Introduction

Deep Learning has become a hot topic in education circles recently, as Google now employs deep learning across their various platforms. However, the concept of deep learning is not new…in fact, “The history of Deep Learning can be traced back to 1943, when Walter Pitts and Warren McCulloch created a computer model based on the neural networks of the human brain. They used a combination of algorithms and mathematics they called “threshold logic” to mimic the thought process.”(https://www.dataversity.net/brief-history-deep-learning/)

Since then, scientists, researchers and educators have been struggling to find ways to improve the human learning process and its lasting impact by leveraging the developments in AI/Machine Learning research.

It’s only by combining different disciplines such as technology, psychology and pedagogy that we humans can start to reap the benefits of deep learning.

So what is Deep Learning?

In this article, I want to explore how it is relevant in the corporate learning environment and I argue that we need it now. I discuss how to ensure Deep Learning – by measuring, analyzing and implementing learner behavior as well as recommending tips on how to improve learner engagement by incorporating a few simple strategies.

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During my time at Engineering school, I was always encouraged by my professors to understand the material and not  merely memorize it, because after graduating from college the engineering concepts, theories and principles I learned had to resonate with me throughout my life whatever engineering challenge I may be faced with. My professors were referring to Deep Learning as opposed to exam-based or memory-based learning.

After spending more than three decades on the development and implementation side of corporate learning, I am sorry to say that even today – despite educators, researchers and educational institutions recommending the deployment of deep learning strategies in all aspects of learning – a large majority of corporate training organizations are still practicing age-old memorization-based, power-point and printed manual driven classrooms, both online and offline.

While deep learning has its advocates and many in the training profession like to embrace its merits, in reality, the implementation of Deep Learning principles are still new and experimental within the corporate learning environment.

It is my personal belief that learning outcomes depend on the learner’s curiosity, interest, personal experience, excitement and engagement. Throughout human history, in all cultures past and present, listener engagement was the most important factor to the survival of accumulated knowledge. Spoken words came together in the form of engaging stories, anecdotes and legends, filled with fascinating details and moral values. These stories survive to this day because of their effectiveness, forming the foundation of morality and human civilization. Engagement enhances the individual and the collective’s ability to remember information; this is what deep learning is all about.

In this article, I would like to pose the following question: 

Can one design more desirable learning outcomes by taking into account learner data, analytics and feedback to create personalized learner experiences that enhance learner curiosity, interaction and engagement?

I hope that this article gives you food for strategic thought, when designing your next course or redesigning your current ones.

Where is your organization’s learning today?

Today, most corporate learning environments emphasize three key learning goals:

(i) knowledge,

(ii) basic skills,

(iii) conceptual understanding

These three goals are considered achieved, when a student passes a written assessment. While these goals are interrelated, their distinctions are important because each type requires different approaches to both teaching and assessment

Knowledge

Knowledge goals specify what students should know—factual information. The attainment of knowledge goals can be best gauged through objective tests, quiz items or verbal tests..

Basic Skills

Skill goals state what students should be able to do. Every subject area contains basics that are essential to perform the job they are required to do. Unlike with assessments of knowledge, for which there is usually a single, “correct” answer, skill performances can be best tracked along a continuum of proficiency levels from novice to expert.

Understanding

Understanding goals refer to a student’s grasp of conceptual “big ideas.” Understanding in this context generally cannot be assessed through multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank test items. Instead, students need to provide explanations, justify conclusions, and support answers with evidence. (As with a doctoral dissertation, there is a need for the defense, not just the answer.)

All of them are essential to a successful education in the 21st century (Wiggins & McTighe, 2011), however one key area where today’s corporate learning initiatives come short (in my opinion) is the learners’ ability to transfer the newly acquired knowledge to new and unfamiliar challenges and environments. This is where DEEP LEARNING comes into play.

Any consideration of educational measurement must begin with the desired outcomes to be measured. 

Deep Learning = Long-Term Transfer

Deep Learning goals refer to students’ capacity to apply what they’ve learned to a new situation or different context. Transfer goals are process oriented; they specify what we want students to be able to do with their learning in the long run when confronted by new opportunities and challenges. Indeed, it’s not too much to say that the future belongs to those who can apply their learning effectively in novel and unique situations. Transfer abilities can best be measured through authentic, performance-based tasks, with well-developed rubrics for evaluation. This is where Learning Measurement comes into play – how do you know when you have achieved Deep Learning?

Learning Measurement

Learning Measurement is a process by which we make inferences about what students know, understand, and can do in an entirely new situation, removed from the learning environment. The instructional designer must know the importance of identifying learning objectives that are tied to KPIs. It is also the responsibility of L&D designers and implementers to determine ways to measure all of the KPI outcomes and design assessments in ways that can be integrated with learning. What’s missing in most corporate L&D decision makers is the will and a systematic plan to do so.

Here are some important questions L&D leaders should consider.

