If You Don’t Use the Oxford Comma, Your Words Have No Meaning

Disclaimer!

We at Unboxed personally believe – nay, we KNOW – that the Oxford comma is imperative to good writing. However, many of our clients have style guides that don’t use it. Since we love all our clients, we always follow their style guides before our own.

The debate over whether the Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, should be included in lists of three (“I ran, showered, and went to the restaurant”) has been raging for decades and shows no signs of slowing down. This blog post makes the case that it should ALWAYS be used. In short, writers, you need to be using the Oxford comma!

Why is the Oxford comma so important?

People often ask grammar geeks why they enjoy grammar. The most common response? Because there is always a right answer. Unlike the majority of our day-to-day lives, where nuance thrives and nothing is black and white, grammar is a welcome respite from this ambivalence. Its strict nature is precisely what allows us to communicate and connect with one another. Without that structure, everyone would always be confused.

With this in mind, rules like the Oxford comma need to be enforced so readers will never be left to wonder about the exact meaning of a sentence. If I write that “I’m going to the beach with Jenny, Rob and Emily,” you probably know what I mean. But if I say, as in the famous (and slightly obnoxious) example, “We invited two strippers, JFK and Stalin,” you cannot LOGICALLY know whether I’m referring to four people or two people.

The Oxford comma has to exist when you don’t need it, so it will always exist when you do need it.

Addressing common (lazy) anti-Oxford justifications

If you have a logical brain, my introduction was probably all you need to read. You can leave this page now. If you’re still on the fence, you may be thinking of one of the following common anti-Oxford arguments:

“But AP Style says…”

It’s true, AP Style does not use the Oxford Comma. Why not, you ask? Well…

“It saves space”

…It’s a space issue. The amount of space that one measly comma took up on a physical newspaper actually used to matter. Did it matter more than making sure the words themselves had meaning? Not in my opinion. But regardless, guess what doesn’t exist anymore? Newsprint. Words are now read in books (which don’t have space restrictions) or on electronic devices, which really don’t have space restrictions. Case closed.

Quick tangent: Newspapers also hated the antiquated “two spaces after a period” rule, again because it saved them space. Unwittingly, they made paragraphs look sleeker and more modern by using only one space. While their reasoning for these two stances was the same, the results were different, because one negatively affected the meaning of sentences, while the other was a positive stylistic upgrade.

“Context”

Someone told me, “Oh, come on. People are smart enough to understand what you mean based on contextual clues.” This is untrue. Context may make a sentence clear most of the time, but:

  • Even though most people can be fairly certain of my meaning, you can’t be 100% sure. You just can’t. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just be sure?
  • The world is a big place with thousands of cultures, and English (for right or wrong) has become the closest thing we’ve ever had to a universal language. Your context in Cleveland is irrelevant to someone in Senegal. Good thing the Oxford comma is there to be a unifying force in our modern world.
  • Context is constantly shifting over time – what’s clear to a millennial is not always clear to a Baby Boomer. And that’s okay, because we can just use the Oxford comma.
“It looks too complicated”

I mean, no it doesn’t. It looks almost exactly the same, with one key difference: we know what it means. What could be more beautiful than clarity?

 

A Closing Challenge

A quick thought experiment: Find me one sentence that is objectively better without an Oxford comma. What does “better” mean? Before anything else, a sentence must be understood by its reader. If it doesn’t achieve that, all the prose chops in the world won’t matter. With that in mind, please find me a sentence missing an Oxford comma that makes more sense than its correct counterpart.

It’s okay, I’ll wait…forever.

About the Author:
Jared Booth is a Content Strategy Manager who partners with clients to strategize and build cutting-edge learning programs. He’d love to chat with you, especially if you disagree with his point of view in this blog post.

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Training Delivery Methods: Choosing the Right Modality for Your Content

Content is a huge focus in the training world, though it’s really only one part of the learning equation. The magic happens, though, when strong content is shared through the most effective training delivery methods, enabling the message to be absorbed, retained, and implemented by learners.

Whether your aim is to impart knowledge, sharpen skills, or adjust behaviors, there are a lot of different methods of training delivery to choose from. But there’s no silver bullet. In fact, data continues to prove a blended approach, incorporating more than one modality to deliver your content, increases retention by up to 60%.

