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How to Create Effective Learning Journeys that Drive Employee Performance

May 11, 2021 | By Asha Pandey

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How to Create Learning Journeys that Deliver Engaging Remote Trainings and Improve Employee Performance

True learning and the subsequent changes in professional behavior require a learning journey that enhances professional development and leads to improved performance. In this article, I explore the connection between learning journeys and their impact on employee performance.

What Is a Learning Journey?

A learning journey is a comprehensive, continuous process of acquiring knowledge and skills, designed to facilitate long-term behavior change and professional development. Unlike traditional training, which is often a one-time event, a learning journey encompasses a series of interconnected learning experiences. These experiences combine formal training, like structured classes and webinars, with informal learning opportunities initiated either by Learning and Development (L&D) teams or individuals themselves. This approach ensures that learning is not just an isolated event but an ongoing process that integrates new knowledge and behaviors into daily work practices, leading to enhanced employee performance. Formal training serves as a foundational element within this learning ecosystem, while the incorporation of informal training elements personalizes and enriches the learning journey.

Key Characteristics of a Learning Journey:

  1. Structured and Ongoing: A learning journey is not a one-time event; instead, it’s a continuous process that unfolds over time, allowing individuals to evolve and adapt to new knowledge and skills. Integral to this process is the role of mentor feedback, which provides learners with essential insights and guidance, helping to refine skills and align learning objectives with real-world applications. This mentorship aspect enriches the learning journey, making it more personalized and effective.
  2. Customized Learning Experiences: It comprises personalized content and a variety of delivery methods tailored to meet the unique needs and goals of individuals or teams.
  3. Formal and Informal Components: It combines formal training programs with informal learning opportunities, creating a holistic approach that caters to different learning preferences.
  4. Behavioral Focus: The primary goal is to induce positive behavioral changes, leading to improved employee performance and alignment with organizational objectives.

What is the Difference Between Traditional Training and Learning Journeys?

The key differences between traditional training and learning journeys can be summarized as follows:

  • Format and Structure:

    • Traditional Training: Often one-time, event-based sessions.
    • Learning Journeys: Continuous, multi-step processes.
  • Learning Approach:

    • Traditional Training: Typically focuses on immediate skill acquisition.
    • Learning Journeys: Emphasizes long-term development and application.
  • Customization:

    • Traditional Training: Generally one-size-fits-all.
    • Learning Journeys: Tailored to individual learning styles and needs.
  • Engagement and Interaction:

    • Traditional Training: Can be more passive in nature.
    • Learning Journeys: Encourages active participation and engagement.
  • Outcome and Impact:

    • Traditional Training: Aimed at knowledge transfer.
    • Learning Journeys: Focuses on behavioral change and performance improvement.

Why Should You Invest in Learning Journeys?

In North America’s animal kingdom, the coyote has demonstrated exceptional learning abilities, thriving in various environments. When Meriwether Lewis in the early 19th century first encountered a coyote on his famous exploration, he was perhaps the first of European descent to see one. He attempted to kill and collect it as a new specimen. He and his men were unsuccessful though – an experience that thousands of American hunters have shared since. The coyote has learned to adapt and thrive to constant changes in their ecosystem and are now a common sighting in large cities like San Francisco (California) and Salt Lake City (Utah).

In business, those who can learn are the coyotes – they can adapt and thrive to changing circumstances. Companies should find and develop coyotes in their organizations – employees who actively participate in their own learning journeys and contribute to the journey of their coworkers.

Benefits of Learning Journeys from a Business Perspective:

  1. Customization for Strategic Alignment: Learning journeys offer highly customized programs designed to align with an organization’s key goals and objectives. They are structured to address specific enterprise challenges and opportunities, ensuring that the learning journey directly supports the business’s strategic direction.
  2. Future-Proofing the Business: By structuring learning journeys around key enterprise goals, organizations are better prepared to face future challenges. This proactive approach drives both incremental and disruptive innovation, allowing businesses to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing landscape.
  3. Improved Employee Engagement: Organizations that value learning and encourage professional development through learning journeys experience heightened employee engagement. Employees are more motivated and committed when they feel their growth is supported and recognized.

Benefits of Learning Journeys from an Employee’s Perspective:

  1. Guidance for Skill Enhancement: Learning journeys serve as a GPS for individual learners, guiding them through the process of skill acquisition and proficiency development. They offer a clear path through formal and informal learning, helping employees enhance their skills and expertise.
  2. Motivation and Awareness: Learning journeys provide motivation and awareness, inspiring individuals to take charge of their own development. They create a sense of purpose and direction, encouraging learners to proactively seek knowledge and growth opportunities.
  3. Learning Consumption and Application: These structured journeys guide learners through the stages of learning consumption and knowledge application, ensuring that the acquired skills and knowledge are put into practice effectively.
  4. Relevance to Career Aspirations: Learning journeys are highly relevant to individuals, assisting them in achieving their career aspirations. Whether it’s mastering a specific role or acquiring expertise in a particular technological domain, these journeys support individual growth and development.

