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How Change Impact Learners in Five Stages

Change is an unavoidable part of life, and it has been at the forefront of people’s minds during the past 18 months. 

As things change and we adjust to new ways of working now and in the future, we tend to overlook how this impacts our learners. 

In this episode of The Learning Xchange, Matthew Brown, Schoox’s VP of Learning and Brand Success, discusses how change can impact learners. Matthew shares the five stages that learners go through when adjusting to change and what you can do along the way to help.

To learn more, listen to the podcast episode below or keep reading.

Change in an organization, whether from external or internal factors, can shake up every area of a business. We can prepare to dampen any negative effects on operations, sales, and other areas of the business, but what about learning and development?

If you need to implement new training to get everyone up to speed, it’s important to understand that learners will be affected. If you want to promote a productive learning culture in your workplace, we need to look at how change impacts the program and the learners themselves. 

Change and its effects are not black and white. There are five stages that learners tend to go through when adapting to change.

1. The denial stage

The first step that some learners find themselves in is the denial stage. This is when learners try to ignore the change and bury their heads in the sand. During this stage, you’ll probably find there’s zero engagement with learning, even if the program is mandated. 

While you may need to mandate training, the problem is that it pretty much guarantees the learners won’t retain much information.

2. The frustration stage

During this next stage, learners may wonder, “why are we doing this?” or “I can’t believe management is doing X.”

At this stage, you’ll probably see some forced interaction. People might be forced to undertake training. They’ll turn up for it because they’re told to, but there’s little knowledge transfer. If the training is voluntary, not many people will show up. 

3. The depression stage

After the frustration stage, we might start to see people move into the depression stage. This is quite similar to frustration and is where learners start to wrestle with what the changes mean for them. They may be struggling with it. They may feel overwhelmed, especially if there has been a lot of change lately. 

In this stage, you might be able to get people involved in training if you market it correctly. The training could be a ray of hope and clarity for the learner. However, learning retention is still likely to be low, mostly because a lot of the training will be mandated.

4. The acceptance stage

The fourth stage is where we see people start to give the changes a shot. It’s the minimum we need to really start engaging people.

At this stage, learners may accept that the change will happen whether they like it or not. So they decide that it’s time to learn more about it. This is where voluntary engagement with learning starts to pick up, and there’s more chance of knowledge transfer because people are more open. 

Learners may still be cautious and want to keep it at arm’s length, but it’s progress. 

5. The commitment stage

The final stage in adjusting to change is the commitment stage. This is the ideal place you want your learners to end up. If someone’s in the commitment stage, they’ll be more voluntarily engaged with learning. They may even help to encourage others in their team.  

This is where learners are fully on board, willing to commit to the changes, and support what comes next. 

Adjustment can be complex

During most of these stages, learners will likely struggle to connect with learning for different reasons.

We often make some big assumptions about our audience, mostly that they’re all in the same place at the same time. We may assume that they’re all coming in with the same level of knowledge. However, even if that were true, they won’t all be in the same place mentally, emotionally, or even physically.

In 2021, the world is crazy, and there are many different worries and distractions to contend with that affect everyone differently. 

We also need to realize that location is a factor as well. Some people will be on-site, others will be in a virtual remote environment. Some will be using a hybrid model.

Another factor to consider is new hires. There’s a huge increase in movement right now. People are exiting their jobs due to disagreements about working environments and safety. How we help new hires immerse in the environment is something else to think about. 

With that in mind, we can’t just plan around the people in our organizations right now. We need to think about future employees as we see people move from company to company. 

To do this, we need to understand which core skills are critical, how to assess for competence with them, and how to help people navigate towards competence. 

Mobile strategy

Beyond the skills and knowledge, we should also consider how we use mobile technology as part of the learning strategy. 

With so much disruption in the workplace right now, we need to take every possible opportunity to connect with learners wherever they are. This means using remote and mobile technology to deliver learning content in a safe and convenient way.

Focus on content that can be applied today

Another thing is to focus more on training that allows learners to apply knowledge in real-time. Find ways to shift away from content that’s merely a memorization activity. Instead, you want to focus on content that can be applied. 

A way to do this is through storytelling and by using real business problems as examples to illustrate your points. This can help learners really connect with the content. 

These tips should help you see better performance and connection for your learners. But most of all, it’s important to understand that learners will come to the content with different backgrounds, opinions, and mindsets that may affect their ability to learn. Be patient and understanding with them and recognize that everyone is at a different stage of adjustment.

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