As humans, we are hard-wired to learn through connections. For most of human history, our relationship with the world has been mediated by the people we are connected to. We model our behaviors on what we see around us, our communities, and our work environments. We draw inferences and relevance from the stories people tell us. We grow in the context of friendships, collaboration, and belonging.

Personal and Professional Growth Begins with Connection

In the workplace, connecting and partnering with other stakeholders can help establish feelings of belonging and friendship that arise from working together. However defined, partnerships in the workplace contribute to learning and growth. Recent research from BetterUp indicates that being highly connected at work results in 91% more personal growth and 101% more professional growth.

For learning professionals, this strong correlation between partnership and growth presents both an opportunity and a challenge—primarily when so many people work in remote and hybrid environments. Can we pull off a connection growth “twofer” and make a meaningful difference to the people and the organizations we serve? Let’s take a look at how.

Connection Starts With You

To pull off individual growth within an organization and make a meaningful difference, we need to start by thinking about our connections: How we interact with and understand our stakeholders–employees, managers, and business partners, all the way to C-suite. Are we genuinely understanding the purpose and potential outcomes of what we do?

L&D Data Is a Factor but Not the Only Factor

While gathering data and analytics can help guide development, putting our egos aside and actively listening to people is where the difference can be made. What was true a couple of years ago might not necessarily reflect what people need today. Ask them. Understand them. Show them that you genuinely care. This is not just a performative check-in exercise. At the end of the day, you will need buy-in from people at all levels to achieve your goals.

Performance and employee survey data can help point you in the right direction, but you also need to reach out and talk to real people to understand their needs. Focus groups and individual conversations can help you understand nuances and provide color and texture to the programs you develop. The results will show up later when people feel you’ve talked to them or one of their colleagues.

After all, humans are curious by nature.

Design Learning Experiences That Foster Connections

Learning design all too often goes straight to the content. Fire up a content creation tool. Build a course. Market it. Hope for the best.

We can do more. A diet of content and courses alone will not create connections, nor will it make the impact on behaviors and performance your people and your organization need.

Move Beyond Self-Paced eLearning and Development Modules

Instead, think about creating experiences that inspire, motivate, and foster a sense of belonging. Some of these experiences will not be captured by your learning management system (LMS), but they may show up elsewhere in your people data stack in the form of higher employee engagement and retention scores. If your company is set up to do organizational network analysis (ONA), you can measure increases in connectedness and cross-functional collaboration.

Your experiences may vary. In some cases, you may want opportunities for practice and feedback. You should create situations where people can bond and learn how to collaborate.

Use A Variety of Digital Tools for Multi-Modal Learning Experiences

Digital enables endless possibilities for connection. Freed from the time and place constraints of in-person experiences, opportunities exist to create and sustain human relationships in workplace learning for more people than ever before. You can show employees that you and your organization care about your people by helping them build relationships and giving them moments that matter to their growth and overall well-being.

Cohorts and community-centered learning experiences can broaden the reach of discussions at your organization over time. By using digital to broaden reach, you can democratize learning in an inclusive and accessible way. Data can help—like any good party planner; you can skillfully arrange cohorts and communities to maximize connection and interaction.

For more individual experiences, think about ways to provide access to digital mentoring and coaching. Although coaching has generally been considered something reserved for executive leadership, the possibilities of technology can now connect experts and learners in new ways.

Embrace the joy and creative thinking process. If you know your audience and culture well, you and your audience can have fun. You don’t need to engineer every moment of a learning experience. Allow things to happen. Open up safe spaces for people to learn from others. You’ll need to do some design work to set boundaries, ground rules, and expectations. There’s a broad continuum of social learning experiences online. You must pick your spot between a formal classroom style and free-wheeling discussions.

Social Learning Experiences Can Transform Individuals

The nature of work is evolving rapidly. Transitions to hybrid and remote work models, and a sharper focus on skills, can appear daunting and vague. Nobody is going to get this right every time. But by embracing both technology and a keen understanding of the needs of learners and the business, the learning community has a unique opportunity to create the human connections that drive the business forward.

Bring some flair and creativity into your program. Your learners will thank you.

Chris Olsen
Chris Olson

Chris Olson leads strategy and innovation for the corporate market at Class. He brings 20+ years of HR/L&D experience. He specializes in helping organizations rethink how they deliver skills and develop talent. Before joining Class, Chris supported RedThread Research, a leading HR research firm.

Chris Olsen
Chris Olson

Chris Olson leads strategy and innovation for the corporate market at Class. He brings 20+ years of HR/L&D experience. He specializes in helping organizations rethink how they deliver skills and develop talent. Before joining Class, Chris supported RedThread Research, a leading HR research firm.

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