Why designing “learning as a journey” makes all the difference

A continuous approach creates significant beneficial impact

Historically, learning has been thought of as a ‘point in time’ activity: a training course, online eLearning module or similar.

In our extensive experience of working with financial services firms, this approach has severe limitations.

  • It is very difficult for learning delivered in a learning environment (in a classroom, virtually, face-to-face or online) to be successfully transferred to an individual’s day-to-day role, without opportunities to apply it and review the success of its application.
  • An individual’s line manager needs to be heavily involved in ongoing development; determining development needs; finding relevant learning interventions; ensuring appropriate time can be committed to learning; mentoring; and critically looking for ways the individual can use their increased capability, be it updates to their role, developing others, or even a completely new role.
  • Development needs are not static, and therefore learning should be a dynamic process, not confined to a few days’ training course.

A better way to think about learning is as a journey, with a number of stages.

Over a long-term career, an individual will undertake a series of learning journeys to build a portfolio of complementary capabilities. We see a number of our clients and market leaders taking this approach as the return on investment and goodwill are significant. For example, a learning journey in practice might look like this:

The journey has five stages:

  • Identification: This starts with an awareness of a development need and exploration of how learning can be best met. For example, annual performance reviews are often the best opportunity to surface and discuss such needs. Next within this stage is relevance – where the individual and their line manger jointly determine the relevance of a specific learning intervention or option, by reviewing content and entry criteria.  The final step within this stage is selection – where any entry criteria are met and participation in the learning is confirmed.
  • Start: This is where the foundations for a successful learning journey are built.  The first step is induction, when both the individual and their line manager are briefed on what to expect, what is expected in return of both parties, and a mutual commitment is undertaken to complete the learning.  Next, an assessment can take place (if that did not already happen during the identification stage) that maps the individual’s current capability against a target state or blueprint of ‘what good looks like’.  This allows a more targeted focus on specific development areas.  Finally in this stage, and often building on the assessment, the learning journey can be planned out in a bespoke way for this individual, again with line management involvement.
  • Learn, Practice, Retrospect: This is where much of the learning content is delivered and individuals initially practice what they’ve learned within a safe learning environment, reviewing what they have learned and how successful they’ve been at practicing it.  This stage borrows conceptually from the lean practice of ‘Build, Measure, Learn’, so that continuous improvement is designed into the learning process.
  • Application: This is the part often missed. People attend training then go back to their day jobs as if nothing has changed, with no opportunities to practice and apply their new capabilities and skills.  We see the application stage as being equally as fundamental to successful capability building as the learning content acquisition. In this stage, and again working with the line manager, the individual finds opportunities to apply their new capabilities in their existing role, or perhaps in an updated or ‘enhanced’ role.  Without the opportunity to apply their new skills, the learning will atrophy, and attendance of any development programmes will ultimately not give the desired return on investment.
  • Review: Learning should never be finished, so it is key to review the individual’s development progress; assessing the organisational impact of their increased capability, and then determining which next learning journey on which to embark.

The benefits of a learning journey approach are extensive and look something like this:

And yet, while the concept of learning journeys may not be new, many organisations still fail to invest in the two key activities which help turn a training programme from a one off event, into a true learning journey with all the benefits that flow. These are:

  • Line manager engagement in the learning journey:  without active support and encouragement, the individual will not be able to achieve their potential, address development needs, and deliver a greater impact through their work.  A lack of line manager engagement is a significant gap we frequently observe and a missed opportunity for line managers to engage in getting the best out of their people.
  • Learning Application: this is also frequently missed and is something that we are regularly called on to support through ongoing coaching (either 1:1 or as part of ‘coaching circles’). A simple analogy for this element is, would you expect to teach an individual a foreign language but then not provide the opportunity for them to read, write and speak it?

In conclusion

Treating development as an ongoing learning journey, with continuous line manager engagement and opportunities for applying the learning means the typical impact on performance from attending learning (shown left) is dramatically improved (shown right).

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I help organisations and the individuals within them change and develop; to be better, more effective and have a positive impact on the clients and society they serve.