How To Understand And Integrate Learner Needs Into Your Training Programs

Integrate Learner Needs Into Your Training Programs
Summary: The significance of understanding and integrating learner needs into corporate training programs is well established. In this article, I share a 3-part process you can use to capture, process, and integrate learner needs into your training programs.

Why Is It Important To Understand Learner Needs In Your Training Programs?

The changing work landscape, including remote work, a highly mobile workforce, and increased social interactivity beyond traditional workplaces, makes it essential that organizations evolve their eLearning strategies to respond appropriately. However, according to a Brandon Hall Group study, less than a quarter of organizational L&D strategies are effective in helping companies meet their business goals.

One of the underlying issues for the ineffectiveness of training programs, especially as it relates to remote learning, is that organizations put “learning” as the sole desired outcome while neglecting to integrate learner needs into their strategies.

What Are The Benefits Of Integrating Learner Needs Into Your Training Program?

Integrating learner needs into training programs offers benefits far greater than just successful training completion. It delivers effective training. Research by IBM confirms that organizations that deliver employees the training they need retain 62% of their workforce. And offering learner-needed training delivers a financial benefit too. Organizations save on employee replacement costs, which often surpasses an employee’s annual salary cost by over 200%. Learner needs-based training is, therefore, more effective in meeting organizational business and financial objectives too.

How Are Training Effectiveness And Learner Preferences Linked?

Training programs that are not learner needs-based lack effectiveness because they don’t address what the learner most requires. However, one aspect to delivering effective training, which is often overlooked, is the focus on learner preferences.

Each learner is different, and each learns and assimilates learning content uniquely. Keeping learner needs and preferences in mind, therefore, allows L&D managers to leverage not only learners’ past knowledge and experience but also how they prefer to learn—smartphones/tablets/laptops/desktops, visual, mobile learning, podcasts, social learning, web forums, gaming, on-demand content, video/audio, and so on—to offer the most effective training.

Take a look at an integrated approach—a 3-part process for capturing, processing, and integrating learner needs into your training programs

Part 1: Understand And Capture Learner Needs And Preferences

Because each organization and each learner population is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to understanding and capturing learner needs and preferences. However, here are some guidelines to help you get started on that path:

Training Needs Analysis (TNA) And Learner Needs Analysis (LNA)

There is a difference between TNA and LNA that sometimes gets lost when building training based on learner needs.

TNA views learning needs at an organizational level, while LNA looks at the challenge from a learner’s perspective. It is vital to conduct both types of needs analysis to better understand and integrate learner needs into your training programs. For both TNA and LNA, it is essential that you not only focus on current training needs but also factor in future organizational and personal learning needs.

Conduct a TNA first by assessing what skill shortages exist across the organization, meeting business objectives, and identifying the training required to develop such skills in-house.

Through individual and group interactions with learners, you then identify the knowledge gaps and skills needed, by each employee, and develop personalized needs-based training profiles to address those needs. You can do justice to LNA through:

  • Surveys
    Surveying learners to understand their learning styles, preferred learning approaches, and their learning motivations and experiences is a great way to understand and tailor training programs to unique learner needs.
  • Focus groups
    Having a focused group vision helps understand and capture learner needs at a broader level. Have the focus group, comprising a representative sample of learners from across the organization, list their learning needs and preferences. Operational, HR, and L&D leaders can then rationalize, refine, and synthesize a list of focused needs and preferences to be used in developing their training strategy.
  • Interviews
    Interview learners, individually and collectively, to determine what their professional goals and career progression aspirations are and skill sets they’d like to acquire or develop to help them realize those objectives.
  • Audience analysis
    Conducting an audience analysis prior to putting an eLearning strategy or program together helps develop better learner needs-focused training. Understanding who needs training (your audience), why they feel they need it, and what training they need helps create and deliver more effective and meaningful training.
  • Factor for training type
    Learner needs vary based on the type of training required. Some needs may easily be met through eLearning courses, such as compliance training, sales training, or leadership training, etc. Others, such as those involving the use of specialized equipment or tools or a training environment that can’t be mimicked virtually, may need a blend of virtual and in-person training. To better integrate learner needs into your training programs, it is essential, therefore, to understand the types of training needed and what constraints they entail.

