It’s an age-old issue: Organizations know they need to train their employees; and they also see the benefit of moving into e-learning to save the costs associated with traditional face-to-face learning. They might have written resources available to put online or a training issue that needs resources developed to fix the problem. However, as a design approach, focusing on the resource or the issue isn’t always the best way to get the best results for the learners or the organization.

Before developing more resources, there is a core question that organizations must ask: “What change do we expect as a consequence of the learning?” This simple question puts the expected outcome at the center of the design process and, by doing so, puts the learner at its heart.

All learning is designed in some way to change the way the learner thinks or behaves. So, it makes sense to think about the expected change from the start of the design process. Deliberately using a learner-centric approach for the design process motivates and engages the learner and ultimately delivers successful outcomes for organizations.

The process is not always easy. Organizations are often wedded to their resources, and it can take some convincing to pull away from the tried and true, test assumptions, and really question practices that have been embedded over years. The trick is to prove that learner-centric design is worth the effort.

Once you’ve established the overall purpose and subsequent outcomes for the learning, you can break down the process of learner-centric design into five simple steps:

1. Know Your Learner.

Get to know your learner. Think about the typical learner and his or her learning context. This step gives you the opportunity to find efficiencies, determine the level of learner engagement and open the door to innovation. Basic questions about the learner include:

  • Who are they?
  • What is their experience with learning?
  • What do they already know?
  • How, where and when do they typically interact with learning?
  • What has been successful in the past?

Once you have established who the learner is, you can start thinking about appropriate learner-centric design.

2. Establish the Outcomes.

Establish the outcomes by breaking the learning into “chunks.” Ask questions like, “What will the learners be able to do differently once they have completed this part of the learning?” Typically, organizations will respond with statements like, “They will be able to use the safety guards effectively and not be hurt by flying debris” or, They will be able to find the appropriate legislation.”

If you’re using statements like, The learners will understand…”, drill deeper to find out why they need to understand. The answer will establish the outcome with some clarity. Understanding the change in behavior or thinking required helps inform learner-centric design.

3. Question the Context.

This step allows you to understand the organizational context in which the learning will be delivered. It’s at this point organizations often are the most engaged, as they discuss what they have done in the past or how they envision the future. Use this energy to establish the context and any existing subject matter that might be useful.

Then, question your facilitation methodologies. Find out if your existing approach will allow the latitude to try an innovative approach to teaching and learning. When suggesting a new approach, be cognizant of the learner, contexts and outcomes. It is essential that you can account for each aspect within the approach.

4. Design a Learner-Centered Program.

With all of this information, you can now design with the learner, context and outcome in mind. The information you gathered allows informed choices that are focused on the changes expected for the learner.

Integrate current resources, and add approaches and activities that fit the learner context. Design with end goals in mind using contextualized content through delivery methodologies and in a medium that suit and engage the learner.

5. Evaluate the Learning.

Throwing training at the learners and hoping for the best will not work. You need to measure and maintain the learning to establish ROI and ensure ongoing success. As you clearly establish the outcomes, you can determine a metric to measure the ROI. Having a metric to measure effectiveness, you will then be able to use a continuous improvement process, ensuring longevity of the resource and perhaps redundancy of the outcome.