Focus on Who, In Addition to What, When Designing Learning Journeys

February 3, 2020 David Witt

When L&D professionals talk about learning journeys it can be a micro or a macro conversation, says Britney Cole, associate vice president, solution architecture and innovation strategy at The Ken Blanchard Companies.

“For some L&D professionals, the phrase learning journey zooms in on a specific program—a micro approach,” says Cole. “This includes what happens before you launch, the actual learning event, and how you consume the content. It can also include what happens afterward—post work, surveys, curated content, manager check-ins, and tools to reinforce the learning.

“Other people understand the concept from a macro standpoint. They define learning journey as not one program but a series of programs, experiences, and interventions around which the journey builds and scaffolds over the course of their career.”

Many L&D professionals are familiar with the 70/20/10 model, which Cole describes as a good way to frame learning journeys. “A combination of job-related experiences, interactions with others, and formal educational events, ensures people get what they need when they need it—especially when they are receiving on-the-job versus formal training.

“In the macro sense, a learning journey might begin with an entry-level new hire in her first individual contributor role. As she develops and grows from leading self to leading projects to leading others, she engages in a variety of learning experiences—formal training programs, mentoring and coaching from others, and on-the-job skills and performance training—with support as needed from her managers. Ideally, she’d be able to see this progression unfold over the course of her career.

“When the term learning journey comes up in conversation, it’s important to clarify how the other person defines it. It could be as narrow as a program, or as broad as the person’s entire life cycle,” says Cole. She believes learning journey discussions are becoming more prevalent due to a more holistic approach in organizational training and advances in learning technology.

“Most organizations are transitioning from event-based learning to continuous learning. In the past, organizations had a training department that either trained new employees or upskilled people to acquire new knowledge and develop new skills to do a job. It was about a classroom and an LMS. Today, learning and development departments have the ability to reach employees at many different points in their workday. With new learning technologies and other collaboration tools, L&D literally can meet people where they are—inside and outside the classroom.”

These new capabilities in designing learning journeys also require a new focus, says Cole.

“L&D professionals need to spend more time on who they’re designing for—and less time on what. In the past, learning participants were thought of in terms of segments—their job title or their level of leadership. Designers jumped too quickly to the content and the modalities to cover that content.

“For instance, in the past when we wanted to teach managers how to coach their employees, we knew they needed an awareness of what coaching is. We used videos or eLearning. We wanted them to practice how to coach, so we brought them into a classroom for some role plays. From there, we went straight into design, development, and delivery. Then later, we were surprised to learn that the managers still weren’t coaching.”

The better approach, says Cole, is to always keep the end user in mind: start slow to go fast.

“Instead of going right into solutioning, it’s best to understand the person being designed for. We’ve been used to designing for stakeholders and sponsors and their vision on the learning journey. Rarely have we had the end user in the room.

“If we would do a little more work empathizing with our learners in the beginning—whether it’s creating personas, interviewing them, or shadowing them on the job, we would better understand what they need and when they need it. In our coaching example, if we would make that clear connection and then provide tools people could implement to solve their problem—such as coaching job aids to use in the toughest situations they are facing—our learners would need what we create. When learners need what we create, they’re more likely to apply the tools we give them. It’s also important to consider that managers don’t just need to build awareness and practice, they also need an environment where they can take the time to coach. It’s as much a time management issue as it is a content issue. When we design with the voice of the learner speaking to us early, our experience will be more effective and impactful.

“The bonus for L&D professionals is that we get to design with someone in mind as opposed to a nameless segment. We start to care more and think about ways to not just teach people new knowledge and skills, but also target and engage them. This extends our reach.”

This approach might take a little more time on the front end, but it’s well worth it in terms of the final result, says Cole.

“Our learners have a lot on their plate. They are distracted. We are trying to grab their attention so they can actually focus on learning something new. If you understand who you're solving for, you will create a more relevant experience and people will actually feel compelled to participate—because you're offering them something that matters to them.”

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Would you like to learn more about designing learner-centric journeys? Join us for a free webinar!

3 Keys to Creating Learning Journeys that Work

In this webinar Britney Cole, associate vice president, solution architecture and innovation strategy at The Ken Blanchard Companies, shares key strategies for designing personalized, learner-centric learning journeys to improve performance metrics in today’s results-focused organizations.

Participants will learn how to

  • Focus on who—not what
  • Keep the end user top of mind
  • Use personas to help create personalized, relevant learning journeys

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn a personalized approach to improving performance in your organization.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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