One of the most important (and often confusing) parts of developing learning involves gaining a clear understanding of your learning needs. All too often, we rush into a learning development project using our instincts, following our gut, or using past experience.

The problem is that not everyone has the same perspective or gut feeling. And the experience gained in other projects, while important, can quickly become blinders when searching for the root cause in problem-solving your most current project.

Recent research suggests that when we’re conducting a root-cause analysis, our experience can actually work against us. Our research can get influenced by unintentional bias due to our previous experiences and the temptation to reach a quick conclusion before we’ve explored all the options.

While there are many articles posted on analysis and requirements gathering, it seems that both continue to frustrate countless L&D departments. Here at Maestro, we have a system that helps us clearly define learning needs by doing the following:

  • Validating through business drivers
  • Focusing on the learner’s needs

Let’s take a deeper look at how it works.

Validate your learning through business drivers

Often, the drivers propelling your business are not actively considered when defining the needs within a learning project. Why is that? Operations that can support and advance key areas of your business are the ones that get noticed and funded. Why should learning be different? After all, alignment with business drivers is one of the most important analysis and definition exercises you can do.

Often within a learning context, links to these drivers can appear to be tenuous, difficult to measure, and hard to prove. Unfortunately, this is a familiar story when trying to link a specific, limited-scale learning project with some big business drivers.

For example, if you train a group of new employees in a compliance process, can you always prove that the results will affect your business’s profit, risks, or costs? No, not likely. While you can prove seat-time and assessment accuracy, it’s a lot more difficult to track the metrics and data for performance and impact. Fortunately, there are a few ways around this problem.

Scale the learning impact to immediate value

If we scale the learning impact on business drivers to something more direct—more immediate—you have a greater chance of showing value for your company.

For example, say you decide on an objective: to reduce the time to proficiency in the compliance process from two months to two weeks (with proper monitoring). The increase in efficiency, the reduced risk of exposure, and other factors reveal a direct cause and effect on your business drivers.

Track how the learning affects losses and gains

You could also track company losses during a set time period following the launch of substandard compliance training or track company gains following the release of high-quality compliance training. This is especially effective if your target audience is in a position where compliance and risk are major factors.

Focus on your learner’s world

With an increasingly mobile workforce, it can be easy to lose track of where and when the learner accesses company learning. To fix this, it’s time to develop a 20/20, 360-degree view of the learner’s world. This creates a clear vision of the learner’s needs and grows a better understanding of what limitations affect the design, content, and relevance of the learning.

To increase comprehension and maximize effectiveness, we need to focus on creating learning that’s relevant to the learner. While developing learning with personalized, customized use cases may seem daunting, it’s often easier than it sounds.

Why context matters for learning retention

Learners forget up to 70 percent of what they learn after only one day. That’s a scary number. Let’s get positive with some good news. Studies show that the closer and more realistic the learning context, the better the learner will perform on the job.

So, how do we help learners remember? Our brains process massive amounts of information every day, and a lot of our responses rely on triggers or cues that bring information back to mind. To remember information, we have to associate it with certain triggers that happen in our daily lives or workplace environments.

Remember Pavlov’s dogs? The dogs were taught to associate the trigger (a bell) with an action (delivery of food), which in turn inspired a response (salivating). This correlation between triggers, actions, and responses still holds strong and true today, even for humans (hopefully with less saliva).

When learning has a similar context to the workplace, the memory trigger is stronger, leading to a higher chance of the learner accurately responding to the situation. This makes discovering the right context a priority.

Find yourself some subject matter experts

We’re all familiar with the importance of a subject matter expert (SME) when it comes to discovering the ins and outs of learning content. Time spent with a SME is always time well spent. SMEs help you make sure that the context of the learning matches the learner’s actual working experience—usually because the SMEs themselves are in a similar context.

Most people are naturally skeptical, and if your learning is inaccurate in the smallest way, this can lead to the learner checking out completely or questioning the credibility of everything they learn. This is a major distraction and has a significant (and negative) impact on the learner’s retention.

Do your learner (and yourself) a favor and spend some time with SMEs who know their stuff.

Base learning projects on a strong foundation

Effectively analyzing your learning needs is fundamental for great instructional design—that’s no secret. But needs analysis goes beyond merely understanding the required tasks or the performance metrics.

Flex your analysis process, and include research on how your learning needs affect some of your most important business drivers. This might mean investing a little more time, but when you draw strong connections to your business drivers and clearly define the learner’s use case and context, you’ll develop powerful learning with greater relevance for both your learner and your business.

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