It’s that time of year when most of us have to make plans for the coming year, including plans for learning and development. L&D is an essential part of any organisation, to ensure good performance and happy and motivated employees. Here I will give you an overview of how you create a learning strategy for your team, or even just for yourself.

Step 1: Start with the end in mind: what’s your goal?

A strategy is the way we will achieve our goals and become the person, team or organisation we want to be. An essential part of any strategy is therefore a clear definition of the goal or objective we want to achieve. (A strategy without an objective is essentially a plan to nowhere.)

When we talk about learning strategies there are usually three categories of goals:

  1. Solving a problem or future proofing by improving performance or behaviour
  2. Meeting compliance requirements
  3. Improving employee retention by keeping people happy and motivated

Like with all goal setting, the more specific you can be when formulating the goal the better it will be. A clearly defined goal is easier to reach than a fluffy one.

Often learning goals are confused with learning means. For example, I often see learning and development teams who have defined their goal as “Delivering X number of training session on Y topic before year end”. It is measurable, I give you that, but is it a goal? No. A training session (or other learning intervention whatever form it takes) is not a goal in itself.  Project professionals will be familiar with this rationale: the objective isn’t the project itself, the objective is the outcomes and benefits we get from the project and how they help drive strategic goals.

I strongly advise that in this step you try to not think about the learning intervention/ training itself. Just focus on the goal. Start with the end in mind! A template or map like the one below might help you structure your thoughts.

Learning Strategy Map

5 4 3 2 1
Learning intervention Capability Outcome Results Strategic objective
What is the goal we are trying to achieve?
Successfully deliver our portfolio of products by XYZ

Step 2: Decide what measurable results you will track

So, now you have your goal. It is easy to go straight to “how do we get there, let’s book a training course” but this can result in hasty decisions and poor investments.

Before we do that let’s take a moment to focus on what measurable results we need to achieve and also how those will be tracked and measured.

It is important to define measurable results up front for several reasons:

  1. It will help you focus on the right actions
  2. It will enable you to prove that you are doing the right thing
  3. It will help you plan an evaluation strategy that reflects true performance, and not a retrofitted version of reality

The question to ask is: what results do we need to achieve in order to reach our strategic goal? Again I encourage you to not focus on number of training sessions, courses, certificates or “bums on seats” – those are vehicles by which we reach our results.

If you strategic objective is to do with performance improvement your results should tell the story of how performance is improved. For example: “Error rate is reduced by X %”, or “Sales of a particular product or in a particular market increase by X” or “The number of projects delivered on time increase by X%” or similar.

If your objective is linked to compliance the result has to be linked to the specific law/ regulation.

If your objective is linked to employee retention or motivation this is what you need to measure. For example: “Reduction of new hires leaving the company in the first year by X%” or “The annual employee survey indicates X% of employees are happy/satisfied”.

Learning Strategy Map

5 4 3 2 1
Learning intervention Capability Outcome Results Strategic objective
What measurable results do we need to achieve in order to reach our goal? What is the goal we are trying to achieve?
Increase project success from 20% to 100 % over 3 years Successfully deliver our portfolio of products by XYZ

Step 3: Identify: what needs to change?

Again, it is very easy to go straight from identifying results to taking action, and again I encourage you to take a moment to consider a few other factors to ensure that once you start planning learning interventions you have confidence you do the right thing.

Once you have your results set you need to do a bit of gap analysis, i.e comparing the the current state or as-is to the future state. What is the future state? Well that is the future where you have achieved your measurable results!

Current State

We allow too many projects to start, meaning we stretch to thin so we cannot manage or deliver all projects with appropriate control or success.

Learning strategy arrow

Future State

We only start projects that can prove their value and reasonable change of success.

Now take a moment to consider what needs to be different to help you go from current state to future state. This is particularly worthwhile with learning strategies because it is very easy to get tunnel vision and assume that the solution to every problem is training. This is not always the case.

If your goal is linked to performance for example then yes skills and knowledge might have to be uplifted, but have you also considered other factors that might impact performance? For example… are you designing a learning intervention about the importance of reducing paper usage in the company but all internal communications (expenses, holiday requests and whatnot) have to be submitted on paper? Well your learning intervention isn’t going to make much of a difference…

So, once you know your goal and results you need to take an open minded approach to understand what needs to change in order to achieve that goal.

