Depending on your company’s financial year, you might well be about to start the budgeting process for next year, or you may already be in the middle of juggling the needs of your business with the forecast budget – and all its pessimistic variations.
But how much are you setting aside to ensure that the learning you deliver next year has an impact on both the individual employee and business performance of the organisation?
Designing learning for business success
Nearly a decade ago, this one piece of research changed how I approached corporate L&D.
In summary, whereas we typically devote the bulk of our training resources to the main learning event (85%), we spend very little on preparing the learners for what they are about to learn (10%) and even less on what happens afterwards (5%), even though we know that’s the most crucial phase. Considering then that the optimum ratio of activities contributing to learning effectiveness was calculated as 26% on pre-work, 24% on the learning event and 50% on the follow-up, it’s easy to see that our budgets might be directed towards a less-influential part of the learning process.
So we really need to have a different conversation with our budget holders.
Hopefully, they will tell us their business objectives and challenges for the forthcoming year. These will then be translated via some form of analysis into a shopping list of learning interventions against which the costs will be assigned.
But if we turn the conversation on its head – and therefore the needs analysis – let’s start at the end and work backwards.
Budgeting for “follow-up”
What activities and resources will be needed to ensure that every penny spent on developing the content is given the greatest chance to produce the maximum ROI?
We should definitely be looking at creating performance support tools and resources that will be easily accessible for learners at all times, so that they remember what they learned earlier, don’t fall back to the old ways of doing things and receive the repeated guided practice they need to change those habits and behaviours.
They will also need a steady stream of refresher content to help them remember the underlying principles behind the training and have the chance to top-up their learning – and to avoid the slippery “forgetting curve”.
If you’ve yet to try mobile learning or are still struggling to decide where it will work best, start here. Developing apps is the perfect way to provide ready access to both refresher content and performance support tools at the point and place of need. And don’t forget to budget to ensure a continuous supply of content to keep the app alive and in regular use.
One of the outputs from the research I mentioned at the start of this post was the creation of an online action planning tool that supported learners after they returned to the workplace. Even if you don’t go for that approach, look at how you can create or even better still, use an existing social platform to support learners with their endeavours to apply what they’ve learned back on the job.
The latter will only work if you devote some L&D resources at it too, so budget for your trainers to take on the roles of virtual coaches and content curators and engage any external providers to create and support their content in a similar fashion.
Don’t forget too to budget for measuring the impact of your training programmes. We rarely spend enough – time and budget – on this, but planning this into the programme design from the start – and making this a natural part of the programme too – will keep this front-of-mind.
Budgeting for “learning”
If you’re working backwards, you might well now be looking at a totally different proposition for your main pieces of content. With the emphasis firmly on resources that embed learning and the necessary performances changes, you can look again at what is needed to deliver the learning component of your programmes.
You also now have a chance to be more responsive to how learners prefer to learn. Increasingly, time away from the job is a precious commodity and most people now prefer to learn in shorter chunks and at a time and place to suit them. That doesn’t mean you can forget the classroom, but instead look at where you can use other methods – such as digital learning – to provide the background learning. And your budget holders I’m sure will appreciate the better use of their colleagues’ time.
Focus in on the core things that people will need to do and say to achieve success – and which you’ll be supporting them with anyhow – and create short pieces of content that cover each in turn. So-called micro-learning is gaining in popularity and video is proving a good option for translating content into something memorable and engaging in just a few minutes, where an e-learning course, for example, might struggle. Often known as explainer videos, it’s worth budgeting for external expertise here in order the create something with a high learning quotient. And these same video clips can be re-used within your follow-up content offer; and they are also amazingly mobile-friendly and ready.
For when you do need face-to-face time, seriously consider moving this to – and budgeting for – a virtual classroom. If you keep the group sizes small and script them to include lots of time for group discussions – putting any knowledge pieces as self-paced content beforehand – then you can create engaging sessions that you can repeat as often as needed to address the needs of most modest-sized audience of learners.
Budgeting for “preparation”
We’ve seen how we’ve not really paid as much attention as we should in the past to preparing our learners at the start of their learning journeys. Our first attempts at blended learning often resulting in the “pre-work” never being completed, with the result that the blend soon returned to “cram all you can into the classroom session”. Inertia was lost at the start of the main training event and some of the audience were probably never truly on-board.
But now that we started our planning – and budgeting – at the end, we are in a better place.
To start with, we must motivate the learners to engage fully with the learning. If the idea of campaign-based learning is new to you, then now might be the time to speak to your colleagues in marketing and internal communications and budget for the type of resources and activities they use to communicate new ways of working and engaging those hearts and minds. Newsletters, punchy videos and programme-long competitions are all ways to get the buy-in of people.
Video can also be used to create so-called primer content – short introductions to the main topics – that can take a variety of formats including the trainer speaking face-to-camera, introductions from the senior stakeholders, or more graphical explainer videos. Again, you can re-use all these later throughout the remainder of the programme.
Where you need to create e-learning modules, budget for much shorter online modules that get to the chase quicker and set aside funds to commission only content that is built using the latest responsive authoring tools, as you will want to future-proof your content now for the “mobile-first” world that will be in the learning space soon, if it’s not already there now in your organisation. Continuing to develop content in the tools of the past is a poor use of scarce budgets.
If you’ve not yet thought about using games for learning or embedding the concepts behind gamification into your learning strategy, then now is the time to budget for those for next year. Not only do games improve user engagement, they are also a great way to spread learning over time and to keep learners topping up their skills. Putting these games into your suite of follow-up resources is also a great way to extend their use and so make sure they are mobile-ready too.
Budgeting for “delivery”
A final word – and this might require the pooling of budgets from across the business – but this new and optimal way of delivering learning might require you to think differently about the learning systems you use. If your learning management system can’t adjust accordingly, then you might need to budget for the creation of a learning portal to interface with it. You might also need to invest in a mobile delivery platform, though if you restrict your mobile offering to web-apps in the first instance, this might make this less of a requirement.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some thoughts that will make you think differently about how you spend your budgets next year. Of course, I realise that trying to embrace this new way universally in the first year won’t really be a realistic proposition. So look for those projects where this all makes sense and start with those. You can then use those – in a year’s time – to benchmark the end-results against the “traditional“ ways of spending training funds and hopefully persuade more stakeholders to change their approach the year after next. They may even give you more money when they see the results!