Smarter with Age: Do workplaces have better training methods than universities?

Without meaning to reveal my age, I can tell you that the last time I did exams was (ahem) 21 years ago!

I have just come up for air after, once again, finishing my legal exams so I can officially transfer my legal skills from the UK to Australia. I found these exams harder than the first time around. I’m not glamorizing my previous studies, although it was far more fun to study in my teens than in my (ah hem) 40s. However, I do remember that the process of studying was far more natural. This time round, the materials weren’t any harder or more laborious than 21 years ago and my ability to take in information had not diminished. Indeed, it has been proven that as we get older we actually get smarter (more on that later). No. It had to do with the methods that were used to teach the course.

As we know, and I have harped on about before, we learn by:

  1. Gathering information
  2. Reflecting of the information
  3. Creating knowledge in the form of ideas, plans and concepts.
  4. Taking action

For more information about this, check out educator and biologist, James Hull’s excellent article.

My recent learning experience reminded me how important this 4-step process is. The learning methods used in my recent studies included a few lectures, reading very large books and writing an assignment, which you did alone. What’s wrong with that (I hear professors and academics shout)? Well, in my experience, unless you are a marine scientist working in Antarctica, this lonely style of learning does not reflect real life. We are creative and social beings. This is reflected in how we work. At work, we don’t have the luxury and time to just learn information; we have to also apply it. We discuss ideas, work on projects, make mistakes and grow wiser and slightly greyer throughout the course of a new project or deadline. But, importantly, we do not work alone.

Learning on the job


Here’s a personal story. As a newly qualified solicitor, I had just completed my training contract and wanted to move from corporate law to employment law. I was lucky enough to get a job doing the latter. I had no real knowledge of employment law. I just knew I wanted to work with people. It was then that I met someone who changed my attitude about learning forever.

I was young and eager and wanted to impress. As such, I expected that I would need to buckle down and learn a new area of law before commencing my new role. However, I will never forget what I learned from one of the partners. With a cigarette hanging from her mouth, looking at me with an intensity that I became to recognize as part genius, she said: “don’t worry about doing any reading, just turn up in two weeks time and you’ll be fine”. As requested, I did no prior reading or research. Two weeks later I was introduced to the heady world of employment law through meetings, conferences, trips to the tribunal and high court and poor attempts at drafting. I learned more in those two weeks than I ever would have in a book. I have always been extremely grateful for this practical baptism of fire. Little did I realize that she was not just teaching me about employment law but also an important lesson about learning. Instead of digesting books and articles, I observed, reflected, asked questions, took notes, worked with others, made mistakes and practiced. I also did the same a few years later when learning Compliance. Likewise, the first time around studying, I worked closely with groups of people, discussed issues with friends, competed in advocacy competitions and attended tutorials. In short, I learned actively.

Active learning at any age


Let’s start with a common misconception: as we get older our brains get slower. WRONG! Our brain is plastic and we are constantly able to create new pathways and learn new things, whatever our age. A brilliant experiment was undertaken by German researcher, Janina Boyke to demonstrate this. She studied the ability of senior citizens to learn to juggle. She then carried out a series of scans, which revealed that the subjects’ grey matter had grown. If learning to juggle does not persuade you, take a look at some studies on people learning to play musical instruments. Swiss neuroscientist, Lutz Jäncke, studied the brains of people learning to play a musical instrument. In only five months there were changes to the regions of the brain that control hearing, memory, and hand movements, even in participants who were 65 or older. The fact is that we can learn at any age, we just need to learn in a manner that allows us to process and use the information in a meaningful way.

The new age of learning at work


Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing organizations that embrace active learning on topics such as anti-bribery and corruption, fraud, cyber crime and human rights. The most important part of training people about these issues is to help them to appreciate how it will impact them in practice (their ‘why’). Once this has been done, it’s possible to then distill, and instill in them, the behaviors that they will need to apply on a regular basis. I have set out below the way in which organizations I work with have adopted new and progressive methods of training people.

Other methods of learning include mentoring, social learning and communication strategies. The great thing is that training is just the start of the process. Organizations are now also embracing new methods to incentivize people to act compliantly. Fear based ‘this will happen if you…’ methods are no longer common place. Organizations are now embracing rewards, awards, status (compliance/ethical champions), certificates and even prizes to encourage compliance. I shall go through these methods in detail in a separate article.

The point is that workplace compliance is constantly evolving and improving. I am excited about what the future holds. I would love to hear how your organization has embraced new learning styles to reflect your culture, risk profile and employee base. I am interested in hearing both challenges and successes.

Sharing active learning


I am delighted to say that myself and the esteemed and brilliant Jason Myer, are in the process of writing a book on this topic, in which we are including all the methods successfully and unsuccessfully utilized by organizations. We are in the process of researching training methods. Sharing is caring so please do write to me at with your input. Unless you tell me otherwise, all case studies and information will be cited anonymously. Everyone who contributes will get a free copy of the book as well as a complimentary video on ethics. Now how’s that for active encouragement!

Active learning resources:

  • Why not schedule in for a complimentary session with me here, where I would be delighted to suggest some active learning ideas for any face-to-face or online training.
  • For heaps of free resources and numerous ways to engage your employees into active learning download a complimentary copy of my book, Compliance With Attitude, by clicking here.

Have an inspiring week ahead.


#Compliance that sticks. Why active learning at work is beating university education @Createtraining2





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