It is possible that you will identify necessary changes that you do not have authority to implement. In this case that should be escalated to suitable decision makers. If those changes are not addressed it is very likely that your efforts in the learning area will be wasted.

Learning Strategy Map

5 4 3 2 1
Learning intervention Capability Outcome Results Strategic objective
What do people need to be able to do to achieve the change? What change do we need to achieve to reach the results? What measurable results do we need to achieve in order to reach our goal? What is the goal we are trying to achieve?
Identify benefits

Write good business cases

Scrutinise business cases

Improve selection of projects to be implemented
Transparent reporting

Critical review of project

Effective decision making

Close projects that are failing Increase project success from 20% to 100 % over 3 years Successfully deliver our portfolio of products by XYZ
Create realistic plans

Critical review of plans before sign off

Improve project planning and baselining

Step 4: Identify capability gaps

Now we are getting closer to the learning intervention. Again I implore you – do not go to google and look for training courses just yet! A very vital question remains: What is it people need to be able to DO that they cannot do now?

We know what needs to change in order to achieve the results that will take us to our goal. Now the question is: what capability (skills, knowledge) do people need to have in order to make that change happen?

There are three parts to this step:

  1. Identify who needs to be able to do something to achieve your change
  2. Identify what it is they need to be able to do
  3. Understand what the gaps are (i.e what is the current capability compared to what you need it to be).

Note: if you map this out and discover that the capability already exists, i.e people are able to do the things you have identified they need to return to the previous step. Review the changes that need to happen in order to achieve your results. Odds are the answer to achieving the results is not in learning but in changing tools or process.

I really like focusing on what people need to do DO as opposed to what they need to KNOW at this step. What I care about is the action. There is very little value having people with brains stuffed full of theoretical knowledge if they don’t DO anything with them. Focus on what people should be able to do – later we will analyse what they need to know/understand in order to be able to do the right things.

Learning Strategy Map

5 4 3 2 1
Learning intervention Capability Outcome Results Strategic objective
What change do we need to achieve to reach the results? What measurable results do we need to achieve in order to reach our goal? What is the goal we are trying to achieve?
Improve selection of projects to be implemented
Close projects that are failing Increase project success from 20% to 100 % over 3 years Successfully deliver our portfolio of products by XYZ
Improve project planning and baselining

Step 5: Identify and plan your learning intervention(s)

Now comes the step you have probably been waiting for. Time to look at the actual learning intervention(s). It is possible that by working through the previous steps you have to come to realise you might have to do several different learning interventions.

Learning Strategy Map

5 4 3 2 1
Learning intervention Capability Outcome Results Strategic objective
What learning intervention will give people the capability? What do people need to be able to do to achieve the change? What change do we need to achieve to reach the results? What measurable results do we need to achieve in order to reach our goal? What is the goal we are trying to achieve?
Educate decision makers

Educate creators of business cases

Identify benefits

Write good business cases

Scrutinise business cases

Improve selection of projects to be implemented
Educate project managers in how to monitor and control projects

Educate decision makers in how read reports and take action

Transparent reporting

Critical review of project

Effective decision making

Close projects that are failing Increase project success from 20% to 100 % over 3 years Successfully deliver our portfolio of products by XYZ
Educate project managers how to create plans

Educate decision makers how to review plans

Create realistic plans

Critical review of plans before sign off

Improve project planning and baselining

I use the term “learning intervention” on purpose. It might sound a little bit aggressive, which is unfortunate, but I find it helps to not use words like “training” or “learning event” or similar because that creates a tunnel vision effect where all we focus on is training and courses. Learning is not just training, it can be achieved by lot’s of different approaches.  In fact, lot’s of different research shows that in order to create meaningful learning formal training is important – but has to be supplemented by informal learning such as coaching and the opportunity to try new skills, fail and get feedback. This is often referred to as 70/20/10:

70% of learning

Comes on the job, from my own experiences of trying new things.

Being allowed to try and test new things in a safe environment is essential

20% of learning

Comes from others, by watching my peers and seniors and receiving feedback and coaching from them

10% of learning

Comes from formal learning, such as reading a book or article or attending a course.

For your learning strategy to be successful you therefore need to bear this in mind – what is the complete, holistics, intervention you will create to ensure your learners achieve 100% of learning (not just 10 or 30%).

An easy structure for planning learning interventions is William Horton’s Absorb-Do-Connect.

