How to use epiphanies to make learning count

By Toby Harris

4 minute read

The arc of learning does not bend towards improvement. At least not on its own. Learning platforms often make the mistake of thinking that proximity to lots of good quality content will guarantee improvement. It won’t because growth requires two things: desire and direction. And no matter how well equipped a platform is, a mass of unfiltered content doesn’t provide either. As Ericsson and Pool argued: learning is either “purposeful” or it’s “naive” - or even counterproductive.

With a strict syllabus, teachers can fill this gap. They motivate you (or at least try) and give you the direction you need in order to improve (reading lists or assignments). But, corporate learning is too broad to accommodate for this. While some great coaches and mentors supply direction and motivation, there’s too many people and too much content to cover everyone. Employees are also far less persuadable than children.

So, motivation has to be generated internally and direction has to come from somewhere else. And, crucially for corporate learning, this all has to align with company goals. The solution is precision. Learning needs to find out how to capitalise on the alchemic point where motivation, direction, and business strategy intersect and real, productive learning gets done. The way to do this, we believe, lies in epiphanies.

Learning epiphanies

Learning epiphanies are wonderful moments in life when something clicks. Where a piece of learning breaks the dam and charts a path from where you are to where you need to be.

These don’t always have to be life changing. It might be an article or a conversation that saved the day in a crisis (or brought on a new crisis). It might be a book avidly consumed over the course of a week. It might be less fun: a desperate search for learning out of vital necessity that saved you from a disaster.

These also don’t build skills on their own. But, without the powerful motivation and direction they provide, skill development would not happen. In fact, due to our priming for remembering novelty and survival, if you look back on your life you’ll probably fail to appreciate the years of focused practice that actually made you the high performer you are today. Instead you’ll remember a constellation of highs and lows, of energizing and novel moments.

We think these moments are the answer to learning platforms' chronic struggle to drive meaningful growth. Too many people wait too long without these epiphanies that impel learning and skill development. There is too much drudgery, too much compliance masquerading as learning. Too much idle content consumption that only makes us more distracted and dejected.

So, how can you game the system and make these moments more regular and productive for businesses?

Integrate the personal and the social

A large part of it is solving the optimisation or 'Goldilocks' problem: if you broadcast a message that is all about the company's best interests - watch it flop; but give access to LinkedIn Learning without a plan and watch them take-up of courses on fishing, pottery and playing guitar, as your people pursue their own interests.

Only when individual meaning coincides with social meaning does something new and exciting - for individual and firm - take hold. The social meaning is the change that your business needs to effect. The high priorities, the new strategic initiative, change programme, the capabilities that support that. And the individual meaning comes from the personal learning experiences that your people have themselves.

As this study found, most businesses don’t actively embody the change they want to enact. This stifles any real innovation as employees only do business-relevant personal learning to better fit the well trodden stereotypes of their roles. As Elena P. Antonacopoulou argues: “individual learning in some respects is as good as the organization context in which it takes place.”

organizational learning

So, for the kind of individual learning LXPs are built for to be effective, there needs to be a clear thread of common purpose all the way from business strategy at the top to individual learner at the bottom.

The function of people development is to match strategic capabilities and the aspirations, needs and wants of the mass of employees. Organisations have to mirror what they want their employees to grow into. Otherwise, their LXP becomes a barrier to change because employees only learn in order to emulate the tired template of their role. Or they might choose to learn things which aren’t relevant to your business, in which case it becomes an employee wellbeing offer.

So, find the intersection. Your LXP should match user interests with strategically interesting capabilities. But how, in practice, do you pinpoint this overlap and serve up the content to inspire these epiphanies?


By filling the space left by that ‘teacher’ role. Specifically by knowing your subject. I mean ‘subject’ in three senses: knowing the needs of the person you’re teaching, knowing the subtleties of the topic, and understanding the long term (in this circumstance: business) context.

Gathering this information requires a mix of experience, consultation and, most importantly, data. But the key is in finding a way to standardise this information in the same terms. To find where these different, often competing, requirements overlap, you need a common language.

The way we’ve found is to meticulously draw together a common taxonomy of skills that extends from top to bottom. And to transplant that onto a series of filters that every piece of relevant information must pass through.

To simplify that concept further: to create these moments, we filter all the way.

  • We filter your industry horizon for the specific skills that matter to your organisation and how they are defined (remember, generic “future skills” are baloney)
  • We filter your learning content by tagging it against those skills (we call it content intelligence)
  • We filter the learning experience for the end user so they only see what’s appealing and useful to them as well as strategically relevant. We remove the distractions. We rigorously check for quality and progressive values aligned to your culture and intended culture. We make it a safe space to learn through this filtering and privacy.
  • We filter the campaign messages that your people receive so that they receive a version of your capability programme as closely personalised to their needs as it can be (cf, McKinsey and the mass personalisation of choice)
  • We filter the reporting data that we produce to select only the metrics that matter to your goals as the basis for recommendations that save you real money and really improve your organisation.

The rest of the learning process

These epiphanies aren’t all that your learners need to grow. They need to be followed up with practical and instructional learning as part of an integrated or holistic approach that develops complex skills in the authentic environment where they are to be applied, as Neelen and Kirscher show. However, this is a first step without which change will not take place.

Like it or not, corporate learning is seen as low priority by learners until they can connect with why that learning is important to them specifically. Most platforms try, and fail, to sell learning to employees on corporate terms. By creating the perfect conditions for these moments to happen - your learners can justify learning to themselves, because it evidently helps.

To find out how a smart LXP can get the right learning to your people, talk to one of our friendly team members:

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