Why learning journeys are the next evolution for performance improvement

Stand-alone training events, once the mainstay of the training industry, are increasingly being seen as relics of the 20th century. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons but the main one is that, more than ever before, companies are trying to find ways to justify the investments they make in learning. 

This year’s ATD ICE conference in Washington D.C. served to highlight the shift towards learning journeys in a way that was totally unexpected. Before we started setting up our session on ‘Goodbye learning events. Hello high-performance learning journeys’, we only expected about 50 people to show up. Imagine our surprise when over 500 people packed into the room. So, the question is, why all the fuss about learning journeys? 

What do we already know about learning application?

What we’ve known for decades thanks to research done by Rob Brinkerhoff and others is that some people will apply learning no matter what, some won’t apply anything, and sadly most will likely try and give up. It’s worth noting that giving up doesn’t happen because of a lack of intelligence, motivation, or learning design. Rather that people tend to give up because they don’t get the right support to use learning in the workplace. This tells us that the majority group is where we need to focus our efforts if we want to get the most out of learning initiatives. 

Why has application become the next big thing?

In recent years the ‘application problem’ has become better understood by companies in their attempts to improve the effects of learning. What senior managers have come to realize is that they need high performing employees and not behavior change. This is a subtle difference, which can be explained like this. Behavior focuses on people. 20thcentury training solutions are designed to make people behave differently in the hope that good things will happen. The type of training that focuses on behavior also includes things like rewards and sanctions. What is commonly known as the carrot and stick approach. 

Performance on the other hand focuses on the tasks. 21stcentury learning solutions enable tasks to be done differently so that our businesses will perform better. This personal performance improvement style not only gets better business results but also appeals to the next generation of self-improvement focused employees. 

Why is learning being spread out over timed events?

For most people perfecting tasks, even if those tasks are remembering and contextualising knowledge, is more easily done over time than in one hit. 

Largely due to the focus on millennials, there has been an awakening among learning designers, senior management, and learners that not only does spreading learning over time get a better effect in the workplace, but also that learners actually prefer learning when it’s spaced out. 

What this means is that if people forget information, we design ways to help them remember. If they need to practice skills, we construct a framework for that to happen in the workplace, etc. For most people this reinforcement structure approach seems more natural and supports learners through learning sprints towards performance improvements. 

How has technology impacted learning design?

Lastly, let’s not forget about technology. One reason why learning journeys are more doable these days is that the technology exists to manage them. Think back only ten years and you’ll remember that creating, administrating, delivering, and accessing learning was done through clunky LMS’s, often at a desk top computer, using less-than-easy to use interfaces. 

Now, we have the means to use technology in a way that is reasonable for the designers, administrators, and learners. It doesn’t promise, or shouldn’t promise, the earth, but does deliver on supporting learning across devices in multiple locations. Moreover, we have the analytics to better understand how and when people access and use learning and learning support tools. As we get better at understanding how people use learning, the task of creating more personalised learning journeys will become possible.

What next?

The challenge for most learning designers will be converting stand-alone training into learning journeys without throwing the baby out with the bath water. One simple way to get started is to think of the switch like this. If high performance is the goal, and learning journeys are the method, then learning transfer is the secret ingredient. So, start by understanding how to improve learning transfer to take the first step to creating learning journeys. 

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