Absorb = how will the learner get the knowledge

Do = how will the learner apply the knowledge to convert it from theory to capability

Connect = how will the learner connect the knowledge and capability to their reality (i.r their work).

Learning design template that you can use for planning:

Learning Design Template

Key:

Learning objective: this is the capability the learner should achieve. Hint – you already know this because you identified Capability in step 4!

Supporting objective: this is where you breakdown the overall learning objective in into smaller components. In order to achieve the overall learning objective what will the learner need to know or do.

Example: if the overall Learning Objective is “Learners are able to create realistic project plans” supportive objectives would be that learners are able to:

  • Define scope for a project, including its tasks
  • Estimate time
  • Assign resources
  • Build a schedule
  • Manage and optimise critical path

Objective assessment: for each supporting objective identify how you will assess that the learner can do it. Don’t go over the top here – this doesn’t mean you need a five-page essay on every supporting objective, sometimes it is enough that learners can verbally express they put 2 and 2 together in the classroom.

Absorb activity: What will you do to get the knowledge to the learners. Is a lecture, a demonstration, a book or an e-learning?

Do activity: what will learners do to practice? For example, will you do an exercise in the classroom or give them homework etc.

Connect activity: how will you enable the learners to connect the learning with their real work? (if your Do activity is to practice straight in the workplace then job done!). Can you provide real examples, case studies, demonstrations?

Now, you might think… How on earth am I supposed to know what supporting objectives etc a learner needs? The answer is: I don’t think YOU necessarily need to know it yourself but you need to take steps to find out. Either ask an internal expert or consult an external training provider. Any reputable training provider will be able to work with you on a tailored plan to reach your specific objectives. Depending on what level of support you need they should be able step in and support you at any of the steps we have covered but generally the further along the steps you are the easier it will be for an external training provider or consultant to help you.

Learning Design Template

Step 6. Consider your learners needs

Any good plan needs to take into account risks that might impact the objectives. When talking about learning the most common risks are failure to understand learners’ needs.

You should always aim to create inclusive learning solutions that are accessible to all learners and consider both visible and invisible conditions that may impact how the learner can access your learning. There are standards and guidelines available for what you should do as a minimum (UK government provides guidance HERE)

Consider factors such as:

  • Providing material in different formats: written, verbal and with appropriate instructional images
  • Use accessible colours and fonts for all texts
  • Where possible provide both hard and soft copy versions of training material to enable learners to access the information in their preferred way and to use tools like magnifiers or software to read text out loud
  • The physical location and layout of training rooms
  • The timing and duration of any learning sessions/workshops/ classes
  • If you do exams or certifications ensure you can support your learners to provide any evidence they might need to get reasonable adjustments to standard examinations

Step 7. How are you going to evaluate?

Most of your work is done now, but don’t relax yet… there is one thing left to do before you can put your plans in action. You need to decide  what and how you will evaluate.

Evaluation is so important, both to prove the value of your work but also to be able to learn and improve as you go forward.

There is an inherent risk that if evaluation is not planned (and scheduled) in advance we end up with a cobbled together, often retro-fitted, quick fix after the fact that doesn’t give valuable insights. Learning evaluation has to take into account several factors:

  • How effective was each individual intervention
  • How effective was our strategy overall

The good news is you already know what to evaluate, because you identified it in Step 2 (Results) and in Step 5: Learning Intervention

To evaluate each individual learning intervention do this:

  1. During the intervention continuously do the Objective Assessment you have already identified
  2. Immediately after the intervention ask learners to complete an evaluation. This should capture things such as:
    1. What the learner thought/ felt about the learning intervention. Was it fun/boring/difficult/ easy. Did they find it useful? Do they think they have learned things? Do they think they will be able to apply it?
  3. Some time after the learning intervention you should return to the learner and ask for insights about what they have actually applied and what impact that has had

To evaluate the effectiveness of your overall strategy you need to return to Step 2. Results. This is what you need to measure against to understand if you have been successful. Before you put any plans in action you need to determine:

  1. How will you measure those results?
  2. Exactly what is it you will measure?
  3. When will you measure?
  4. How and to whom will you report?

This article has aimed to give you a practical approach for how to create a learning strategy.

If you want to support or advise for how to create a strategy for yourself, your project/programme or portfolio team or your entire project/programme/portfolio organisation contact Wellingtone’s Learning and Consultant team.

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By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule

Published: 31 October 2023

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