Making the change from stand-alone learning to learning journeys

As the needs of learners and business are changing, the roles and competencies of learning designers and HR are also changing. We found this out when faced with the stark reality that one of our most respected stand-alone training programs wasn’t getting the results we expected.

For years we’d been running a well-received 3-day innovation skills training program that defined innovation, taught concrete methods to identify real needs, provided practical tools to generate fresh ideas and sparked learners to take action. The concepts were sound, the training was engaging, and both clients and learners raved about how useful it was.

Inspired by the great response, we started following up first with written surveys and later with individual telephone calls to each learner a couple of months after the program finished to hear about how they were innovating at work. Unfortunately, we consistently heard that while learners loved the program and intended to use the skills, most of them actually weren’t applying what they’d learned. Over time, we noticed common reasons why these intelligent, motivated learners weren’t innovating more. We got reasons like:

  • I’ll definitely use those skills when I have time
  • The training was great, but I just don’t have a chance to use the skills
  • I’m not at the right seniority level yet to be innovative
  • I tried but bumped into obstacles and gave up
  • I’m ready but it’s hard to involve other people in my team that haven’t taken the training

What we did was to use a kind of whack-a-mole solution to break down each of those barriers. In effect we’d taken the first steps to converting a stand-alone training into a learning journey.

What is needed to create a basic learning journey

The first step is to put yourself in the position of the learners. Think, what are the barriers to application they face in the workplace and how do they feel when trying to apply their new skills. Then, design a solution into the program to overcome the barriers. In the case of our innovation training, we realized that while identifying needs and generating ideas were important, learners struggled most with taking action, so we flipped the course around and put action-focused modules first. That got them doing something from day one and let them continue being action-minded for the entire course.

However, that still left us with a 3-day course. What we had to do was to split the days up. We created space between the three days and started to think about what should go into the gaps.

Creating a learning journey with depth

The second step is to understand and address the problems learners face back in the workplace. For example, our learners told us that they loved the case studies about innovation leaders like 3M, Apple and IDEO but that they had difficulty applying what they learned in their more conservative, risk averse organizations. To overcome this, we replaced all the standard cases with the learners’ real problems. In that way, they got concrete solutions to workplace issues they could apply immediately.

Another thing we did was to provide support to help learners keep innovating. We had them meet with managers before and after training to get buy-in and align their projects to the team’s goals. In addition, we sent reminders to prompt them to take action and maintain awareness. Finally, our coaches called every learner after a couple of weeks to reflect on their progress and success points and work together to plan how to overcome difficulties. Through these efforts, we not only got much better application, but we captured many positive stories and recommendations for how to use the skills in tough situations which we shared with all learners creating a virtuous cycle.

Stretching a learning journey to optimize time

The third step is to plan the timing of the learning journey to maximize application and results. In our case we separated the three days and put support between each session. We wanted learners to implement their skills and achieve some progress, so we decided that there should be at least a few weeks between the sessions to make sure that there was enough time to do the work, get the reminders, access the coaching, and share the success stories. In effect, this converted the 3-day training session into a 3-month learning journey. The results were in complete contrast to what had gone before even though the basic training itself was exactly the same.

What you can do to get started today

Our example was about innovation training, but you’ll likely have different training topics. Nevertheless, the process of moving from a popular stand-alone training to an effective learning journey should be the same. First, put yourself in the shoes of the participants to understand the barriers to application. Second, add depth to your learning journeys by inserting relevant interventions, tools and activities that support application. Third, stretch the journey over time to integrate learning, application, support and reflection. After this, you’ll find that your great training programs now gets great results.

Good luck.

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