Learning Design Questions

During a recent meeting with Jan Laurijssen of Kluwer and one of our clients, we discussed many ideas about learning design and how to move forward when implementing learning initiatives. Part of that conversation was centered on the types of questions you should ask when approaching a potential learning issue. This blog entry is inspired by that conversation and outlines some good questions you can ask to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

This is a non-exhaustive list of questions that can be useful to consider when people ask you to “deliver training” or “make some learning”. Some are more creative than others. You should not see this as a “list of things to ask” but inspiration for your consulting… They may help to ensure that you tackle the right issues in the right way (for the right reasons):

Define the problem first

It is important to begin with the end in mind and put first things first. We need first to be sure what we are working towards and where we are at present. Some interesting questions:

  • What are we trying to solve?
  • What evidence is there of an “issue” in the organisation? How did you detect the problem? How is business not going as it should do? How do you know some competence is missing? Who says so?
  • What is a concrete example of how things are going wrong today? And what is the business result of this?
  • What culture/organisational/process issues are causing difficulty here?
  • What competences are missing (knowledge, skills, attitude)?
  • How far does this problem reach? Who is impacted?
  • What are the priority issues? What are the deadlines?
  • Read about Impact Mapping and Backwards Planning here (Don Clark)

Be sure learning is the answer

Some learning professionals jump too quickly into tailoring a package to solve the issue. But not all issues are learning issues. Some interesting questions:

  • Why do you think this is a learning issue?
  • What experience suggests that learning will solve this?
  • If learning was not the answer, what would be?
  • Is this really about training? Or something else?
  • What people or processes are not working as they should? Why would learning by the answer?
  • How could better communication improve the situation?
  • What knowledge, skills or attitude do you seek to improve with learning?
  • 2 more articles on whether or not training is the answer: The Experience Factor and Why training fails and when training works, by Cheri Baker (@cheribaker)

Think about who you are dealing with

If you are going to design a learning initiative, it is important to think carefully about your people before creating anything. Ask some good questions:

  • Who needs to learn?
  • How many people will be involved?
  • Who are the stakeholders and what do they need from learning?
  • How do the (future) participants feel about the problem/current performance?
  • What talents/competences/passions/convictions do future participants have? How will these help or hinder learning?
  • How would you describe the style of the participants?
  • What is their experience and background?
  • What would they enjoy/dislike from a learning solution?
  • What is the current situation of those that learn? Are there any obvious opportunities or threats for learning?

Fix some real learning objectives

To be successful in both implementation and measurement of the learning solution, you need to have quality goals to work towards. Consider the following:

  • What would be the optimal “end-state”?
  • What should participants know or be able to do after the learning and under what conditions?
  • How do you expect participants to change after learning, either in behaviour or attitude?
  • What will “being competent” look like after learning?
  • What other elements do we want to measure? (eg: Reaction to learning)
  • How will we measure effective behaviour/competence/attitude before and after learning? And how will these measures include both quantitative and qualitative elements?
  • How will we measure business results before and after learning?
  • Check out Don Clark’s page on performance measures
  • In what timescale is change expected?
  • How will the learning provider, participant and n+1 provide feedback before, during and after learning?
  • What could be a good slogan for the learning initiative?
  • Check out Don Clark’s site for more ideas on fixing learning objectives

Design a learning solution

Learning is more than training and training does not (necessarily) imply learning. Don’t jump straight into a classical training solution before thinking about some of these questions:

  • What is the solution best suited to this problem and these people?
  • What resources are available (budget, facilities, time)?
  • How will we represent all stakeholders in the learning solution?
  • How will you get the relevant sponsors involved?
  • How and what will we communicate?
  • What methods are available? Follow this link to read about Choosing Delivery Systems.. (Don Clark)
  • Through what phases should learning move? What order should things happen in?
  • What is the best way to ensure learning is linked to reality?
  • How can we make the process truly authentic? How will we build in the right context?
  • When and where should learning take place?
  • How will we ensure transfer to the workplace? How will we get the learners’ managers involved?
  • Who can help facilitate or deliver this initiative?What are the obstacles to transferring learning to the workplace and how will we overcome them?
  • Who is competent and available to design and deliver the learning solution?
  • Who will own the learning process and what will their input be during design and implementation?
  • How can we ensure participant buy-in to the problem and learning process?
  • How will you follow-up on learners (if required) to be sure they do what you ask them to do?
  • What is the minimum effective dose of learning that can get the job done?
  • What are the best materials, methods and channels to use? How will people access these?
  • What methods are we strong in using?
  • What deliverables should be achieved at which moments?
  • How can we best profit from available technology and learning tools?
  • How can we enhance formal learning with tools like social media?
  • What is the most efficient way to deliver knowledge?
  • What can learners do by themselves and what do they need help with?
  • How can we leverage or capture informal social learning before and after a formal learning initiative?
  • What can we do to get closer to the Infinite Learning © vision?
  • What are obstacles to success in the learning process?

If you have comments and other interesting questions to note, please add them to this blog – looking forward to hearing from you!

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About Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

Posted on February 16, 2011, in Learning Management, Resources. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for mentioning my article. I enjoyed your post! Particularly the emphasis on learning objectives. Getting them right can be tricky! 🙂

  1. Pingback: Don’t forget to assess results (Evaluating training, part 5) « dansteer

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