So, how do you determine the most effective training delivery methods for your needs? Start by considering the options available and how they align with your goals, audience, and content.

Below is a list of our recommendations.

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    Training Delivery Methods for Building Knowledge

    When we speak about training for knowledge, we’re referring to helping learners understand the what and the why of a concept. To tackle these topics, the training delivery methods we recommend hinge greatly on well-organized information and storytelling. These include:

    •  Podcasts
    Borrowing from the popular media format, Podcasts are an excellent way to educate team members, allowing them to absorb information at their own pace in a familiar style.

    •  Infographics
    Visual tools help to reinforce concepts, and the Infographic remains a popular delivery method as it clearly outlines vital data and information in a memorable and engaging way.

    •   Animations
    Another popular visual option, Animations are a great way to educate learners. By imparting critical information in an entertaining way, you can increase both retention and engagement.

    •   Group Discussions
    Part team-building, part training, Guided Group Discussions are a great way to build relationships among team members while educating them on key concepts.

    •   Interactive Training Tools (Pitch)
    These interactive modules from Unboxed’s Training Technology team organize key concepts in an interactive, data-based tool, making it effective for knowledge acquisition and knowledge sustainment (refresher training).

    Training Delivery Methods for Improving Knowledge & Skills

    Building on those, there are several modalities that bridge both knowledge and skills, helping learners to understand the how behind the what and the why. This category of modalities includes:

    •   Instructor-Led Trainings (in-person or virtual)
    Instructor Led Training (ILT) or Virtual Instructor Led Training (vILT) allows you to build upon learned knowledge by giving learners a chance to put knowledge and skills into practice through classroom activities.The bonus of vILT is it allows you to reach learners near and far with training that’s as equally engaging, interactive, and effective as in-person training — without the pricey travel costs.

    •   Interactive Learning Guides
    Self-paced and fully interactive, our Interactive Learning Guides (ILG) keep learners engaged at every step. With a modern, web-like interface, video, animation, gamification, and interactive exercises, ILGs create an engaging experience for learners, making them effective for both knowledge and skills training.

    •   Videos
    Taking cues from what many learners engage in on their own time, training videos are an incredibly popular choice to help learners improve their skills in addition to reinforcing their knowledge.

     

    Training Delivery Methods for Sharpening Skills & Behaviors

    Moving further into training for skills, the delivery methods below allow you to focus more deeply on the tactical responsibilities of your team. These modalities also lend themselves to training for behaviors, educating learners on the action taken, and include:

    •   Group Participation, Hands-On Activities, Role Plays, On-the-Floor Training, Mentor Shadowing
    Each of these training delivery methods differs in their approach but share the same goal: to allow team members to improve their skills in settings and situations where they actually use them.

     

    Training Delivery Methods for Shaping Behaviors

    Behavior-specific training goes one step further, allowing you to work with team members to help them make changes in their interactions, approaches, and performance with direct feedback. There are two modalities that are ideal for this type of training, these are:

    •   Huddles
    Combining the benefits of group participation, hands-on activities, and role play along with direct coaching, Huddles are an excellent training method to help shape and improve behaviors.

    •   Video Simulations
    Offering the same advantages of a Huddle, Video Simulations allow geographically dispersed teams the opportunity to observe team member behavior and coach them to be more effective in their approach.

     

    Need Help?

    We recognize there are a lot of options out there, but choosing a training method doesn’t need to be a chore. We can help you analyze and understand both your goals and content to select the best option for your needs. Reach out to schedule some time with our Training Content Strategists to learn more.

    Want to know more about choosing a training method? Download our free guide!

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    LMS vs. LXP: How and Why They’re Different

    Learning and Development (L&D) is an industry that loves acronyms – for learning platforms alone we’ve got LMS, LXP, IOL, SEP….the list, like the Energizer Bunny, goes on and on. For a lot of folks, the distinction between them is a bit hazy, but it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Experience Platform (LXP or LEP), the difference is simple – it boils down to who controls the content and the learning journey.

    Let’s break down the key differences and why they matter.