Part 2: Process The Collected Data

Once you have understood and captured useful data about your learner’s needs and preferences, it’s time to process and analyze that data so you can make data-driven decisions about integrating learner needs into your training program.

Here are a few strategies that will help you achieve this:

  • Creating learner personas
    Learner personas, also called learner prototypes, are unique groups of learners that share similar learning aspirations, professional goals, and learning needs. Use the data collected to segment learners across the organization into a few (not too many!) distinct groups, and then design your eLearning strategy to exclusively target each of those groups.
  • Identifying ways to motivate learners
    Two types of factors motivate learners: intrinsic and extrinsic. Some employees like to learn so they can do new things or excel at what they already do (intrinsic motivators). Others need to learn so they may advance their careers or get a promotion or a raise (extrinsic motivators). With data gathered through interviews and surveys, you can identify what motivates each employee so you can better tailor your eLearning to address those factors.
  • Identifying ways to connect learners with learning programs (creating awareness/establishing WIIFM)
    Organizations may offer a plethora of learning to their employees, but it’s not always clear (to learners) which courses are the most appropriate or why they should enroll. Through data gathered, you can help link employee learning needs to their intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Do this by making them aware of learning opportunities and helping them understand how learning objectives coincide with their own career or L&D objectives. Learner needs-based training becomes more effective once learners appreciate how they benefit from it—What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?
  • Mapping training delivery strategies to personas
    Learning personas (or learning profiles) aren’t homogenous across the organization. Use the data you’ve collected on learning styles, preferences, and prior learning experiences to create training delivery strategies targeting each persona. For instance, some learners may be tech-savvy and will benefit from self-directed learning. Others may be tech-shy and an instructor-led/virtual instructor-led (ILT/VILT) training strategy might work better.
  • Mapping learning strategies to personas
    We’ve seen earlier that not every learner is the same and that learning personas aren’t homogenous. It’s important to, therefore, use the learner needs data assembled to map learning strategies to unique learning personas. Some learners may prefer scenario-based learning, while others learn better through story-based content. There’ll be personas that respond better to mobile learning and microlearning strategies, while others need gamification to learn effectively.

Part 3: Integrate Learner Needs Into Your Training Program

It’s now time to leverage your data analysis to integrate learner needs into your training programs.

  • Factor for both the learner experience and learning experience
    Effective learning must account for a learner’s prior knowledge and experiences. But learning effectiveness also relies on what a learner wants to get out of training and how instructional designers address those wants through positive learning experiences. A blended combination of both experiences helps better integrate learner needs into L&D programs.
  • Design the learning journey
    Use your assessment of the data to focus not on single training events (a webinar, course, or module) but on a career-long learning journey for each employee. Develop personalized learning paths and support each learner’s journey through a blend of formal and informal learning events.
  • Leverage the learning and performance ecosystem
    There’s a vast performance ecosystem to help L&D teams integrate learner needs into highly effective training programs. These include drawing learners' attention to learning opportunities, helping them understand what’s in it for them, and using an array of immersive learning approaches, including virtual/augmented reality, social learning, gamification, and scenario/branching scenario-based learning.

Learners must be supported through performance support tools (PSTs) that deliver on-demand and in-the-flow-of-work learning, while also reinforcing skills through practice and feedback.

Parting Thoughts

The only way to deliver successful training is to base it on learner needs. Unless learner needs aren’t integrated into what’s taught, a training program is unlikely to deliver its training objectives. Using the recommended 3-part process aids in the smooth capture, processing, and integration of learner needs, resulting in highly effective training design and delivery.

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