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Learning Journeys: The New Building Block for L&D

Friday, April 15, 2022

Forward-thinking organizations have invested in employees’ long-term professional development for more than 100 years, but the value and nature of those investments evolved as employee tenure declined and turnover rose. The classic corporation of 70 years ago developed white-collar workers almost exclusively through loosely interwoven practices of training, information sharing, and socializing institutional knowledge driven by functional leaders in business units.

Today, that’s been augmented and expanded by a diverse network of formal structures (such as high-potential programs), onboarding and talent development investments, complex succession planning, and internal mobility ecosystems. There’s been an explosion of business processes designed to maintain the competitive edge of human capital in a perpetually changing environment—one where the faces may change faster than the business does.

Comprehensive, social, and collaborative learning programs have emerged as a gold standard. These programs deliver learning experiences that transfer organizational capabilities from one group of knowledge workers to the next. According to McKinsey & Company, “Many L&D functions are moving away from standalone programs by designing learning journeys—continuous learning opportunities that take place over a period of time and include L&D interventions such as fieldwork, pre- and post-classroom digital learning, social learning, on-the-job coaching and mentoring, and short workshops.”

Identifying social and collaborative learning as the correct modality isn’t a new idea, but delivering such sophisticated learning experiences online is. When GE determined that its most significant limitation to growth was its lack of leadership pipeline, for instance, it created its Crotonville leadership institute. When CEMEX realized it needed to become more agile, innovative, and digitally savvy, it created CEMEX University.

But how does this translate to a digital-first world? GE and CEMEX leverage platforms that create guided experiences to sync the individual’s and team’s needs with month- or year-long professional development programs mapped to their organization’s needs and employees’ progression. Standalone courses and continued practice provide additional opportunities for continuous development. Capability development proof points are tied directly to practice, application, and feedback inside the system.

At NovoEd, we call this method of holistically organizing learning with building blocks larger than individual courses learning journeys.


Learning Journeys in Practice

What do learning journeys look like? Some begin at onboarding and extend through an employee’s career growth at the organization. Much like mapping out coursework in higher education with the right combination of requisite classes and cohort-centered projects, the goal of the learning journey methodology is to create a superstructure that enables multiple courses to be put together as an impactful pathway to growth and development. In addition, they seamlessly integrate mandatory and elective courses and enable organizations to break down large programs into more manageable modules.

One large financial services organization is implementing a learning journey to train junior underwriters to advance to senior positions and interact with parties outside their organization. Their goal is to enable employees to develop skills gradually so that their organization builds a capability around that progression.


A large, diversified conglomerate is developing parallel learning tracks for managers and individual contributors that intersect with different employee populations, engaging with one another in various courses. They are configuring learning in various ways:

  • Sequential journeys that follow an enforced order in which capabilities are built upon and complemented by one another
  • Flexible journeys in which learners can select and complete courses in any order they choose
  • Hybrids of both models

Content can be repurposed across different learning journeys, and the modality can be a combination of asynchronous and cohort-based. In addition, individuals, teams, and entire organizations can be multithreaded inside learning journeys, aligning learning to business outcomes such as sales effectiveness or retention under frontline managers.

When course components are grouped together in different ways, learners are energized by a sense of completion and progression. They also enjoy a fully customizable and continuous professional development experience. As a result, enterprises realize their most ambitious goals for truly programmatic capability building—transforming organizational intelligence and driving innovation and agility one learner at a time.

About the Author

Jacob Nikolau is head of marketing strategy and research at NovoEd, a social and collaborative learning technology company. He has spent his career in marketing and industry analysis across a range of EdTech, FinTech, and AdTech businesses focused on providing transformative technology solutions to the global Fortune 2000. Jacob graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in Human and Economic Geography

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