The trainer and the tech
It’s “welcome day” in a busy acute hospital. Around 80 new employees file into the lecture theatre for a day of onboarding presentations.
For the new starters, this is an opportunity to learn about the organisation and build a network of allies. For the hospital, it’s a way to share the values, introduce the aims of the organisation and, of course, to drive inclusion.
This onboarding event is often met with good participation and high-scoring engagement feedback… except for one occasion and one particular speaker whose actions would truly challenge the inclusive nature of such an event. While he robotically recited his script, the speaker glanced towards the back of the theatre, and noticed that a number of younger individuals were not looking at his slide but instead at their phones.
Incensed by the apparent disrespect, the speaker called out the behavior and commended the entire room’s attention towards the seemingly disengaged individuals. The “guilty” employees looked nervously at each other, while the presenter lamented the “disrespect of the younger generation”. In defense of her own actions, and those of her new colleagues, one of the employees stood up and explained to the speaker (and the awkwardly shifting audience) that the reason they had been looking at their phones was due to the use of a translation app that was interpreting what the fast-speaking, heavily accented speaker had been saying. The group in question was newly qualified nurses freshly arrived from Italy on their first assignment in the UK.
It’s almost incomprehensible that such an outdated perception can occur simultaneously with the use of a modern game changer – yet it’s not uncommon for technology to be seen as a distraction for the disengaged, rather than an enhancement for engagement. But organisations are growing at pace, particularly in the fintech sector, and they have vaster geographical spread – and this means greater diversity. With our changing workforce, organisations cannot simply keep doing what they have always done.
So when people ask me how technology can possibly drive inclusion, I take great pleasure in the debate. Because, more often than not, the enquirer believes that to create inclusion, you need bodies in a room listening to a single speaker. However, when we reflect on the welcome day event, it’s easy to see that technology was facilitating inclusive practise, the human was not.
You see, the world of people development and organisational change is not what it used to be. For starters, getting staff away from their busy day job – especially in the fintech sector – is more of a challenge, and getting staff into one location at one time is even more so. The good news, though, is that commissioners of training are now recognising that placing people in a room for a one-off three-hour event is not going to change behavior or culture alone. This is the opportunity to drive inclusion through technology.
Digital learning is a great way to embed the key messages of classroom content. According to the Research Institute of America, only 8-10% of learning is retained after a classroom event. However, the use of digital techniques means training can live on long after the trainer has left the building.
A nudge in the right direction
When it comes to inclusion, we don’t always need to be told what to do – sometimes we just need a timely reminder to kick-start our active thinking. Thaler and Sustein’s Nudge Theory is the perfect philosophy to boost the value of digital andragogy. The nudge concept at its core is to inspire action and encourage decision making. Inclusion, therefore, is bought to life in short prompts that connect the participant’s work or activity to the inclusive behavior the company seeks to embed. By receiving these timely reminders on screen, in the workplace, participants have inclusive practise thrust into their active thought, resulting in their conscious decision to undertake an inclusive action… or not. When Thaler and Sunstein first piloted nudge theory, they boosted private-sector pension scheme investments from 42% to 73%. Imagine what could be achieved in fintech organisational cultures if inclusive behaviors were boosted by a third thanks to a few digital provocations here and there.
Make it about me
It goes without saying that, if behavior is to change, content – both digital and otherwise – needs to be compelling and galvanising. Digital learning brings value in this arena as it affords the opportunity for the storyteller to look like me (using avatars and VR), to sound like me (through language translation), and to allow me the headspace to press pause on the world and really challenge my own beliefs in a safe environment. If participants are simply clicking through digital lessons to get through as quickly as possible, behavior won’t change. However, by placing the responsibility of the learning into the participant’s hands through introspective interactions and goal-setting commitments, the inclusive actions are not only recorded, both digitally and in conscious thought, but are measurable later on, so that managers and employees can review active effort in making that inclusive environment for all.
Diversity in and by design
To ensure such digital opportunities resonate with participants around the world of varying age groups, ethnicities and interests, diversity must be considered at the design stage. The very teams designing these learning interventions must not only take into account the different learning styles and learning needs, but also the differences in the audiences experiencing the intervention and how they access it in the first place.
Digital design teams need to surround themselves with a diverse group of colleagues that will challenge the ordinary and question beliefs. If design teams consist of only a select group of people, the “inclusion interactive” may miss the mark in getting the message to make an impact – or even getting the message across altogether. The challenge in this sentiment is that instructional design and graphic design roles are predominately white. Even the biggest tech companies such as Google reported a 60% white workforce as recently as 2015 – and this is from a company aggressively targeting recruitment to reach more diverse candidates.
In conclusion, technology can help bridge the gaps in inclusion that a global workforce can spawn, but it can only be successful if it is designed and implemented with a human touch. Mindsets around what engagement looks like need to change. Mobile phones are learning aids, not just learning distractors. Behavioral change won’t happen from two hours in a classroom, but it can be chipped away at through regular short digital interactions. And learners? Well, let’s hope they continue to diversify and challenge our worldly views and never accept that the learning of tomorrow should look like the learning of today. Technology evolves – it’s about time the inclusion discussion did too.
By Nic Girvan, global head of digital training at worldwide diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global.