     

    The Basics: Defining Key Terms

    Learning Management System (LMS) is a common industry term. It’s what most people think of when they think of a training platform. The traditional approach, an LMS is the software where you house, deliver, and track your training content.

    Learning Experience Platform (LXP or LEP) is a newer term by comparison. It’s a platform where content is both curated and aggregated for personalized learner experience.

    Everything you need, nothing you don't

    The Spoke® learning platform provides a seamless experience between formal and informal learning. The results are 5.5x increase in training completion rates and 4x more user engagement.

    Who Controls the Content

    In an LMS, the LMS administrator controls the content.  That could be someone in HR, someone on the leadership team, or a trainer. This individual uploads courses into the LMS and makes them available to learners.

    This person is typically also in charge of approving any user-generated posts that would appear within the system. If a learner asks a question, the admin must approve it before it appears for the general population. Think of this admin as the dam. They control the volume and flow of the content and hold back anything that isn’t essential. In an LMS, the admin has complete power over the content.

    Meanwhile, in an LXP, everyone helps curate the content. That means someone in HR may post something, but so could your field sales rep or front-desk team member. That’s because LXPs are built to be content aggregators; basically, the platform is a catchall for any content your team decides is valuable.

    With LXPs, the content is less curated than an LMS. It’s more like an open frontier.

    Since anyone in the system can add content, LXPs typically contain internal training, external resources, and loads of user-generated content. In that way, LXPs house much more diverse content and can foster more interaction between learners. For example, one learner may leave a comment on a training they found helpful or post a link to a URL that taught them something new. When another learner logs in, they see the comment or URL and are more willing to engage with it – that’s because it came from their peer in the same role, so it’s validated by someone else who does the same job and has the same needs.

    Considering that roughly 70-90% of learning happens informally (peer-to-peer or on-the-job), it’s no real surprise that the social engagement that comes so naturally in an LXP is helping this type of platform gain traction.

     

    Who Controls the Journey

    As you can probably imagine, the content and the journey are closely related. In an LMS, just like the content, the learning journey is created by someone else – everything the learner experiences is carefully curated by someone else (the admin).

    That means that, in an LMS, learners follow what is essentially a map of exactly what they’re expected to take and when. For example, in Q1 they have to take security training and in Q2 harassment training. Their path is laid out before them and they just need to complete each gated milestone to get to the finish line. The upside here is that learners know exactly what their next steps are and when they need to complete them. In terms of compliance, it’s easy to see if a learner has or has not completed the required training – that way if anyone isn’t compliant, it’s easy for you to see and address.

    By contrast, the LXP lacks that clear delineation and focuses instead on the learning process itself – that’s because, in an LXP, discovering yourself, your skills, and your passions is what the journey is all about. LXPs allow for greater freedom for the learner to pursue their areas of interest. In this way, LXPs are much more focused on personalization (a growing trend in the industry).

    For example, LXPs enable learners to navigate through all of the content that’s available and pick what they want to learn about. This self-directed learning is what personalization is all about! The benefit of this personalization is that learners will be more engaged with the content because it’s things they actually WANT to learn, not just things they have to.

    Basically, LMSs are better suited for mandatory training, like compliance, because learners must complete specific, predetermined steps to be successful. In an LXP, the learner steers the ship and instead focuses on seeking out their own personal interests and professional development. That’s why LXPs are considered more experience-driven, whereas LMSs are more about compliance and checking those mandatory boxes.

    In a nutshell, the LMS puts the power in the hands of the administrator while the LXP gives it to the learner.

    So why’s it matter? Truth is, in today’s market, learners are used to having a wealth of information at their fingertips. In their personal lives, they seek out podcasts that align with their interests, influencers who share their hobbies, and news that gets to the heart of what they care about. While compliance training will never go away, the rise of personalized content is impossible to ignore.

     

    So how do you decide what’s right for you?

    Since learning platforms aren’t one-size-fits-all, it’s important for your individual organization to let your needs steer the type of learning platform you pursue. In general, most companies have to have mandatory trainings (i.e. compliance), but also want learners to have self-directed access to materials that align with their learners’ professional curiosity and development – if this sounds like you, you’ll want to consider having both platforms available to your learners.

    If you’re still stuck trying to figure out what you need, contact us or attend one of our weekly webinars to see Spoke LMS in action.

