Learner-Centered Training: All Power To The Learner
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How L&D Can Improve Workplace Learning With Learner-Centered Training

This has come up in Kineo’s Learning Insights reports for the past couple of years – the idea of Learning and Development professionals ‘letting go’ and relinquishing the ‘control’ they’ve had over learning in their business. But… do we really want to talk in such ‘them and us’ terms? We’re all aiming for the same outcomes, after all. Of course, it makes sense that each employee is in the driving seat for their own development, and our role in L&D is to facilitate that and make it as good a process as we can.

Learning Insights 2018: This Time It’s Personal
Check the insight, real-life stories, challenges, and successes collected from interviews and a survey with 200 L&D leaders across the globe.

Even when it comes to serving a wider business goal or delivering mandatory training – it’s still about what the learner needs to gain knowledge in the best way. And our most effective tool is simply to ask. In our online survey, we asked what kind of help would be needed to meet L&D goals. Only 57% of respondents cited ‘information from learners about their needs’ – a massive uplift on the 42% from 2017, but still only just over half. Can the other chunk truly be providing a useful and effective learning experience without this information?

One of our interviewees summed this up very well:

Our job is to look at what learners need and want. As a profession we've spent too long telling learners what they need to learn. I’m looking forward to asking more.

Another interviewee described what happened when they did ask. They surveyed every employee in a particular function and created personas based on their findings.

The results helped to challenge some assumptions we’re potentially all making – for instance, their employees like to learn in a different way at work from how they’d learn at home. In their own time they’ll happily learn from a YouTube video, but at work they would prefer to talk to someone directly. Insights from this simple survey will help our interviewee focus on creating a great learner experience in the coming year.

Getting Personal

The loud and clear message from this year’s interviews is that it’s no longer good enough to create standard eLearning courses, upload them to your LMS, then measure completion rates. Firstly because we’ve now recognized that the majority of ‘traditional’ eLearning courses are not fit for purpose as aids to getting the job done.

As one interviewee said:

Learners want an answer to a specific question. In the past the only way was a piece of eLearning – and somewhere within that 20-minute course was the answer you needed.

That’s clearly not a great experience, nor a good use of your employees’ time, particularly as we hear again and again just how time-poor everyone is. Far better to create a place where people can search for or filter a set of resources to find what they need when they need it. That makes better business sense and creates a far more efficient use of time. It means that a resource can be used exactly when it’s required to do the task – rather than waiting until the time allotted for learning. We remember from last year’s interviews that time officially set aside for L&D is shrinking, whereas allowing learners to schedule in their own personal development (or even learn outside of official work hours) is on the rise.

But more than that – there’s a feeling that it’s what our employees now expect. After all, we’re dealing with “the Facebook generation” – people’s expectations are now so much higher in terms of how much is tailored to them and how it’s delivered.

And, actually, this is not a generational phenomenon, rather a consequence of our friend ‘digital transformation’. A powerful computer in your pocket, websites that suggest purchases based on your browsing, microlearning apps that serve challenges based on your ability – no wonder we’re all a little more demanding when it comes to our workplace learning!

Before we treated everyone the same. Now it's how do we customize and personalize – and help learners to self-serve.”

So, the first level of personalization may be to allow each person to access information and resources according to their own choice. But, there will be times when you need to be a bit more prescriptive than that. Your employees may be new to a particular career pathway and unaware of what they’ll need to know. They may be completely new to the world of work or, for whatever reason, require a little more in the way of guidance.

You may also need to plot out a specific development pathway that leads to credentials or levels of certification. In cases such as these, our interviewees described using a learning platform to offer a tailored L&D journey. That could be tailored to a specific role or job family, or even personalized to each individual. We spoke to a consultant at a large insurance company who described developing a quick assessment that employees can take when they first visit the learning platform. Someone joining the business with previous experience of the industry will have very different requirements from someone without, for instance. A diagnostic such as this aims to present a learning pathway designed for the specific requirements of each user or personal.

And that leads on to the third level of personalization – using Artificial Intelligence to diagnose and select what each learner needs. In Time to Transform—a collection of our thoughts around digital transformation—we talked about the award-winning online training platform, Filtered, which uses AI to personalize the learning experience for each user. Its ‘globalfilter’ also incorporates a chatbot to provide rapid-fire content suggestions based on your profile. So the learner chooses when, where, and how much they want to learn, and the content is pushed depending on the information they provide. Of course, the content it serves up must still be relevant, rich, good quality, and truly useful – in fact, that’s even more important. If you have a bad learning experience once, will you bother returning again?

A handful of our interviewees discussed the biggest benefit of creating a good learning experience: staff engagement and retention. This is particularly important where there is a high staff turnover rate, or where it’s a sector that isn’t perceived as particularly attractive or dynamic for younger employees (to quote one interviewee, “what’s fun about working in finance?”). If you’re aiming to attract and retain an effective workforce, having a strong culture of continuous development is key.

Getting Sociable

Allowing and encouraging employees to learn from each other—with just a little bit of structure—is still a hot topic among our interviewees. There doesn’t seem to be the same burning need to jump onto the ‘social learning’ bandwagon anymore. This has gone from a trend (‘I must put social learning in place this year’) to a recognized and nurtured part of the learning and development strategy (‘How can I help my people collaborate and share knowledge?’).

Virtual mentoring and coaching is a popular approach to up-skilling a specific group of people who don’t have bags of time to get together in person. Many businesses are also exploring how to use their learning platform to encourage conversation around learning topics – either as a continuation of a face to face session, an addition to curated content, or just a discussion forum. One interviewee explained the importance of a place where employees could simply say ‘I don’t understand’ and get support directly from peers.

The next step may be to create a platform where in-house experts can easily create their own content and upload it to help others. Our interviewees often referenced the challenges of obtaining information from Subject Matter Experts and converting it into learning content without losing any of the value. But why be a middleman here?

If Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) could be empowered to create a resource themselves—something like a PDF checklist, screen grab, or quick selfie video explaining a concept—it may just do the job.

We interviewed the Learning Systems advisor at a global chain of coffee shops and heard about one way in which some user-generated content could add value. Employees occasionally post videos on YouTube or Facebook showing off some of their achievements and skills as a barista. The next stage could be to bring some of this content onto the in-house platform so that people can learn tips and tricks from colleagues in other global locations. Everyone feels empowered – the learner who’s picked up a quick tip and the employee who has been able to share something they’re good at.

Of course, social learning will not be suitable in the same format in every business or sector and that’s fine. One interviewee explained: “the challenge with MOOCs and social learning is how we transition from some free content to formalizing and accrediting it”. Employees need to prove they understand what they’ve learned and to receive a credential that will allow them to move on in their career – in this case social learning would not be suitable on its own, although it could support a more formal training element.

At Kineo we talk about the ‘learner power continuum’ – as a business starts to reduce top-down control of L&D, it proportionally increases the freedom an individual has to determine and drive their own learning needs. There’s no wrong or right answer here. It isn’t a race to hand all ‘control’ to the learner, nor is it a case of simply replacing formal learning with informal. It’s just a case of working out where you are on that continuum, and where you’d like to be (realistically) based on your business culture and needs. Once you know that, you and your learners can work on getting there together.

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