101: Don't Leave the Learner Behind

By Tiffany Lombardo published April 20, 2018

It’s important to take a step back and think about the learner. Most learners are busy, not just at work but in their personal lives as well.  Common sense tells us they don’t have much room in their brain to store information that is not directly relevant to their lives or jobs. When we ask them to take a training course, it needs to be engaging and easily connect key concepts to their everyday work.  Unfortunately, training often becomes a one size fits all solution that does not take the unique needs of learners into account.

I’ve been in many meetings with stakeholders and SME’s who say “Everyone needs this training.”  It can be difficult for them to have perspective because they are passionate about the subject matter and have a specific vision for the training. Our job is to act as an advocate for the learner and ensure that those who receive the training are the ones who need it.  The best way to be an advocate is to ask thoughtful questions to guide the team to the correct solution.  Here is a list of questions that you should ask to help identify your target learners:

  1. What knowledge, skill, or ability is the learner lacking that this training will remedy?
  2. How should the learner incorporate this new knowledge or skill on the job?
  3. Do we expect all levels (contributors, managers, directors, VP’s, etc.) in the organization to use this knowledge, skill, or ability in the same way?
  4. What business units need to take this training?
  5. What job families need to take this training?
  6. Where are the learners located?
  7. What languages do our learners speak?
  8. Do our learners have technological limitations that we need to take into account?

After this discussion, it may become clear to everyone on the project team that different versions of the training must be created or that a smaller group of learners should be the main focus.  You may receive direction that all employees need to take the training even though it goes against your analysis and recommendations.  If this happens, the following suggestions may help the learner understand the training’s relevance:

  1. Create a scenario-based course that uses different settings (corporate, field sales, manufacturing, etc.) and job titles. (IT manager, sales representative, production supervisor, etc.)
  2. Develop courses with an additional page or pop-up window entitled “What does this mean for me?” with examples that relate to your main learner groups.
  3. Design a communication plan that explains the relevance of the training to each one of your learner groups. The message should come from a leader in the specific business unit or job family and reinforce the importance of the training to learners’ role.

Being an advocate for learners is an essential part of our responsibility as learning and development professionals.  I encourage you to speak up and voice your recommendations rather than simply taking orders.  You will be shaping the learning culture towards an environment that puts the learner first, which will impact the bottom line.


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