1. What is learner engagement (in the context of your organization )?

Learner engagement helps you measure and manage employees’ perspectives on the crucial elements of their learning experience. You can find out if your employees are actively engaged with their learning, or if they’re simply running the clock. You can discover if the learner is involved in learning activities designed in the course with modern learning tools and analytics. This will give you a good understanding of the ways you can improve employees’ connection to their learning exercises.

2. Can learner engagement make a difference?

In an engaging learning experience, employees make decisions and take actions that can affect output. Research shows that engaged learners produce better business outcomes than other learners – across industry, company size and nationality –  in good economic times and bad. So, the L&D Manager must figure out the learning experience that can provide better engagement for their learners.

3.  What drives learner engagement in your organization?

One of the most common mistakes companies make is to approach learner engagement as a sporadic exercise as opposed to a department standard across the board. Learners are engaged when they are happy to learn, in a mode of discovery and are generally “enthusiastic.” 

4. Do your current programs meet the expectations of a new generation of learners?

Take a look at your learners. Nearly 85% of millennials use their cell phones and tablets as the primary device to learn new information. Furthermore, the millennial generation uses Google and Alexa when they want to discover an answer to a question. Ignoring the behavioral characteristics of this new generation of learners often leads to workplace learning program failure as younger employees are not engaged in any meaningful way.  Also, the assessment grades do not reflect the real world ability to transfer newly acquired knowledge to other environments. The result: everyone in the L&D department points the finger at one another – but ultimately it is the business that pays the price. Do you know how your employees are reacting to courses they are taking and if they are disengaged? 

A few tips to improve learning outcome by improving learner engagement

In view of the above discussions here are a few recommendations to make learning fun, boost engagement and enhance motivation for learning in your organization.

  1.  Collaborate: – Encourage collaboration in all your learning activities – especially in remote learning environments. When learners collaborate they dive deeper into learning by actively participating and consulting with their peers and gaining new perspectives – which helps the learner retain and apply the newly acquired knowledge. 
  2. Create – Create a dynamic learning environment that keeps learners engaged, even from a distance. Make your training available at any time and from anywhere in order to stay flexible with today’s lifestyle and schedule. Deliver training in multiple mediums, appliances and formats so the learner can choose what he/she is most comfortable with. Flexibility in training methods and delivery improves retention and participation.
  3. Customize – Tailor training to each learner’s needs and goals. It’s time to revisit your learning program to make sure your learners are getting the training they need to make the biggest business impacts. Start by mapping out a learning path for each group of learners to ensure that their specific training needs are addressed in each step of their learning journey.
  4. Institute Microlearning – Deliver training in small doses that are easy to digest and complete in minutes. Just because microlearning training is short, does not mean it is not effective. Sometimes “less is more” and delivering quick pointers can be great for the learner who doesn’t have time to endure lengthy information overload.
  5. Evaluate – Measure Learner performance and progress. The Post-Covid learning environment has forced us to adapt to remote learning, which is new to many. Make your SMEs or Supervisors available to learners for questions and keep track of learner progress with your LMS. Always pull customizable reports to track individual learner progress. 
  6. Provide Guidance – Hand holding and feedback are essential for learner engagement and satisfaction. This allows you to take learner engagement to the next level by finding out what they are interested in and what they want to learn. You also get to know the appliances or formats that work best and what barriers to learning engagement may exist.
  7. Provide motivation – Maintaining learner momentum and motivation are essential parts of building engagement. In order to help them continue to be excited about their progress, it’s important to recognize their achievements and how far they’ve come. Monitor your learners course progression with activity and progress reports. A congratulatory email will go a long way to celebrate a particular milestone and to guard against loss in motivation.
  8. Learning culture – In order to have an engaged learning audience, an organization must build the foundation for a learning culture. All relevant stakeholders must openly acknowledge and encourage the value of learning if they expect the employees to understand the value of learning. Executives must lead by example.

Conclusion

It is crucial that business leaders act fast and craft a learning strategy that develops the skills employees need to continue to achieve business objectives, regardless of how their jobs evolve over time. The new generation of learners demand a different learning experience than what corporations have been offering for the last several decades. That’s where learning effectiveness measurement and analysis comes in. This understanding and implementation will guarantee an effective workforce, one that is completely aligned with the business goals of the corporation for many years to come.

Why L&D needs to act now

Data indicates that 54% of all workers will need to update or replace their competencies by 2022. This is revealed in the 2018 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, as the result of rapid technological developments and increasing digitalization. It is clear that this is an urgent matter for organizations across all industries. Jobs will disappear or fundamentally change due to automation and other advancements in technology. Unsurprisingly, many organizations are already feeling the effects of this. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87% of executives said they were experiencing skills gaps in the workforce, yet less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem. And this isn’t even touching on the economic uncertainty, increasing competition, and the war for talent.

I’m suggesting that a good place to start in addressing this seismic shift in the workplace is by measuring the learning effectiveness of your existing courses at your own organization. Get ready for the entirely new generation of learners knocking on your doors!

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