You’ve spent months planning and creating a new learning strategy to revolutionise how your employees do their job. This new process will reduce admin time, reduce stress AND boost their career progression – but they just don’t seem to care. Information retention is poor, learning outcomes diabolical and change still seems like a distant dream on the horizon. A simple 4-stage communication plan could be the solution you didn’t know you were looking for.
Worryingly, cross-industry studies show that managers perceive that 75% of learning initiatives to be ineffective. Every day, learners complete courses and modules without understanding why, and if new skills or behaviours aren’t implemented within seven days of being learnt, they're less impactful and render the learning ineffective.
The big question is how do we change this alarming perception?
It’s cliché to say but good communication is king. Providing 4-stage communication plan to support a new learning pathway can break down negative perceptions around learning and development and create environments where great things can happen.
Communication plans aren’t just a marketing tool for keeping in touch with customers and persuading them to make a purchase. They’re an essential part of the development of any learning plan, keeping the audience informed of what they need to know as soon as they need to know it.
Learners that are conscious of gaps in their knowledge or skillset are more likely to do something about it. Targeting the right intervention at the right audience at the right time provides the potential for lasting career growth.
So, what are the four stages you should consider when positioning a new learning pathway?
- Setting the Scene – Identify the knowledge gap and position why your audience needs to know this information.
- Get Ready – Use save the dates, joining instructions and microlearning to prepare learners for learning.
- Live – Remind your audience without nagging them.
- Cascade – Cascade information and encourage people to go back to supporting resources.
Stage 1 – Setting the Scene
No learning topic exists in complete isolation – there is always a context in which the subject exists that drives the development of a learning solution. Learning outcomes are not a new concept in Learning and Development but how these outcomes are positioned with learners will shape how they engage with a particular curriculum. Afterall, nobody wants to complete a piece of training if they just see as a tick box exercise their manager wants them to complete.
Positioning context before introducing the training is crucial in highlighting to learners that they have a knowledge gap and what change they will obtain by completing the required learning is essential. Knowing in advance what the day-to-day benefits will be generated will create a positive impression amongst audiences, setting the scene for the next stage.
Let’s take an example from the automotive industry.
The rise of smart gadgets has driven the demand for people to control different car systems from their phones. Connected Car services is a key area of growth and will help manufacturers generate data to develop autonomous cars, improve road safety and understand how drivers interact with their cars. The data generated could be worth up to $750 billion across the automotive industry by 2030.
The question is, how do you convince a busy sales manager under pressure to sell more cars that knowing how to sell connected services to their customers is crucial information for their team. Developing autonomous cars and collecting insights is not going to help the sales team shift more units. Any learning programme that doesn’t address this may come across as something being forced onto them by the relevant training academy.
Instead, the sales team needs to know that customers are increasingly expecting this feature when looking for a new vehicle and that 37% of customers will switch manufacturers for a better connected service. According to the same McKinsey & Company survey, 39% of customers are interested in unlocking more digital features once the car purchase is complete. This is too large of an audience for sales teams to ignore or risk losing to another brand. This is the gap in their knowledge. This is the context the strategy must address.
Stage 2 – Get Ready
Now the knowledge gap is no longer the elephant in the room, it’s time to get your learners ready to learn. Work schedules fill up fast and expecting learners to fit in an extra hour of training is a recipe for disengagement. Nothing works as a barrier to learning than a pile of unanswered emails or an as-yet unmet deadline.
This is where save the dates are essential, allowing learners to book time into their calendars and discover what their learning journey is. Do they need to analyse a competitor’s product? Is there a crucial eLearning module they must complete before an in-person training event? Do they need to complete a series of short tasks over several weeks? Will there be cascade information following the key learning session? Put your audience in control of their learning by answering these questions before they've even asked them.
Joining instructions come next particularly for face-to-face or virtual classroom sessions. Reiterate dates and times, provide instructions on registration, software and equipment requirements. If a learning on demand or other blended learning product is the focus, use adverts on LMS systems and internal newsletters to keep the upcoming modules at the forefront of your learner’s minds.
At this point, including forms of micro-learning can make a difference to the amount of information your audience can remember. By breaking complex ideas down into bite-sized chunks, learners can focus on one idea or topic at a time, increasing their ability to retain the information. Microlearning is ideal for the smartphone era where infographics, audio and video snippets as well as quizzes and challenges can be accessed at a time and place that suits each learner’s needs.
Stage 3 – Live
This is the main event, the headline act of the learning journey. It’s now live and learners can access it. This is a critical stage where all messaging must walk the fine line that exists between encouraging and nagging learners to complete their training. There are two key things to bear in mind at this stage: the intention of the communication and the frequency.
If your intention is to remind a learner to complete a learning initiative, avoid “Don’t forget to...” style message. These messages may put the recipient on the defensive by implying they haven’t done, aren’t planning on or have completely forgotten to complete the training. Instead, add value to reminders by pulling out key topics or questions that will be answered in the course.
Now let’s look at the frequency of reminders. When planning out when you are going to contact users build in a reasonable time for them to react to the messaging. Even the most organised planner can be hit with a last-minute, urgent meeting request or an unforseen emergency. Resist the need to remind daily and leave a suitable gap of 1-2 days between each message.
Stage 4 – Cascade
What happens once a training module has been complete? The Forgotting Curve shows that 70% of information presented will have been forgotten within 24 hours. This isn’t, however, down to laziness or a lack of care from the learner’s perspective. The human brain can only store limited amounts of information in its short-term memory banks. It prioritises processing important pieces of information into long-term memories to free up space for new short-term memories.
Before learners complete their learning journey, build in opportunities for them to create an action plan on how they will convert a concept, skill, behaviour or process into actual experience. This takes theoretical ideas into the real-world and, with self-evaluation, learners can judge any differences made for themselves.
Repetition or re-visiting a topic will also help learners retain new knowledge. Providing session summaries or key points can prompt more detailed recollection on a particular topic. Make supporting resources easily accessible and encouraging learners to revisit them 48 hours after the course is completed to reinforce knowledge.
Finally, forums and live feeds are an ideal tool to promote social learning. Providing a central hub where learners can ask questions, share new skills or behaviour will build up an archive of best practises – road tested by other learners. It takes time to build up social networks but once formed, these can be applied across whole organisations and learning programmes to the benefit of everybody involved.
So, what now?
Information retention rates are disheartening when stacked alongside the number of hours that go into developing each course or module. By expanding learning design approaches beyond objectives and outcomes to include the content can only benefit the learner, informing them why this training course will be an immediate game-changer for their role. Remember, adult learners have to fit any learning in around both personal and professional responsibilities. By putting them in control and showing what is in it for them you motivate them to reach the outcomes you want them to achieve.
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