Updated: Jan 12, 2021
Creating an effective learning strategy is about targeting business or organizational problems with solutions that involve learning and development tools. This could look like a curriculum plan (small-scale strategy) or a University-style platform that touches tens of thousands of learners (large-scale strategy). Clients often come to me with an idea of the problem, but they need help approaching it from multiple perspectives or with multiple lenses. Creating a learning strategy is a way to use instructional design, course creation, project management, and curriculum development to target the business or educational problem/gap and think strategically about how to use Learning — and maybe some other tools — to solve the problem. A well-thought-out strategy thinks through the dimensions of the Why and targets the gaps with a holistic approach.
Developing a Learning strategy requires the following skills-in-action:
Listen and Understand. In instructional design and course development, this is always an important skill. When developing a learning strategy, it’s important to have an open mind: approaching the beginning, middle, and end of the project with healthy curiosity.
Think Critically. I dare say that the best learning strategists are the smartest, most thoughtful strategists. They think at least four or five steps ahead of themselves AND ahead of the project(s).
Ask the right (and sometimes the wrong) questions. Sometimes things move so fast and furiously in business and educational environments that we think we don’t have enough “space” to ask questions. I argue, though, that you have to make space for questions — good questions and bad questions — and the answers that follow.
Understand the existing systems in play. This is a big one, and this is why being a Learning consultant (outside coming in) can be a more challenging gig than working in-house within an organization (inside staying inside). I’ve done both, and they both have unique challenges, but systems and strategy go essentially hand in hand. Sometimes the strength or dysfunction of a system isn’t obvious upon first glance, and such attributes can really make or break a Learning strategy. Taking time to understand each key system as well as how they combine holistically (think big-picture) is a make-or-break skill in action.
Open yourself (and your team) to uncovering new problems and solving them. Uncovering new problems should be looked at positively, not negatively, especially if they can be “rolled” into the learning solution. Often, problems are systemic (another great argument for understanding systems before you unveil your strategy), and unearthing the intricacies and roots of one problem will lead, like a grove of Banyon trees, to another problem.
Think outside of the Learning box. Sometimes an effective Learning strategy involves other groups or parallel strategies. A critical business problem could include the development of a new financial process in addition to a Learning strategy, and the effectiveness of both could be reliant upon the other (think: symbiosis).
Over-communicate. More often than not, teams and systems of teams are lacking an effective communication process or system, especially as it relates to projects and strategies. Another beginning, middle, and end mindset to get into is to err on the side of over-communication. While actually reading emails, attending meetings, and saying what you authentically think about things may feel uncomfortable at first, all research points to the fact that effective communication leads to successful project and strategy lifecycles.
Never lose end-sight of the Learner. When new problems erupt, existing systems are being examined, and holistic temperatures are being taken in order to develop a strategy, it’s easy (and in certain moments, even necessary) to lose sight of the learner. It’s hard when the lens has been focused, unfocused, or used as a filter to magnify sunlight and create a fire, but the end-game is to educate an audience about something in order to solve a business problem.