Want to Have Your Team Learn More? Make a Challenge (It Worked For Us)

March 20, 2017

My team wasn't too happy that I won the learning challenge, but it did increase our L&D usage.

Most organizations want their people to constantly be learning, to constantly be mastering new skills. And yet, getting employees to commit to learning can be difficult, with learning and development professionals citing it as the second-biggest challenge they face.

So how do you fix that?

One tactic is to mandate training and make it part of your performance reviews. Another is to hold a learning challenge, and make one person the target to beat.

Don’t think it’ll work?

Well, it worked for us on the LinkedIn Learning Solutions Marketing Team. In fact, one two-week learning “challenge” led to our team learning five-times more than average.

And all it took was yours truly to be the enemy.

Our challenge that lead to a 5x increase in learning

As part of my job as editor of The Learning Blog, I watch a lot of LinkedIn Learning courses. A lot. Feeling prideful from that, in January, I told my colleague – the incomparable Lindsey Shintani – that I have undoubtedly watched more LinkedIn Learning courses than anyone else on the history of the planet.

Well, shockingly enough, Shintani ran the report and I was wrong. Way wrong. I was nowhere close to the top of the list in the world, and was only the 20th most-engaged learner at LinkedIn itself.

My silver lining? I had watched more LinkedIn Learning courses than anyone else on our 20-person LinkedIn Learning Marketing Team. Satisfied, I declared myself the wisest person on the team.

Shintani, in a moment of brilliance, decided to turn my delusions into a proverbial glove, in which learning could slip its hand. Specifically, she turned my claim into a learning competition – over a two-week period, she challenged anyone on our 20-person team to watch more LinkedIn Learning courses than I, your humble blog editor.

With that, it was on. When notified via the challenge via email, I responded to the rest of the team with a two-word GIF, commenting on their odds of winning:

To keep the energy going throughout the two weeks, Shintani sent out emails informing everyone of their progress. One week in, for example, she announced that my colleague, Tim Chen, was leading the learning scoreboards, shocking the world.

Of course, I played my part as villain by replying with gloating emails of my own.

During the two-week span of the challenge, never was our team more committed to learning. Overall, our team viewed three times as many LinkedIn Learning courses as average, completed three times as many courses as average and – most impressively of all – watched five times more hours of classes than average.

That’s right, during that two-week span, our team was learning at an unprecedented rate. And all it took was me acting like a jerk 14 days.

Oh, and who won the competition? Myself of course, earning a steak dinner in the process. Shintani complied, and got me a steak dinner alright – the $1.48 version, from Taco Bell.

What this means to you

While this sounds like a one-off competition specific just to our marketing team, it is anything but. What’s outlined here is a competition any team or organization can steal to help build a learning culture.

Again, it’s great to have learning resources available to your team. But those resources are only effective if people use them; and having employees take the time to use them has proved challenging for learning and development organizations of all sizes. Creating a competition like the one outlined above is just one technique L&D use can increase widespread adoption.

You are probably saying – okay, this competition caused learning to spike for two weeks, but what does it mean for the long run?

It’s true our team’s usage of LinkedIn Learning dropped after the competition. But what we found was that this learning competition reintroduced LinkedIn Learning to several employees, and they quickly understood the value learning could have on their careers.

For example, Chen, who wound up finishing second in the competition, said the challenge caused him to prioritize learning in ways he wasn’t expecting.

“Quite honestly, initially I had to force myself to get into the habit of eLearning,” Chen said. “It wasn't a natural part of my daily routine. However, after two weeks of really putting in the effort (about 1.5 hours every two days), it had a pretty material impact on me. And it wasn't that hard as I split the time between my commute, during breakfast, during the work day (usually no more than 15 mins) and then some evenings.”

While Chen watched mostly tech courses related to his role, interestingly enough he found some of the courses on soft skills most helpful. “Specifically, courses like thinking and treating people with empathy, being a leader and resolving conflicts have noticeably changed how I conduct myself,” he said.

Fellow LinkedIn Marketer Julie Haynes, who finished third in the competition, had a similar experience. Haynes said she made a goal in January to learn more, although her busy work schedule preventing her from diving in. But the challenge acted as a forcing function.

“You realize again how much the courses can help you,” Haynes said. “Like the Writing in Plain English course, it immediately helped me in my job. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought to fit it in my day – mostly I downloaded the courses and listened on my commute, so it just made that time more productive.”

Bottom line, this one technique won’t create a culture of learning on its own. But, as we saw with our team, it’ll bring learning top-of-mind to many of your employees, including employees who didn’t have much exposure to your learning offerings before.

And that can lead to a net increase in lifetime learners at your company, which the data shows is a very good thing.

Looking for strategies on improving your L&D program? Download our Workplace Learning Report today for free, where we surveyed 500 L&D leaders to find what’s working (and what’s not).