The development of a corporate learning strategy must first begin with the goals of the corporate learning strategy. What will the corporate learning strategy hope to accomplish? Without a true understanding of the goals of the corporate learning strategy it will be difficult, if not impossible, to be successful.
Avoid the common mistake of letting superficial goals drive the development, such as moving x percent of courses to e-learning. Trying to evolve to an e-learning environment does not necessarily accomplish a true goal. The evolution to e-learning is typically done to support a crucial, legitimate goal or objective.
The corporate goals and objectives should drive the true goals of a corporate learning strategy, but how do you translate corporate objectives into the training environment? Naturally it will take time to really examine the corporate goals and understand where a corporate learning strategy can be instrumental in reaching those goals.
For example, if a corporate objective is to increase revenue by 10 percent, appropriate attention needs to be paid to what will cause revenue to increase by 10 percent, as well as to understand what would prevent the revenue from increasing. Examining the root causes of increasing revenue may reveal that reducing the sales-cycle time would contribute to that goal. Thus training salespeople to be more effective in following up, organizing and closing deals would ultimately cause revenue to increase 10 percent. This is a very high-level example, but you get the idea. The corporate goal is driving the need for training, rather than training looking for a problem to solve.
In any case the corporate learning strategy should be able to provide services and resources to its users in the most efficient manner possible. This will mean examining the organization of the corporate learning strategy very carefully. The organization must include the resources needed to support the objectives of the corporate learning strategy as well as supporting its own infrastructure.
The corporate learning strategy should also contain processes to function more efficiently. Processes are a collection of repetitive and consistent actions that are documented to accomplish specific tasks. The purpose of a process is to document a common set of actions that focuses on the accomplishment of a task in the most efficient and expedient manner possible, while preventing rework due to inconsistencies or incompatibility of the task to other related tasks.
The learning development process should begin with analysis that is tied into the corporate processes of the development of products or services. It should allow for the training organization to be included as part of the development team and present specific issues for analysis to determine if learning activities will contribute to its solution. Once it is determined that learning is needed, then the Level 3 and Level 4 criteria should be set. Level 3 measures the performance improvement of individual learners who have applied the course content to their daily activities, thus changing their behavior. Level 4 measures the business success of a learning program, ultimately the end objective of the learning course itself. For these reasons it is imperative to determine the specific goals a course is expected to reach and to produce criteria that are measurable after the course has been delivered to an experimental group.
Following the analysis is the design phase in which a learning plan is produced and the formation of the course design is done. This also where the Level 3 evaluation survey would be developed to focus on the specific performance improvement criteria to support the achievement of the business goal identified in the analysis phase. The design phase goes through a very important part of the learning development process known as the media selection process (MSP). The MSP is designed to identify through checklists and criteria which medium or media the content is best suited for. This takes into account the audience’s learning preferences, geographical disbursement and technology availability. This also determines any requirements for internationalization and localization for delivery to multiple countries in multiple languages.
This is probably the largest component of the learning development process. The development phase takes the output of the design phase and puts it into production. This is where a corporate-wide learning infrastructure becomes important. A content development a system would be in place to store learning objects for potential re-use or modification for new classroom based content. For e-learning content development, the same system could be used for storing learning objects with multiple media and learning technology components for distribution in a variety of target media. During this phase, informal content reviews should also be conducted.
I separate medium from method as well. We are able to deliver courses online, on CD-ROM and in the classroom. We also deliver these courses as self-paced, instructor-led or blended. So we might deliver Web-based training online or on CD-ROM or both. We may deliver a virtual classroom as an instructor-led course online, which is recorded and also delivered on CD-ROM. It might even have been delivered in a classroom as well as online and recorded for later retrieval to truly expand on maximizing resources to reach as large an audience as possible.
