4 simple questions for a powerful learning strategy

By Susan Dumas | August 08, 2018 | 0

learning strategy

The learning and development strategies of the world’s leading companies make interesting reading. Most have focused on providing more flexible opportunities for staff to take charge of their own learning through self-directed learning. And most, while not ditching it completely, have reduced their reliance on classroom training. In this blog, we’ll give you a vital blueprint for creating a successful learning strategy based on answering four simple questions.

If you'd like to learn more about how the best organisations create their learning strategy, download our free research. 

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How the world’s best approach learning strategy

What’s clear from the world’s leading organisations is that they view workplace learning as vital to their overall business strategy. These types of organisations often hire more for “learnability” than for skills and experience. For them, being able to learn and adapt quickly is a bigger predictor of on-the-job success than skills and experience. For example, Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time on personal projects. While not all organisations will have the capacity to do this, it’s clear the benefit this brings. These personal projects have led to innovations such as Gmail and AdSense. Apple focus heavily on self-directed learning, as their product set changes so quickly that employees must build new skills continuously; their learning culture delivers their business strategy. And Facebook, a company which has seen exponential growth, frequently uses ”Deep Dive” bootcamps to support employees in the face of such rapid growth. These bootcamps help to onboard new staff quickly into the organisation’s culture, so that high standards can be maintained.

It’s a deliberate learning strategy

Nothing happens by chance in the likes of Apple, Google or Facebook. They know where the business is going, they know the type of staff and skills that they need – and they create a learning strategy to deliver these. But the learning strategy doesn’t just stop at keeping employees competent. Successful organisations’ learning strategies focus on recruiting the right type of staff, building an inclusive and engaging learning culture, and continuously aligning with the business’s ambitions. Our client IDE Group, for example, wanted to provide better support options for their staff, and by changing their learning culture, they improved staff engagement, made their merger work and improved customer service. 

Most workplace learning research points to the fact that the best employees want to direct and control their own learning. So, what’s holding them back? It’s the L&D team and the employees’ managers! There’s a lack of trust in employees making good choices about their own learning.

Your learning strategy – scale training and focus on blended learning

The vital role of a learning strategy is to address the mix of learning needs and agree the learning priorities that will best support the business. 

Many organisations are making the journey from providing one type of learning through classroom-only training to looking at more impactful, cost-effective and flexible learning options. There are two problems with the classroom-only approach – it isn’t scalable and you’re missing out on the benefits that modern eLearning and learning technologies can bring. Workplace learning is more than one type of learning. We should really call workplace learning blended learning.

Many of our clients come to us when they are going through change, such as internal reorganisation or business growth through merger and acquisition. Most organisations have an increased demand for skills development and they are under time pressure to deliver. They have new people and new processes, and they must prepare to meet the future needs of their business. Classroom training isn’t scalable or cost effective enough to support the change the business needs.

For example, we know that most organisations deliver the same type of learning programmes year after year. We also know that leadership development is a top priority for most organisations. The core skills of organisations – foundational learning and generic training – are important, too. How do you support staff with skills such as communication, project management and using tools like Microsoft Office? How do you address key business challenges, such as increasing innovation, or keep up with the ever-challenging compliance and regulation burden? And how do you support staff in their career development to keep them engaged and more likely to stay with you?

The overall training needs for an organisation can be complex, but we know what most of them are – so starting with a strategy is the right thing to do. To get somewhere, you need a plan; after all, failing to plan is planning to fail.

 

This is the model we use with the majority of our clients to help them address their learning priorities:

achieveable-L&D-1
Ask great questions, get a better learning strategy

A learning strategy is a statement of intent and a plan for how you’ll help the business meet its targets through carefully developed training and learning interventions. So, where do you start with your learning strategy? You start by asking good questions. The four basic questions to answer for any strategy are:

1.  Where am I now?
2.  Where do I want to be?
3.  How will I get there?
4.  How will I know if I am successful?

Question 1: Where am I now? 

Do an audit of your current training provision. Talk it over with your HR and L&D colleagues. How do you carry out most of your training? Is it cost effective and efficient? Does it make an impact on the business? What training techniques do you currently use? What options do your staff have for improving their performance – does it all have to go through L&D or are managers and teams free to organise their own training and support? Do you provide access to tools and/or resources so staff can support their own learning? Other areas to look at:

  • How are you supporting your leaders and managers to develop and improve?
  • How many of your employees are high performers and what’s your plan to build on this?
  • How do you use mentoring and coaching? Research shows that coaching delivers a significant return on investment for most organisations.
  • How will you meet future skill needs? What business challenges are likely to come into focus in the next 6 to 12 months?
  • How good is your employee onboarding? Ask your recent recruits for feedback.
  • How is your staff retention?


