As the needs of learners and businesses change, the roles and competencies of learning designers and human resources (HR) professionals are also changing. This reality is especially apparent when we consider that our previously most respected stand-alone training solutions aren’t obtaining the results we once expected.
Although our programs might be well received, taught using concrete learning methods and supported with practical tools to spark learners into taking action, organizations often do not see the needle move in key workplace behaviors. While learners love programs and intend to use the skills and knowledge the programs teach, often, they don’t actually do so, and they give reasons such as these:
- I’ll definitely use those skills when I have time.
- The training was great, but I just don’t have any opportunities to use the skills.
- I’m not at the right seniority level yet to be influential enough to use the skills.
- I tried, but I ran into obstacles and gave up.
- I’m ready, but it’s hard to involve other people on my team who haven’t taken the same training.
To create training that sticks, that learners apply to their jobs, we must move away from stand-alone learning toward learning journeys. Here’s how.
Creating a Basic Learning Journey
The first step is to put yourself in the position of the learners. Think empathetically about the barriers to application that they face in the workplace and how they feel when trying to apply their new skills. Then, design a solution that overcomes those barriers. It’s essential to ask, observe and check why employees aren’t applying their learning. You’ll likely find some interesting barriers that you never knew existed. Once you know what those barriers are, you can use a “whack-a-mole” strategy to design tactics to overcome them.
For example, if learners struggle to take a prescribed action in the workplace, put action-focused modules earlier in the program. If they find it hard to assess their own level of readiness to use new skills, include manager collaboration time. If learners need encouragement and support, plan for coaching.
Whatever you discover and however you design ways to overcome the barriers you identify, you’ll still need to change your training from an event to a program. Once you’ve created space between individual elements, you’ll have to start to consider what should go into the gaps.
Creating a Learning Journey With Depth
The second step is to understand and address the problems learners face back in the workplace when they try to adapt learning content for their specific situations. For example, many learners love case studies about companies like 3M, Apple and IDEO but have difficulty applying what they learn from those cases studies to their own situations. To overcome this problem, you can replace your standard business cases with cases about issues that your learners need to solve, which they bring to the training. That way, they’ll have concrete solutions that they can immediately apply to workplace issues.
Another strategy is to provide support to help learners keep using their new skills. Have them meet with managers before and after training to gain buy-in and align their projects to the team’s goals; this step is especially important for programs that require the practice of difficult new skills. Send reminders that prompt learners to take action and maintain awareness. Finally, leverage coaches if learners need to reflect on their progress and work together to determine how to overcome difficulties.
Through these efforts, you’ll not only see better application but also be able to capture positive stories and recommendations for how to use the skills in tough situations. Then, you can share those stories, creating a virtuous cycle.
Stretching a Learning Journey to Optimize Time
The third step in creating a learning journey is to time it so it maximizes application and results. For example, if you have a two- or three-day learning event, you can split up the days and add support between each session. If learners need to implement their new skills and achieve immediate progress, consider putting at least a few weeks between the sessions to make sure that there is enough time for them to apply the training, receive reminders, access coaching and share success stories.
In effect, this approach converts a two- or three-day training event into a two- or three-month learning journey. While it seems more time-consuming, these shorter, better supported and stretched learning sessions will deliver better results, even if they cover the content as the stand-alone training event.
This is a broad approach, and you’ll likely have a portfolio of training topics that will need different program designs. Nevertheless, the process of moving from a popular stand-alone training to a learning journey should be the same regardless of topic. First, put yourself in your learners’ shoes to understand the barriers to application. Second, add depth by inserting relevant interventions, tools and activities that support application. Third, stretch the journey over time to integrate learning, application, support and reflection. Finally, see how your great training programs now have great results.