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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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A 360 degree view of learning: how to get organisations on board with learning design


When designing learning and development programmes, we need to think about the line managers and how they can help ensure that the learning intervention creates change. Jackie Clifford, Director of Clarity Learning and Development, looks at how to do this.

In learning and development, I believe that most of us are concerned with helping individuals to learn AND, almost more importantly, helping to ensure that the learning is implemented effectively in the workplace.

Only once this implementation has happened can we say that we are impacting on organisational performance.

It seems to me that when we design learning and development interventions, we need to engage not only with the potential learners, but also with their line managers and their organisations. This links back to some of what I’ve said in previous articles.

Here I’d like to explore different ways to get organisations on board with the design of learning interventions and with the evaluation of the success of those interventions.

Please know that this is an area of continuing challenge for me and many of my colleagues in this field, so any comments and ideas that you’d like to share will be gratefully received!

Learning needs analysis: we need to think about change

Right at the start of the learning process, it is possible to engage with different parties in an organisation.

There will often be an initial request for a training programme or other piece of learning that will relate to either a particular organisational need or, potentially more frequently, come through a performance review process.

At this point, it is possible to widen out the scope of the request to involve managers and team members in identifying what the specific need is, whether or not it is actually a learning need and what will be different once the learning need has been met.

My experience is telling me that pre-learning conversations are simply not happening.

For me, this is a starting point for change to happen. I believe that when we’re talking about learning that impacts on organisational performance, we must talk about initiating and implementing change - real learning transfer. Therefore it is completely appropriate to discuss models of change.

Here, I’m drawing on John Kotter’s ideas when I say that, by getting a range of individuals involved at the needs analysis stage, you are starting to “create a compelling vision” of what the future might look like and generating buy-in from the learners AND those who will be supporting them as they bring their learning back to the workplace.

(Note to the reader! You may not necessarily agree with me when I say that real learning is about behavioural change – and I know that I’m being rather simplistic when I say this.)

Programme design: why we need pre-learning requirements

When we are designing programmes of learning we’re very good at creating aims and objectives which we then include in proposals to the business and joining instructions for our participants.

Here’s a question for you:

How many times have you asked a group what they know about the training that they are attending and the answer that you receive is “not much”?

I feel sad when I get this answer because it means that no one has taken the time to brief individuals on why they are being asked to take time out of their working week to attend training.

And we may get a similar answer in relation to blended learning approaches and other approaches that have been driven by the organisation, rather than the individual. Even when individuals request learning, they are often quite vague about what exactly they want to achieve from it.

With this in mind, I strongly believe that there should be some pre-learning requirement that ensures that individuals have a conversation with someone in their organisation, preferably their line manager, with whom they agree personal objectives and required outcomes for the learning.

Once our learners have returned to the workplace it shouldn’t just be business as usual.

This should be part of the programme design and included in any briefing for those commissioning learning programmes.

I know that this is not new or radical thinking. But my experience is telling me that pre-learning conversations are simply not happening.

In some cases, the interaction might be “Oh no, I forgot you’d got that workshop tomorrow. OK, well, don’t forget we’ve got a deadline to meet on that project, so you’d better not be too tired when you come in on Thursday.” This type of comment is hardly setting the person up for a positive learning experience!

I endorse the approach that includes the following:

Before signing up for any learning, a meeting that covers:

  • The programme aims and objectives in the context of the individual’s job role

  • What implementing the learning will look like and achieve for the individual, the team and the organisation

Having enrolled on the learning, a conversation to discuss:

  • The personal objectives and focus for the individual as they attend the programme

  • The support that the individual might need so that they can put their learning into practice as soon as possible

Once the learning has taken place (and during the learning when a longer programme is being pursued), discussions that cover:

  • Learning points, ideas generated, reminders and action points

  • Developing a specific learning implementation plan. This plan should reflect back on the discussions that happened pre-learning and relate to the changes that are required in order for the desired impact to be achieved.

Programme evaluation: an ongoing process

Revisiting what I said earlier, we will only be able to evaluate the success of learning if we’ve articulated the required outcomes before the learning takes place. Consider what the workplace look like once the change resulting from the learning has been embedded.

Again, I know that this is not new and radical thinking, and is simply drawing on Donald Kirkpatrick’s evaluation methodology.

Once our learners have returned to the workplace it shouldn’t just be business as usual. There should be mechanisms in place that enable individuals and their teams to implement the action plans that I mentioned in the previous section.

Post-learning monitoring should be part of the programme design

Monitoring shouldn’t just happen the day or week after the learning has taken place, it needs to happen over a longer period, depending on the changes that are expected.

The learner and his/her team need to be able to reflect on these questions:

  • What was it like before?

  • How did we want things to be different?

  • To what extent are things different now and how does this match up with our original vision?

  • What positive benefits have we seen?

  • What unintended outcomes have we noticed?

  • What do we need to do next so that we can keep improving and developing?

Making time to review

In today’s workplace, where we’re constantly moving quickly to the next thing, there is huge merit in building frameworks and structures that ensure time for planning and reviewing as well as doing.

And of course, this applies much more widely than learning interventions… but that’s a discussion for another time!


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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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