Intuitive learning: A powerful component for a well-rounded L&D strategy

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What is intuitive learning?

A strong L&D program aims to equip and educate employees how to perform all tasks and responsibilities in their position. While the goal is to ensure employees know how to handle EVERY situation they will encounter on the job, we know that’s not always possible. Sometimes scenarios present themselves where real-time decision-making is needed. In these instances, rather than relying on explicit or formal instructions, people leverage their gut feelings (intuition) to act. This is known as intuitive learning.

Now I know what you’re thinking, the last thing you want is for your employees to be caught in a scenario where they’re untrained, inexperienced and “just using their gut instincts.” (The legal department’s ears are ringing as you read this.) But it's important to know these subconscious actions of employees aren’t just “guesses” about what to do.

Company culture drives decision-making

It starts with the employee having an understanding of the organization’s core values. When onboarding deliberately emphasizes company culture, it makes it easy to guide employees through thoughtful decision-making that is in alignment with the organization. Ask yourself, do your employees understand that everything in the organization points back to your mission and values? Whether it’s serving patrons, providing solutions, helping the community, etc. What is the why behind what you do- and does every employee understand that “why”? When emphasis is placed on company culture, employees lean on the organization’s values to help guide decision-making.  

Intuitive learning requires the employee to have a deep understanding of the situation, the organization, the consequences that may follow and then practice cognitive problem-solving. For the employee to act in the moment, they have to be confident in their role and understand the business. While the employee may not be able to articulate the explicit principles of their actions, they inherently know their decision makes sense. Intuitive learning can be seen in roles where employees are forced to be quick thinkers.  

Intuitive learning on the job

An example of intuitive learning would be a front desk concierge in a hotel dealing with a difficult customer. The customer is disgruntled by the hotel check-out policy and there is no manager on duty. The employee has taken mediation and conflict resolution trainings, but nothing specific to navigating hotel check-out policy. The hotel concierge would have to mediate the situation and respond as best as possible, even though they have not been trained specifically in solving this type of problem.

Another example is an IT and systems engineer for a highly-regulated government agency has noticed a security breach for a small sub-section of employees and has to quickly contain and eliminate the threat. The engineer has been trained extensively in handling security breaches but has no experience in navigating a breach that’s only affecting a few locations (not the entire network). The engineer has to think quickly and use standing knowledge to contain the threat.  

Both employees outlined above underwent formal training to best understand their roles and the organizations they serve. The hospitality industry heavily values pleasing customers and delivering a premier experience. Whereas government agencies take security very seriously because of the highly regulated nature of the field. By applying the knowledge acquired in training and thinking through the bottom-line goal of their respective organizations, they were able to thoughtfully make decisions that provide better outcomes for the stakeholders they serve.  

With the growing demand for workers, we’ve seen more and more employees lean into “on-the-job training” and in turn, practicing intuitive learning. Studying intuitive learning is relatively new, but it’s been a practice since the beginning of time. Our ancestors learned to live off of the land simply based on intuition (and trial and error). While it’s not the most ideal approach, it makes sense that our subconscious allows us to intuitively make decisions.  

Does this mean intuitive learning poses a threat to traditional L&D?  

Not at all, it’s the opposite actually! As L&D leaders, it’s important to embrace intuitive learning as a complement to traditional learning methodology. It helps individuals connect the dots between what they have read, seen, practiced and inferred. Many people benefit from a combination of both intuitive and analytical thinking to enhance their overall learning experience and problem-solving abilities. Remember you can’t intuitively learn without having an understanding of the situation. Intuitive learning helps employees build confidence and feel empowered in their role.  

Ultimately, a well-rounded training approach that combines formal learning through a learning management system, with intuitive learning can lead to more adaptable, knowledgeable and skilled individuals in the workforce.  

Download our paper to learn more about the latest trends in Learning and Development.  

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