The development phase is supported by a development environment for the purpose of e-learning development. This type of environment in many aspects resembles a software development environment because the development of e-learning starts to take on the qualities of developing software. Most instructional designers of traditional classroom materials probably consider this their biggest challenge; however, in order to be the most effective and successful in developing e-learning, instructional designers need to learn the basics of software development methodology, particularly testing and maintenance.
The development environment provides a safe haven to develop and test e-learning programs without impact to the production environment in which e-learning programs are delivered to actual students. The development phase for e-learning courses must include functionality testing, usability testing and testing on multiple platforms in order to ensure proper operation of e-learning programs.
Finally, the course would not be considered training without a Level 2 evaluation. Therefore, some form of testing must be included and the results recorded in a way that respects the privacy of the learner.
Validation and Delivery
The validation and delivery phase is where the full and complete content review occurs and is validated with a pilot delivery of the course. The pilot participants are provided with content review forms and feedback materials to report their perspectives on the course contents. Once the contents are finalized and approved for general release, it is provided to translation companies for localization into a global environment if necessary. Typically four to six weeks after the original language version is released, the multiple target languages are released.
The processes should include Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation. Level 1 measures the reaction or satisfaction level of the learner to the course. Level 2 measures that learning has taken place. Level 3 measures that behavior has changed to improve performance. And Level 4 measures the impact of the course on business results. In addition, measuring return on investment (ROI) is a key component to measuring success. Having an overall learning development process that includes evaluation management would form a complete process structure that can be measured for success.
Let’s entertain no illusions about measurement. Measuring the impact of training programs is meant to provide information that is essential to determining the impact of training on the business. Sometimes the results may reveal that a training program did not produce the expected results or caused a negative impact on business results. It is just as necessary to understand these measurements in failure as in success; otherwise nothing can be done to improve the results.
The measurement of successful programs is a key defensive armor from budget cuts. Once a training organization begins reporting on financial benefits of training programs, they are then looked upon as a strategic business investment. Why would anyone not spend money on something that has been proven to return that money and then some?
One of the key components of a corporate learning strategy is the learning management system (LMS). The LMS is responsible for managing the learning function in various areas. These areas may include managing a course catalog, skill assessment, learning plan development, online course launching, classroom and other operational logistics, evaluation and student attendance and performance.
The LMS must be configured to address the learner’s perspective (front office), the developer’s perspective and the administrator’s perspective (back office). The LMS should provide learners with all the tools needed to self-evaluate and to develop their own personal learning plans and organize those plans to automate the launching and registration of learners to the courses. The LMS that can manage additional courses that are not part of the generic course catalog would also be powerful to the learner in producing a development plan that exceeds what the corporate sponsorship offers. For example, it would be difficult to license corporate-wide use of language courses for various languages if there is not enough demand, but providing learners with a method to track their own pursuit of this goal would complete their experience.
Additionally the LMS should provide a standard set of Level 1 evaluation survey questions and storage of all evaluation data to compare across all courses. Optimally the LMS should support all levels of evaluation and ROI for a complete system to manage the business impact of training organizations.
The LMS should provide the developer with a development environment geared toward developing content designed to achieve the goals identified during the analysis. This might require integration with a learning content management system (LCMS) to store learning objects or at least to organize learning content within a course. Authoring systems must be easy to use for the developers who most likely will be better versed in instructional design than in Web authoring. Having an infrastructure group dedicated to developing online interactions for e-learning programs would be instrumental in developing effective e-learning programs without overextending the budget by having each department hire its own developer.
On the topic of budget, it is not so much that the larger budgets produce the best training. The best training comes from utilizing a budget efficiently so that it produces business results and generates a large return on investment.
The approach an organization takes to develop a corporate learning strategy varies from organization to organization. It takes consideration of the current structure of the organization as well as the culture. It is never a one-size-fits-all solution. Developing a corporate learning strategy is not a trivial task – it requires careful planning and complete understanding of the corporate goals.
Pat Alvarado is an independent consultant specializing in corporate learning and learning technology. Pat can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.