I’ve been in the training industry for a long time — 25 years long. And I’ve done work on client projects representing the full gamut of subject matter and delivered via many different media (classroom, web-based, mobile, blends, and so on). One pattern I continually see is that many companies simply react to the needs of the moment and spend their time putting out training fires. A lot of these companies have not systematically thought through how they’ll go about building performer skills and knowledge.
In my opinion, all organizations — large or small — can benefit from having a corporate learning strategy. Ultimately, a good comprehensive learning strategy not only enables you to plan and prepare for your organization’s learning needs, but also optimizes the time and money your company spends on training. Much like an IT department would have an IT strategy or the marketing department would have a marketing strategy, the most effective learning departments operate using a formal plan. Without such a plan, making learning decisions across projects is much like throwing darts at a wall and basing actions on where the dart lands.
What is a learning strategy?
Well, let me first tell you what it’s not… it’s not an instructional design or a curriculum architecture. A learning strategy is really a road map for how the learning function will operate so that it aligns employee learning and performance needs with your company’s long-term business goals. The strategy sets consistent guidelines for decision making about learning at the project level and enhances buy-in to learning direction.
When done correctly, your learning strategy will have nine elements:
- Macro learning needs
- Delivery methods
- Technology and infrastructure
- Organizational structure
- Implementation plan
Through the strategy creation process, you’ve already made the macro decisions. At the project level, the learning staff uses the strategy to execute those previously made decisions.
What are the steps to create a learning strategy?
There are seven general steps to creating a learning strategy:
- Define Scope: Determine what your strategy will encompass.
- Select Team: Identify the members of the core strategy team and the auxiliary team.
- Conduct Stakeholder Interviews: Ensure core-team decisions align with executive direction.
- Facilitate Team Discussion on One Element: Go through one element (vision, macro learning needs, etc.) at a time to answer element-specific strategy questions and gain consensus.
- Draft the Strategy Element: Write up the element you just discussed; annotate it to identify open issues and ask for additional input. When done, send to core team for review.
- Review and Finalize Element: Obtain core- and auxiliary-team feedback, check against previous elements for consistency/impact, and revise this section and previous ones as needed. This is definitely an iterative process!
- Compile the Entire Strategy: Pull all the sections together, identify areas of inconsistency, and finalize your document.
Of course, this is a simple high-level look at a learning strategy. Multiple work sessions (and offline writing) go into creating one. I’ve been developing learning strategies for a long time, and I see the value they create. A good strategy that’s properly executed can ultimately improve employee performance, save you time, save your company money, and ensure your department contributes to your company’s bottom line.