L&D Digest

The effects of cognitive load on learning and new opportunities for L&D

L&D Digest for March 2021

L&D Digest is your monthly rundown of the most important L&D news from European and global Learning and Development sources.

After the first period of the massive switch to remote work and digital learning, it’s come a time a year later to reevaluate the negative side-effects. Luckily, the remote mode still has its advantages and the obstacles that come along the way can be easily overcome. In L&D Digest for March 2021, we dig into the cognitive load problems related to the digital era we’ve embarked upon and show ways how to mitigate possible negative outcomes. Let’s not forget however that the challenges of last year also resulted in a lot of good for L&D – so let’s start by taking a closer look at LinkedIn’s newest L&D report.

Workplace Learning Report 2021

In March, LinkedIn released its Workplace Learning Report 2021 that brings fascinating insights about the effect last year had on L&D departments. Here are the key takeaways:

1. L&D’s become one of the critical functions in organizations.

In the critical moments last year, L&D departments proved indispensable by developing programs that helped employees navigate the change. 64% of workplace learning experts confirm that L&D has become a need-to-have component of organizational structures. L&D departments have also become more influential. While in March 2020, only 27% of L&D departments could say they had a seat at the C-suite table, and that executive leadership advocated learning in the organization, now 63% of learning departments say so.

2. Budgets go up

L&D spending is increasing after a sluggish year. 33% of companies boost their learning spending, 19% expect a slump. 79% raise expenditure on e-learning at the expense of traditional classroom training.

3. The focus of L&D programs 

Once again, L&D professionals confirm that upskilling and reskilling stay on top of their agendas. 59% (15% more than in June 2020) say that this is the top priority of their organizations’ learning programs. Other being: leadership and management (53%) and virtual onboarding (33%). The learning content will primarily focus on building resilience and digital fluency in employees. Diversity and Inclusion will be a focus of L&D programs of 64% of respondents

4. Talent? We already have it.

51% of L&D professionals say that internal mobility is more of a priority right now than it was before. Between April and August 2020, internal hires comprised as many as 19.6% of all hires. The trend to hire internally has the potential to stay as LinkedIn research shows that the average tenure of employees in companies with high internal mobility amounts to 5.4 years.

5. Gen Z’s development mindset and the impact of collaboration on learning

76% of Gen Z’s believe learning is the key to success in their career. (It’s worth knowing that 61% of millennials and only 56 and 55% of X’ers and boomers respectively agreed with that statement.) Throughout last year they consumed twice as much knowledge as the year before. 

Collaborative learning boosts engagement in the hybrid era. The research showed that earners who learn together spent 30x more hours learning than those who didn’t.

Plan engaging learning available to everyone in the company.

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What exactly is Zoom fatigue and how to combat it?

Zoom fatigue is no longer just a ‘thing’. It’s a fact proven by research done by scientists from Stanford. Video chats (no matter the provider) take a toll on humans. Why?

  1. Too much close-up eye contact is highly intense.

On Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time, which increases anxiety. 

How to help employees deal with that?

Advise them to reduce the size of the video chat window to minimize face size, and use e.g. an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between them and the grid.

  1. Seeing yourself constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

We see our faces constantly in video chats and it’s not natural. Imagine looking at a mirror so many times a day. Research shows it has many negative emotional outcomes.

How to help employees deal with that?

Advise them to hide self-view. 

  1. Video chats reduce our usual mobility.

We usually stay in a fixed position when on a video call and less mobility affects cognitive capacity.

How to help employees deal with that?

Tell them to design their working space in such a way that you can move and do other activities when on calls. Ask them to turn their camera off from time to time and move around.

  1. The cognitive load is higher.

When communicating remotely, we lack social cues that are so easily available to us in face-to-face live conversations so we have to use all our cognitive abilities to read the non-verbal cues of the person we talk to.

How to help employees deal with that?

Advise them to turn their camera off from time to time and switch to audio-only. 

How to develop leaders that your organization needs? Ask them

That’s the approach S’ne Magagula, CHRO at Tiger Brands took when creating leadership development strategy in the organization. An article published in CHRO South Africa describes how, based on redefined organizational culture, the company renewed its leadership values. The project took off with a simple question to the company’s leadership team: “What kind of leader do we need to lead the transformation of Tiger into an African FMCG giant that owned its stripes over the next 100 years?” This led to setting the areas of key competencies that Tiger Brands leaders should have: leading people, leading performance, leading innovation, leading partnerships and leading self.

