Master Class David James Lesson Three Transformative Learning
Training & Learning

L&D Master Class Lesson 3: How to Really Meet Your Learners Where They Are

Employee development is much more closely aligned to organizational culture than many in L&D would admit. Put another way, trying to remove the question of culture from somebody's development is like trying to remove the egg from a cake. It’s already baked in.

So, how can you design learning experiences that account for what learners are actually expected to do within their roles? And how do you go about providing them with the right support so they can demonstrate the competencies that matter most?

In this third lesson of our L&D master class, David James discusses four key techniques to help meet your learners where they are and support them to succeed within the context of your organization. He also explains why every great learning strategy rests on a key foundation: a deep understanding of what learners really need on the job.

Missed Episode 2 of our L&D master class? Check it out here!

How L&D leaders can help learners solve real challenges

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1. Look beyond engagement to specific roles

As David explains, L&D leaders need to think beyond just offering more engaging courses to solve the real problems people face. 

“There's a saying that L&D was ‘the sage on the stage’,” says David, “but there is something fundamentally wrong with that phrase. Seeing somebody get a concept is not the same as watching them develop–there’s no guarantee that's going to translate to what they do within their work.”

Not only has the world moved on, says David–so too have the expectations of learners. Now, L&D teams around the world have found better ways of driving more impactful learning and looking beyond simple engagement metrics to what really matters. 

“The problem with evaluating event-based L&D,” says David, “is that there are methodologies that reinforce the way organizations and L&D teams will promote the number of days or hours of training spent each year, for example, satisfaction levels and Net Promoter Score.”

“But it's just a way of reinforcing that what we're doing is actually enough and all we need to do is tweak it to get better scores or more days. But it isn't enough because we're not able to easily equate that effort to the work being done,” he says.

So, how can you do more to impact development in a meaningful way? In David’s experience, we need to understand what is actually expected from people.

There's a saying that L&D was ‘the sage on the stage’, but there is something fundamentally wrong with that phrase.

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2. Understand what’s actually expected from people

According to David, L&D leaders need to begin by truly understanding the requirements within any job role–including the expectations faced by particular cohorts of learners.

“By shifting our approach, we can run experiments to provide as little support as we possibly can to move the needle in a meaningful way, and then turn that dial to do more of the stuff that works and less of the stuff that we don't know works,” he says.

As David explains, meeting learners where they are means revisiting the longstanding nirvana for the L&D profession: creating the self-directed learner.

“We’ve been working towards this idea that the self-directed learner finds their way to the LMS and the content that they need,” he says. “But the problem with that is that we as L&D haven't moved far enough to where the learner is in terms of their role, their expectations, what they're expected to do within the organization.”

“So, we need to understand that stuff in order to provide what it is that they need in order to perform, to improve their prospects, and get results.” 

David finds that to improve performance and results, we should match our learning approach to the different roles and stages of people within our organizations.

By shifting our approach, we can turn that dial to do more of the stuff that works and less of the stuff that we don't know works.

3. Match your learning approach to different roles and stages

As David points out, it doesn’t matter if L&D teams have bought a suite of 1,000, 10,000, or 10 million pieces of generic content. The fundamental problem is, we can’t solve everyone’s challenges just by drowning people in content.

“We need to understand that what people are expected to do within an organization is dependent upon the organization itself,” he says. “It's inextricably linked to culture.” 

L&D teams should aim to take on the more challenging part of learning and development, as David explains, which is meeting learners in the moments where they are expected to apply what they’ve learned, rather than supplying them with something generic and expecting them to apply it themselves.

“Meeting learners where they are means L&D needs to think in cohorts of need,” says David. “What does a new manager need as they orient themselves to the role and if they each have different expectations? What does it mean when people need to adapt within their current role in order to meet a new set of expectations?” 

From here, you can begin to shape your learning content with the right specialist expertise.

We need to understand that what people are expected to do within an organization is dependent upon the organization itself. It's inextricably linked to culture.

4. Shape your learning content to reflect specialist expertise

In David’s experience, learners will tell us the thing they need the most help with is performing within the culture of the organization. 

“People do need to understand their communication style as well as how they're expected to communicate inside our organization,” he says. “But we can't do one without the other.”

Culture is essential when it comes to development, as David explains. “It doesn't matter how many suites of content are available within your organization. If it doesn't emanate from the big question, ‘how do we do things around here?’, then it's not enough.”

During his extensive career, David has seen many examples of impressive learning content that promises to boost engagement. The only problem? This content doesn't reflect any of the problems employees could possibly face in the context of their work.

“My advice would be to stop procuring and pushing large suites of generic content on employees for undefined problems,” he says. “Start by providing a few bespoke solutions to known problems. L&D teams need to resolve the problems that employees are really facing.”

Stay tuned for next week’s lesson on how to harness subject-matter experts to solve tough business problems. And remember, you can get all lessons delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our weekly content newsletter below.

If it doesn't emanate from the big question, ‘how do we do things around here?’, then it's not enough.

Looking for more great resources on transformative learning?

If you loved this lesson of our L&D master class, be sure to join The L&D Collective, our community of learning leaders where David hosts regular office hours on everything related to impactful L&D.

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And for more practical guidance, check out the 360Learning Resources Hub. Here, you’ll find a range of ebooks, cheat-sheets, and articles on everything from onboarding to blended learning and more.

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