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7 elements of a successful learning program

Learning is a powerful tool in any context. Whether you are teaching your employees about healthy work culture or trying to teach members of the public about what a good diet looks like, our ability to incite learning can have a genuine impact on the lives of individuals and organisations.

Before we can build learning that works, we need to understand the needs, goals and audience for that learning, to ensure that the learning we create is fit-for-purpose and will achieve the results that we require. A well designed learning program can mean the difference between an experience that comes and goes without consequence, or one that changes how a person sees themselves and sees their work. It’s worth investing in a good learning program.

If you want to get the best results from your next learning program, there are some very simple things that you can do to make sure that your learning is worth the time, funds and effort you spend on it.

#1: Address Actual Needs:

Creating and implementing a learning program is a costly process. It takes a lot of resources to develop and finally execute one, and the last thing you want to see once you’ve put in all that work is that your program isn’t doing anything useful.

This is why it is vital, before you even start to create the program itself, to discern the actual needs in your audience. Consider, if you’re trying to develop a program for employees at a company, you first need to figure out what they are lacking that this program can teach them. If all your employees know, for instance, about basic business models, then there really isn’t a point in giving them a lengthy learning program about that topic. If, however, you’ve noticed that, although your employees know business back to front, they struggle to work together as a cohesive team, you may want to focus your learning resources on interpersonal relationships and team dynamics. Knowing your audience is key.

In short, addressing needs that aren’t there is waste, failing to address needs that are there is danger.

#2: Set an Objective:

Once you know what the needs of your learners are, you need to set an objective for the course. It should be quite simple, but the importance of this step cannot be overstated.

Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve from your learning program will guide how you do everything else from here. And it’s one thing to know that there is a need that you want to address, but it’s a step further to state what addressing that issue looks like. It could be something simple: if the need among your learners is that they must learn how to use a certain system, then the objective of the program is to equip the learners to be able to use the system properly. But it could also be something somewhat more complex: if your learners lack knowledge about how their work impacts climate change, then the goal of the program could be not only to enlighten them on the topic, but also to give them practical opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of their work.

To know your goal, you must know the need you are trying to address, as well as the values you are trying to instil in your learners. To get the most out of your goals, you also need to make sure that they are realistic and measurable. If you keep these things in mind as you are setting your objectives, you are well on your way to creating a truly effective learning program.

#3: Get the learners onboard:

It’s really difficult to dedicate a lot of time or attention to something you see little value in. If your learners don’t understand why they’re doing the program, they are unlikely to benefit from it and no meaningful change is likely to happen.

So, the next step is to make sure that your learners understand exactly why they are participating in this learning program, how it will benefit them individually, and why the changes that will come from it are important.

#4: Integrate opportunities to apply:

It is true that before you can apply something in practice, you generally need to know the theory. But if your learners really do know the value of what they’re learning and want to see it make an impact on their lives or on their organisation, then they will benefit immensely from opportunities to put theory into practice.

By building these kinds of opportunities straight into the learning program itself, you’ve significantly increased the value and effectiveness of the program in achieving your goals. This kind of integration can come in many forms. For instance, giving the learner a chance to go away, do some research on their own and collate and share their findings. Or, if your program is, for example, about improving diet, getting them to fill out a food journal for a certain time and then then make changes to their diet as needed is a great way for them to apply what they’ve learned and reinforce its value.

People are unlikely to independently seek out opportunities to apply their learning—but by integrating those opportunities into the program itself, you give them an easy way to do something that will greatly enhance their learning experience.

#5: Make time for it:

Life is busy enough without adding on the extra task of completing a learning program. If your learners have to use their own precious free time to do the program, their motivation to participate and engage is likely to plummet. You’re likely to get learners who are quickly clicking through it without really paying attention and thus learn very little from the experience.

If your organisation is mandating the completion of a learning program, it can be quite beneficial to clear some time out of the workday for your employees to complete it. This not only preserves the learners’ time outside of work hours, but it also establishes to them that this program is something that the company values so much that they are willing to carve out an hour or two of actual work time for them to complete it.

#6: Celebrate successes:

No matter how invested you are in a learning program, completing it can still be a difficult task, and when your learning is feeling like a bit of a slog, that can be very demotivating.

One way you can encourage kids when they’re getting tired of their schoolwork is by giving them a little reward when they reach certain milestones—and the same principle of positive reinforcement works pretty much no matter what age you are. Everyone appreciates getting a boost, some recognition when they’ve done something good. So, it can be incredibly helpful to have integrated ways to celebrate successes in your learning program. This could take the form of a little digital badge upon completing a module, or a message board where people can give shout-outs to those who’ve done well or overcome something that challenged them. Remember, your learners may be fully-grown adults with adult lives, but everyone needs a win every now and then, everyone appreciates a bit of recognition, and that little bit can go a long way in keeping them motivated to engage with and complete your learning program.

#7: Evaluate and Adapt:

Let’s say you’ve done all of this. You’ve tried your best to meet the needs of your learners, engage them in practical activities, rewarded their efforts along the way—all the good stuff. You might sit back in your chair and sigh with satisfaction at a job well done—but I tell you, the journey isn’t over yet.

If you genuinely want to create a learning program that is successful and effective for as long as you need it, you can’t stop at the roll-out. Because this program is not just a learning experience for the participants—it’s a learning experience for you too. You need to be able to evaluate how well the program went, whether it achieved the goals it was intended to, and be prepared to change it in ways that will make it better for next time. Look at what went right and what could’ve been better. Be ready to realise that there are still a lot of ways in which your learning program could be improved—and embrace that fact. There are some things you will only be able to learn through trial and error, but the important thing is that you learn them and that you continually grow to adapt to the needs of your learners and the values of your organisation.

These are just a few ways that you can make sure that the learning program you develop is effective in achieving the goals you have in mind but building a learning program is a learning journey in and of itself, and as you develop your program, you’ll soon discover what’s best for you and your learners.

If you're ready to start planning your next learning program, the Learning Canvas can help you as you create a blueprint for your learning. Designed to help you get the best results from your learning, the Learning Canvas guides you step-by-step to build a plan for learning that's right for your learners and your organisation. To find out more and register your free Learning Canvas account, click here and start planning your next learning program today.

Beth Kaldas
20 April 2022 6 Min Read

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