality often trumps quantity – and learning is not different. While corporate L&D departments often aspire to run large amounts of good programs stocked to the brim with quality content and offer online resources for every need imaginable, that might not always work out as intended. Indeed, it’s so that the beauty is often in simplicity. Even if you have excellent quality content, having too much of it might have adverse effects. Let us explain. Here are three reasons why less is more in corporate learning.

1. Have you encountered the “Netflix problem”?

In today’s information age, content is abundant. For a long time, we believed that the more choice, the better. However, we are slowly starting our mistakes in that logic. Many corporate learning platforms and portals nowadays represent a ‘library’ or a ‘resource pool’ model. Whatever the employees may want to learn, there’s likely to be something for them. Sounds good, no?

Well there’s a problem. Similar to how you spend 45 minutes selecting a movie on Netflix on a Sunday evening, the learners may be struggling to find what they need. When employees search for resources at the workplace, it’s usually not for the sake of learning something completely new. Rather, it’s to quickly help them with whatever they are doing after which they move on. So what if less is more there? Abundance of options causes ambiguity, as the users spend too much time searching for the specific bit of information they need. And that doesn’t really work in anyone’s favour.

So, what could be an alternative approach, keeping in mind the less is more mantra? In our view, wherever there’s abundance of content or options, the L&D team should work to curate content, rather than put it all out there. Personalising the learning experience might also help to eliminate some of the unwanted effects.

2. Less is more also in cognitive loading

Most people are familiar with the concept of cognitive loading: the human brain is only able to handle a limited amount of information. Once that “quota” gets filled up, there’s no room for more and processing of information also slows down. In learning, this means that there’s only a limited amount of information that people can intake before requiring a break (hence sleeping is incredibly important for learning – to offload this loading!).

Yet, we often see organisations trying to achieve the impossible – cramming hundreds of slides into a day of training, or designing online learning to be completely exhaustive. The result: people get overloaded cognitively and retain even less than they otherwise would have. You might be thinking that you’re doing the learners a favour by delivering all the information, but in fact it’s the polar opposite. So what could we do to reduce cognitive loading?

Once again, less is more. Instead of trying to decipher all the information available into an activity, focus on the things that matter the most. Key topics, reinforces with practical activities. All the rest the employees can look up later when and if they need it. If you’re dealing with subject matter experts, this might be a challenge. But the job of the learning professional is to curate and strategically limit the amount of information, no matter what kind of expert you have to convey it.

3. Corporate learning is not about learning, but performance

Perhaps the most compelling reason why less is more in corporate learning is a practical one. Fundamentally, workplace learning is not about learning itself. Rather, it’s about whether the learning gets transferred to the workplace in the form of new behaviours and practices, which then hopefully result in positive performance. This learning transfer, in fact, seems to be one of the biggest problems in itself. Evidently, not much is being transferred.

What we’ve found that often happens, is that organisations are too busy shoving content down the learners throats to focus on creating opportunities to practice, discuss and reflect in a safe environment. Your employees may be “aware” of the new way you want them to do a particular thing, but if they haven’t practiced to the extent that they are comfortable with the new way, they are going to revert to the old way. Thus, you would be much better off going with the less is more mentality. Less content, more practice opportunities, workshops, collaboration, discussion and other hands-on activities. The flipped learning model that we advocate for may be a good framework for structuring activities.

Final words

Overall, workplace learning should focus on quality rather than quantity. Learning is not the goal, but just the means to achieving favourable business outcomes. Less is more holds true not only in the above examples, but also in UX design, communications etc. So, hopefully you’ll also start considering your strategy, and a more qualitative approach. And if you need help with that, in e.g. content curation strategies or personalised learning design, we are happy to help. Just contact us here.