I love designing training, but I become frustrated when employees don’t or can’t use it. In my previous role as a worldwide quality assurance training manager, I saw firsthand the incident reports citing “lack of training” as a key contributor in over 60% of incidents — yet I had the signatures showing that employees had taken the training and passed the test. And, those courses had great Kirkpatrick Level 1 evaluation scores!

What’s a learning manager to do?

That was in the mid-1990s. Now, in the digital age and with research on the neuroscience of learning, training managers can make a bigger difference for our companies and our employees. What’s surprising is that we can do it in less time and with less effort on our part. How? Stop designing traditional training, and start designing learning clusters.

To be more supportive of employees’ work lives and daily learning needs, start designing learning assets that match the moments when learners want or need to learn, and surround them with the tools and content they need. This approach is the essence of the Owens-Kadakia Learning Cluster Design (LCD) that Crystal Kadakia and I developed and share in our new book, “Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM.”

Today, the learning and development (L&D) team’s job is to target on-the-job behavior change, not just end-of-class learning objectives. No longer can we afford to provide courses that employees see once each month or once per quarter. Now, L&D must be in the thick of learning each day and every week.

An Example

Maria, an employee who has never worked remotely, is attending a Microsoft Teams meeting for the first time. Last month, she took the mandatory “Download Teams” eLearning course and passed the test, and today, she receives an email link inviting her to the online video team meeting. Luckily, her L&D leaders know how to surround learners with meaningful learning assets, and they included several links to them in the email invitation template. The links include links titled, “First-time Users,” “Meeting Leaders” and “Getting More out of Teams.”

The links take her to the company learning management system (LMS), where she selects links to Microsoft Teams content that relates to the areas where she feels most anxious. Maria feels confident that, because the content is on Microsoft’s website, it is up to date. And, because she found the link on the company LMS, she believes that it’s relevant to her and her job. She reads, views and listens to the various content pieces; takes the recommended actions; and has a great meeting experience.

A few days later, Maria receives an email from the LMS asking her how her Teams experience was, if the training material was helpful and if she would like to receive a Teams user badge. If she wants the badge, she can click a link to an online quiz, which, if she passes, will earn her the badge.

Can you envision a more traditional experience? Maria may have accepted the invite but not known where to go for assistance, felt anxious about trying new technology, and had no choice but to wait until the moment of the meeting to discover issues. By offering a simple learning asset, consisting of links in an email invitation, the L&D team empowered Maria to learn her way through her first Teams video meeting — all within the flow of her work and without attending a course.

Why Design Learning Clusters Instead of Training?

When we design training, we tend to create individual one-and-done programs. A learning cluster, on the other hand, is a set of learning assets strategically selected to surround learners in their moments of learning need and placed together in such a way that learners can easily find and access these assets.

A learning asset is a broad range of things that help people learn, including reading materials, online searches, classes (face to face or virtual), discussions, videos or even a motivational poster. It can be as small as a 30-second audio recording or as large as a three-month class. The key to good learning cluster design is to create a set of assets that match the learners’ context (you might use Mosher and Gottfredson’s five moments of learning need as a guide) across social, formal and immediate learning touchpoints.

With a learning cluster, you have the luxury of creating a group of learning assets that:

    • Target particular groups of learners, with content adjusted for their needs.
    • Help learners easily find the content they need when they want or need to learn more.
    • Allow for spaced learning.
    • Are chunked into smaller bites to minimize cognitive overload.
    • Avoid the “stuff everything in” approach, so that it’s actually easier for L&D to design.

This approach may be a different way of distributing your L&D content, but it’s worth it; after all, wouldn’t you rather be helping employees learn daily and weekly, instead of just once every few months? Let’s achieve the on-the-job impact we want by designing learning clusters that surround our learners with meaningful learning assets, rather than one-and-done training.