How to Redesign Learning for the Modern World of Work

To properly equip talent for today’s business challenges, leaders are going to have to redesign learning for their organizations.
redesign learning

Have you ever wondered why so few of the amazing people you hire actually become amazing?
When asked how many of their people are peak performers, most leaders say 10 to 15 percent. What would change if 50 to 80 percent of new talent were able to rise to their full potential? What if people brought their brains to work and leveraged their greatest gifts? Wouldn’t it be great to drive greater engagement, retention and innovation — and also build lasting relationships among team members?

According to research from Mike Song, founder of, 43 percent of meeting time is wasted. If the average professional attends three hours of meetings per day and works 245 days per year, that’s about 316 wasted hours per person per year. Now think about the cost to every organization whose people say one of their least favorite things is going to meetings or having to take a day off for training.

I have a theory about why so many people dislike meetings and training sessions. Do you ever walk by a meeting room and glance in at the participants? If you’re a movie buff like I am, you immediately think of the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” People are in a state of what I call “ocular lock” — they are staring straight ahead at the well-meaning leader in the front of the room who is talking and running through slides. What are the participants thinking about? Their to-do list, a project they should be working on or what plans they have the upcoming weekend are all likely possibilities.

An organization is only as strong as its talent. Apathy, mental fatigue and a lack of active learning and practice keep skills from truly being applied. This results in innovative spirits being repeatedly crushed until the most promising talent runs the risk of becoming one of the above listed statistics. And their brilliance resides close to the surface, waiting to emerge.

Often the secret to powerful instruction is engagement — involving learners in activities where they interact with new content, wrestle with concepts and teach those concepts to others. Learner-centered classrooms are alive with energetic activity as learners think out loud, conceive their own models for understanding and practice applying those models. The learners talk more while the teacher talks and presents less, because the teacher knows the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.

Of 11 factors that positively influence employee engagement, the quality of training and learning opportunities ranks No. 1, according to the Association for Talent Development. Even so, people aren’t satisfied with the quality of the learning experiences they receive. So how can a leader, trainer or facilitator create more opportunities for people to unleash their brilliance?

redesign learning

The Brilliance Learning System

Learners need a systematic, engaging learning plan whereby they do the rigorous work of gaining needed skills and information so that they can be successful at work. This process must create a strong neural connection to the new information that results in changed beliefs, behaviors and skills.

For the past 30 years, I have been honing the Brilliance Learning System — a strategy that increases innovation, connectivity and retention of information and drives learning throughout organizations. It is a human-centered design of interactions that influence and inspire learners.

The Brilliance Learning System can be used to teach in any learning situation. It can be used to coach one person, to facilitate a virtual sales meeting with a global team, to train a roomful of people or to give a keynote address to thousands. Its principles apply to a 30-minute meeting and a four-day training session. This system can help anyone develop a clear, high-impact training design; analyze learner and teacher needs; ensure compliance with key outcomes; and send people out into the world feeling empowered to change their lives.

In short, the Brilliance Learning System is the intersection of people, content and design. Let’s take a closer look at each component.


Any time a leader or trainer brings people together to learn or develop, there is an opportunity to connect, inspire and engage. It starts with understanding people in the learning-teaching relationship.

People are the foundation of learning relationships. Both the teacher and the person being taught have unique and diverse learning preferences that must be assessed to capture an optimal learning experience.

More than 20 years of research on learning preferences through a rigorous assessment from the producers of the “Building Excellence” survey at discovered that only about five percent of the population show up as strong auditory processors, while more than 50 percent are strong tactual, kinesthetic or verbal learners.

Teachers and learners must carve out time together for being active, doing and talking — not just sitting and watching slides go by. People must get involved in sketching out ideas, answering questions and interacting with each other. This type of learning maximizes participants’ ability to learn and retain information.

As people connect with each other and learn together, trust is increased and relationships are built — and this synergy accelerates development.

Typically, people spend around 70 percent of their time on what they’re going to teach and only 30 percent of their time on how they’re going to teach it. But the teacher or leader needs to spend 70 percent of their time designing how they’re going to inspire participants in meetings or trainings to ensure the highest level of involvement, active learning and retention.

Questions for leaders to answer about people are:

Who are the people who need to be trained? What are their needs? Experience? Receptiveness to learning? Objectives for coming to the class?

Who are the people doing the training? Do they know how to teach? What do they believe about teaching and learning?


The next critical step for creating a learning organization — one that leverages every learning opportunity and ensures people are taught how to be successful, not just told what to do — is to focus on the content of the meeting or training session.

The leader or facilitator must first consider the doing objectives. It’s not just about what people need to know — it’s about what people need to do differently after this time together. Once the learners have a vision of what they need to do differently, then come the learning objectives — what they need to learn, what information needs to be available and what resources will help them learn what they need to do.

The content should be organized in the way the brain learns best. To do this, a leader should come up with a memorable strategy for optimal learning, such as three steps or an acronym

Questions to answer about content include:

What organizational problem needs to be solved through training?

What do people need to be able to do after they leave?

To do that, what do they need to know or learn?


Design begins the implementation of the 70-30 principle. The leader needs to spend 70 percent of their time focusing on how to best use the training or meeting time. The goal is for people to walk out the door already having practiced doing what the leader needs them to do after this learning time together.

The ENGAGE Model

Designing a high-impact meeting or training session that will drive engagement and bring out people’s brilliance involves using the six-step ENGAGE model:

E: Energize Learners.

N: Navigate Content.

G: Generate Meaning.

A: Apply Learning to Real World.

G: Gauge and Celebrate.

E: Extend Learning to Action

This model replaces the mundane sit-and-get training style with relevant, activity-based learning. The ENGAGE model also helps leaders go from telling to teaching. Let’s investigate each of the six steps.

