4 Quadrants of Learning: Study of Learning Pattern in an Enterprise

The “4 Quadrants of Learning in an Enterprise” model applies to a solution framework that aims to build up requisite knowledge and skills and further enhance the learning or lead to development of organizational capability with continuous learning opportunities.

Designing learning solution in an organization and determining focus on learning approach has a challenge of choice for learning solution architects. There are practices focused on formal knowledge and skills development and also on enhancing the learning experience with more non-formal learning interventions. However, all of these are part of the same learning continuum and not an exclusive or distinct approach. The learning practices in an organization or the learning continuum can be described as in the figure below.

Figure 1: Learning Continuum


In an organization, we have multi-tiered learning needs such as the stages of awareness, comprehension, application, and mastery. All of these stages represent different levels of learning objectives with:

  1. Awareness covering foundational knowledge
  2. Comprehension seeking relevance and applicability of knowledge
  3. Application aimed at application of the acquired knowledge, skills, facts, and techniques to perform tasks
  4. Mastery or the ability to easily synthesize and analyze the given real-world situation/scenario

The applicability of learning continuum and where emphasis is to be placed depends on the learning needs, objectives, and multi-level proficiency criteria as described above. The appropriate mix of different learning approaches or learning solution design is the crucial element for creating an effective learning experience.

There are situations (such as foundation knowledge/skills or understanding of concepts, processes, and systems) where people with common learning needs learn a skill in a precise and predictable way through formal and structured learning programs. In other situations, where the learning needs are at different levels of complexity or continuously evolving with unique learner needs, there is a need for more flexible, real-time learning culture. Moreover, as the learner progress towards higher level of proficiency, there is a greater emphasis on informal learning, knowledge management, collaboration, and performance support.

On further analysis of the learning elements, as applied to different level of needs in an enterprise, we see an underlying pattern or trend. This pattern highlights the learning solution features as seen in an enterprise learning journey and clearly shows distinct stages or phases of learning in an enterprise.

Enterprise learning is focused on knowledge and skills development and also is aimed at reaching a state of acclimatization with the forces at work through appropriate learning interventions. At the start of learning journey, one is looking at baseline education or creating a learning outcome that ensures mandatory knowledge and skills are transferred to a set f audience. This can be covered at two levels or phases, i.e. “Engage” and “Align”:

A. Engage: Learning intervention is aimed at engaging users with the required knowledge and skills in the defined area or topics.

B. Align: A step up in the learning engagement where learning is aligned to real work situations.

A further progress in the learning journey takes us to stages where there is a focus on continual learning, enhanced experiences, increased organizational capabilities, and capacity to adapt and evolve with complex business environments. This phase is best described as “Embrace” and “Evolve,” where formal training is not the main component and a large part of learning is through a broad array of instruction, references, and collaboration in both formal and non-formal environments.

A. Embrace: Creation of a learning environment where the audience is supported to explore complexities or challenges in the work.

B. Evolve: At this stage, the learner has full control of the subject area and there is continuous knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer, which also leads to new knowledge creation.

These four stages or phases of learning can be best explained by placing them in four quadrants, each with a distinct learning focus and linked learning design model. This is represented in Figure 2 below where the vertical axis shows progress in knowledge and skill development and the horizontal axis represents the whole learning journey and acclimatization.

Figure 2: The 4 Quadrants


These 4 Quadrants of Enterprise Learning is an ideal picture of a complete learning journey and need to be seen in conjunction with each other. There could be many scenarios where an organization would focus only on the left quadrants (i.e., Engage and Align) and would leave the other aspects of learning journey to user experience in the job and user interactions or collaboration. This would mean an alignment with the 70:20:10 principle of learning where 70 percent of learning is said to be through work experience, 20 percent through relationships and interaction, and 10 percent through formal training interventions. It may be important to note that 70:20 learning only happens when the formal education is complete or baseline knowledge and skills are established.

If we interpret the 70:20:10 model as Experience, Exposure, and Education, then much of what is covered in the right quadrant of the 4 Quadrants model is influenced by the “experience and exposure” perspective and bring more experienced-based learning and social learning or collaboration into practice.

This reinterpretation of 70:20:10 principle is a way to include the “exposure and experience” aspect of learning in a structured learning solution design. Here is the full description of the 4 Quadrants of Learning in an Enterprise model:

  1. Engage users with foundational knowledge and skills development.

At the beginning of a learning journey, the key focus is to enable the basic knowledge and skills development (foundation skills or understanding of concepts and processes) where common learning needs are addressed through a standard practice of formal and structured learning programs. The key learning elements of this stage include:

  • Classroom Training with focus on instruction
  • Online tutorials and videos focusing on concepts, processes, and key principles
  • References including online help and job aids
  1. Align learning with the real work situations.

One step above is the “Align” stage where the focus is to build upon the basic knowledge and skills and focus on applying them to the job role/tasks. The key learning elements of this stage include:

  • Interactivity and practice exercises in the classroom
  • Instructions mainly covered through Webinars or self-paced e-learning
  • Simulations and exercise in online training
  • Activities linked to job role/tasks
  1. Embrace the complexities and challenges in work through appropriate learning intervention.

As we move ahead in the learning journey (right lower quadrant), the aim is to mainly enhance the learning experience and provide continual learning opportunities. This stage of “Embrace” is where multiple channels or modes of learning are introduced to give a wider choice of learning, reference, and support. This stage enables a learner to handle job challenges, whereas the earlier stages were more focused on building the requisite knowledge and skills levels. The key learning elements of this stage include:

  • E-learning tutorials, references (text/online), and Knowledge Portal
  • Business simulations, workshops for synthesizing objective and more immersive experience
  • Multiple channels including Web, mobile, and virtual class
  1. Evolve through continuous knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer, and creation of new knowledge

The fourth quadrant of enterprise learning, Evolve, is the stage that denotes stability and adoption, as well as creating conditions for generation of new knowledge. Ultimately, when we reach this stage, it not only promotes continual learning opportunities but also improves organizational dynamics and its capacity to continuously adapt to the changing business environment. The key learning elements of this stage include:

  • Interaction through Wikis, blogs, forums, and expert networks
  • Experience and relevance through videos, simulations, games and push-based microlearning
  • Personalized/adaptive learning through analysis of preferences, performance, and behaviour

Figure 3: 4 Quadrants of Learning in an Enterprise (this figure can be downloaded at the end of this article)

The “4 Quadrants of Learning in an Enterprise” model is a framework that can be used to design an effective learning solution covering different stages or phases of learning. It gives enough flexibility to focus on one or more quadrants depending on the learning priority or focus at a given time. This model applies to a solution framework that aims to build up the requisite knowledge and skills and further enhance the learning or lead to development of organizational capability with continuous learning opportunities. Ultimately, it needs to create a state of evolution or capacity in the organization to continuously adapt or evolve with changing business complexities and challenges.

A. Amitabh S. Sinha is with Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and is responsible for Enterprise Learning Services with a focus on designing and implementing learning solutions for various leading global companies. His core expertise includes learning strategy, solution design, development, implementation, and effectiveness measurement. For more information, e-mail him at: amitabh.sinha@tcs.com or contact him via LinkedIn at: https://in.linkedin.com/pub/amitabh-sinha-akhauri/24/268/731