Moving Forward: Implementing Impactful Learning Units

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The goal is to be a business unit that has a substantial contribution to the organization, and an impact! To do so means both knowing what it takes to achieve impact and then making that a part of the standard operating procedure. That’s part of the longer-term story of the role of learning in a 21st Century organization.

To be fair, the learning unit in many organizations currently is in a less-than-impactful state. The characteristics of the traditional state of affairs can include: using courses as the only tool in the quiver, taking orders for courses and delivering without evaluating the outcomes, focusing on visual design rather than learning, and having faith that if it’s built, it is good. There are many reasons for this situation, but the underlying realization is this is an unsatisfactory status quo. Eventually, organizations in this increasingly competitive reality are going to question the value of learning investments. The smart approach is to pre-empt the questions by shifting to a scrutable basis as a volitional action.

Where are you now

To start, you need an accurate assessment of where you are now. What are the inputs received by the learning unit, what are the outputs, and what are the associated metrics? Organizations that are merely tracking audiences served by the number of employees, costs or time to develop courses, and similar, are only looking at efficiency, not effectiveness. Impact is about the latter!

It’s also reflective of your capability. What skillsets do you currently have, and are missing? What are the budget and tool resources available? Who do you work with and who do you report to? What are the expectations of timeframes?

To make a significant move requires clarity. This isn’t the time to be looking with a benign eye, it’s time to be brutally honest. At the same time, it is also about admitting the situation you’re in. There are likely expectations about what the learning unit is for and how things work. A clear look at the actual situation is a desirable starting point.

Where do you want to be?

The next question is where do you want to be. You may have a business unit that handles developing job aids. You may already be evaluating learner views, immediate intervention outcomes, or changes in workplace behaviors. Still, ultimately you will at least want to be conducting learning interventions that create measurable improvements in the business. Whether you want to also include performance support, and innovation is a choice that is best made in light of your particular context, organizational structure, and ambitions.

Along with this is an assessment of the possible paths forward. Where do you go next? A fairly pragmatic plan is to take the next step, whatever that is for you. For instance, wherever you are on the Kirkpatrick scale, how do you move up? If you’re collecting learner feedback on the learning, can you get their performance? If you’re already surveying supervisors of changes in the workplace, can you get objective data?

What’s your next step?

The right next step for your organization and situation is likely to be unique. That said, there are some ideal next steps. These include both in design and in measurement, though done in conjunction is better than either alone.

For one, start designing courses to have an impact, even if your stakeholders don’t expect it! (Channel the old adage: it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.) Even better-written multiple-choice questions is a small step in the right direction. From there, you can move to including branching scenarios, and beyond. You should also start focusing on the associated content – models and examples – that are the minimum necessary to support the desired performance. Further, consider including job aid design as a tool in your repertoire.

In conjunction, start measuring. Most importantly, measure what people can do at the end of a learning experience, not just what they know. That’s possible even under the most severe under-expectations. Then you can start working with providers to gather more detailed information further down the impact chain.

Strategically, do look for the steps that build capability as a foundation for subsequent steps. Developing the ability of your team to do better learning design, for instance, motivated by measurement, provides a basis for actually having an impact. Making sure you’re actually achieving a change in ability at the end of an intervention similarly prepares the way to see if it’s then persisting.

Know that you don’t have to do this alone. As you might expect, Upside Learning is equipped to work with you along this path. We have expertise at every level and can partner with you to help you make the shift. Yes, we can do the traditional courses, but we’d rather have an impact on not just your organization, but industry and society as a whole. We’d love to do it with you. Regardless, we wish you the best of luck in your journey.

In conclusion, the journey towards creating impactful learning experiences requires a thorough assessment of your current state, a candid evaluation of capabilities, and a clear vision for the future. It involves designing learning interventions with measurable outcomes in mind, while also building team capacity for sustained success. At Upside Learning, we’re committed to partnering with you on this transformative journey. Our expertise spans every aspect of impactful learning design and measurement, and we’re here to support you every step of the way. To delve deeper into strategies and implementation tactics for maximizing learning impact, we invite you to download our ebook, Designing for Learning Impact: Strategies and Implementation. Let’s work together to not only elevate your organization but also make a significant impact on industry and society.

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