Learning journeys offer a dual advantage, benefiting both the organization and its employees. They align learning and development with business goals, promoting innovation and engagement. From the employee’s perspective, learning journeys provide a clear path for skill enhancement, motivation, and relevance to career aspirations, ultimately driving continuous improvement and professional development.

Drawbacks of Learning Journeys

While learning journeys offer a comprehensive approach to professional development, they are not without their challenges. Here are some potential drawbacks:

Resource Intensive:

  • Designing a learning journey requires significant time and resources. This includes the creation of tailored content, monitoring progress, and providing ongoing support and feedback.

Can Overwhelm Learners:

  • The extensive nature of learning journeys may overwhelm some individuals, particularly if the content is dense or the pace is too fast.

Requires High Commitment:

  • To be effective, learning journeys demand a high level of commitment and self-motivation from learners, which can be challenging to maintain over longer periods.

Potential for Inconsistency:

  • In a diverse learning environment, ensuring a consistent experience for all learners can be difficult, especially if the journey involves various instructors or methods.

Dependence on Technology:

  • Learning journeys often rely on digital platforms and tools, which can be a barrier for learners with limited access to technology or those who are less tech-savvy.

Evaluation Challenges:

  • Measuring the effectiveness of a learning journey can be complex, as it involves evaluating progress over an extended period and across various learning formats.

Why Do Learning Journeys Work

Learning journeys function as a structured approach to professional and personal development. Here’s how they typically work:

  • Initial Assessment: Identifying individual learner needs and goals.
  • Customized Learning Path: Designing a personalized learning plan based on the initial assessment.
  • Diverse Learning Methods: Incorporating various formats like online modules, workshops, and real-world assignments.
  • Ongoing Support: Providing mentorship, peer interaction, and resources throughout the journey.
  • Continuous Feedback: Regular assessments and feedback to track progress and adjust the learning path.
  • Real-world Application: Opportunities for applying learned skills in practical settings.
  • Reflection and Adaptation: Encouraging learners to reflect on their progress and adapt their learning strategies.

This process ensures that learning is an ongoing, evolving journey tailored to each individual’s needs and goals, leading to effective skill development and personal growth.

How to Create an Effective Learning Journey?

The following are vital issues to consider when building learning journeys:

  • Consider the overarching vision, acknowledging that the future, though uncertain, is always present. Learning occurs over prolonged time and should never been something that employees stop doing, nor should organizations ever rest on their previous laurels. Integrating spaced learning and repetition into this process is crucial, as it greatly contributes to better knowledge retention, allowing learners to revisit and reinforce concepts at regular intervals, thereby solidifying their understanding and application in practical scenarios.
  • Employees go through the following stages in a learning journey:
    • Awareness: Before employees can begin a learning journey, they need to be aware of what is available, how the organization will support them, and what lies ahead.
    • Motivation: While some employees are motivated for the pure sake of learning, some are looking for additional extrinsic motivations. Organizations should set up systems to reward progression in the learning process, encouraging employees to begin and continue the learning journey.
    • Participation and experimentation: Throughout the learning journey, employees need a safe space to participate, digest, apply, and experiment with the new knowledge they’re gaining through the learning journey. The experimentation and feedback loop are key to achieving behavior change.
    • On-going connects: Design learning journeys that include more than formal training events. Develop guides for managers to follow-up with employees on what they learned, implement social and mobile learning strategies, and allow employees to direct much of their own informal learning.

What are the Key Components of a Learning Journey?

A well-structured learning journey comprises several key components that work in tandem to ensure effective and engaging education experiences. These components are critical in shaping a comprehensive learning path that caters to diverse learning styles and objectives.

  • Needs Analysis and Goal Setting:

    • Identifying specific learning needs and objectives.
    • Setting clear, measurable goals for the learning journey.
  • Varied Learning Formats:

    • Incorporation of diverse learning methods such as online courses, workshops, and practical exercises.
    • Blending formal with informal learning opportunities.
  • Personalization and Flexibility:

    • Tailoring content to meet individual learner’s needs and preferences.
    • Offering flexible learning paths that accommodate different learning paces.
  • Continuous Assessment and Feedback:

    • Regular evaluations to track progress.
    • Providing timely feedback to guide and improve learning.
  • Application and Reinforcement:

    • Opportunities to apply learned skills in real-world scenarios.
    • Reinforcement activities to ensure retention and integration of new knowledge.
  • Support and Resources:

    • Access to necessary learning materials and resources.
    • Support from instructors, mentors, or peer groups.

