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Creating a business-based learner focused approach to training


Susan Schwartz, principal consultant of The River Birch Group looks at some of the key considerations for designing training programmes which are focused on the learner, but are also aligned to business needs.

Part I: Implementing a Business-Based Learning Approach

Historically, many workplace learning programmes were created using one of two design approaches: a drawn-out pedagogical process, or a hodge-podge of information consolidated into a training binder. To be effective, however, it is essential for a learning programme to integrate and reflect the business objectives of the organisation. A modularised, goal-focused approach enables organisations to create training programmes that are flexible, extensible, scalable, measurable, and adaptable.

A flexible programme design enables immediate skill achievement in shorter amounts of time. Because the smaller learning units are related back to a common set of goals and objectives, they can maintain a focus even though the moments of learning are sporadic. Programme modularity enables organisations to apply different learning methods for different content areas or learning audiences. Programme maintenance costs are minimised because information updates can be implemented without affecting the entire programme cycle.

Designing training based on an organisational perspective creates an extensible programme that enables people to realise the full value of the learning experience. Specifically, when the training programme is completed, learners understand how the materials relate to their position and how to successfully perform the required workplace tasks. As with many large-scale projects, training programme implementations should begin with a pilot programme to test the technical, administrative, and pedagogical systems. However, the total learning programme design should be scalable so that it may be quickly deployed across a broad audience once the pilot phase completes.

A successful learning programme must be measurable. A variety of performance tools can track designated metrics that will enable managers to evaluate the effectiveness and economic value of a training activity. Learning management systems (LMS) automatically track learner activities and achievement across the entire enterprise. Appropriate feedback mechanisms should be made available to the learner and appropriate management chain. The final and most important segment of a learning management process is the design of adaptable programme components. Content, organisational requirements, and learning technologies are constantly changing. It is essential that mechanisms are put into place to continually review and revise the learning plan.

Part II: Developing a Learner-Focused Training Programme

In order to deliver information in a real-time mode, successful knowledge and skill transfer programs may soon resemble "plug and play" PC capabilities. Since the human brain is not easily disassembled, a solution that addresses different learning modes, methods, and styles will help today’s workforce maintain high performance. There is no single learning solution. The learning methods chosen need to reflect the difficulty of the content material, the knowledge level of the student, available resources, timeframes, learning technologies, and budget.

Four primary learning methods that can be combined to create an environment conducive to ongoing learning are traditional classroom, self-education, group exchange, and real-time learning.

The traditional classroom will continue to play a role in an organisation’s learning strategy; however, it may not always have the "look and feel" of the traditional eight-hour corporate training workshop. These conventional venues remove people from the workplace for several days, if not weeks. Additionally, the monetary and opportunity costs for classroom-based training delivery are extremely high because only a limited number of students can attend each session. It can be significantly more time- and cost-effective to combine in-person classroom training with other training avenues. Based on the specific objectives of each phase of the training program, a variety of learning methods can be employed. For example, instead of a two-week training programme, You can bring employees together for a two-day kickoff meeting followed by the use of alternate learning technologies from their own workspace. Instead of a week-long technical training class, You can employ a self-paced distance learning curriculum culminating in a classroom-style lab.

Self-education, or self-paced learning mentioned earlier, is another important element when developing a learning continuum. Some people enjoy setting their own learning goals and timeframes, while others prefer structured milestones. However, all learners agree that self-paced should not mean "on personal time." Self-education is an excellent means to gain an understanding of foundation concepts or to brush up on some finer points; the key is to schedule this time as part of the total learning programme. It also is important to establish consistent, corporate-wide metrics to measure the acquisition/improvement of skills and the achievement of performance goals upon programme completion; otherwise, the CDs, books, videos, and Web-based programmes will literally be left untouched as other non-learning projects take priority.

Group exchange is a third effective learning method, particularly when trying to adapt to changing workplace environments. This type of learning has always existed, albeit informally around the water cooler or at lunch. It is essential that learning management plans incorporate a variety of methods to promote structured group knowledge exchange and tools that will log, share, and provide information feedback. These group dialogs can include voice conference calls, email messages, on-line discussion threads, and interactive Web conference/classroom services. Because geographically dispersed team members may not have had the opportunity to establish a trust relationship, the organisation’s culture must support, encourage, and help employees feel secure with virtual interactions.
Real-time learning is the most difficult method to leverage. This is the "ah-hah!" moment when a learner finds himself in a situation for which no training or reference material exists, and new knowledge is created. The challenge is how to capture, document, distribute, discuss, and normalize this new knowledge before the worker moves onto another task or assignment.

Part III: Summary

It is important to understand that a variety of learning methods – when balanced with business objectives – can reinforce and stimulate the learning process. Blended learning strategies that mix a range of training methods can meet program objectives and learner needs better than any single approach. Today’s Internet-based learning technologies offer the opportunity to create a learning community that is available 24x7. By providing learners with information when they need it, well-planned and executed learning programmes become strategic business tools.


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