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Learning Journeys: Next Step in Performance Improvement

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
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Standalone training events, once the mainstay of the training industry, are increasingly being seen as relics of the 20th century. There are numerous reasons for this, but the main one is that more than ever companies are trying to find ways to justify the investments they make in learning.

This year’s ATD International Conference & EXPO in Washington, D.C., highlighted the shift toward learning journeys in an unexpected way. Before we started setting up our session, “Goodbye Learning Events. Hello High-Performance Learning Journeys,” we predicted only about 50 people would attend. Imagine our surprise when more than 500 people packed the room. So, the question is, why all the fuss about learning journeys?

What Do We Already Know About Learning Application?

We’ve known for decades, thanks to research by Rob Brinkerhoff and others, that some people will apply learning no matter what, some won’t apply anything, and, sadly, most will try but give up. It’s worth noting that giving up doesn’t happen because of a lack of intelligence, motivation, or learning design but rather because they don’t get the support to use learning in the workplace. This tells us that the majority group is where we need to focus our efforts if we want to get the most out of learning initiatives.

Why Has Application Become the Next Big Thing?

In recent years the “application problem” has become better understood by companies in their attempts to improve the effects of learning. Senior managers have realized that they need high-performing employees and not behavior change. The subtle difference can be explained like this: Behavior focuses on people. Twentieth-century training solutions are designed to make people behave differently in the hope that good things will happen. The type of training that focuses on behavior also includes rewards and sanctions, commonly known as the “carrot-and-stick” approach.

Performance, on the other hand, focuses on the tasks. Twenty-first-century learning solutions enable tasks to be done differently so that our businesses will perform better. This personal performance improvement style gets better business results and appeals to the next generation of self-improvement focused employees.

Why Is Learning Being Spread Out Over Timed Events?

For most people, perfecting tasks—even tasks such as remembering and contextualizing knowledge—is more easily done over time than at once.

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Largely due to the focus on Millennials, there has been a realization among learning designers, senior management, and learners that spreading learning over time gets a better result in the workplace, and learners prefer learning when it’s spaced out.

If people forget information, we design ways to help them remember. If they need to practice skills, we construct a framework for that to happen in the workplace. This reinforcement structure approach seems more natural and supports learners through learning sprints toward performance improvements.

How Has Technology Influenced Learning Design?

Lastly, let’s not forget about technology. One reason why learning journeys are more doable these days is that the technology exists to manage them. Think back just 10 years and you’ll remember that creating, administrating, delivering, and accessing learning was done through clunky LMSs, often at a desktop computer, and using less-than-easy-to-use interfaces.

Now we have the means to use technology in a way that is reasonable for the designers, administrators, and learners. Technology supports learning across devices in multiple locations. Moreover, we have the analytics to better understand how and when people access and use learning and learning support tools. As we get better at understanding how people use learning, we can create more personalized learning journeys.

What’s Next?

The challenge for most learning designers will be converting standalone training into learning journeys without starting from scratch and scrapping good content. One simple way to get started is to think of the switch like this: If high performance is the goal and learning journeys are the method, then learning transfer is the secret ingredient. So, start by understanding how to improve learning transfer to take the first step to creating learning journeys.

About the Author

Ian Townley, CPLP, is an independent learning and performance consultant based in London, United Kingdom. Over the last 17 years, Ian has designed, developed,and delivered learning to cross-cultural audiences for clients in three continents. He specializes in management development and 21st century soft skills learning design. Ian has had the pleasure of working with some of the most recognized names in industry, including Google, Pfizer, and Bayer. He is passionate advocate for the learner and has spent a large chunk of his career trying to solve the puzzle of how to effectively implement learning transfer to benefit the learner and the business.

9 Comments
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well said
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the idea of a learning journey vs standalone training is quite interesting
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