In a former role as a learning executive, I was responsible for providing development content to a massive organization. Once, when asked what I offered for my employees’ learning needs, I responded that I gave them over 15,000 different courses from which to choose via our learning management system. I thought that I was giving my customers what they needed to advance their own learning. How could they not be well-trained and engaged? With over 15,000 courses, surely there was something for everyone?

I missed the mark, though. Just because I offered a large number of courses didn’t mean that I had met my customers’ development needs. The lesson: Content without context is not effective, and content alone does not give employees what they need to develop themselves effectively.

By not realizing this critical requirement of context, I realized I was only doing half of my job by simply providing the access to content. To meet my customers’ development needs, I needed to show them the path that they should follow to develop themselves using the content we had provided to them. That learning path had to be easily understood, relevant to an organizational need or goal, and transparent.

From Bersin’s 2017 report “Meet the Modern Learner,” we know that most employees have only 24 minutes per week —that’s 1 percent of the work week – to spend on learning and development. We also know that the amount of content online doubles every nine months. To be an effective learning organization, you must communicate why the training is important and how it is relevant to employees.

The one thing you must remember — and the one thing that remains constant — is that what works for one organization might not work for all organizations. Context in content may mean different things based on both the personality and the culture of an organization. Examples of providing context to content include:

  • Associate all training with the competencies that are “stretched” when learners consume the content.
  • Provide professional affiliation with content (i.e., accountant training, IT specialist training, HR associate training, etc.).
  • Segregate by level (i.e., senior executive, executive, senior manager, frontline manager, aspiring leader, employee).
  • Tie content to the goals of the organization.

It’s important when structuring content that your organization focuses exactly on what it is trying to accomplish with the content it offers to its employees. Talk to your employees; determine how they consume content, and discover their learning preferences. Focus groups, employee working teams, surveys, executive feedback and sound development practices are all good ways to begin to structure your content for your employees to find what they need to develop themselves. Ultimately, your organization needs to determine what, if any, core competencies exist within the organization and then determine how to tie those competencies to the learning content to most effectively share your organization’s valuable insights with employees.

One example of an organization that took the approach of shaping its learning experience around one of its corporate values is Fossil Group. A well-known, U.S.-based fashion designer and manufacturer, Fossil has queued its content to meet an important employee value: curiosity. By focusing on the learner’s experience, Fossil has not only increased employee knowledge and engagement but also greatly improved the overall employee experience by reducing complexity. Fossil realized the importance of providing customized and continuous learning to its employees. After implementing this new approach to employee learning, the company saw some great results. “What we’re even probably more excited about is the impact that we see this having on our employees’ success, on their engagement and, ultimately, on the business,” said James Webb, Fossil Group’s vice president of development and engagement.

As a learning executive in today’s workplace, you must recognize that employees are now in charge of their own development, and the best way for you to assist them is to show them the development path needed to be successful — not only in their current roles but also for any and all future opportunities to which they aspire. Without this valuable context, the content you offer can’t be consumed effectively, and it may not be delivering the value you think it is. So, before supersizing the content you offer, ask yourself whether you need more content or just a better translation of what you already have.

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