How to Maintain Momentum for Learning Programs
Training, re-skilling and upskilling define the career journeys of today’s worker. Employees are now living through an age of rapid digital transformation as the pace of technological innovation is beyond exponential. This has resulted in a fast-moving, competitive landscape with a strong requirement for the most up-to-date skills and knowledge to keep pace with technological and scientific growth and cultural shifts. Workplace learning and training is hugely beneficial from both the learner and organizational perspectives.
94% of employers feel training and upskilling are critical, and 71% of employees feel they must continue to learn new skills to meet the demands of their role.[i]
Using corporate eLearning results in an increase of 18% in employee engagement for organizations, however one common challenge that arises again and again among learners which affects organizations is the maintenance of momentum and engagement with learning programs. Continuous learning in theory is wonderful when achieved, but the journey to a continuous learning culture is not always the epitome of efficiency. This problem will be explored in depth in this blog series, outlining the importance of instilling a culture of learning at an organizational level, best practices before, during and after the program with role and industry specific examples.
Maintaining momentum is particularly relevant for learners and program managers during pandemic times as employees and organizations are already facing disruptions to the normal structures which for some may mean communication barriers and lack of engagement. For other organizations learning programs may be required most during these uncertain times to equip employees with the knowledge and skills to adapt to the new remote working culture, digitally transformed architecture, and rapidly changing processes. For these reasons, maintaining momentum and engagement for learning is imperative to help individuals and organizations operate and perform during these unprecedented times.
Before the Learning Program
Understanding your organization’s learning culture is key to successfully navigating a learning program and reaching individual and organizational learning goals. For learners to thrive, a healthy culture of L&D must be pre-established within an organization. All organizations have a learning culture, and for many it may be undefined. The different types of culture can be divided into 4 broad categories: compliance, necessity, learning and continuous learning. From these four culture types, a culture of continuous learning is conducive of maximized value to both the learner and organization. A culture of continuous learning supports the belief that a career is no longer an end product of an education, and instead runs parallel with it. Companies that successfully establish a continuous learning culture, replace the stability of the status quo with a more suitable modern-day approach to stability, by leveraging the collective knowledge, experience and creativity of all stakeholders. This allows them to adapt to the forces of change and thrive in this current climate.
The Benefits of Continuous Learning
For the learner and employee:
- Maintaining relevant skills and knowledge ensures employees remain competent in their current role.
- Continuous learning equips employees with the best skills and knowledge for decision making when meeting the ever-changing challenges brought about by technological advancements.
- Long-term career progression as employees are prepared for their future roles.
In turn, continuous learning adds value at an organization level by:
- Increasing overall productivity
- Increasing innovation
- Improving employee retention and engagement
- Improving agility
- Providing competitive advantage to outperform competitors
Management Influence on Learning
Momentum and engagement for learning runs strongest in one direction, starting from the top. The presence of a leadership team who prioritize and encourage an environment of continuous learning is critical for building a strong organizational learning culture that can keep pace with today’s technological advancements. Executives at the top must initiate this organizational change, but managers’ roles in dissipating this message to their team members is extremely important also. Managers must embrace continuous learning as an integral part of a job function and facilitate their team members learning journeys. In allowing this to happen, this receptive attitude to learning will trickle down the organization from executive to manager to individual team members. A good manager, must work to increase their employees’ engagement and productivity, which involves becoming an active agent in their learning.
Understanding the learning needs and skills of the target learner based on their role and job competencies ensures the employee acquires the skillset necessary to succeed in their role. Management plays a key role in deciphering this and shaping the most specific and personalized learning program.
To read our article about the tactics for creating a culture of L&D, click here.
Self-directed learning is a learning strategy which allows learners to take responsibility of their own learning journeys, diagnosing knowledge gaps, identifying learning goals, tools and resources. Self-directed learning relies heavily on the intrinsic motivation of the learner and in order for it to thrive at an organizational level, it must be supported by a strong organizational culture of learning.
Exploring the below questions will help you decipher if a culture of self-directed learning is present at your organization:
- Does the learner understand the organization’s goals so they can align with them when learning?
- What tools and resources are available for the learner and are they aware of them?
- Do learners recognize their skills and knowledge gaps?
- Do they have the motivation and tools to find the information they need to fill these gaps?
