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What does good learning design look like?

If this were the 1990s, learning design looked like hearing someone in the business needed communication skills development and designing a course around that. It was attending an in-person classroom. It was about designing against learning styles.

In the 2000s, CBT – computer based training – was a thing, and e-learning started to become a scalable solution. It wasn’t a great solution for learning solutions, but it was an option. It was often click next approach, and quite static learning.

Somewhere around then, the LMS became a go-to tool for managing and recording learning activity.

Also somewhere along those timelines, more and more different forms of facilitation became more developed.

Over the 2010s we’ve seen digital learning, social media, enterprise communications solutions, video based learning all explode and offer multiple ways to provide content to people. Over that period, we’ve also been more aware of how to better uncover actual business needs, and possible ways learning solutions could meet those needs.

So what makes good learning design?

In a recent post, David James writes about how L&D is stuck, and it’s stuck because it’s not focused on what the business really wants, it spends a disproportionate amount of time focused on developing and delivering on ‘core’ offerings – core skills development, internal systems training, new manager training. However, if we spent more time understanding what the business needs, we open up the possibilities of how learning solutions can be provided.

By uncovering what the business really needs, we get to understand how people are likely to actually apply the learning they get from a traditional classroom, and develop aids and resources for people to use when they are in the flow of their working. The trap of things like training manuals or workbooks is that people do not refer back to them for learning resources as they don’t answer the performance question at hand. Often the workbooks or manuals provide generic content and not about the actual task at hand. E.g. if you need to know the key tips for selling a product, it’s unhelpful to have to refer to a sales model, and more helpful if you have the key tips available at hand.

You also get to explore how different learning solutions can build up to offer multiple opportunities to hear a message, practise the learnings and reflect with others. If delivering a person-led workshop is still a key need, you get to ask yourself and the business what else needs to happen before and after which allows for multiple opportunities where learning is provided and reinforced. Depending on the context of your organisation, the tech capability, managers capability, leadership involvement, resources available to you, there are myriad ways in which you can make the best use of learning options such as:

  • coaching
  • virtual classrooms
  • e-learning
  • video learning
  • reading
  • questionnaires
  • quizzes
  • facilitated learning
  • action learning sets
  • and so much more

To my mind, the above also means that you don’t have to be focused on particular models or theories. Obviously if that’s where you want to hone your craft and how you get paid, then crack on. What I think can happen, though, is that such a fixation limits your design thinking and capability because you’re more focused on fitting the problem around the solution as opposed to finding a good solution to the problem. I know many practitioners who get trained in particular views of the world and want to design all their solutions based on that view of the world, where there could be (and often are) many other ways and approaches which could offer better solutions.

What does good learning design look like? It looks like offering your audience a multitude of ways in which they engage with you, your learning offering, with different modes of access. If I hear about learning design which is focused on one method at the expense of other options or focused on one model or theory over others, I’m going to call into question the validity of the design and the credibility of the design too. It also means, quite excitingly, that there’s no right answer, and the options for learning design can be varied and diverse.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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