How To Define A Workplace eLearning Strategy That Works
We were recently in conversation with a client about eLearning implementation at their workplace. At one point, I asked how this implementation tied in with their workplace eLearning strategy. This question sent everyone in the room, all senior HR and learning professionals, scurrying for cover. The group hastily started to explain that the courses should be highly interactive and engaging, and further went on to elaborate how they can be made so, by incorporating gamification, delivering them on the mobile, and so on.
While these are all good suggestions, I believe we need a macro approach to be defined before we can get down to the micro details of its implementation.
I can understand the group’s response though. The term ‘strategy’ can mean different things to different people, implying a lot of things or nothing at all. Add to that the term ‘learning’, and we have the perfect recipe for confusion. So what do we mean by the term strategy, and why is it important to define one before embarking on an eLearning initiative? Let’s find out.
Wikipedia defines strategy as a “high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty”. It further goes on to say that it “involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals...”. Note the key elements here. A strategy:
- Involves setting one or more goals.
- Puts in place a plan to achieve the goals.
Having established that defining a strategy is key to eLearning implementation success, here are 9 steps that I think can help define an effective workplace eLearning strategy:
1. Identify What You Want To Accomplish, Why, And In What Timeframe
This becomes your goal, and the starting point for your strategy definition and execution. It could be something like “upskill employees in technical areas and create a pool of expertise”. Also make sure to indicate an appropriate timeframe. A timeframe that is too long or too short will throw your efforts out of gear.
Most importantly, indicate ‘why’ your goal is important. The above example, of “creating an expertise pool”, is a real one that one of our clients faced. They are a large engineering organization in which all the expertise resided in the heads of a few senior engineers. When these engineers started retiring, the company was faced with a huge talent vacuum that had to be filled fast.
In moments of uncertainty (there will be plenty!), the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of your goal will form the guiding beacons that will help decision-making.
And in the case of my client, once this why was established, it was easy for them to also define the timeframe.
2. Understand Where You Currently Are Vis-à-Vis The Goal
What is the general level of expertise in your company? Is everyone at a more-or-less standard level, or are there wild variations?
Do you have any learning programs (eLearning or otherwise) in place? Take those into account. How do people cope currently? Perhaps they are casually checking with their co-workers, or with people outside the company. Maybe there are bits and pieces of information scattered at various places that they keep referring to.
Considering the current position will save a lot of rework and heart ache while getting down to executing the strategy.
3. Identify Evaluation Parameters
eLearning implementation is a time-, effort-, and resource-intensive process. With that said, how will you know whether your efforts have been successful? In other words, what is your success criteria? It could be simple, such as “at least 90% employees should have gone through all the training”. Or it could be more nuanced, such as “at least 80% employees should be at the expert level in advanced technical skills, and they should be able to converse with customers on their own, without needing a senior engineer’s support”.
Once you have the success criteria defined, decide on how you will evaluate the same. You might also have to set baseline parameters, which means you must undertake an evaluation process before you start executing your workplace eLearning strategy. Comparing this baseline data with the final outcome will tell you how effective the implementation has been.
4. Consider The Entire Gamut Of Learning As Well As The Organization’s Culture
Recognize that learning does not just happen in isolated training events, whether online or face-to-face. People learn through various means such as social interactions with their co-workers, through feedback from peers, bosses and customers, and even just by browsing for information online.
Frameworks such as 70:20:10 (which stipulates that people learn 70% on the job, by doing and getting feedback on their work, 20% by interacting with others, and only 10% through formal training sessions) can come in handy. While the numbers 70, 20, and 10 are not sacrosanct, they do indicate how people learn, naturally.
There are approaches for helping people learn at each of these levels, a few of which include:
- Scheduled face-to-face or online synchronous training sessions
- Mobile learning
- Discussion groups (online or offline)
- Communities of practice (online or offline)
- Wikis, blogs, and forums
- Coaching and mentoring
- On-the-job performance support systems
At this point, it’s also important to consider the culture of the organization. Is it a formal business-suit kind of culture, or is it more casual? Is there a set hierarchy in place, where people need to go through the totem pole to reach higher-ups, or can they casually walk in to their boss’ cabin and start a conversation? If it is the former, more of formal training would work, whereas things like discussion groups might thrive in a more casual setting.
Understanding the forms of learning and aligning them with your workplace culture can help in:
- Leveraging multiple channels to impart learning.
- Reducing cost of developing and maintaining formal training.
- Increasing the impact of training, and thereby improving results.
5. Take Into Account What Is Needed, And What Is Available
You don’t have to make an exhaustive list of skills that you need to support people on. Rather, it’s a starting point, and the reason for this exercise is to understand broadly what kinds of skills people will need training on. Does it cover the complete spectrum of skills, or just a part?
Consider what is already available within the organization. It can be reused or repurposed to fit the need.
Even for skills / topics for which you don’t have content within the organization, consider looking outside for resources. It might be helpful to curate these resources rather than having to reinvent the wheel.
6. Determine How Often Would Content Need Updation
Think about whether your content is fixed (a lot of technical content is) or ever-changing. There is no point in investing tons of time and resources on creating content that is bound to change in the next few months. It would be better (and hassle-free) to source available resources. But if you do want to create such content, think about how it will be updated as and when the need arises. (Many eLearning courses are created with a view to frequent updations.)
7. Think About How Learning Would Fit Into Employees’ Day
What does an employee’s typical day look like? How much of learning would they have to put in, say every week, in order to reach the level of expertise you are aiming for? And, in what ways will your content help them do that?
Are employees mostly at their desk, or are they out in the field talking to customers or partners? If it is the former, you can offer courses that they can go through on their desktops. But if it’s the latter, it would mean that you will need to leverage mobile technologies and on-the-go content.
It might help at this stage to take different employee profiles, and create personas based on each. Walk these personas through the process of going about their jobs, learning, applying what they learnt, then again going back to their regular jobs, learning, applying, and so on.
This will provide plenty of insights into how people access their training, and will help you design your solutions accordingly.
8. Consider Who Needs To Come Onboard, And When
Decide on who will be involved at what stage. A handful of people, including the project sponsor and business unit heads) will have to be onboard right from the beginning. But typically, one profile that often gets overlooked is the learner.
The earlier learners get onboard, the better. Identify a closed group of learners to give you inputs on the challenges they are facing, and how they go about finding answers. You can also use them for test driving any solutions you come up with.
9. Think About Tools And Technologies
Note that this should be the last step, not the first. Once you have all the other items laid out, consider the technology you want to use. This needs to be done on a few different levels:
What tools are going to be used for developing the solutions?
Will you be using a Learning Management System to deliver training, and if yes, will it support all the elements of the solution you’ve outlined? If not, what other (suite of) tools will you use – it could be any combination of tools for delivery, social learning, collaboration, scheduling, etc. Note that you don’t need to get down into the absolute details; it is sufficient to define them at a broad level at this stage.
What infrastructure will you need for the above tools / technologies to be supported?
Learnnovators will shortly be releasing an eBook titled The Ultimate Guide To Successful eLearning Implementation At The Workplace. Meanwhile, do get in touch at [email protected] if you would like to discuss any of the above pointers, or if you need assistance with implementing eLearning at your workplace.