March 26, 2019 - No Comments!

7 “BASIC” questions you need to consider asking about learning and development

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At KNOLSKAPE, our mission is to help organizations everyday accelerate their employee development. We’re considered experts at changing the landscape of learning and incorporating new-age, experiential technologies to make learning engaging, fun and impactful. We’re able to do this as we speak to key stakeholders and gather their insights on a regular basis.

While we are aware of the concerns that our clients have with respect to their learning strategies, aligning to business needs, and their learning and development initiatives, these insights only represent a part of the concerns and opinions of the larger L&D community, which is incredibly diverse.

When we took to the internet to gather and analyze what a significant part of the L&D community is talking about, we came across 7 interesting questions. These questions are interesting because at first glance, they seemed to be very basic. It was easy to write them off by saying that irrelevant or inexperienced people were asking these questions.

But when you have the same questions being repeated across platforms and by different people, it makes you think deeper into the actual intention of these questions. Taking a step back and thinking about the context of these questions made us realize how important it is that all of us in the L&D fraternity ask ourselves these same questions.

In this blog, we will answer each of these questions. By the end of this piece, we hope to have also highlighted why it is important for each of us to start asking these questions constantly as well.

Question 1: What is the purpose of training and development in organizations?

American economist Wayne Cascio said in 1994 that “training consists of planned programs undertaken to improve employee knowledge, skills, attitudes, and social behavior so that the performance of the organization improves considerably.”

In effect, the purpose of training and development in organizations is:

  • Improve knowledge and skills to perform their roles effectively
  • Increasing employee productivity and efficiency
  • Support employee development and growth
  • Prevent irrelevance
  • Improve employee engagement and morale
  • Make employees become the best versions of themselves
  • Improve employee retention and build a robust workforce

While training and development serve a strong purpose, significantly impacting every part of the business, there is a fundamental challenge with how this purpose is fulfilled. The question remains if training and development, as it is today, fulfills its purpose at all. Why is this an important concern?

If you take a moment to read Cascio’s definition again, it definitely seems to have stood the test of time - a comprehensive definition that learning professionals still abide by. However, this definition raises two concerns:

A. The focus on “planned” and “programs”

A “planned program” indicates formal learning, be in school and college, certification courses or scheduled classroom-based, trainer-led corporate learning. In the age of the internet, more specifically Google and Wikipedia, information and knowledge have been democratized, available to individuals anytime and anywhere.

It is the age of informal learning. Learners prefer to be in control of their learning process, outcome and experience. Therefore, if organizations are still in the phase of focusing vehemently on planned training programs, they have a tall order to fill, as learners expect that:

  • their learning is hyper-personalized, catering to their specific learning need and expectations
  • they are given control over what they want to learn when they want to learn and how they want to learn

If training and development “programs” are not catering to these requirements from learners, are they fulfilling their purpose?

B. The measurability of this definition

Nowhere in his definition does Cascio talk about measuring training impact or how to go about doing so. In fact, most organizations in the world do not have a quantifiable way to measure their learning impact or return on investment. How, then, can one figure out if the purpose has been fulfilled?

Question 2: Why should every organization have an L&D department?

To answer this question effectively, we must look at the importance of the learning and development function to business as well as the learners:

For business:

Learning is a strategic priority for the organization and a key component of the organization’s people strategy. People are important to business, and learning is important to people. Therefore, for an organization to retain their best talent, build a robust leadership pipeline, keep their employees engaged and productive, innovate and deliver business value and generate exponential results, learning and development plays a crucial role.

For learners:

Employees seek out learning opportunities to improve their performance, career growth and become the best versions of themselves. Learners to recognize this need and work towards fulfilling this are typically high-potential, high-performing employees. They realize that learning is a lifelong endeavor and the only way to stay relevant and up-to-date.

The role of L&D:

The L&D team of the organization has a key stake and responsibility to ensure that the needs of both the learners and the business are met. Most importantly, the L&D team has the crucial responsibility of aligning their learners’ needs to the business requirement.

Question 3: Can continued organizational learning give me better ROI than traditional employee training?

