I recently started hearing the term “high-level learners” to describe those employees in an organization that regularly interact with company or regulatory content to do their jobs AND that content is regularly changing. Some examples of these positions are airline pilots, nurses, bankers, pharmaceutical reps, attorneys, and franchisees. In these jobs, it is not enough to learn everything once and retain it all. The material is constantly changing. It might be an internal company policy change or a new government regulation. The knowledge and implementation of those changes directly impact the ability of the high-level learner to do their job effectively. In some cases, not being aware of the latest changes can be deadly. In all cases, not being apprised of the latest changes reduces the ability of your people to do their jobs well.
Contrast high-level learners with those positions that, for the most part, rarely change. It doesn’t mean that they never change; it means that it’s not a steady flow of changes. I’m sure my local dry cleaner hasn’t updated their procedures in 20 years – if they even have them written down at all. Likewise, a Graphic Artist, highly skilled in the programs they use, learns new things from time to time. Still, no regulatory updates and few required company process changes will meaningfully change how the Graphic Artist does their job. I am unaware of a moniker for this second type of employee. One position is not better or worse; they are just different. For a high-level learner, a love for learning and accepting constant change are valuable skills – just like artistic creativity is a useful skill to be an exceptional Graphic Artist.
To me, this was a new distinction. Indeed, a quick Google search revealed no immediate results for “high-level learners” referring to employees. They all referred to students (i.e., those in school, not at work). Most fascinating was the realization that these two employee types should be treated differently related to company and process changes. For high-level learners, revised information should flow freely to them in a format that they can quickly and easily digest. If this process is confusing, complex, or disjointed, it makes their job difficult, frustrating, and inefficient. A method of verifying that the high-level learner received and understood the revised information is also ideal. For the other group, their jobs rarely change. Providing this class of employees with the same tools you provide to a high-level learner is unnecessary and detrimental. It makes their job more complex for no benefit.
The differences became more apparent while talking with a Senior Living company. My contact explained that requirements are constantly changing for their nurses and other high-level learning staff, so an elegant distribution system that’s easy to use is a big win. For the cleaners and security, however, they get an employee handbook during their initial on-the-job training. After that, they might work for 20 years with no updates or changes to their positions. Making them use the same distribution system as the high-level learners would make their job more difficult, not less.
Think about this as you contemplate how to educate your staff better. It’s an important distinction that will give you added clarity as you make decisions. Which of your people are high-level learners, and how should they be treated differently?