Designing Learning For Business Performance

Designing Learning For Business Performance
Summary: What you need to know to design for learning performance and how to implement learning design so that it is measurable.

Learning Solutions Are About More Than Learning

After more than a decade in the L&D industry, I’ve heard it all. Learning platform providers’ claims really do vary when it comes to the unique selling points of their technologies and their raison d'être. Some claim they are advancing skills, careers, employee engagement, and company culture. Others yet stand by formal learning and a vision of competence amongst their mass workforces, with an emphasis on course and training-based certifications and a heavily managed learning process.

Beyond this, there are others that are still making a mistake (as noted in one of our recent blogs): they design learning solutions purely for learning, rather than designing them to improve business performance. It’s an important distinction and one that often leads to an even more important question frequently asked by prospective Fuse customers. It usually goes something like this: “your platform is great, I love your content framework and your ideology, but how do I actually make sure all this learning is boosting the bottom line?”

You can hardly blame a budget-savvy chief learning officer or HR director for asking, right? After all, if anyone’s aware of the gap between learning and business value, it’s these leaders, in these roles. If you can relate, you should keep reading, as this checklist will provide you with a guide to what you need to know to design for learning performance—and how to implement learning design so that it is measurable.

1. Learning Needs To Be Relevant To Your Business

Learning has to be relevant, and it has to solve the issues that may arise with immediate tasks and goals associated with any particular role in a business. In looking to build habits that support higher performance, it’s important that businesses can understand knowledge requirements for employees, and then work to enrich knowledge for each individual.

This is likely to end up as a blended learning approach, a bit of skills training—including reskilling to equip people with skills they can apply in the future and upskilling focused on driving performance in the here and now—and lots of good digital learning resources as we have in Fuse.

Regardless of what makes up the magic combination for any one person, each approach has to satisfy the micro need for very role-specific knowledge, delivered at the point of need, to help solve problems and build habits that support the performance of each individual. And, while it may sound over the top, size definitely matters when it comes to relevance. Learners don’t need 10,000 pieces of knowledge. Two hundred highly relevant and applicable pieces of knowledge is a better starting point, because this is all that’s likely to be relevant, and it’s all we want our learners to select from when conducting searches.

It’s also important to note how useful AI can be when it comes to collecting and presenting relevant knowledge and creating context. Fuse can mine content and create intelligent links and tags within that content. It helps us understand, for example, more about the subject type and category, and where it might sit within an industry.

2. Learning Needs To Be Embedded In The Flow Of Work

We've invested a lot of time in understanding the user learning experience and its associated workflow. When we say “in the flow of work,'' or "knowledge at the point of need," we are talking about how you need to learn during work, so that you can apply what you’ve just learned immediately.

It’s how most people like to learn—it’s really that simple. You hit a snag or you need some information, and if you’re a Fuse customer, you look up the answer in Fuse and get a spot-on result that only takes minutes to consume (thank you, concise content—see point 3) and execute on.

Our customers illustrate exactly how important this is all the time. Fuse Founder, Steve Dineen’s post The Power of Knowledge at the Point of Need will show you exactly how Hilti, Vodafone, and Avon are harnessing the power of knowledge at the point of need to drive business performance. One other point on why learning needs to be embedded in the flow of work; if you leave all learning to the classroom, it’s unlikely that your workforce will apply it and most likely that they’ll forget the vast majority of it.

This isn’t news. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered experimental studies of memory in the late 19th Century, culminating with his discovery of “The Forgetting Curve.” He found that if new information isn’t applied, we’ll forget about 75% of it after just 6 days. A 75% loss over 6 days is not a metric that is going to drive business performance.

3. Learning Content Should Meet Certain Criteria

If you’re curious about how content can drive business performance specifically, our eBook, 12 Commandments of Content: Content For Learning That Supports Higher Performance, is a fantastic starting place.

Here, you will learn that in order for learning content to drive business performance, it must be based on essential practices, techniques, and strategies that will get tacit knowledge outside of the heads of company Subject Matter Experts, and into the flow of work to turn skills into habits that support higher performance. You’ll also learn the importance of content that is concise, mobile, compelling, shareable….the list goes on!

4. Learning Needs To Be Continuous

Like social media platforms, one of the biggest challenges in L&D is creating engagement beyond that first visit, or making a platform "sticky." The role of corporate learning isn’t just to "do" learning once and then go away. The goal isn’t achieved until there’s an environment that develops people to become continuous, self-sustaining learners.

One of the key principles in establishing engagement is to make new learning available frequently. If people are enjoying the creative, compelling content, and if they feel it offers them value, why wouldn’t they come back for more?

Learners also need to be able to recognize value, and they need to do it quickly, or they will lose interest. And that value needs to be consistent over time. When a resource stops being valuable, people stop using it. You can learn more in our eBook, Solve the Learning Engagement Problem And Power Bigger Impact for Business.

5. Learning Should Make Use Of Micro-Influencers

Think of performance-based learning design as aligned with the very YouTube-esque principle of micro-influencers. Just as a person may have influence on YouTube, if you can find and create those individuals in your company who have great knowledge and who are seen as experts, you’re winning. Tapping into their tacit knowledge may be critical to your learning platform’s success, just as micro-influence is on a social media channel.

