Where we go wrong with Learning & Development

and why building better learning experiences is about so much more than just cool content
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Learning & Development; arguably the most important function of company’s people strategy. The good news; mostly management teams seem to be very much aware of upmost importance of a vibrant and skilled workforce and prioritize investing in it. And, with the ever-growing range of technologies and platforms available, world-class learning should be commonplace in every industry. However, there are two principle flaws in the common thinking and doing within L&D.

Firstly, L&D professionals are totally content-obsessed. Within a lot of corporate academy’s basically the common assumption is that simply throwing a lot of nicely designed content at people is the way to be relevant and effective. Whatever the latest and greatest learning platform out there, if we simply allow our employees to access it, collect some basic numbers on clicks, credits, or badges we will make the impact we aim for, right? Wrong!

For effective learning goes; less is more. Before simply pointing users to large sets of content first you need to have a clear picture of what matters most; the design of the learning experience. When it comes to learning and professional growth employees look for guidance, a well-thought order of things. It is crucial to understand that learning content and learning impact are not the same thing. It is the coherence and the structure around your training content that makes all the difference. Not having enough content is rarely a cause of concern. Problems occur when employees are overfed with learning content from different platforms and vendors, training content that doesn’t have a logical place in their personal learning journeys.  

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Secondly, learning journeys are so often broken. Even where L&D experts do understand how different bits of training should be in combined ins meaningful learning pat,h still a lot of the L&D offering consists of isolated bits and pieces in different locations. For example; e-learning content is offered on LinkedIn Learning, classroom training is organized by academies in individual business units, rooms are booked on the facility management portal and employees are expected to maintain a personal learning profile holding progress and results in the company’s LMS. A total mishmash of good intentions, but very mediocre results. Let’s not even consider the meaningless reports and analytics this produces…

Learning is a process that takes place over a period of time. Besides that one single e-learning this process likely includes pre- and post-classroom learning documentation, social learning, on-the-job coaching, mentoring and follow-ups, etc. This makes it essential to integrate learning journeys in a meaningful, personalized way. Instead of expecting employees to scrape together what they need to skill themselves, we should make learning fluid, accessible and continuous by integrating everything around training into the organization’s existing systems. Think, for example, of integrating online e-learning content into your LMS, or creating a smooth experience using single-sign-on or smart localized suggestions and redirects. Also, information on facilities like room capacity or availability of trainers can be integrated in your central learning platform. These kind of use cases will seriously improve learning journeys and ease of use for learners.

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Another big step forward can be to integrate learning results like badges or certificates automatically into the learner’s personal profile. Even if an employee receives training somewhere outside of the organization’s core systems, for example at an external training provider, learning activity data such as course completions, can automatically be fed back into the LMS. This will trigger learners to maintain their personal development profile and obviously allows for way better reporting. The use cases are endless and almost always very feasible.

We all speak of ‘continuous learning’, ‘learning in the flow of work’, etc. which are all great ideas on a conceptual level. In practice however these concepts come down to the need to carefully select learning content, combine it in a meaningful coherence and order and to make it accessible wherever the learner needs it. So to make L&D investments make a real difference we should stop simply throwing content up on screens. We should start designing learner experiences that turn training into skills and engrained behaviors.  If we understand the contributions of each piece of training together, the whole will be so much greater than the sum of the parts.

Jochem ter Steege