Successful organizations view training, learning and employee development as instrumental to their success. They use learning strategies to:

  • Simultaneously align and integrate the needs and goals of business leaders, learning and development (L&D), and employees.
  • Proactively make decisions that are readily supported by the organization and work within the learning ecosystem’s boundaries and other organizational constraints.
  • Ensure job performance is paramount by accounting for the entirety of the knowledge, skills and contexts facing their employees.

A learning strategy must accomplish all three of those objectives and simultaneously provide a model to prompt essential conversations between business, talent and training leaders.

Defining Your Learning Strategy  

The settings, scope and variety of circumstances that drive a learning strategy differ by organization. Consequently, its challenging to find a universal definition that fits all commercial settings.

Learning strategies consist of several common elements. At the root, a learning strategy is a form of prediction that describes a legitimate outcome, identifies vital actions that will lead to achieving the goal and defines how results will be measured.

Additionally, learning strategies may include:

  • Input from stakeholders to inform, guide and approve the adoption of the strategy.
  • An articulation of how features align with business goals.
  • Sufficient analysis and research to uncover relevant data that lead to distinct and nuanced insights.
  • Creative solutions, frameworks or actions that form a roadmap to the endgame.
  • A financial plan or budget.

Underpinning a successful learning strategy is an organization’s unique learning ecosystem. Ecosystems are complex sets of interconnected and dynamic components consisting of the resources, functions, routines, processes and capabilities that enable L&D to respond to the organization, support varied initiatives, and build and deploy training.

A learning ecosystem has many facets, such as:

  • Foundational principles and values.
  • Governance and alignment processes.
  • Operational and training metrics; mechanisms for data collection, monitoring and reporting.
  • Budget and ease of securing funding.
  • Tools, technology and training environments.
  • Team capabilities and external partners and vendors.
  • Resources for training delivery, coaching, etc.
  • Training function processes, including intake, analysis, content development and maintenance.

Assessing the learning ecosystem’s strengths and weaknesses is essential to a learning strategy. L&D can probe further where necessary and appropriate by asking questions, such as:

  • What is the state of it?
  • Does it enable, limit or work against the learning strategy?
  • What has to change to improve it? How fast does it need to improve? Does the improvement need to accelerate or decelerate?
  • Is it worth the investment?
  • Does it provide quality data, feedback or information that helps us make decisions (i.e., does it reveal patterns, commonalities or unique qualities)?

The intention is to understand the ecosystem and maximize what is currently possible. Next, we will discuss learning strategies at the enterprise, department and skill levels.


At an enterprise level, the scope of a learning strategy encompasses all of its employees. It may look several years into the future, describing how the L&D function will evolve and improve the learning ecosystem to serve the organization, as well as highlight how its actions will achieve business goals.

Stakeholder input

Within the confines of an organization, an enterprise learning strategy may have a host of stakeholders representing the organization. Senior leaders develop, refine and articulate the strategic, overarching goals for the enterprise. Many of the goals – notably those pertinent to L&D – reveal that leadership wants to see higher levels of performance. They can also provide insights into the obstacles the organization must overcome to achieve its goals. They can break down the goals and assign them to functions, identify vital roles, and explain what they intend to measure.

Other inputs:

  • Actual business results vs. business plan.
  • Annual employee engagement and satisfaction surveys.
  • Market scans and trend shifts.
  • Technological advancements.
  • Plans of peer organizations.

The strategy

The enterprise learning strategy may cover several years or stages, with measurable milestones that align with the overall business strategy and goals. Depending on the organization and situation, it may:

  • Indicate changes to the learning ecosystem that will better enable the enterprise.
  • Identify new, expanded, or reduced capabilities and capacity.
  • Highlight improved or new processes.
  • Identify external partnerships for a stopgap, plus partners for long-term support.
  • Describe necessary improvements to the technological infrastructure needed to support L&D.
  • List large-scale programs (e.g., compliance) or content curation efforts that will be useful for employees, managers and leaders
  • Include a measurement plan with metrics, methods, or mechanisms for collecting and analyzing data, plus milestones and timelines that cover changes to the learning ecosystem and the actions of the L&D organization in service of the organization’s goals.

