3 Keys to Effective Learning and Development Programs

October 27, 2017 4:00 pm PST | Data as a Service

Leaders inside and outside of government talk about the importance of bringing a learning culture to their organizations. This popular phrase learning organization, was originally formalized in Peter Senge’s seminal book The Fifth Discipline, published nearly 30 years ago.

Despite decades of cumulative research and billions spent each year on training and development (U.S. companies spent $160 Billion in 2015), many organizations still find it difficult to build and scale education programs that work. This post outlines the three essential components of a well-designed employee learning program.

1. Meet students where they are and how they learn best

Effective learning and development programs give employees a sense that the material is relatable to their day-to-day job responsibilities and aligned with longer-term career goals.

These programs should be rooted in an understanding of cognitive learning theory, which is focused on enabling individuals to engage with course content in a way that matches their preferred learning style. This goes well beyond defining what topics get covered, and even beyond incorporating digital formats like videos or e-books. It means delivering content to where learners are throughout their day.

Tools like YouTube, Slack, and Workplace by Facebook have completely changed the learning dynamic within organizations. And, of course, all learning experiences need to be considered through the lens of mobile devices. In short, modern training and development needs to shift from course management to creating thoughtful learning experiences, which starts with understanding how and where people learn best. This doesn’t always mean that organizations need to use the latest and greatest technology, but they should mold the education to fit their learners’ needs.

2. Make knowledge and skill retention a key component

Education programs should emphasize the retention of specific knowledge for students as a core objective. One key driver of knowledge retention is relevance.

To increase relevance, curricula can be customized in any number of ways. For example, courses can be designed to address the concerns of different departments or job functions. Another important determinant of knowledge retention is repetition. Program designers need to carefully weigh the amount of content required to facilitate retention without contributing to “cognitive overload.”

Organizations should curate the best available content on a given topic and then consider reducing that by 50 percent to provide only the essential materials to start. Scaling up content is much easier than trying to reengage employees who have been turned off by a lot of clutter.


3. Track performance data to measure success

When creating a learning and development program, architecting for quality is essential.

For example, earlier in this post, I talked about the importance of incorporating best practices of digital user experience design into content delivery. But, when it comes to measuring the success of the program, qualitative metrics should be analyzed along with quantitative results. There are many ways to evaluate return on investment for learning and development programs. Two of the most common ways are by objectively testing knowledge and skill retention and monitoring how well this information is applied by employees.

End-of-course assessments are a simple way to capture knowledge retention data. To measure performance improvement in key areas, organizations can do three hundred sixty degree evaluations to assess how a new set of skills is affecting a learner’s work. For example, organizations can talk with a student’s manager, colleagues, and direct reports to see if learned knowledge and skills are being applied in their day-to-day work.

Incorporating these foundational principles into learning and development programs will foster greater engagement and help organizations scale programs over time—while staying focused on results.

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