For many, academics and practitioners alike, learning is described within the concept of the learning cycle (usually consisting of stages 2-7 below). However, this gives the impression of a cyclical process in which one systematically moves from one stage to another. In reality some stages may not be required, and some more than once. For example:
- The business plan may identify the need for a specific training or learning intervention, nullifying all or part of the TNA/LNA stage; and/or
- During the implementation stage it may become apparent that the suggested method of delivery may not be appropriate due to cost or time factors (a form of evaluation).
Therefore, the learning cycle should be viewed as an iterative process. Finally, the precise wording and stages of the learning cycle vary between academics and practitioners. However, I believe there are seven basic stages to the concept of the learning cycle as illustrated below:
- Stage 1: Business Plan.
- Stage 2: Learning and Development Strategy
- Stage 3: Training Needs Analysis (TNA) or Learning Needs Analysis (LNA)
- Stage 4: Design
- Stage 5: Implementation
- Stage 6: Delivery
- Stage 7: Evaluation
Stage 1: Business Plan
Not considered an overt stage of the learning cycle, but I argue that it should be. As such, essential considerations include:
- What is the business?
- What products and/or services does it provide?
- Who are its main suppliers and buyers?
- What new or novel products/services are on the market (current and future)?
- Who are the stakeholders?
- Types of employees (i.e. professional, skilled, manual etc)?
- What are the business objectives of the organisation?
- Short-, mid- and long-term horizons
- Are education, training, development, learning and talent mentioned explicitly or implicitly through a particular policy or strategy? For example, a learning and development strategy.
Stage 2: Learning and Development Strategy
A learning and development strategy provides internal and external stakeholders with some insight into the organisation’s philosophy regarding learning and development. The strategy can also work as a foundation or framework demonstrating the importance of learning to stakeholders. Considerations include:
- Organisational importance
- Budget considerations
- Is there a Work plan based on the strategy?
Stage 3: Training Needs Analysis (TNA) or Learning Needs Analysis (LNA)
The business plan will probably provide high level objectives for learning and it is the role of TNA/LNA to provide the specific answers on how any ‘gaps’ will be covered. Therefore, essential considerations include:
- Identify training or learning gap (either current gap or future needs)
- Who is the learning for: organisational, team/group and/or individual
- Leadership and management skills (just for management or all levels)
- Soft or non-technical skills (for all levels)
- Technical skills (relevant to jobs/roles)
Stage 4: Design
- Design scheme of work or training/learning programme
- Develop lesson plans
- Consider method of delivery
Stage 5: Implementation
- Communication strategy
- Implement and deliver training (pilot training)
- Initial evaluation
- Redesign training (as required)
- Implement and deliver training (live training)
Stage 6: Delivery
- Systematic training model (or instructional systems design model)
- Online Learning (material delivered using cloud technology or from the organisation’s own, or third party, servers):
- MOOCs (massive open online courses): use peer feedback and collaboration to create a crowd-sourced learning environment. Read ‘Making Sense of MOOCs’ (Daniel, 2012) for a considered paper on this subject.
- Social learning network: a portal where learners can (upload and download) videos, podcasts, blogs and advice threads therefore providing personalised learning for themselves and others.
- Social Media: e.g. Facebook and Twitter.
- The report ‘Research on the Effectiveness of Online Learning: A Compilation of Research on Online Learning’ will provide the reader with a broad overview of the growth, cost and impact of online learning.
- Mobile Platforms:
- Augmented Reality (AR): a mobile learning medium. In AR, a device shows you reality with an extra layer on top. Use a phone or tablet to ‘hover over’ something and you can get a website, 3D graphics, video etc.
- Mobile Phone Apps: can be developed for almost any purpose and sent direct to the learner’s phone, enabling access 24/7.
- Didactic, classroom-based learning.
- 3D printing: starts with a series of 2D designs or images and ‘prints’ them one on top of the other to make a solid object that can even have moving parts.
- E-Learning (material delivered via a computer which may or may be connected to the internet):
- Gamification: harnesses gaming to make learning fun. Some suggest it is the only way to make the digital generation focus for 20 minutes in a row. Some organisations use missions, badges, scoring and leader boards (i.e. competition) to drive or increase use.
- Simulation: users walk around and pick things up in a world that obeys normal rules. The storyline can be changed to suit each user with scenarios that appear only when they become useful. As a result, simulation may have an edge over gamification because it is viewed as ‘more real’. For example, gas installers wandering around a virtual house testing for gas leaks.
Stage 7: Evaluation
The evaluation of learning and talent development should be an integral component of the learning cycle and associated policies and strategies. Evaluation involves the formal or informal assessment of the quality and effectiveness of an organisation’s learning and talent development provision, with due regard to its relation and impact on business objectives. In simple terms there are three fundamental questions to answer:
- Is the learning relevant?
- Is the learning aligned with the business?
- Is the learning function effectively and consistently measuring and evaluating its learning interventions?
In conjunction with the above questions there are some considerations:
- How will the learning be evaluated?
- Merit of the provision itself (e.g. the input, for example the quality of course content and presentation); and/or
- By monitoring its impact (e.g. the outcomes, for example improved skills/qualifications or enhanced productivity/profitability).
- Specific examples of contemporary evaluation include:
- ROCE: return on expected outcomes (for example, whether line managers testify during performance reviews that individuals are able to demonstrate those new or enhanced competencies that the learning intervention was anticipated to deliver).
- ROI: return on investment (for example, the financial or economic benefit that is attributable to the learning intervention in relation to the cost of the investment in learning programmes).
- Learning function efficiency measures, for example:
- Is the learning function delivering operational effectiveness?
- How effectively is the functional capability of the workforce being developed?
- How well are learning interventions supporting critical success factors?
- How do learning operations compare with those of other relevant organisations?
- Learning analytics used?
- The impact on business key performance indicators and benchmark measures.
- ‘Happy sheets’ – that is, post-training questionnaires asking course participants to rate how satisfied they feel with the standard of provision.
- Testimonies of individuals, groups and/or organisations (either internal or external).
- Some form of evaluation, whether formal or informal, should be conducted during each stage of the learning cycle.
Academic Partnerships (2011) Research on the Effectiveness of Online Learning: A Compilation of Research on Online Learning. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.academicpartnerships.com/docs/default-document-library/white-paper-final-9-22-2011-(1).pdf?sfvrsn=0> [Accessed: 03 April, 2013].
Daniel, J. Sir (2012) Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility. Available from World Wide Web: <http://www.academicpartnerships.com/docs/default-document-library/moocs.pdf?sfvrsn=0> [Accessed: 03 April, 2013].