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    Spoke LMS: The 9-Time Winner

    We’re proud to announce The Craig Weiss Group has named Unboxed’s Spoke LMS as the #1 LMS for Consumer Goods for 2019, #5 in their Top Nine LMSs for the United States. And the #11 LMS in 2019. The Craig Weiss Group continuously monitors the training marketplace for the best providers and services, and we are pleased to receive such an honor.

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    How to Avoid Immersive Learning Pitfalls

    Immersive training (augmented and virtual reality) is changing fast. It wasn’t long ago that most people thought of these mediums as sparsely- and strictly-used by gamers and tech geeks. Times have changed. Video games, marketing, training, movies, TV shows… you name it and you can probably access some form of it in AR/VR.

    It may be the flashy new thing, but we’re starting to see real benefits from immersive learning. According to a recent study that compared mobile VR learning to reading a text document, when tested on learning objectives, learners who used VR scored an average of 94.5, while those who learned using the text document scored an 87.

    Still, as with all fairly new technologies, AR/VR are not without pitfalls. We’ve seen that plenty want to use this tech primarily because it’s trendy – and they move to incorporate it without proper planning.

    Let’s look at some of the most common immersive training pitfalls to ensure your use of this tech adds value from a learning perspective.

     

    Lack of Measurement

    Pitfall:

    AR/VR by itself doesn’t typically contain a way to measure success or learning outcomes. Unless the software is built by a training company with analytics in mind, success and learning outcomes are probably an afterthought.

    The measurement of learning outcomes is critical for any training technology. Without that measurability, it’s extremely difficult to calculate ROI, determine where learners are struggling and succeeding, or provide constructive feedback.

    How to Avoid:

    Before opting-in to immersive learning, put a measurement strategy in place. Start with the end in mind. Before you can begin building an immersive training experience, how will you know if it’s successful? One way is by having a training technology company build the software from the ground up with the end-goal of outcome collection and measurement as a requirement.

    For example, we can measure if learners’ behavior changed and see if training had a measurable impact on performance by looking at qualitative data (like interviews) and quantitative data (customer satisfaction, sales metrics, etc.) With immersive learning, scenarios and environments can be built requiring specific behaviors to satisfy virtual customers, make virtual sales, or accomplish any other goal.

    Then, to measure ROI, simply compare upfront development cost to the training’s impact on behavior change and performance.

     

    It’s All the Rage!

    Pitfall:

    Make no mistake about it, AR/VR is cool and trendy. That’s reason enough for many to want to include it in their training repertoire. The fact that it just happens to be awesome technology isn’t the pitfall – the urge to use it solely because it’s cool.

    How to Avoid:

    If you want to build an AR/VR experience, ensure you have learning objectives that are best accomplished via immersive learning. Could you do the same thing in a video or eLearning? If you could, maybe immersive training isn’t your best option.

    How can you determine if your learning objectives are well-suited to AR/VR?

    Do you have something that needs to be seen or demonstrated without your learner being there?

    Maybe you’re training pilots while they’re spread across multiple cities without access to the same type of aircraft. Or perhaps you need to show workers in different parts of the country a process that’s used in a single factory so they can replicate it.

    These examples lend themselves well to immersive learning because your learners are spread out and it’s incredibly costly to bring them all together. Save time and money by having them learn together virtually instead.

    Need to learn something dangerous, risky, or particularly stressful?

    Performing surgery or mixing chemicals in the making of medicines are two examples that could be taught and practiced through AR/VR with all of the learning benefit and none of the physical risk.

    Immersive training allows for safe practice and exposure to situations that would be too dangerous otherwise.

    Perhaps your workforce is spread far and wide, yet they need to collaborate to learn best.

    How about a team that needs to work together to solve a problem? Maybe a team that needs to disassemble a jet engine and each have certain parts to dissect and fix.

    In the factory, a team has to work on an assembly line to improve efficiency. With immersive training, learners could experience the same environment, while physically in different places, and practice virtually.

    This is also applicable for a disperse sales team . Immersive learning can help these teams collaborate and learn from their counterparts in a real-world scenario, no matter where they are.

    The ability to learn and work collaboratively without having to be physically together or even having all of the requisite physical equipment is a training dream brought to life by AR/VR.