The simple answer to this question is – yes, continued learning gives better ROI than traditional learning.

To answer this question comprehensively, however, it is important to highlight what traditional learning is, as the current workforce is multigenerational, and each generation could have a different understanding and context to what they consider “traditional”. For the purpose of this blog, we define traditional employee training as calendarized, in-classroom, seasonal workshops that employees are required to go through as part of their KPIs or growth plan. These workshops are characterized by homogeneity – in content, delivery, experience, and outcome.

While to many employees, this has become a foreign concept, there are several organizations that still employee this run-of-the-mill approach to learning. This no longer works; In fact, questions can be raised if there was ever much merit to this approach. However, with learning outcome and performance measurement metrics in place today, we can once and for all deduce the best way of disseminating learning.

What are the expected outcomes of learning? Bloom’s taxonomy defines them to be:

  • Increased knowledge
  • Enhanced comprehension
  • Confident application
  • Sound analysis
  • Evaluation capability
  • The ability to create or synthesize

While knowledge and comprehensive are easier to retain, robust skill development and application is a result of reiteration. Traditional employee training tries to cram an immense amount of information into the learner’s mind, resulting in information overload. Overtime, a bulk of this information is forgotten – people retain less than half of the information presented within an hour. In less than a week, over 75% of the information is forgotten. Without knowledge, how does one intend to apply knowledge, let alone create something new?

Continuous learning affords learners the benefit of:

 

Question 4: What are the challenges of leadership development programs?

We have addressed this question in another blog we wrote a few months ago (Read more: What is most lacking in leadership training?). The gist of the challenge with leadership development is that organizations invest heavily in leadership development, but don’t necessarily see a tangible or justifiable return on the investment. One of the main reasons for this is the methodology employed for leadership development – leadership cannot be taught in the classroom.

Therefore, the blog highlights 5 key areas where traditional / current leadership development programs are failing:

  • Opportunity to practice in safe learning environments – When it comes to leadership, the stakes are incredibly high. Saying that the leader is young or inexperienced does not justify the catastrophic impact that their inefficiencies cause. In fact, a leader who is inexperienced shouldn’t be given such crucial responsibilities. A high-potential employee can only become a high-performing leader when they are given the right playing ground for safe learning to practice without fear.
  • Real-time, timely and objective feedback and performance analysis – The feedback given in current / traditional leadership programs is very subjective and riddled with biases, based on frame-of-reference, experience and exposure; and subjective feedback doesn’t provide much in the way of creating demonstrable, impactful and sustainable changes.
  • Hyper-personalized learning experiences to cater to the leaders’ unique needs and pain points - 62% ofleaders believe that their leadership programs don’t effectively meet their learner’s needs. Where do you stand on this spectrum?
  • A broad perspective – the leadership community is small, yet within it, there are silos of leaders based on their relationship, domain, industry, and geography, to name a few criteria of differentiation. However, a leader’s responsibilities and objectives remain the same despite these differentiators. Given that the boundaries of responsibility, organization, industry and domain are quickly blurring away, it is important for leaders to have a broader perspective of how they can add value.
  • Experiential learning – Leaders are not made in the classroom; A leader is defined by his/her ability to manage themselves, their teams, business, innovation and change. To do this effectively, a leader needs to be aware of the impact of his/her actions.

 

Question 5: What are the best ways to measure impact of leadership development programs?

This is yet another crucial question without a straightforward answer. There is no single way to accurately and holistically measure the impact of leadership development programs.

Why?

The ideal end-state of a learning intervention is a:

  • A demonstrable behavioral change
  • Transformational business impact

And there is no direct way to measure either one.

When we talk about a change in behavior, it is manifested in different ways. For many, it could be a subtle change, while for others, it could be starkly noticeable. However, this is no way to measure if the learning has impacted learning. Change is on a spectrum, and all change must be acknowledged.

At the same time, any transformational business change cannot entirely be attributed to a learning intervention, as there are many different factors at play at any given time. Consistency is key to determine whether a learning intervention has impacted the leader’s role in the business transformation. Even then, it can only be implied, based on track record.