Case in point, when Vodafone launched its Fuse platform in the UK, it featured content from top retail performers from the business, which employees immediately recognized and followed on the platform. In fact, the engagement was so entrenched that Vodafone had 100% of its retail management team and 95% of its retail associate team engaging on a weekly basis, frequently outside of office hours as well. Over the past 5 years, Vodafone has maintained an 80% engagement with its Fuse platform consistently—you won’t find many learning platforms that hit those numbers.

6. Learning Needs To Be Measurable

Like any business unit, learning should be tied to revenue and profitability targets. It is absolutely possible to measure the impact of learning on the bottom line and Fuse customers do it every day.

For example, both Hilti’s sales onboarding time and payback process times have decreased by 80% with Fuse. Avon tracked that the incremental increase in monthly visits to its Fuse platform—the difference between low frequency (1 to 2 visits per month) and medium frequency (3 to 4 visits per month)—showed dramatic uplifts of +320% in aggregate sales over a 6-month period.

Our client, Joules, was able to retire their document management system, and move all documents to Fuse where they could more easily be shared. Joules’ employees were using Fuse as a hub for learning, internal comms, community building, and wellness support, and that naturally rendered their document management system redundant. The savings on retiring any major enterprise system are significant, not to mention the streamlining of business operations.

There are countless other examples of measurability in L&D, and you can read more about them in The Top 10 Metrics that Matter for Profitability

7. Learning Should Be Social

L&D should absolutely use social media principles to drive engagement and performance. Beyond this, learning platforms should encourage sharing on every level, and commenting, so users are constantly adding and sharing insight into what they’ve learned. A big part of successful learning that contributes to business performance is understanding the social element of how employees make sense of knowledge, and how they interpret it and add context to it before they share it back to their role-related communities to encourage further organic learning possibilities.

All enterprise learning and knowledge systems should be encouraging employees to contribute or make comments on content to give it more context with that enriched information added on to it. It’s a great concept and one we explore further in an interview with our very own Sam Lawson, in our post Seek, Sense and Share: Sam Lawton on Why Content Aggregation Needs Context, Collaboration and Community.

8. Learners Need Coaches

If we’re putting business performance at the top of the L&D agenda, coaching and assessment need to be priorities. Coaching is at the very heart of Fuse. We know that people learn best not by watching a trainer with no real-life experience, but by consuming knowledge provided by somebody who lives and breathes that knowledge. It’s called tacit knowledge and if your coach is a Subject Matter Expert who has created a video on Fuse to demonstrate how to do the things that they do best, then you’re well-positioned to walk away with the answers you need for your immediate questions. Our post Tapping Tacit Knowledge at the Point of Need illustrates this perfectly.

Assessment is another critical part of coaching. Learning without assessment is just providing people with a series of media. Learners need to be able to show or tell us exactly how they have achieved a particular learning objective or outcome, and they need program touchpoints with people who can act as coaches.

9. Learners Need Opportunities And Safe Places To Practice

We talk a lot about knowledge at the point of need, and quite frequently, learners in Fuse can get answers from consuming knowledge that allows them to solve a problem immediately and move on.

However, sometimes what people learn is more complex and multifaceted, and simply consuming the knowledge and applying it immediately isn’t enough. In this instance, if learners are to gain competence to use the knowledge they consume on Fuse, they need to have safe spaces where they can practice and gain expert feedback (this may be from managers, SMEs, and key stakeholders in the business.)

Think about it this way: when you're learning a new language, it helps to practice with a native speaker. If you are learning a musical instrument, you’re not going to be concert-ready immediately. Learning isn’t a spectator sport, and what you need to actually embed is to be able to practice in an environment where you feel at ease. Blended learning is a key part of this. Fuse offers a holistic learning experience that blends formal training with informal learning on the job, underpinned by access to subject matter expertise, knowledge, and answers that support performance in the flow of work.

10. Learning Should Absolutely Make The Best Use Of The Latest Technology To Drive Business Performance

I know, of course we’d back technology, we’re a learning and knowledge engine provider after all. But these days, every enterprise is a technology company in one way or another, and if you are not making the most of what technology can do to help you accelerate and embed learning in the flow of work, you are missing a trick.

Ask yourself: does your L&D technology support intelligent search for hyper-accessible knowledge? Is it capable of predictive analytics to recognize learners' problems and guide them to the exact knowledge they need, in context and flow? Is it delivering measurable performance benefits by shrinking learning time and supporting performance at the point of need?

This is what the Fuse platform is doing for our customers, and it’s become a significant supporter of the performance mindset that well-known learning and organizational performance strategy expert Charles Jennings describes in one of his articles:

One important part of this change process, but certainly not the only part, is the need for L&D professionals to develop or improve their business—and output—focused capabilities. Without a performance mindset, together with the tools and processes needed to analyse organizational problems and deliver the right solutions at the right time, and without a set of business-focused capabilities, L&D professionals will continue to struggle to deliver real business value. And L&D leaders will be challenged to align with business priorities if their teams don’t build or possess these capabilities.

If you want to design learning for business impact, technology, along with people and processes, is usually core to the cause.

Additional Source: Designing Learning for Business Performance: Part II

eBook Release: Fuse
Used by over 150 progressive organisations worldwide — including Hilti, Vodafone, Panasonic, Scandic, and Avon — Fuse sparks active engagement for deeper learning experiences that ignite your people’s performance.

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