Successful learners are the ultimate outcome of any training course, but that objective is not always reflected in the strategies and goals companies set for their training initiatives. Adopting a learner-first approach is an effective method of ensuring that training is centered on learners, making them the foundation of every aspect of a company’s training strategy. A learner-first approach supports and enhances learners’ potential through fundamental content choices, teaching approaches and the design of the learning management system (LMS).

It can be an ironic reality that, while many companies believe in the value of high-quality training and invest heavily in learning resources, learners often have the least say in terms of the content, goals and structure of their training. Senior managers and subject matter experts (SMEs) may take priority in decisions about training, and learners may not play a role at all.

Clearly, it is important to consider the experience and expertise of leaders, managers and SMEs in course design. But a learner-first strategy also values the opinions of learners — the people who will actually benefit from the course content. Valuing their opinions means communicating with them to uncover their concerns, including the areas where they feel most underequipped.

According to the Victoria, Australia Department of Education and Training, “research into the motivation and efficiency of students who set their own learning goals and targets indicates that” they enjoy greater confidence in their ability to handle challenging tasks. Creating granular learning goals that genuinely reflect the potential of each learner is, therefore, a key element in refocusing training and gaining the most out of their learning experiences.

Meaningful interaction with learners also involves creating targets that work on both personal and company-wide levels. While it is important that training strategy is oriented toward improving performance and closing skills gaps, learners should also feel that they are benefiting on an individual level. Achieving this balance requires knowing who your learners are, why they’re learning and how they learn best. Using the interactive functions of an LMS to encourage organic conversation is a great way to gather insights into learner needs.

The process of creating efficient learning goals also offers training managers the opportunity to reflect on their course content, especially in terms of real-world application. Learner-first outcomes ensure that everything included in a training session is grounded in the knowledge and skills learners most value. A useful method of identifying those value areas is to group learner concerns into different categories. Grouping learner needs into areas like knowledge, environment and attitudes helps to paint a quick and accurate picture of potential problem areas.

After establishing goals and value areas, the next step is to create a learner-first strategy. In other words, training managers should be looking to provide as clear a pathway as possible from the moment learners realize they need training to the moment they finish learning and begin applying their new knowledge. Many of today’s most effective learner pathways are delivered through an LMS due to the customizability of LMS dashboards and the responsiveness of user interface (UI) design. The best UIs are fundamentally learner-first, anticipating what a user might need to do and providing functionalities, such as optimized menus, navigation or learner profile information, that are easy to access, understand and use.

Once companies acknowledge the benefits of grounding training in learner needs, a learner-first approach becomes relevant from the first conversation about training to the final assessment and real-world application of skills. Following a cohesive learner-first strategy also enables training managers and learners to evaluate their success on a deeper level, using all the available evidence about individual learners to arrive at a complete picture of performance and progress.