Best Practices for Engagement During the Learning Program
Making learning a priority from day one at the onboarding stage, sets the precedent for employee engagement with learning for the rest of their tenure. It is easier to enhance engagement in this way than to evoke a culture change at a later stage in well-established employees who have developed habits and will be more resistant to change. There are several elements of learning programs that companies need to set out and inform learners upon beginning:
Learning Objectives: Managers should outline exactly what they want their learners to achieve from this program. This should be in line with skills and knowledge that the employee will need to become successful in their role. Companies should define the areas where improvements in knowledge and skills, would help them move from their current state of performance to where they want to be.
Learning Expectations/Goals: Setting learning targets and goals with employees is a beneficial strategy to track and encourage engagement. The SMART goals acronym is particularly useful as it provides a framework for the design of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound goals.
Purpose: Aligning trainings to the employee’s specific responsibilities highlights the relevance of the learning for their role. Linking trainings to the employee’s progression in the company will positively impact engagement as an added factor for engagement is added.
Business Impact: Align program lessons with their business impact, employees at all levels are more likely motivated by real life business impact than theoretical knowledge. This can be achieved using real-life specific case studies, application of trainings to work projects and aligning training to the employee’s specific role and responsibilities at the organization. Aligning trainings to the company’s needs and objectives allows the learner to visualize how their role impacts the organization’s operations and growth.
Relevance is critical for learner engagement and trainings should be aligned with the learner’s specific context. It is beneficial to conduct a skills gap assessment at the beginning/pre-boarding stages to determine any inconsistencies that exist between the employee’s current skills and the skills required for the role and for the organization to reach its future goals. A skills gap assessment will ensure a more tailored training and learning experience, and this is imperative to yield maximized engagement, trainings should be role specific and non-generic. Job functions are extremely niche today and a niche training program should reflect this. Leverage line managers to design a tailored training program specific to the role. Using personalization as an engagement strategy will assure that the company has done their utmost to engage the employee at a training content level and reasons for non-engagement will be reduced and outside the domain of training relevance.
During uncertain times, it is more important than ever to appeal to the ‘what’s in it for me’ angle when approaching learner engagement. Additional guidance and support are needed for users to know how to find resources from a remote setting. It is important that a robust learning management system is implemented, which provides the user options for mobile-ready, learn-at-your-own-pace, on-demand content. Learning systems still often miss the mark when it comes to strategic learning programs. Most vendors believe they have the functionality required for organizations to create learning programs (or pathways, journeys, playlists etc.) with a blend of different modalities, and groups for collaboration. However, very few do this well; especially for high-value learning programs with multiple cohorts of learners. A list is a list, not an experience. Systems need to be better at harnessing multiple content types and real collaboration, as well as enabling online feedback, coaching, mentoring and reflection. The sophistication to create fully digital versions of high impact strategic programs is lacking in all but a few specialist providers.
Best Practices Through the Program
Designing a learning program with a solid communicative aspect is essential for engagement and knowledge transfer. Strong communication and communicative structures should span all facets of the learning program from the delivery of the course, social aspect and management interactions, all of which have very strong influencing effects on learner engagement. Establishing good communication and collaboration structures between learners, team members and management will contribute to building a self-directed learning culture as the learner can easily look outside themselves for guidance or resources.
Social Effects on Learning
Leveraging the power of human interaction by creating networking opportunities for employees to learn from and collaborate with other employees is an excellent way to encourage learning engagement. The social aspect of learning is effective in increasing motivation, leading to a smoother transfer of knowledge. Creating a sense of shared experience among employees who are learning together is an effective manner of promoting engagement. For humans, this plays on our primal instincts of feeling belonging as our interests and motivations are linked to belonging to a community that we share common interests with. Examples of social structures to promote engagement are:
- ‘Buddy’ Program: There are several pairing approaches that are effective in motivating learners eg. Paring an engaged employee with a learner, pairing a more seasoned employee with a new hire, creating ‘learning champions’ and pairing them with new hires/learners or pairing learners together so they can motivate and collaborate on their learning journey.
- Lunch-and-Learn: This format for training can be effective in engaging learners by offering a less informal opportunity to learn and the chance to participate in a different and less typical format of learning.
- Chat groups: These groups can engage learners in the program by instilling a feeling of belonging within a group and bring a social and more informal aspect to the learning program.
