Enterprise Learning Initiatives.
The ABCs of Learning ObjectivesHere’s how to craft learning objectives that drive business results.
When my son Trevor was a toddler, I wanted him to learn his ABCs. Pretty soon, like most kids his age, he was belting out The Alphabet Song loud and clear. When I heard him sing, I was confident that he could name all the letters of the alphabet. I felt even better when he began pointing to the letters in the books we read at night. I knew then that he would have an easier time learning to read words in kindergarten.
In my professional life as an instructional designer, my clients come to me with a lot of things they want their employees to learn. Often, they say they have some content they want workers to know or understand. They might write their learning objectives as follows:
By the end of this course, learners will:
- Know the procedure to ring up a returned item.
- Understand the elements of our storytelling framework.
- Know how to use the AUTOSUM formula in Microsoft Excel.
Unfortunately, these learning objectives don’t go far enough. We can’t see inside people’s brains. If we want to be sure they have new knowledge, we need something observable. They have to demonstrate that they know or understand the content.
I was sure Trevor knew the letters of the alphabet because he was able to say them out loud.
My clients need even more than that. We don’t build learning programs just to put ideas in peoples’ heads – we want those people to DO something with the knowledge they’ve gained. That’s why I encourage my clients to focus not on the content they want people to know, but on the OUTCOMES.
I was sure Trevor could use his knowledge of the alphabet when he started spelling words.
Knowledge is the foundation, but the real key is being able to perform a task that drives business results. The best learning objectives are job-relevant activities learners should be able to perform – not only in a training environment, but also in the course of their daily work.
Using these guiding principles, I would push my client to rewrite their objectives around job performance:
By the end of this course, learners will:
- Issue a refund for a returned item using the original form of payment.
- Tell a two-minute story that incorporates drama, detail, and dialogue.
- Calculate the total annual budget using the AUTOSUM function in Excel to add the monthly allocations.
When learners are able to demonstrate the behaviors identified in these learning objectives, we will be confident that they know and understand the underlying content. But we’ve raised the bar and now have equal confidence that they can perform key activities that will grow and sustain the business. And, after all, isn’t that why companies invest in learning programs?
So remember, when writing powerful learning objectives, think of your ABCs:
A – use ACTION verbs
B – focus on a BEHAVIOR
C – CONNECT the learning to a job-relevant task
Now you know your ABCs…next time won’t you sing with me?
If You Train Them, They Will Perform!Use these tips to improve the chances of sustainable behavior change.
Or will they? Perhaps you’ve just rolled out a new system. Or you’ve changed a core job process. Or maybe you’ve hired a new set of leaders. What do you do before letting your employees loose on the job? Train them! And yet for some reason, they don’t always do what you want.
In 2016, companies around the world spent $359.3 billion in training their employees according to TrainingIndustry.com (source). Within North America, companies spend $161.7 billion. Outside the misspent dollars and time, when behaviors don’t change, there are other implications.
- Your company doesn’t realize the benefits of a change.
- Leaders point fingers and want answers about what went wrong.
- Managers become frustrated because they’re not getting the outcomes they’re accountable for.
- Employees lose productivity, confidence, and might suffer real impacts to their rewards and careers.
As a learning professional, I certainly don’t want these outcomes for my clients. While there’s no guarantee of on-the-job performance, there are five things you can do to improve your chances. Think of this plan as your CREST for success!
- Commit. When your company is making a change, get your senior leaders on board from the outset. Have them define what success looks like. Ask them to model the changes they want to see. When they champion the behaviors, employees are more likely to adopt them.
- Reward. When you see it, reward it. As employees start to adopt new behaviors, reinforce their actions. Make it public and immediate. Don’t wait until the next staff meeting to call out a victory. Send an email to the team describing the success and the positive outcome. Forward positive messages from customers to the team. Show that you know what success looks like, you see it, and that you care about it.
- Embed. So often, learning is a one-time event. Right before the change happens, you train employees and expect them to remember it all. But there is always a lag between when employees learn new behaviors and when they need to perform. So embed the learning into the job. Train and support new skills and behaviors as they come up naturally, in real life.
- Support. Performance support, like online help and job aids, is another way to move learning closer to on-the-job performance. And remember your walking, talking performance support: super-users or peer experts should be available when employees need them.
- Test. After completing a training program, assess employees to make sure they can demonstrate the skills and behaviors your organization needs. Make the tests objective and performance-based.
Apply CREST to your learning program and you’ll likely see more of the employee performance you want.
PowerPoint is Not TrainingDon't let your PowerPoint get In the way of learning
I can’t wait to see your deck! – said no one, ever.
Real talk: chances are slim you’ll hear oohs and awe during your PowerPoint presentation. Don’t take it personally, take it as failing of the business world. Microsoft estimates more than 30 million PowerPoint decks are presented every day. That’s a lot of slides. We’re decked to death.
Keep this in mind the next time you use PowerPoint. While it’s an easy and well-accepted tool for the deck builder, it’s not always so great for the learner. Why?
The way we use decks helps us as presenters and trainers more than it helps learners.
People have to quickly read and glean data from each slide, while you’re talking, before you – poof! – move on and the slide disappears. Same for the next slide. And the next.
If you have a more active and familiar audience, you can expect requests to “go back a few slides” where you’ll re-explain as they furiously take notes. You’ll see a few furrowed brows, but eventually they will stop asking questions. That’s not always a good thing.
If you have a distant or more formal audience, people will tune out and make a mental note to ask you for the deck later.
Most presenters offer to send it anyway. The presenter and audience have good intentions, but it’s sort of a cop out. You’re unintentionally saying, “I know you probably didn’t learn what you needed, but it’s all right here – good luck!”
Many of us in the audience don’t look at those abandoned decks. If we do…now it’s a job aid. You could have designed a job aid that works as a job aid instead.
Most people need both the deck and the presenter to facilitate learning. You probably won’t be with learners when they are trying to execute what you have taught. So even if you have the most amazing deck ever, there are a few things you can do.
- Even if it’s not training – it’s “just a presentation” – raise it to the level of a learning experience. Think like an instructional designer. People learn by engaging, but every slide is essentially a passive experience. Any kind of content can be turned into an interaction. So, stop. Leave the deck during your presentation to get your audience talking, doing and sharing.
- Build in time for that engagement. If you have 30 minutes on the agenda, don’t build 30 minutes of slides. Leave time for practice and discussion. And that doesn’t just mean after your slides are done – make it clear you’re ready to stay on one slide until everyone is comfortable, before moving on. Leaving no extra time says to the group, “My deck is perfect – this is all you need.”
- Think of even the simplest presentation as a multi-step learning process. The steps should include your presentation, follow-up, and on-the-job learning opportunities. So build tools that support each step.
PowerPoint is an incredibly successful and useful tool. But it’s just one tool and it shouldn’t drive the service you are providing to your audience. Put learning first and make the deck follow.
Training Doesn’t Have to Be BoringFour tips for stimulating learner engagement
Recently, when I picked up my high school junior from school, I asked her how her classes were. “Boring,” she said. I develop learning programs for my clients, and I never want my learners say anything like that. Usually, if our training participants aren’t stimulated, it’s because we are focused more on content delivery – unconsciously thinking of our learners as passive receptacles to be filled with content. Instead, we need to focus on engaging them. It’s easy to be bored when you’re sitting, with little to do – it’s hard to be bored when you’re taking center-stage as the star of the show.
So, I’d like to provide four tips for stimulating learner engagement:
Stimulate their brains.
Lectures are boring because they trigger only one part of the brain – the part that listens. To make your learning more impactful, try to engage as many brain systems as you can. Engage the visual cortex by surrounding the learning environment with pictures and graphics. We process images much more quickly and effectively than words, and we remember those images longer – especially if they are unique and grab our attention. By appealing to multiple brain centers, we give learners multiple paths to store and retrieve the information.
Stimulate their hearts.
People learn more when they have an emotional connection to the topic. And the best way to build emotional connection is by sharing a story. Stories bring training to life. They give us a main character that learners can relate to. We care – we root for the character through the obstacles and challenges that give the story drama and build our interest. We are drawn into the story and want to know what happens next. We cheer when the hero of the story finds a way to overcome those difficulties – and we learn a little something about how we could do the same when facing a similar challenge.
Stimulate their hands and feet.
Get learners out of their chairs and get their hearts pumping faster. Make the learners interact with and manipulate the content. Have them demonstrate content points. For example, if there are five key customer service principles you want them to remember, assign each principle to a small group and have that group come up with a dance move that represents the principle. Then have each group teach the others their dance move and pull it all together into the whole group doing the “customer service dance.” They might find it a bit silly, but they won’t be bored. And that will be one topic they remember for a long time!
Stimulate their funny bones.
Laughter is the opposite of boredom. So make the learning fun. Use gamification to inspire some friendly competition between groups. For example, ask learners to share their funniest story from when things went wrong – you might even have them act it out as a skit or record it on video. Then, challenge the group to come up with their cleverest way to use the learning concepts to address the situation.
When learning programs activate participants’ brains, hearts, hands, feet, and funny bones, the last thing you’ll ever hear is “that was boring.”
Blend a Learning Program Like a Top ChefConsider these essential elements when you’re whipping up a killer learning program.
I’m not a great cook, but I enjoy watching competitive cooking shows like Master Chef and Top Chef where amazing dishes are created. The TV chefs create an experience using the right combination of flavors, textures, and presentation. There’s no cookie-cutter approach; each dish is unique and carefully planned to achieve the optimal eating experience. Likewise, when I want to create a great learning program, I try to use the right combination of learning techniques, blended together, to maximize the transfer of knowledge.
There’s nothing cookie-cutter about my learning creations either. People learn in different ways, so putting together the best experience takes an understanding of audience, content, skills and behaviors they need to learn, and any delivery considerations. There are, however, some staples – elements I think about when designing any blended solution.
Elements of a Blended Learning Program
- Set up. “Mise en place” is a French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc. before cooking starts. Pans are prepared. Mixing bowls, tools, and equipment are set out. It is a technique chefs use to assemble meals efficiently. For blended learning courses, the setup is also important. Provide an overview of the course, including how the course will be organized and delivered. Set expectations with learners about how they will interact with media, measure success, and find support after training ends.
- Present. Chefs use a variety of ways to share their recipes and cooking methods: books, videos, TV cooking shows, and live classes. For blended learning, we use classroom instruction, group activities, independent learning, eLearning, coaching, etc. Build a blended solutions solution that gives the individual more ways to learn, improving their chance of success. And allow learners flexibility across a blended program; they learn better when they can control their own experiences.
- Demonstrate. Learning a new recipe for the first time is easier if someone shows you how to do it. Include live demonstrations, video demonstrations, and other ways to observe someone performing well.
- Practice. The best way to hone your cooking skills is to experience first-hand a dish that turns out great and a dish that flops. Allow learners to practice using the content in a realistic, but controlled environment. Simulations and other realistic trials help learners test their learning and get real-time feedback on their performance in a low-risk setting. And, for tasks requiring human interaction, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction and practice in a real or realistic setting.
- Assess. Good chefs taste their food as they cook to make sure it meets their standards and expectations. For blended solutions, verify the learner has mastered the skills through performance assessment, certification, or informal learning checks. Just as chefs make sure each part of a dish is right, consider having your learners demonstrate mastery of each skill or behavior before they move on to the next.
- Coach. Every great chef once worked under the wing of an established, reputable chef who taught them the nuances of cooking that can’t be learned from a book. Make managers and peers part of blended learning programs. They should provide structured, ongoing coaching and feedback. This is a key piece of any blended solution; it helps ensure the skills learned through formal training are applied on the job.
- Collaborate. Social media has become a great platform for chefs and casual cooks alike to share recipes, cooking techniques, and lessons learned. Enhance your blended learning program through communities of practice. These communities enable collaboration during the course; for example, participants might use online chat to ask questions, share information, and solve problems. They are also a great way to deepen skills and reinforce critical behaviors over time.
Successful learning takes many forms because learners and situations are different. It’s all about thinking like a Top Chef and finding that optimal mix of techniques. As great chef Emeril Lagasse would say, blended programs give your learning some “BAM!”
Organization Structure for Learning & DevelopmentThere is no one best model for a learning and development function, but there is a best model for your organization.
There is no one best model for a learning and development function, but there is a best model for your organization.
In any company, L&D interacts with other internal entities according to certain rules: who has decision-making authority, what the roles and responsibilities are, and who owns the money for training development and delivery. So what are those entities? It could be functions within a business – say, Supply Chain or Sales. For a global corporation, it might be geographic regions – North America, Europe, Asia/Pacific. In a consulting company, it might be major service offerings, like Audit, Tax, and Advisory. In a very large company, the components might be a matrix that crosses both regions and functions or offerings.
Whatever the components, your L&D organization falls somewhere on a continuum of authority and centralization. I’ll talk about the pros and cons of structures along this continuum.
The Centralized Model
How It Works
L&D planning and decision-making are driven centrally. Let’s say Jack Lerner is the head of the L&D function for a consumer products company. Jack has a training budget and a team to build a curriculum and courses for each of the functions. He and his team of direct reports are responsible for onboarding, compliance, and leadership programs that cross the functions.
Jack works with each business function to understand its training and development needs. He then looks across all the existing curricula to see whether there are materials or courses that could be leveraged. If Jack can’t find anything, he works with instructional designers – who might be part of his team or a separate service – to build courses the function needs.
Jack prioritizes course development according to the strategic needs of the overall business. For example, the Rental function might be new, and therefore have a heavier need for development than the very mature Manufacturing function.
Why Use This Model
Centralized models are efficient. Jack will have a good view of what is already in the curriculum and what the gaps are. This model reduces redundancy; without this model, each function tends to build its own courses though another function might already have it. A centralized model fosters standardization of content and processes. The model makes it easier to ensure that all training programs are aligned with the strategic objectives of the company rather than the sometimes conflicting needs of each area. Jack gets his budget from the company overall and usually has the authority of how to allocate funds.
If the other entities in the organization aren’t communicating well with Jack or if they don’t have a good understanding of learning and development issues or if they try to circumvent the centralized function and develop training on their own, they risk creating training that is disconnected from the goals of the business. If Jack’s team isn’t large enough and/or skilled enough, they can be too slow and too removed from the business to be useful in a fast-paced functional area.
The Decentralized Model
L&D planning and decision-making reside in the business components. Jack might have responsibility for programs that cross functional areas, such as onboarding and compliance. In smaller companies, these programs might be handled by HR with little or no dedicated L&D support. In either case, some cross-functional programs are typically still held centrally in the decentralized model. The rest of the learning professionals are deployed to the functions. Each reports to the function’s leadership and develop programs specifically for that function.
How It Works
Let’s say that Alicia is responsible for the Manufacturing function’s learning program. Each fiscal year, she and the VP of Manufacturing work on the training priorities and budget to train the professionals. Alicia then partners works with her team to develop the Manufacturing training program for the year. She is aware of the central training that is impacting the people in her group, but has very little visibility to the training is being built in any other business unit.
Why Use This Model
Decentralized models can be very effective and targeted for the business. There is less coordination, as Alicia has a clear reporting relationship only to the function she serves. With the Manufacturing team as her focus, she can respond quickly to every request. Her budget is allocated by Manufacturing, annually.
Because Alicia doesn’t know what the other functional leads are doing, she won’t realize that, for example, each of them is building a course on communications. That means wasted development dollars. Each function must also prepare facilitators to deliver the training. And, and in some areas, they might not have enough learners to make a full class. Alicia might not know there’s a new and innovative program Luis is building for his function, so she won’t take advantage of his best thinking. Finally, since Alicia’s L&D team is relatively small (it might just be Alicia, in fact), she is less likely to grow as an L&D professional.
Finally, in the middle of the continuum is the Balanced Model.
The Balanced Model
In this model, L&D planning and decision making are driven through a central function with significant partnership from the business. Jack has responsibility for the company’s cross-functional curriculum. The rest of the learning professionals or HR business partners are deployed to the functions. They are responsible for ensuring function-specific training is built. They own the functional requirements and the outcomes.
How It Works
This is the most matrixed model. All parties must coordinate, collaborate, and communicate for this model to work well. Jack probably owns curriculum that impacts all employees. This might include onboarding and compliance training as well as professional, leadership, and/or consulting skills. Jack also owns the company-wide training schedule, and the learning management system and other development and delivery technology.
The business partners or functional designees are responsible for understanding and representing the needs of the business and the functional and on-the-job skills that need to be built. Together, the crew works to balance priorities and build an effective and efficient curriculum.
Why Use This Model
When implemented well, a balanced model represents the best of both worlds. There is a deep understanding of the business married with standard processes, tools, and governance. This model is both effective and efficient, particularly when it works within a clear governance structure.
On paper, it seems like the Balanced model should be the nirvana of organization structures, but successful implementation is tricky. It requires all parties to communicate and collaborate in good faith – weighing the needs of each part of the business with the company overall. If Luis decides to create custom communications training for his function, even though there is a company-wide communications course, the model loses some of its value.
These three models are common examples of many possible variations. Organization structures are sometimes more fluid in practice than in design. Think about which L&D organization structure you have, whether it’s functioning as designed – to take advantage of the model – and whether it’s aligned with your company’s overall objectives.
I’m having a Love Affair at Work – and HR ApprovesHow to build a high performing team.
By Emerson Director, Learning and Development, Laura Hume
I love my team. There. I said it. We met three-and-a half-years ago. It was going to be a long distance relationship from the start, as they were scattered across the US. They had recently ended a long-term relationship with my predecessor. Most of them were with her for years and had both personal and professional bonds. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but was confident I had something to offer them if they would give me a chance.
I made sure to use our webcams a lot the first few months. We had individual meetings and group meetings. We texted at odd hours. It was a start. I got to know them as professionals and colleagues. I saw them use their instructional design, program management, and client management skills. I discovered who had specialty areas like eLearning or simulation design. I heaved a sigh of relief. My team was smart, talented, creative…and funny, and talented, and caring. I hadn’t been sold a bill of goods in the hiring process.
I also got to know them as people. I learned about husbands, wives, partners, children, cats, and dogs. I figured out who was introverted and who was extroverted. I discovered who needed lots of support and who wanted only an occasional check-in. They were learning from me and felt supported by me. And, more importantly, I was learning from them and felt equally supported. What started as good will and professionalism turned into strong relationships that I cherish.
However, I occasionally feel like I’m cheating on them.
I feel like I’m cheating because I have a secret…I loved my last team just as much. It was a totally different team with a very different company, but I loved them too. Oh…and I guess I loved the team before that one. And the one before that.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the concepts of love, leadership, and high performance teams. There are several metaphors typical in the leadership literature: Coach, Servant, Conductor, and Guide. I love that a Coach sets a high bar and leverages the strengths of each player. Servant leadership, with its emphasis on social responsibility, speaks to me as well. A Conductor creates a unified whole out of talented individuals, which is very much what I seek to do. A Guide brings others along a sometimes difficult path, and that’s essential in our business.
Yet none of those metaphors felt just right to me. Each implies the leader is acting upon the team in some way. None of them captures the reciprocity and interactivity of team-ness. My love affair with my team is not unrequited. In fact, I’m getting more than I give in this relationship. After all, there are many of them and just one of me. Although my title is Director, I am simply performing the responsibilities of my role — just as each member of my team is – and, together, we create an interactive whole.
Finally, I stumbled upon the African term ubuntu. Leymah Gbowee, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, is credited with the definition of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Muchiri 1 notes that ubuntu focuses on a humanistic concern for relationships employing compassion and respect. Eureka! This was what I was searching for — a word that means we are all together part of the whole.
Brubaker, in his article Servant Leadership, Ubuntu, and Leader Effectiveness in Rwanda2
created a survey for his research study to determine whether Ubuntu leadership was a strong predictor of leader effectiveness. Although he found that it was positively correlated, I am more interested in the (unstudied) correlation of overall team effectiveness.
I adapted Brubaker’s survey and replaced the term “leader” with the term “team,” and I have streamlined the survey to five questions.
- My team provides me with counsel to succeed in my job.
- My team provides me with resources to fulfill my responsibilities.
- My team is sensitive to each other’s problems.
- My team is willing to reach out and help others.
- My team respects each other’s contributions.
My hypothesis is that a team (the named leader plus all members in the reporting chain) that answers “yes” to these five questions is an engaged, high-performing team.
How will your team answer? How will you? If each of you answers yes, I see an HR-approved love affair in your future, too.
Laura Hume is Director of the Learning and Development line of business for Emerson Human Capital Consulting, Inc.
1. Muchiri, M. K. (2011). Leadership in context: A review and research agenda for subSaharan Africa. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 84, 440-452.↩
2. Brubaker, T. A. (2013). Servant Leadership, Ubuntu, and Leader Effectiveness in Rwanda. Emerging Leadership Journeys, Vol. 6 Iss. 1, pp. 114 – 147. Regent University School of Business & Leadership ISSN 1941-4684↩