     

    Hardware?

    Pitfall:

    Though the cool software is what really makes immersive learning, this training modality requires some pretty particular hardware. Getting too excited and investing in software is all for nothing if you don’t figure out the hardware first.

    How to Avoid:

    Make sure you have a plan for equipment in place prior to launch. Much of that equipment is rapidly changing, so what do you need – and how much? In general, the price of AR/VR hardware is coming down, but did you factor that into the money you’ll have to spend? Where can you get it? Will it work right for what you want to accomplish? There is an ever-growing number of options in the industry.

    It’s okay if you don’t know where to begin. When designing an immersive experience partnering with an expert can help you consider which, and how much, hardware you’ll support. Plan first – buy second.

    Immersive learning can enhance your training by making it more efficient… if you can avoid the pitfalls. At the rate this technology is emerging, now’s the time to start exploring its potential. Depending on your needs, it could change the way your learners learn for the better.

     

    As with other newly emerging technologies, AR/VR may seem overwhelming at its face. Work with a trusted partner who can help you maximize the benefits of this modality and ease your mind.

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    3 Things to Consider for Voice Over in eLearning

    There’s a lot to consider when creating an effective eLearning course. Which platform do you want to use to build it? Does it need to be mobile responsive? What type of interactivity do you need? Do you need eLearning voice over? The list goes on and on.

    When it comes to deciding if you should use eLearning voice over, consider what are the goals you want to achieve and if audio will enhance the learning experience. Voice over is an important element that can help your training feel inclusive and boost engagement and retention.

    When you’re ready to think over whether or not you need voice over in your eLearning, consider the following.

     

    1. Think About Accessibility

    Arguably the most important piece of the puzzle is whether or not your training needs to be accessible.  If accessibility is a consideration, eLearning voice over is a must. Consider this, roughly 19 percent of the U.S. population has a disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau – that’s nearly 1 in 5 people.

    That means, when you consider your workforce, you’ll want to take special care when developing your training to make sure it’s as effective and inclusive of different learning styles and needs as possible. Having narration or eLearning voice-over for learners who have vision loss or dyslexia can help ensure everyone has access to the training in a way that’s best for them. For this audience, the audio is exceptionally important because it could be the primary way they’ll consume the information.

    Not just that, it’s also required by law in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Even though this law only applies to U.S. Federal Agencies, it is becoming a standard consideration across the L&D industry. So while creating accessible content entails a lot more than just adding audio, it is an important part of the process and one you can’t ignore.

     

    2. Consider Modern Learning Trends

    Today’s average learner consumes more information than ever before, using all sorts of technologies and platforms. (think curated news feeds,  AirPods, Google Assistants, etc.). But what does that mean for training?

    Your training needs to cater to how the modern learner prefers to consume information.

    Consider how many of your friends and colleagues listen to podcasts. How does that compare to the number who read newspapers or watch the news regularly? Chances are, podcasts are way more popular. Why is that?

    The landscape is changing. The modern learner is tired of old school methods of consuming information. Instead, they prefer to multi-task and consume information on-the-go. By incorporating eLearning voice-over or narration, you’re catering to those who prefer to consume information by listening.

    If you can, weave short podcasts or other engaging voice over into your eLearning to help it feel sleek, contemporary, and engaging. Your learners will be able to listen to the training during the morning commute or when they’re driving from site to site. It’ll be more efficient for their schedules, more effective, and much more memorable—and being memorable is how you boost retention.

     

    3. Using eLearning Voice Over to Simplify the Complex

    The last thing to consider is the complexity of the information you’re teaching. If you’re covering complicated topics or providing detailed directions, using audio can help to simplify and humanize your content.

    Think about it. Would you rather read a long drawn-out paragraph about a complicated topic or would you prefer to hear it explained while looking at a visual? Reading long chunks of content is exhausting and the modern learner just isn’t going to do it.

    Instead, consider creating a visual to convey part of the information and using voice over as an added layer of detail. It will seem a lot less daunting to your learners than a big paragraph and we guarantee, if the voice over is written well, it will boost retention.

    The more ways you use to convey information, the more likely it is to stick.

