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ATD Blog

Transforming Virtual Learning at Penske

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Historically, the talent development team at Penske Transportation Solutions has taken pride in the fact that it could bring people together for in-person learning. When it was forced to move much of its learning online, it took extra care in deciding how to transform the experience.

“From an instructional design perspective, we had to get really good at understanding when, how, and why transformational learning in our programs takes place,” explains Laura Heaton, vice president of TD. “We didn’t just digitize an experience, which was the temptation.”

Enter Transformations Cards, a tool developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, that the facilitators use to kick off a program. The cards help the designers and facilitators drill down into such questions as What was it about that exercise that was so effective? and How do we facilitate that experience virtually? These were the challenges Penske had to address, section by section, to identify the pivotal points where learners had their aha moments, says Heaton.

“In transformational development, some of the work can be emotionally exhausting,” she notes. “We need to be able to balance those moments with core skills and cognitive development.”

Transformations Cards were just the beginning. TD needed guiding principles, such as devotion to the learners’ experience, and a map to convert the content. Next came questions such as:

  • What could transition to self-paced learning and in what media?
  • What still needs live participation and facilitation?
  • What action learning projects need cohort participation and what can learners complete on their own?
  • For which experiences do learners require emotional support from peers, a coach, a manager, the TD team, or the cohort?

The benefits of virtual learning quickly surfaced. First, Heaton says that the increase in the frequency of learning—small chunks accessed more often—boosted individuals’ understanding of many concepts. Before the pandemic, people would attend training for a week to get a large knowledge dump.

“It was learn, learn, learn. Go back to work. We were exhausting them,” she states. “Now employees get a chance to practice what they learn right away.”


What’s more, the frequency of connection points contributed to the cohort’s bonding. Because so many employees were dealing with various crises during the pandemic, that bond offered extra support to help them thrive through the most difficult times of their career.

“Although many people already knew and respected each other, the cohorts became a source of support for leading through these difficult issues,” Heaton shares.

Learn more about talent development at Penske Transporation in the article, "Steering Development."

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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