Developing a Learning Plan

A guide to developing a learning plan

Meeting needs in a challenging climate — smaller budgets, greater needs

Organisations need to ensure realistic returns on their investment in employee training programs. For many, identifying benefits from training such as improved performance, increased efficiency and reduced time on everyday tasks are difficult to measure. Often, when companies are faced with the need to reduce costs, training is high on the list of areas to cut.

At the same time, employees face an ever-increasing array of learning options and receive less and less guidance on how to use these opportunities to benefit the company and advance their own careers. Employees need to define their own learning agenda and fit it to their own career plans.

The role of a training manager

Part of a training manager’s job is to help employees set their learning agendas. You want to make sure that employees spend time and resources gaining skills and knowledge that will benefit them and  be of value to the company.

Training managers must typically face in two directions at once:

  1. Towards management, to understand company training needs, encourage corporate support, and keep leaders informed about training programs.
  2. Towards the employees, to help plan how they can contribute to company needs while satisfying their own learning goals.

Identify corporate business objectives

To be an effective training manager, you must have a clear understanding of what skills and knowledge will most benefit the company. To arrive at that understanding, you need to go to the source: company leadership. What is the corporate vision? What business objectives have been defined to support that vision? How will employees implement those objectives?

When you know the answers to these questions, you can map employee roles to business objectives and identify areas for training.

Assess current training programs

You probably won’t have to start from scratch, because it’s likely that your company has some kind of training in place already — even if it’s ad hoc and informal. Look at what’s there, particularly:

  •               How well-trained are employees at all levels?
  •               What process is in place to propose and approve training?
  •               What methods are used to train and develop people?
  •               What overall priority is training given, and what resources are set aside for it?

Produce a plan

It’s essential to have a written training plan before you begin working with employees on their learning agendas. A written plan serves two purposes:

  1. It’s a document that you can share with management. A commitment from management to support training is crucial to the success of the program, and managers need to know what they’re committing to. You’re a lot more likely to succeed when your plan is reviewed and approved by company leaders.
  2. It’s a benchmark for measuring the effectiveness of training activities. With a written plan, you can assess the original plan against what is actually happening, and also gauge the quality of the training and the benefits that result.

You may want to address the following in your plan:

  •               The process for identifying and assessing individual training needs.
  •               How employees will be trained and developed within the organization.
  •               Available resources, including financial.

Help employees map learning agendas to corporate objectives

When you have a plan in place and a commitment from management to support it, you can get employees started on their learning programs.

To do this, ask employees to consider these four fundamental questions:

  1. How does the employee’s job role contribute to achieving the company’s business goals?

Make sure that every employee understands the company’s business objectives.

  1. What is each employee’s role in helping to achieve those objectives?

This is an interesting topic of discussion for managers and team members; everyone can gain a better understanding of their role in the company and achieve greater job satisfaction as they start making connections between what they do and the company’s business goals.

  1. What changes does the employee think are needed to improve individual, group, and company performance?

When employees understand their role within the company, they should try to identify what changes are necessary to meet individual, group, and corporate goals. Ask each employee to try and pin down what training (if any) is needed to bring about those changes.

In most cases, acting in isolation isn’t enough to change the way a business works. Each employee usually needs the approval and support of a manager and fellow workers. It’s crucial to look at the learning needs of the group in addition to those of the individual.

  1. How will employees acquire the knowledge and skills they need?

After employees have identified what learning is necessary, they need to develop a learning agenda. Employees should look at what the company offers in the way of formal training programs, and at the education opportunities offered by local colleges and professional associations.

Back to a Blended Learning Approach

E-learning is one form of training worth exploring. Hundreds of e-learning companies have been established in the last decade to provide instruction on virtually any technical, professional, managerial, or personal skills topic. There are many excellent e-learning programs on the market. However, as in any rapidly growing business sector, there are also inferior products, and little formal guidance exists on how to judge the quality of e-learning resources.  They can be a useful tool for basic introductions, but lack the depth a trainer brings to face to face sessions for more advanced or complex subject matters.

There are also many informal learning opportunities available. A learning coach or “super user” (someone with the knowledge or skills you want to acquire) within the company or the community can be a valuable asset whether employees are studying in a class environment or on their own. If you can’t locate a coach for the employees at your company, suggest that co-workers who are trying to master the same material team up with and coach one other. Another possibility is for employees to join an Internet discussion group to find other people who are already knowledgeable about or are also engaged in learning the same material. You’ll find a number of discussion groups sponsored by other company Web sites, in addition to professional association sites and public discussion forums.

With the large number of learning options available inside and outside the workplace, employees need to act as their own consumer advocates. For example, before enrolling in a training program, and investing their time and the company’s money, an employee should:

  • Get reviews from others who have already completed the training.
  • Talk with the instructor to make sure the program covers what’s required.
  • Ask the instructor to make changes if the learning program doesn’t promise to meet employee needs.
  • Find out whether the instructor will be available by telephone or e-mail after the program ends to answer any questions they may have when applying the learning to their work. Employees should also ask other students in the class if they will be available for follow-up and offer to be a resource to others.

 How will employees apply their learning to their work?

It’s unlikely that employees can apply new learning to their work without affecting the work of others in the company. Employees should always involve their managers, who ideally will already have the know-how to be able to support employees as they apply their new skills to their jobs. At the very least, managers can provide encouragement and enable workers to coach one another and experiment without fear of failure.

When employees have mastered new skills or acquired new knowledge, they should be encouraged to share it with others to the benefit of the entire organization.

Getting employees to address these questions will promote a better learning and development plan, encourage individuals to contribute to their own career development goals, and align employee development with company goals.

Be a training champion

As training manager, you need to be adept at developing successful learning programs so you can support individual and company goals. To do this, you need to encourage participation not only at the individual level but also at the senior management level. The guidelines and suggestions outlined in this article can help you get things started in the right direction.

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