    Don’t believe us? Read this article about a study where learners were divided into groups: those who watched a silent animation, then heard the narration, those who heard the narration, then watched the animation and those who watched both at the same time. As you can imagine,  the group who did both simultaneously did best.

    Is accessibility important in your training? Do you need your training to be easy to access on-the-go? Do you need to convey complex information? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, eLearning voice over is a must.

    Need help strategizing or building the training itself? We can help. With over a decade of experience, we can help identify the perfect blend of modalities for your training needs. We even have relationships with professional voice over artists who can bring your content to life. Give us a call!

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    Leadership Training Topics: The Essential Checklist

    Whether we’ve been one of the parties in an awkward supervisor/supervisee relationship, or we’ve watched poor leadership practices impact our organization, we all know managing people requires a specific skill set. Just because we give an individual contributor a new title doesn’t mean they have the skills they need to lead teams effectively—much less enjoy it.

    A CareerBuilder survey reports more than 26% of managers said they weren’t ready to become a leader when they started managing others, and 58% said they didn’t receive any management training at all. According to the ATD whitepaper Experiential Learning for Leaders, only 28% of business executives say they’re effective at developing leaders.

    Wow.

    Leadership training is critically important. In this post, we hope to help you get started on the program your managers need. We’ll make it easy to identify the leadership training topics you need to consider, and we’ll explore different ways you can implement your program.

     

    Leadership Training Topics

    Even though the manager onboarding statistics are concerning, the good news is this—leadership training is a wonderful place to build a strong, sustainable culture of learning.

    We’ve compiled a checklist of leadership training topics to help you answer this question: Where do my managers need to build their skills?

    Leadership Learning Experiences

    Okay, keep that strategy hat on and answer this next question: What type of training experience would be ideal for your managers?

    Ultimately, you want to identify the must-haves that will unleash the most benefits for your company and culture. Here are some considerations to help you brainstorm. In order to meet business, manager, and team needs, many programs choose to blend two or three of these approaches.

     

    IN-PERSON FACILITATED
    PROS
    CONS
    More opportunities to bond, build a support network, and share best practices If facilitated as a full-day or multi-day event, follow-up activities should be developed and implemented to encourage application and defeat the “forgetting curve”
    High learner accountability If facilitated as a full-day or multi-day event, may involve extra costs such as hotel, travel, and food
    Limited distractions Managers are not as accessible to their team members
    Can be developed in bite-sized formats and facilitated in-house to provide continuous learning

     

     VIRTUAL INSTRUCTOR-LED
     PROS
    CONS
    No travel required Fewer opportunities to bond, build a support network, and share best practices
    Can be developed in bite-sized formats and facilitated in-house to provide continuous learning Difficult to measure engagement beyond course participation

    Managers are susceptible to more distractions during the training

    Technology challenges with video, Internet connectivity, and sound can negatively impact the learning experience

     

    SELF-PACED ON DEMAND/JUST-IN-TIME
    PROS
    CONS
    No travel required Fewer opportunities to bond, build a support network, and share best practices
    Simple course completion tracking Difficult to measure engagement beyond course completion
    Typically organized in bite-sized courses, so managers can balance training with supporting their teams Managers are susceptible to more distractions during the training
    Consistent information and experience
    Easy to administer

     

    Leadership Training Timing

    Based on our experience, the best time to enroll managers in training is right when they’ve been promoted, or “just in time.” Relevant leadership training is the antidote to sink-or-swim, a practice that hurts confidence, morale, and your company’s net promoter score.

    Waiting for managers to ask for help is risky. You’ll lose productivity, and some of your managers with the potential to be great leaders might realize another company offers more support and professional development.

    When it comes to leadership training, strike while the iron is hot, when managers are eager to learn. Proactively equip them with the skills they need to confidently excel in their new role.

     

    Next Steps

    Hopefully, you’re starting to get a vision for the type of leadership training topics your managers need, and the type of learning experiences that will support your goals. Keep in mind learning experiences can be combined in order to create a blended approach, and you can always hire a partner to help you develop your strategy.

    Managers want to feel equipped for their roles so they can make a positive impact on your company and the lives of their direct reports. When you build their skills and confidence, you create a more sustainable organization and a better place to work.

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