At the enterprise level, an aligned learning strategy connects L&D actions to business goals and outcomes. It provides a framework and principles for the role, department or functional learning strategy.

Role, Department or Function

At this level of the learning strategy, the focus is narrower, targeting a role, department, function or other readily definable subsets of the organization.

Stakeholder input

There are two essential stakeholders at this level: managers of the function and the employees who populate the positions. Managers refine organizational goals to shape goals within their control. They are generally able to provide initial indications of gaps in performance, knowledge or skill. They can provide insights that shape essential definitions of employee proficiency, developmental dimensions (signs of when an employee can be trusted to work autonomously, for example), performance measures, time-to-performance expectations and design assumptions.

Top performers can describe the practices, routines and behaviors that lead to successful performance. They can also indicate where typical gaps arise and what causes the gaps. Expanding the analysis to include low- and mid-level performers provides a more complete picture of the gaps. Additionally, the analysis can shed light on the various contexts in which performance occurs.

When focusing such analyses on job performance rather than training needs, other factors – such as inefficient processes, inferior technologies and misaligned consequence systems – come to light. The effect of this additional knowledge results in a more refined, targeted and aligned learning strategy, because L&D can avoid including non-training matters.

Other inputs:

  • Actual performance results vs. learning plan.
  • Annual employee performance review processes.
  • Annual employee engagement or satisfaction surveys.
  • Assessment of the learning ecosystem.
  • Assessment of existing enterprise programs and available curated content.
  • Plans of other business functions.

Learning strategy

Here, the learning strategy ties to performance goals and outcomes specific to a role, department or function. It reflects the multifaceted nature of job performance and gaps that exist. It can cover a timespan of a year to two years and may:

  • Specify links between the learning strategy and business goals.
  • Provide a roadmap for employees as they develop from one stage to another.
  • Describe how employees become proficient in their current roles and how they can begin preparations for advancement or movement to another role.
  • Include developmental timelines and performance milestones.
  • Indicate how formal instruction, informal learning, job aids and tools are organized to support employee performance.
  • Outline how managers, coaches and others participate in the process.
  • Provide a prioritized list of training solutions for development.
  • Delineate a content development plan with budgets, timelines and resource allocations.

At this level, aligned learning strategies demonstrably connect L&D development efforts to business goals and leverages the principles set out in the enterprise strategy. Further, it provides a framework, data and guidance for the development of training.

Discrete Performance, Knowledge or Skill Gap

Here, a learning strategy focuses on designing, building, and deploying optimal and practical learning experiences. Learning solutions initiated through the learning strategies described above will benefit from the analyses and design choices already made. L&D can use these strategies to guide decisions as they scrutinize training requests over the course of the intake process.

Stakeholder input

Managers and employees continue to be primary stakeholders at this level. They see to it that the learning solution supports the business goals and related performance outcomes. Managers and employees can provide input to design decisions, gather and share appropriate content, fill in gaps, review deliverables, provide feedback, and approve the draft and final materials.

Other inputs:

  • Actual performance results vs. learning plan.
  • Assessment of the learning ecosystem.
  • Assessment of existing enterprise programs and available curated content.
  • Relevant learning research.

Learning strategy

At this level, the learning strategy seeks to address discrete deficiencies in performance, knowledge or skill. The solution reflects the intersection of business goals, the employee development plan, relevant research, and the learning ecosystem. It may combine modalities and include multiple stages. Typically described by learning objectives or performance outcomes, the learning strategy:

  • Links learning outcomes to performance outcomes and indicates how learning and performance outcomes will be measured.
  • Describes the attributes of the target audience.
  • Shows how formal instruction, informal learning, job aids and tools are organized to support employee performance.
  • Outline how trainers, managers, coaches and others participate in the solution.


A useful learning strategy follows business intentions and goals as they cascade down from the top of the organization. At each level, learning strategies align with business goals. Underpinned by sound analyses, data and research-informed practices, they close critical gaps by delivering performance outcomes. When constructed this way, learning strategies align courses, employee development plans, and organizational strategy with business goals and results.