To verify the answers to these questions, talk to your team managers and senior management team (SMT). It’s important for L&D to talk the language of the business, so ask your SMT about the current priorities and goals for the business. Show the SMT that you and the L&D team are there to be part of the business achieving the results it needs – by making sure you understand the numbers, the metrics and the pain points.


What you should produce at this stage is a:

  • list of all the training and learning interventions that the business currently supports
  • list of the current skill needs of the business
  • ratio of high performers to average-to-low performers.

The list should include classroom training, any coaching and mentoring, and any special programmes such as for leadership or onboarding. You should also document the cost of these programmes and the results they are currently bringing you. Team managers should be able to report on the impact of training and learning support for their staff. It you find it difficult to assess the cost and impact of the training, then it’s a good indication that the business needs to start having these sorts of conversations.

Question 2: Where do I want to be?

The best place to start is getting to grips with what modern learning really means. Already, most of your employees will be used to driving their own learning outside of the workplace. They have access to apps and smart devices, and can usually find anything they need using these. Is it the same for them when they come into work?

For many workplaces, adopting a modern learning strategy starts with looking at their underlying learning culture. Some of the areas you might want to learn more about are:

  • Modern learning models – such as 70:20:10 and the five moments of learning need
  • Understanding the role of formal learning versus informal learning
  • Moving towards the holy grail of self-service learning
  • Building a self-directed learning culture

Also – get to grips with current learning technologies such as learning management systems, virtual classrooms, social learning tools, curation tools and sharing tools. There are many places to learn about these modern techniques, for example LinkedIn groups for learning professionals.  Your learning strategy should be focused on solving challenges that your business faces, such as cost and efficiency savings, staff engagement, staff development, performance improvement and meeting specific business goals.

Most L&D professionals cite knowledge of learning technologies as being their biggest challenge. At Logicearth, we’d recommend starting off small; think about a change you can make in one area, for example:

 

Could you cut costs and give staff more flexibility around when and how they
learn by introducing webinars to support classroom courses?

The most important thing to be aware of when imagining your new learning future is that your staff want and need different things from workplace learning. Because our experiences outside work are so different to the training on offer inside work, there’s a perfect storm brewing that is driving expectations upwards.

Question 3: How will I get there?

Questions 2 and 3 go together – you figure out where you want to be, and then you look at options that can get you there. So, for example, say you decide after discussions with your L&D team and SMT that these are your priorities for this year:

  • Priority 1: Learn about modern learning methodologies and agree where they could add most value to the business
  • Priority 2: Based on Priority 1, look at the barriers that might hold you back and the support that you need to succeed
  • Priority 3: Learn about modern learning technologies to address the challenges in Priority 2 and to succeed in the areas identified in Priority 1


You’ll probably find that if you spend time addressing barriers – such as looking at your underlying culture or maybe your IT infrastructure, it gives people time to consider the changes that you want to introduce. Be sure to bring people with you; your first learning strategy is really a change management initiative for the business and needs to be handled accordingly.

Question 4: How will I know if I am successful?

This is the easiest one to answer! Your goals or success factors will come out of answering Question 1. But don’t make it a one-off, end-of-year check-in; set some interim goals to make sure you keep on track. So, for example, if one of your goals is to introduce webinars, what are the interim steps to get you there? These could be:

1.    Research webinar tools

2.    Talk to vendors

3.    Make a shortlist

4.    Ask for a trial run

5.    Design your first webinar

6.    Rehearse and practice your first webinar

7.    Deliver your first webinar

8.    Get feedback

9.    Adjust your webinar design

10.   Continue to deliver webinars on selected topics, etc.    


Marketing your L&D services as blended learning specialists

Now that you have a learning strategy in place, how will you make sure everyone knows about it? This is one of the biggest challenges for an L&D team – how do you market your L&D services to the business?


If the business doesn’t know
what you can do for them, how will they know to ask?

Successful L&D teams build strong relationships with their team managers and SMT.  Consider presenting your overall learning strategy in a few different ways – could you make a short video or infographic summary, for example? Could you run L&D roadshows for managers to show how you can help their teams, as well as listening to what they need? Could you devise a yearly L&D planner so that staff will know when different learning initiatives are running? The point is to create a buzz about learning and get everyone to buy into what you will deliver for the business.

We’re here to help you with your learning strategy 

If you'd like to learn more about the business benefits of digital learning and how the best organisations
create their learning strategy, download our free research. 

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Posted in Learning and development, Business leader

Susan Dumas

About Susan Dumas

Susan is a Senior learning consultant, specialising in helping clients to navigate the options and to make the most of digital learning opportunities. Susan has 10+ years of experience in training needs analysis, managing global training projects and virtual training delivery.