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Still Just Designing Training? Start Designing Learning Clusters

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

We all do it. We cram as much content into a training course as we can. Why? Because once we get an employee’s attention, we have to take advantage of that time; otherwise, we may not see these learners again for some time to come.

But what if we could do it differently? What if, instead of providing learning assets that employees use only once every few months (see How the Workforce Learns from Degreed), L&D provided learning assets that learners were more likely to use every week or every day?

To be more supportive and involved in employees’ work lives, try providing learning assets* that match the moments when learners want or need to learn. This is the essence of the Owens-Kadakia Learning Cluster Design (LCD) that we developed and share in our new book Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM. It leverages current learning theories like Mosher and Gottfredson’s 5 moments of Learning Need to advance the L&D field into today’s digital world.

learning cluster design model
We see L&D’s new job as targeting on-the-job behavior change. To do so, we developed a strategic model to identify and design learning assets that match moments of learning needs for diverse learners across their flow of work. Now we can break massive learning content into just the right size for the learner and put the learning in a place where employees can find and use it. While larger classes and courses are part of the strategy, meeting the day to day needs is included in the mix.

Picture this example:

Maria, an employee who has never worked remotely, is attending a Zoom meeting for the first time. She gets an email link inviting her to the online video team meeting. Her company knows about the five moments and includes several links in their email invitation template. The links include information for first time users and meeting leaders as well as about how to get more out of Zoom. The links take her to the company LMS where she finds content she feels most anxious about on Zoom. Maria feels confident that, because it’s on Zoom’s website, it will be more up to date, and because she found the link on the company LMS, it’s relevant to her. She reads the content, takes the recommended actions, and has a great meeting experience.


A few days later, Maria gets an email via the LMS asking her how her Zoom experience was, if the training material was helpful, and if she would like to get a Zoom user badge. If she wants the badge, she should click a link to an online quiz. Passing the quiz gets her the badge.

Can you envision a more traditional experience? Maria may have accepted the invite but not known where to go for assistance, felt anxious about trying new technology, and had no choice but to wait until the moment of the meeting to discover issues. By having a simple “learning asset” of links on an email invitation template, L&D has empowered Maria to learn her way through her first Zoom meeting within the flow of her work and without attending a course.


What’s the difference between designing training and a learning cluster?

When we design training, we tend to set up individual programs that are typically one-and-done. With a learning cluster, we have the luxury of setting up a group of learning assets that:

  • Provide a large swath of content, but in smaller segments.
  • Target particular groups of learners with content adjusted for their needs.
  • Help learners easily find content when they want or need to learn more.
  • Allow for spaced learning.
  • Avoid the “stuff everything in” approach so that it’s easier for L&D to design.

For a learning cluster to be effective, the related learning assets are designed as a set and managed so that learners can find them when, where, and how the employee needs to learn. This may be a different way of distributing your L&D content, but we think it’s worth it.

After all, wouldn’t you rather be helping employees learn daily instead of just once every few months? Let’s start getting the business impact we want and start designing learning clusters that surround our learners with meaningful learning assets rather than one and done training.

Learn more about the LCD model through the book and by connecting with us at

*Learning asset: A broad term describing a wide range of things that help people learn, including reading material, online searches, classes (F2F or virtual), discussions, video, or even a motivational poster. It can be as small as a 30-second audio recording or as large as a three-month class.

About the Author

Lisa M.D. Owens is a learning expert who combines her engineering mindset with a deep interest in instructional design and learning sciences to create training that moves business forward. In 2016, Lisa and Crystal Kadakia began researching issues facing L&D in this modern age to discover the next step in the L&D industry’s evolution beyond blended learning. This led to a highly rated ATD LearnNOW program, which then inspired the book they co-authored for ATD Press, Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM. Lisa also co-authored the ATD Press book <em>Leaders as Teachers Action Guide , which is based on her experiences as global training leader at Procter & Gamble.

About the Author

Crystal Kadakia is a two-time TEDx speaker, organizational consultant, and best-selling author, known for transforming the toughest workplace changes into exciting possibilities for our digital world. As a consultant, she brings organizations into the digital age, reimagining people strategies with clients in areas such as career development, learning culture, inclusion, leadership development, and employee engagement. Past clients include General Mills, Southern Company,, Sierra Club, and other organizations.

She is the co-creator of the Learning Cluster Design model and the co-author of the related book, Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM (ATD Press, 2020). This model empowers the revolution of the training industry for our Digital Age by showing L&D how to design a set of multiple learning assets, available across the flow of work, to deliver a performance goal on the job.

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