In other words, it takes time, patience, and in some cases, effort to recognize the true impact of a leadership development program. Given the dynamic nature of business, however, organizations are pardoned their lack of patience and time. Therefore, although not entirely accurate and holistic, the following measures can help divulge to an extent the impact of a developmental program:

  • Business Impact Projects – Having leaders employ their learning from the programs into live projects that address an opportunity or a pain point for the organization; The role of the leader in spearheading this project along with the success metrics of the project can indicate the learning impact from a developmental program
  • Pre and post assessment reports – A pre-learning assessment sets the threshold of the leader’s current capability and the post-learning assessment indicates the needle movement in capability development and performance; albeit that this works best in terms of cognitive development of a skill – knowledge retention.
  • Surveys – Issuing surveys to managers, peers, and subordinates to record their perception of a leader’s leadership capabilities both before and after the learning intervention gives us a more coherent understanding of how well the leader is implementing his/her learning from the workshop

As time-consuming as these may seem, for as objective an analysis as possible, organizations would benefit from adopting all the above in their impact measurement process.

A key way to accelerate the transformation process is by making the learning itself experiential.

Question 6: Why is on-the-job training important for the development of employees in a company?

On-the-job training adheres to the adage – ‘If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain’. In the workplace context, what this implies is that employees have several reasons and excuses for not participating in a learning intervention, even if they need it, and even if they complain about not having adequate learning opportunities.

Why?

As much as organizations want to and do invest in learning and development interventions for their employees, their core responsibilities and productivity measures do not make provisions for employees to spend extensive amounts of time away from their roles to learn.

At the same time, learners want to understand the value of the learning. In other words, a common question that learners ask is ‘What’s In It For Me?

  • Will this help me perform my job better?
  • Will it make me for efficient?
  • Will I see better and faster results?
  • Will it make my work easier?

Classroom-based training and other traditional methods of learning separate the learning and the application. As a result, learners do not see the inherent value of the learning session, especially since they have to then put in effort later to master the skill.

Therefore, on-the-job training addresses many of the concerns that learners have (Read more: The perks of ‘Just-In-Time Learning):

  • Fits into the work schedule
  • Learners learn what they need to do a task and then immediately deploy the learning to do their job
  • Promotes learning by doing
  • Since employees are learning to solve a problem, they are able to see the impact of the learning almost immediately, thereby making the learning a catalyst for change
  • Encourages social and collaborative learning

 

Question 7: What elements should good online training for employees include?

The answer to this question is quite complex, in that there are several layers of effective elements that define a good online training initiative. The elements can be categorized under:

  • Content
  • Learner Experience and engagement
  • Delivery

Let’s look at each category in a little more detail:

  1. Content:

Information has been democratized, and available at our fingertips today. As a result, learners are taking their learning into their own hands. Therefore, learners usually know WHAT it is they want to learn. However, they do not always know what they NEED to learn, how to implement their learning, or even know to measure the effectiveness of their learning.

Therefore, the good content in online learning programs prepare, engage, tutor, and review learning with the learners. Factoring in these steps in the content will ensure that learners are learning comprehensively and effectively prepared to implement learning.

  1. Learning experience and engagement:

Netflix has transformed the way we watch television. It has been my observation that there are several elements in the marriage of television and Netflix that could transform the nature and involvement in learning. Netflix has brought to life the concept of ‘Binge-watching’. Online learning has the potential to make the idea of ‘Binge-Learning’ go viral as well.

In an era where television and learning are available on the same platform, there is no excuse to justify the lack of interest or participation in online learning. Even the smallest changes to the online learning experience, borrowed from the ‘Netflix model’ can significantly alter the experience of learning.

  1. Delivery:

While the steps are straightforward, balancing them while ensuring that neither the learner is overwhelmed, nor the learning outcome and experience is compromised is key.

Our belief at KNOLSKAPE is that for any good learning intervention, irrespective of how it is delivered, there are 6 key elements. These 6 elements illustrate the learning methodology for the modern learner:

6Cs

To know more, visit us at KNOLSKAPE.

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  • Published by: Anand Udapudi in Blog

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