These components collectively ensure that a learning journey is not only comprehensive but also adaptable, engaging, and result-oriented.

What Are Key Aspects that Would Help You Create Effective Learning Journeys?

Leverage the following aspects when developing learning journeys:

  1. Start with the end in mind: Planning is too often abbreviated in the L&D field, a reaction to develop content as quickly as possible to please business stakeholders. Remember what Albert Einstein said about planning: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
  2. Include all stakeholders: During the initiation phase, include key stakeholders and ensure that everyone involved in the process has the information they need. Leaders should ask themselves the following questions: What do I know? Who needs to know? Have I told them?
  3. Build awareness of the solution with the target audience: Begin with primers to help them understand the big picture of the learning journey. Include an exposition on the current state, the desired future state, and the differences between those two states. Use microlearning hits that get to the point quickly.
  4. Invest on immersive techniques: During more formal training events along the learning journey, ensure effective knowledge acquisition by leveraging strategies that include higher-level processing:
    • Stimulate prior knowledge with which learners can scaffold new information.
    • Present content in the most appropriate modality.
    • Model learning strategies to help students assimilate new information.
    • Include as much application and practice as possible with healthy feedback loops.
    • Assess performance, giving additional feedback to learners.
    • Once learners are back on the job, use informal learning and coaching nudges to reinforce the application of new knowledge on the job. Employ performance support systems so learners can quickly find and share information they need in the flow of work.
  5. Reward behavior change: While punitive rewards may be effective in the short term, for effective long-term behavior change, learning journeys should offer employees as much purpose, autonomy, and mastery as possible. Once employees are paid a fair and competitive wage, purpose, autonomy, and mastery are more effective methods of motivation than even bonus models.

Making It Work – EI’s Learning and Performance Ecosystem Based Approach to Create Effective Learning Journeys

EI has developed a highly effective model for creating effective learning journeys in a Learning and Performance Ecosystem. It’s a cyclical model that includes the following:

  1. Capture attention about learning opportunities.
  2. Explain what employees will gain from the learning journey (what’s in it for me).
  3. Leverage immersive formal learning events that employ gamification, virtual and augmented reality, scenario based learning, and branching scenarios.
  4. Support formal events with performance support tools, giving employees access to information in the flow of work: exactly what they need, when they need it.
  5. Reinforce learning after formal events with safe places to practice and receive feedback on their performance.
  6. Provide social learning so that learners can collaborate with others progressing in the learning journey, sharing knowledge and experiences.

Learning Journey Example: Sales Training

In our sales training program, we use the Learning and Performance Ecosystem framework to structure an effective learning journey for our team. Here’s how it aligns with the framework:

Capture Attention: We kick off the learning journey by capturing the attention of our sales team about the upcoming training. This may include email announcements, intranet notifications, and engaging teasers to generate excitement.

Explain the Benefits: We clearly communicate what participants will gain from the training journey. This includes improved sales skills, increased sales performance, and the potential for enhanced career growth.

Immersive Formal Learning Events: We leverage immersive formal learning events that employ various cutting-edge techniques, such as gamification, virtual and augmented reality, scenario-based learning, and branching scenarios. These events make the learning experience engaging and memorable.

Performance Support Tools: We provide performance support tools to our sales team, offering quick access to information in the flow of work. They can access product details, sales scripts, and negotiation tips exactly when needed.

Reinforcement and Practice: After formal training events, we create safe spaces for our sales team to practice and receive feedback on their performance. This may involve role-playing exercises, simulated sales calls, and peer evaluations.

Social Learning: We encourage social learning, allowing learners to collaborate with colleagues who are progressing in the training journey. They can share knowledge, experiences, and best practices, fostering a sense of community and continuous improvement.

This sales training learning journey not only equips our sales team with the necessary skills and knowledge but also keeps them engaged and motivated throughout the process. By aligning with the Learning and Performance Ecosystem framework, we ensure a comprehensive and effective approach to sales training that yields tangible results and benefits for both our team and the organization.

Parting Thoughts

Effective behavior change occurs over time as desired competencies and behaviors are reinforced through a blend of formal and informal training. Learning is not a one-time event. Professionals seek mastery of their trade, striving for autonomy and purpose. Learning journeys, thoughtfully developed and shared with employees, are an effective method of facilitating behavior change that aligns to enterprise goals and initiatives.

I hope this article provides the requisite insights on how you can use our unique Learning and Performance Ecosystem to create effective learning journeys and boost employee performance.

Asha Pandey
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