Then, L&D programs were created for leaders across the organizational ladder. Ms. Magagula emphasized how important is the practical character of such programs. That’s why they did not limit their leadership development plan to traditional training but focused more on practical experience. Therefore, one of the practices the company implemented is to give people different roles in various capacities every couple of years.

Another interesting approach Tiger Brands took is internal talent mobility. The number of external hires recently decreased from 80 to 20%. As Ms. Magagula points out: “It’s given us the advantage of really growing our own timber and nurturing our own talent within Tiger. Even if an individual is not 100 percent ready for a role, we take a chance on them instead of bringing someone from the outside and that alone has created a lot of really good energy within the organisation.”

How employees can improve cognitive performance 

Raconteur published The Times issue on digital learning. Inside, you will find a piece by Cath Everett on a neuroscientific point of view on how remote learning affects knowledge acquisition. Prolonged periods of isolation and lack of stimulation that the office environment offers, may hinder our ability to learn effectively. One specialist also points out that our learning may suffer because of the cognitive load we experience when working remotely. As the Stanford research showed, we lack e.g. social cues that make it easier for us to process information. However. Natalia Ramsden, director of cognitive optimisation consultancy SOFOS Associates has some advice to improve the cognitive performance of employees.

  1. Stay hydrated

Sounds unoriginal but science backs it – 8-10 cups of water a day can boost brain performance by approx. 30% 

  1. Have a good night’s sleep
  1. Try something new or mentally challenging

 It’s challenging to neural connections.

  1. Eat foods that nourish your brain

Oily fish and berries for instance.

Other specialists recommend meditation, US Navy Seals breathing techniques and writing in a stream of consciousness. 

What can L&D do? A four-week trial at AstraZeneca showed that microlearning courses increased the time participants spent on courses by 78%.

Skills and values can determine company strategy

The French portal RHinfo released an analysis of HR as the primary competitive advantage of businesses. The publication suggests that tapping into people’s potential may be the factor to achieve a competitive edge. There are two resources that HR should consider when defining and including their people advantage in the company strategy. These are competencies and organizational culture.

Competencies should be identified and then developed. RHinfo shows the example of how Leroy Merlin France built an effective Supply Chain by gathering different executives in one Management Team: delivery management, the transport of products, warehouse storing, and the layout of the products in the store. Because the fields started working together, the company developed its primary skill to mobilize all the chain links to satisfy the end client. Leroy Merlin now cites that very skill as one of its main assets to build a model that works across channels, ensuring quality service to the client. The specific abilities gathered in one place became a development platform for the entire organization.

Discover the skills that lie within your organization and watch the business grow.

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The challenge here is to develop the competencies, either individual or shared. One way to approach this is to identify how the company should develop and nurture employee skills based on that direction. But another interesting one is to change the mindset and build a strategy based on the company’s competencies. It is no longer a question of developing the skills necessary to implement the plan but identifying the skills’ strategic ways of development.

The second ingredient is culture. Something that is proven to direct the company’s actions and that many executives consider the best armor against the market’s adversities. Similarly to competencies, cultural values, when identified, become a platform that differentiates on the market and brings competitive advantage for the business.

57% of Spanish SME employees upskilled themselves throughout last year

RR.HH Digital analyzed the research Capterra conducted this January on respondents from Spain, the USA, Brasil, the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Canada. 57% of employees in Spain have had to acquire new job skills. The adaptation of businesses to new ways of operating has meant that employees have had to learn new tools. Mostly employees in Brazil had to acquire new skills (71%), while the USA took third place with 51% of employees who upskilled recently. The main skills that employees have developed are digital skills, IT security, health and wellness, and data analytics and sales. In both Spain and the other countries surveyed, employees do not feel significantly overwhelmed by the amount of software they use. This indicates control and proficiency in the use of the digital tools and platforms currently in use.


How do you incorporate active learning in your e-learning courses? Do you use skill data frequently to inform your decisions? Do you have feedback for L&D Digest for March 2021 or suggestions for the next L&D Digest? Drop us an email!

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