- Meetings: Meetings facilitate a more formal opportunity for the learner and manager, mentor, or organization to communicate guidance, progress, and feedback to keep the learner engaged with the program.
- Forums: Forums can provide an effective channel for learners and trainers to answer questions learners might have in an accessible, quick, and informal manner.
- Networking Events: These events allow learners to socialize and meet with other learners, colleagues, and business associates in a professional environment. This gives them the opportunity to engage with the company, often meeting more senior people on similar career journeys which may inspire them to continue their learning journey as part of their career progression.
- Competitions: Motivate learners to gain knowledge or improve awareness of your learning resources through scoreboards or badging systems that reward learners for studying.
Integrating a social aspect to your learning program is particularly helpful for remote working employees, as this can create a much-needed outlet for newcomers to communicate with peers and build social links within the company.
Interactivity & Blended Learning
There has been a huge shift to virtual learning in the past year, and while it brings many advantages like better reach and scalability of learning, it also poses problems. In a virtual classroom, it is harder to interact with users to keep them engaged, so interaction with participants should still occur on a regular basis, as frequently as every 3-5 minutes. Avoid cognitive overload by leveraging one of the greatest cognitive psychological effects, the spacing effect. This effect advises that material delivered over spaced intervals, trumps material delivered in a once off or massed presentation.
Learning programs should be structurally designed to keep the learner engaged at every step. Successful learning programs are typically defined by offering a diverse blend of learning channels and formats. Establishing this learning ecosystem facilitates the employees learning style, physical location and learning context. By mixing and blending learning formats, media and channels are positioned where and how they most add value to the learning experience.
It is especially important to implement technology-enabled engagement strategies to your learning program, to supplement face-to-face interactions, avoid learners multi-tasking during the sessions to reduce screen fatigue. Examples of interactive elements to add to your course are:
- Games/Break-Out Rooms
- Shared Whiteboards/Content
Integrating a progress tracking element to your learning program is an effective way of encouraging engagement. Link progress to the specific goals set in the initial stage of the program. Progress tracking when designed well can be effective in playing on humans’ innate competitiveness. At a management level, one strategy for maximizing engagement with learning would be to incorporate online learning progress into an employee’s performance review or their ability to apply for a promotion. This highlights to the employee that the organization is prioritizing learning while also ensuring that learning becomes a self-directed, employee-driven experience.
Best Practices to Maintain Engagement After the End of the Program
The timeline for effective learning is not limited to the training period, as the true process for learning, upskilling and consolidation of knowledge continues long after the program ends. There are many strategies for maximizing knowledge retention and engagement after the program.
- Business Impact: Creating opportunities for learners to practice their new learnings on real-life problems in the workplace. This is supported by a multitude of scientific research emphasizing the importance of repeated practice to achieve memory consolidation and acquisition of new skills. In addition, linking learnings to business impact shows the learner the importance of such programs for their role productivity and progression.
- Feedback: Post-training feedback provides a communication link between the learner and management, giving the learner the opportunity to reflect upon their learnings which helps further consolidate learnings, while keeping the learner engaged. Collecting feedback from learners about their experiences and insights from the learning program is also extremely useful intel and can be used by management as a strategy for improving the engagement and effectiveness of the next program.
- Timing/Seasonal Campaigns: It is important to position your learning program at a point during the year when employees have the time and motivation for learning. From a motivation perspective, strategically position your learning program for a time when employees will have the most motivation to engage with it eg. before a performance review.
- Reward & Recognition: Recognition is a powerful tool for building morale and driving performance and engagement. Recognize employees’ commitment to learning by thanking them for their engagement. These employees are displaying the desired behaviors and recognition of this ensures that they are likely to remain engaged with learning in the future. Rewards do not have to cost a lot, and often intrinsic rewards such as feeling appreciated can be equally motivating. Generation Z are particularly responsive to recognition and reward tactics, as this is akin to the learning culture they have been raised and educated in. This generation are used to being rewarded and commended more frequently for their good work and organizations who want to design an effective learner program for workers of this generation should integrate timely recognition and reward as part of their culture.
This article is the first of a blog series around improving learner engagement and training program success. Keep up to date with this series over the coming weeks for more articles detailing learner engagement for different career stages, sectors, and organizational learning cultures.
To read our four-part series outlining the design of learning programs, see here: