Creating a great learning journey

Written by Diane Law on 13 October 2016 in Features
Features

Diane Law provides a tool to deliver the right learning to the right people at the right time.

In an economy dominated by knowledge and rapid, unpredictable change, the ability to learn, and to continue learning, is crucial for individuals and organisations. 
 
What did you learn at work today? Probably a huge range of things – from something simple, like how to use the new coffee machine to more complex problem solving such as how to increase sales by 20 per cent.
 
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Why did you learn at work today? You probably learnt because the topic had immediate relevance and impact for you. Or you may have learnt because you felt that increasing knowledge or skills in a particular area would have longer term benefits to your career.
 
How did you learn at work today? Your learning was likely to be problem-centred, rather than content-centred. You learnt because there was a real-life problem or issue that you wanted to solve.
 
There could have been some trial and error involved, seeking support from colleagues, or maybe an instruction manual, tip sheet or video you could watch that could help you. There might even have been a course you attended recently that was relevant to the problem at hand. 
 
Learning is a process is a journey. Sometimes, the learning we do daily can be so small that we don’t even notice it. But added up, all of our experiences and interactions contribute to our overall perspective and competencies.
 
Recognising this, organisations are now taking a multi-faceted approach to learning – beyond the traditional classroom courses into a plethora of methods from e-learning, web-based discussion forums, feedback culture, action-learning sets, guided learning, access to bite-sized, just-in-time resources and so on. 
 
Many learning professionals have embraced the concept of blended learning, which combines online and face-to-face education. We can all think of examples where this approach has resulted in an improved learning experience, greater flexibility for learners, and better use of resources.
 
The 70:20:10 model is also high on L&D’s agenda: the importance of using a variety of learning approaches including experiential, social as well as formal learning to ensure the relevance, timeliness and durability of learning.
 
The exciting aspect is that there are so many options and opportunities for learning professionals to add value, be creative and ensure real learning takes place in their organisations. The more daunting aspect however is ensuring the most appropriate learning method for a particular stakeholder takes place at the right time and place.
 
A practical framework
In order to take full advantage of the best of 21st century workplace learning approaches, learning and development professionals need a practical framework to help design, organise and ensure the sustainability of the learning that has taken place.
 
Often the numbers 70:20:10 can be distracting and difficult to explain. They are more indicative, rather than absolute, and although the concept is insightful, stakeholders may be concerned with arguing the preciseness of the numbers rather than applying the underlying principles. 
 
A learning model, entitled ‘EPIC Journey’ was therefore created to incorporate the best of modern learning approaches in a structured and practical framework. ‘EPIC’ and ‘Journey’ are both key to the construct. 
 
EPIC
Each letter in EPIC stands for a different learning approach and they are depicted in descending order, with ‘E’ being the most frequently used component, down to ‘C’, an important and highly visible, but proportionately less used, element.
 
E  Experiential (including on-the-job, work shadowing, new responsibilities, job swaps, special projects, committee membership, secondments, volunteer work, etc.)
 
P People (including feedback, mentoring, networks, peer groups, action learning, manager guidance, facilitated groups, online discussions, etc.)
 
I Investigation (including just-in-time resources, articles, videos, hints and tips, manuals, infographics, bite-size learning – things you delve into when you need them)
 
C Courses (including formal e-learning or face-to-face, certifications, professional qualifications, etc).
 
Journey
Typically, learning within organisations may be structured around a series of learning episodes such as face-to-face courses, 360-feedback, discussion with colleagues and e-learning courses. However, think about how much more powerful and sustainable the learning would be if these episodes were joined together into a transformational learning journey. A journey is the ‘act of travelling from one place to another.'
 
A learning journey is also about a passage, a developmental process where individuals build capability through a series of related and complementary learning interventions. It’s about how all of these approaches are blended together to make a learning experience where the new skills or behaviours are put into practice and have a lasting impact and a deeper level of transformation.
 
Learning journeys are highly customised and experiences are usually structured around key themes and hypotheses about the future of the business.
 
The framework in practice
Knowing about a model might have some benefits, but it needs to actually work in practice. Learning something in the short term without longer term sustainable development does not provide the individual or the organisation much advantage. What we need is something that will improve performance.
 
Combining the concepts of the EPIC components incorporated into a structured journey creates a practical and workable framework that helps to ensure learners are developing in a way that will have lasting impact. 
 
There are two distinct ways this model can be employed, designing learning interventions for what groups of people need (cohort journey) and designing learning interventions for what individuals need (personal journey).
 
Unquestionably, the current good practices of training design should continue to be applied, such as having an in-depth understanding of the need, the desired outcomes and the success measures for the learning initiative.
 
Cohort journey
A cohort approach should be used when there are a number of people needing to develop the same skills at approximately the same time, such as designing an EPIC Journey for new inductees, or those new to line management or emerging leaders. A key principle of learning with a cohort is that as much learning is derived from each other’s experience as your own.
 
Where designing the EPIC Journey diverges from traditional training design is in the creation of a blueprint as a guide for building the journey. This involves:
  • Identifying the key lessons and outcomes at a detailed level
  • Determining what blend of each EPIC component would best serve which aspects of the programme. An example of some questions you can ask at this stage are:
  • How important is it to practice this skill in a real-world environment? Are there opportunities for stretch assignments or special projects to enhance the skill/behaviour? (E) 
  • Do people need to work together to come up with solutions? How important is immediate feedback? Are there subject matter experts who can offer some guidance? (P) 
  • Does the content need to be accessed at the point of need? Would providing videos, tip sheets, etc. be useful or not likely accessed? (I)
  • Does working in a group enhance the learning? Is practice in a ‘safe’ environment important? (C) 
  • Planning at a high level the order in which each intervention should occur
  • Ensuring that there is a good balance of each approach – and not defaulting to classroom type learning!
Every journey,  a short one, is made up of a series of steps. In most cases we have not really solved a problem or improved performance simply by providing a course. We need to ensure all the reinforcing steps are in place.
 
Using the EPIC Journey framework opens your mind to thinking beyond episodic training interventions into what a comprehensive learning pathway could look like and what it would accomplish.
 
When designing an EPIC Journey there is not one correct path. There are a variety of solutions that can be generated using this approach. There should be milestones and checkpoints along the way and obstacles or blockers to development identified and addressed.
 
It is key to note that each EPIC component is not mutually exclusive of another. At times, they will be combined – for instance – an on-the-job experience (E) might be intertwined with some timely feedback (P) creating a more enriched learning experience.
 
Cohort journey example
Let’s take an illustrative example of a Cohort EPIC Journey. Assume there is a group of new first-time managers who have been recently promoted and are inexperienced in line management.
 
Getting them together face-to-face is impractical because they are geographically dispersed. E-learning might be a solution, but on its own is it really enough? An example of what a subsection of an EPIC Journey for this group.
 
The journey begins with a kick-off webinar, facilitated by a management sponsor who will be allocated to the group for their entire journey. 
 
 As part of the journey, each manager has the opportunity to learn from colleagues and experts through private online discussion forums, Skype meetings and face-to-face interactions. This is interspersed with readings and investigation to further knowledge and practical on-the-job assignments which increases experience.  
 
Assignments provide useful content for the discussion forums as members of the cohort share ideas and seek help for issues they may have come across. 
 
About the author
 
Diane Law is Head of Learning & Development at Newton Europe and can be contacted at diane.law@newtoneurope.com
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