An interview with Stephen Meyer, RLI’s CEO and Director of Learning & Development
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An interview with Stephen Meyer, RLI’s CEO and Director of Learning & Development

Q. What’s the concept behind The Rapid Learning Institute?
A. We think of it as three-legged stool: One leg is rapid learning; another is shared vocabulary; and a third is interval reinforcement.

Let’s start with rapid learning. Our customers are businesses and they’re deeply concerned about understanding how adults learn. There’s a ton of research out there on adult learning, and most of it suggests that adults learn very differently from children. Two things stand out: First, that adults absolutely must feel that the training or instruction they’re getting respects the fact that they already possess a vast wealth of knowledge and experience. They don’t want to be talked down to. And while they’re eager to learn a new thing, they don’t want to have to slog through a tedious review of what they already know.

Second, adults want to consume learning in small chunks. One of our customers calls it “snack-sized” learning. I’m sure this was true 20 years ago as well, but today it’s even more so. We’ve all been trained by Google to expect instant solutions in the moment of need. We’re all multi-taskers. We all have to some degree what I call “occupational A.D.D.” When modern adults engage in a learning event, they want it to give them what a successful Google provides – EXACTLY what they’re looking for. And they want it FAST!

Q. How do RLI e-learning modules address that adult-learning research?

A. We built the Rapid Learning Institute e-learning curricula based on the two research conclusions I mentioned. Our core programs are called “Quick Takes.” They’re very short – just six to 10 minutes long. Each one delivers an extremely focused “chunk” of learning, if you will. The tone is always “expert-to-expert.” Obviously we cover fundamentals, but emphasize that even experienced people sometimes need to be reminded of things they learned long ago but don’t always practice today. Since our modules are short, they have to be concise and focused. Our content developers are extremely disciplined and whenever possible try to isolate an “aha” in every module.

Q. Describe a perfect e-learning module.
A. For me, the perfect Quick Take leaves you with just one keen insight that’s memorable and that you can’t wait to put into action. Here’s an example: We have a Quick Take on cold calling that pokes gentle fun at typical cold callers, who get you on the phone and say, “I’m John Smith from ABC Co., a leading provider of widgets. Our state-of-the-art technology allows us to produce the highest quality widgets faster than our competitors and at competitive prices. And … blah blah blah.” We gave this approach a name: it’s a “me me me” cold call, all about the seller, all about the product, nothing about the customer. We explain why this kind of call triggers a flight mechanism in the prospect and almost always results in rejection. The Quick Take then explains how to make the first 20 seconds of a cold call about the PROSPECT, not about you.

We wrote this Quick Take so that when you finish it, there’s only one thing you could possibly be thinking: “Next time I make a cold call, I will NOT start the call talking about MY product. Instead, those first 20 seconds will be all about the customer need I identified before the call.”

Q. Can you give me an example from a management program?
A. Sure, we have a Quick Take from our leadership platform to help new managers. The “aha” in that module is that when people get promoted they often think they’re still “one of the gang.” They don’t realize that in the eyes of their people, “They ARE the company” and must embody the company’s values and culture. Again, this is a small, but powerful chunk of learning. It isn’t comprehensive management training for a new manager, and doesn’t pretend to be.

But at the end of the 10-minute module, the listener has just heard a compelling example of what happens when new managers fail to realize what their new role entails, and their heads aren’t focused on what it’ll take for them to be successful. They’re thinking: “So, if I AM the company, if I’m on a stage now and everybody’s watching, how do I have to behave to be credible?”

Q. Tell us what you mean by “shared vocabulary.”

A. Shared vocabulary is the second leg of the RLI stool. There are organizations out there that just let people go about their business. Ongoing learning isn’t a high priority for them. We’re targeting “learning organizations” that believe flawless execution of strategy and processes can’t be sustained unless employees are continually developed. A shared vocabulary is key to learning organizations. They need language that expresses key concepts in a kind of shorthand that everybody understands. We go out of our way to come up with succinct ways to express business concepts.

For example, in the Quick Take I mentioned earlier on cold calling, we use terms like “me me me” cold calls that “trigger a flight mechanism” and fuel “call reluctance.” Our goal is for managers and trainers at companies to see this language as a tool to train their people. And it works. When we talk to customers, they’ll often feed the language right back to us, as in “One of my reps just keeps making “me me me” cold calls.”

Q. Okay, that makes sense, but what about interval reinforcement?

A. The third leg of the stool is interval reinforcement. A huge problem for companies – and training officers in particular – is that training doesn’t stick. A German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered back in 1885 that 30 days after a learning event people retain just 20% of what they learned. If you’re a CEO investing $100,000 in training this year, you don’t feel you’re getting a satisfactory ROI on your training if 80% of it goes down the drain.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that many studies show there’s a very effective way to improve knowledge retention and get a high ROI on training. It’s called “Interval reinforcement,” or follow up. If you revisit a learning event several times in the days and weeks after it occurs, you can achieve very high levels of retention. This seems intuitive to most people.

Q. But it doesn’t happen. Why not?

A. The reason is that follow up is time-consuming. Relatively few managers have the discipline to revisit their employees’ training over and over to reinforce the learning. The payoff is absolutely huge for those who do it, but most managers don’t make it a priority. Training & Development magazine ran an article discussing the three phases of the learning process. It showed that roughly 10% of training funds currently go to Phase 1, which is preparation, or what they called “pre-work”; 85% went to Phase 2, which is the learning event itself; and 5% went to follow up. No wonder training doesn’t stick. And no wonder the top executives who hold the purse strings in organizations are skeptical about training ROI.

Q. How does the RLI System approach this problem?
A. As I said, we’re all about delivering training in chunks. Quick Takes are our answer to minimizing the length of the Phase 2 and increasing the focus on Phase 3. That’s where the real payoff is. A few years ago the Franklin Covey organization did a study and concluded that 50% of training dollars should be spent in Phase 3 doing follow up. Make training stick and you get the ROI you’re looking for.

The Rapid Learning Institute system is consistent with that model. Because Quick Takes are so short and concise, people watch them repeatedly. We’ve got a customer who told us his entire team watches one of our sales prospecting modules every week. He says it motivates the team and gets their heads in the right spot. That’s interval reinforcement. And that’s a guy who’s getting a huge payoff from an eight-and-a-half-minute training module.

Q. How can people see what RLI has to offer?
A. Test drive it. We allow unlimited access to the site during a no-risk trial period. You can sign up for a trial on the RLI Website.

Click here for unlimited access free trial to the Selling Essentials Rapid Learning Center, the HR Rapid Learning Center or the Compliance and Management Rapid Learning Center.

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