Donald was faced with an interesting dilemma. His firm was growing and he was hiring new employees at a fairly rapid rate. As he looked back over the last few months, he noticed that his new hires were struggling to answer basic financial questions from clients. In talking with the senior team, Donald realized that their on-boarding process needed to include a formal way to build financial acumen in new hires.
At the same time, the company didn't want to lose the personal touch of bringing new people into the firm, which was the bedrock of their culture and history.
Donald decided to add the following elements and criteria to their ongoing process:
- locate a financial acumen program that could be taken in small, manageable sections over a few months during the on-boarding process
- engage the firm’s founder, who still wanted to contribute to the company as a financial acumen mentor to the new hires.
Donald and his team decided to use the Learning Burst approach because it gave employees the flexibility of small “chunks” of training that could be taken during the week and then reviewed by the founder in his mentoring sessions. The program design called for 21 Learning Bursts on financial acumen, with two or three bursts assigned to the new hires weekly.
The new hires completed the Learning Bursts on their own during the week and then met with their mentor on Friday afternoons. There were usually 3 to 5 new hires in the program at any given time, and the mentor spent one to two hours every Friday with new hires to discuss what they had learned and how the information applied to the company, as well as answer any lingering questions.
What Is a Learning Burst?
A Learning Burst is a delivery method that combines an eight- to 10-minute audio cast (in a talk show format) and a PDF workbook with supporting material. These are short segments of learning that can be taken in 20 minutes or less per burst. The workbook material contains further elaboration of the audio topic, a short quiz, and prompting exercise giving learners an opportunity to think about how they would apply what they've learned in the workplace. Materials for each Learning Burst are three to five pages in length.
In Donald's implementation, the organization also used a PC-based business simulation as a capstone event. This allowed new hires to practice running a company and applying their financial acumen in an interactive, memorable, and engaging gaming situation.
Flow and Design Considerations
Each learner listens to the audio, which in this case is a talk show style dialogue between a host and a business and economics professor who served as the subject matter expert. This is “over the shoulder learning,” in which a learner listens to the conversation between these two people and begins to understand the concepts of financial acumen.
The audio segments use a format that
- introduces the topic
- uses conversation and storytelling to explain the topic
- concludes by summarizing the key learning points.
Next, a learner goes to the corresponding workbook chapter and reads the three to five pages of additional material with examples, charts, and graphs that build on the audio segment. Interspersed interaction points have the learner stop reading and complete an exercise in the workbook. At the end of the workbook section, a short quiz allows learners to test their understanding of the audio and the workbook components.
To help learners along, answers to the quiz are provided in the appendix. Each workbook segment ends with an action planning section that has learners create their own personal plan of actions, outlining how they would use what they have learned.
Enter the Face-to-Face Interaction
Each week, the firm's founder completed the same Learning Bursts, so that he was up to speed on what was taught to learners. He then engaged with new hires, asking them thought-provoking questions about the most recent lessons. As a group, they discussed what they learned and reviewed the quiz and their personal action plans. The founder ensured the plans are solid for these new hires to be successful.
After two months of taking Learning Bursts, they had an extended Friday afternoon session in which they played the business simulation game. Here they became “CEOs” of the company and competed against two computer-controlled “companies.” They made decisions based the skills they had learned, including their financial analysis, strategy, and objectives. At the end of each round, the founder leveraged the opportunity to coach them on the decisions they were making, further emphasizing the concepts and their real-world applications.
Learning Bursts enabled new hires at Donald’s organization to improve their skills and become better prepared for their roles in the company. This blended approach to mentoring not only provided convenience for the students—they could learn at their pace from anywhere at any time, it also saved the company significant training and related travel costs. There was another important benefit as well: face-to-face mentoring with the organization’s founder, which gave a personal touch and ensured that the lessons and the takeaway information were right for the students, their team and the company.