By Wilhelm Crous
December 18, 2023

I recently had a discussion with Ajay Pangarkar, a Canadian-based thought leader in Learning and Development and the author of the soon-to-be-released book Learning Metrics. During our conversation, he pointed out an issue with online learning—engagement levels are low and dropping. This trend prompted me to delve into the topic, and I stumbled upon an article by Heidi Grant and Tal Goldhamer, two L&D executives at EY, titled “When Designing Employee Learning Programs, Less is More” (Harvard Business Review, 6 Dec 2023).

Grant and Goldhamer address what they term the “kitchen sink problem,” suggesting that it could be a contributing factor to the lack of employee learning engagement. Too often, employees are inundated with an extensive catalogue of learning programs, burdened with an overwhelming amount of content that makes it challenging for them to focus. They are bombarded with numerous courses, toolkits, websites, video clips, and more. Grant and Goldhamer argue that behavioural science supports the idea that less is more. They provide several reasons why inundating employees with too much content diminishes impact, resulting in little-to-no consumption at all.

  1. You are asking for too much change: Recommending a myriad of changes in response to a challenge often leads individuals to change nothing at all. Grant and Goldhamer emphasise the importance of focusing on a few impactful changes.
  2. If everything is important, nothing is: When a programme lists numerous things as “important,” employees may lose faith in their ability to adapt, leading to lower motivation and disengagement.
  3. You are presenting too many choices: Research from behavioural economists indicates that, when it comes to choices, less is better. In the L&D space, people prefer small, curated options rather than an overwhelming array.
  4. People lose trust: Offering the same massive catalogue for every problem erodes trust in the L&D process. Grant and Goldhamer recommend tailoring solutions to specific problems.
  5. People can lack the expertise to make good decisions: Non-experts may struggle to decide which options are useful for their specific problems. Grant and Goldhamer highlight the importance of simplifying choices.

To address these challenges, Grant and Goldhamer propose a simple rule: “Anything we include in our learning program is aimed at achieving the ONE impact we want to have.” This focused approach involves filtering all content and design decisions through key questions:

  1. What is the evidence that this content has an impact?
  2. Does this directly address the problem?
  3. Is this what our employees want? Is the delivery mode (workshops, video clips, team experiences, etc.) really what they want?

In a world where time is limited and budgets are tight, the pressure on L&D departments to provide efficient, well-curated, and thoughtfully framed learning programs is increasing. Therefore, the key takeaway is to focus on “less is more” to ensure meaningful impact.

I encourage you to reflect on the insights shared in this article and consider how a focused approach can elevate your learning programs. If you’re eager to delve deeper into the world of L&D and connect with like-minded professionals, I extend an invitation to explore the KR Learning and Development Community. Since its establishment in 2018, this community has been a cornerstone for L&D practitioners across Southern Africa.

By becoming a member, you not only signify your commitment to personal and professional growth but also gain exclusive access to a wealth of resources, insightful events, and a network of practitioners. Join us in shaping the future of Learning and Development—where quality matters more than quantity. If you’re not yet acquainted with the KR Learning and Development Community, join us and explore the valuable opportunities it holds for your continued success in the field. Find out more HERE.