Energize Learners

Energizing learners is the first step to engaging people in the learning experience. It is about tapping into the part of their brain that has information stored on what they are about to learn as well as generating excitement for this new information. Energizing learners needs to happen both before the learners show up and immediately upon their arrival.

Before the learners show up: In K-12 education, the best teachers often give kids a question, a quiz or some reading to get them fired up for the next day. Every Friday, for instance, my son’s first grade teacher would share an exciting concept such as, “On Monday we’re going to start a unit on chemistry. So this weekend I’d like you to ask people what is chemistry?” What’s the difference between those children and the other classes who didn’t have that pre-work? Mrs. Shuffleton’s class was fired up and couldn’t wait to share what they learned. On Monday morning they wanted to get right into learning the new content.

redesign learning

This reticular activation keeps leaders from having to spend time getting participants pumped up — they’re ready to dive right into the content as soon as they walk in the door. For example, a facilitator might send participants a pre-assessment survey or questionnaire about the skills they will be learning, along with a list of expected outcomes.

Immediately upon arrival: When a leader fires people up ahead of time, people show up at an event ready to participate — so the leader has to engage those learners the moment they arrive. How? By asking a powerful question and having them line up at a flip chart and write their answers or create teams and share their thoughts.

Navigate Content

This part of the ENGAGE model is where the leader or trainer actually teaches what learners should know so that they can do what they need to do. Bear in mind that this is where people leaders often have a tendency to tell versus teach.

As I work with leaders on using ENGAGE, I often hear them say, “How are people going to learn if I don’t tell them all the information?” Remember that only 5.4 percent of the population are strong auditory processors. The instructor must create assets, participant materials and other manipulative elements so that the learners have the information and can teach each other. This active participation leverages verbal and kinesthetic learning preferences and accelerates learners’ abilities to absorb and use new information. Remember: The ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning. The more that people participate in the learning process, the more they will learn.

Trainers need to make it easy for learners to know what a good job looks like. They might say, “Today we’re going to learn six steps (or three strategies) for creating a powerful webinar.” The leader creates a target with manageable steps so that learners feel they’re making progress and are re-energized by each task completion.

Navigating content is where leaders teach and review all the information they want participants to learn. At the same time, they are building a community of practitioners. As the group works together to solve problems using the new content, the trainer is not only teaching but also connecting team members to each other.

Generate Meaning 

Participants have now learned the important content they need to know to perform at their highest level. The next step in the ENGAGE model moves the learning to action. This is where learners generate the meaning and relevancy of this learning for their life to ensure long-term retention. If these were passive learners, the leader would tell them the meaning for their lives. But they are active learners so they tell the leader the meaning, which increases the likelihood of a behavioral change.

In this step, the teacher reminds the learners of their objectives and asks them, “How might what you just learned enable you to be more successful?” or “What part of what you just learned is most beneficial to your goals?” Participants thinking about the importance or meaning of the new learning in their lives increases the likelihood of behavioral change. Their interpretation of the value of the content will generate buy-in and set them up to apply their learning in a real world example.

Apply Learning to Real World

The next step of the ENGAGE model brings learners as close as possible to doing the exact behavior the leader wants them to do back on the job. This stage is critical to ensure behavioral change. Here is where learners become familiar with new actions they need to take to use their new knowledge when they go back to work.

The facilitator creates scenarios or activities where people in groups of two or three model the new behaviors or skills, get immediate feedback and then try again. Practice builds new neural connections to the new behaviors needed for job-specific success. This step is missing from most training situations. Very often people are taught content and then simply told, “Now go back to work and use it.”

For the facilitator, the work is in creating activities the participants need to do in order to practice exactly what will set them up for success. This step helps learners feel confident and also helps the instructor know if their teaching was clear, concise and actionable.

If people have difficulty applying what they have learned, the leader unearths the cause of the limitation and reteaches the segment. Or, if one or two teams are successful in the new behavior, they can do a demonstration for the class.

Gauge and Celebrate 

When people learn something new and feel confident about their new knowledge and skills, they can’t wait to share how smart they are. This step of the ENGAGE model is where confident professionals assess and celebrate their new talents. Leaders may give quizzes or play games to help people see how much they’ve learned. Not only does this make people feel good and build relationships with classmates, it also celebrates learners’ readiness to tackle the next needed change.

Extend Learning to Action

The final step to ensure talent continues to become more and more skilled is to extend the learning to action and keep it top of mind. In the first five steps, the leader has been in charge of creating a learning environment that enables people to acquire and share new knowledge and skills. Now is the time to help the learners build a community of practice. Sharing success stories, lunch-and-learns and other supportive activities will keep the learning alive and celebrate its impact on organizational and team success.

Can this model be used in a virtual situation? Absolutely. It is the same premise as a face-to-face meeting. It starts with the doing objectives and then the leader leverages the technology to follow the ENGAGE model. After the interactive online session, people feel connected at a deeper level. They learned the material, had a chance to be vulnerable and build relationships with people on their team and enjoyed themselves.

People like to feel smart. They love to learn, speak knowledgeably about something new and wrestle with an idea until it becomes theirs. Brilliant feelings transfer to taking on greater learning risks, exploration and innovative thinking. Learning drives transformations that enable people to step into their power. The best learning organizations are places where people want to do their best every day.

Learning to design meetings and workshops with the ENGAGE model might feel different for people initially. Being a great teacher is like being a great athlete: it is a constant challenge, but someone who is willing to learn and grow will keep getting better. Hard work and practice make all the difference in being the kind of leader and teacher who transforms lives.

This story originally appeared in the July 2017 edition of Talent Economy in print. Click here to view the issue’s digital edition.