Re-Inventing Learning at Whirlpool University

The Closed Loop Learning Method has changed the landscape of learning at Whirlpool University.

By Tamara Patrick, Director, Whirlpool University

Workforce trends and marketplace volatility are challenging the traditional ways we approach learning and development with an incredible opportunity to rethink the learning space and drive greater impacts to the bottom line and employee performance. At Whirlpool University, the challenge started in 2008. As that year was nearing a close, the world was dipping into the longest and deepest recession any of us in our professional careers had experienced. Investments in human capital, product development, marketing, and customer service were challenged, and decisions were made by top leadership to make smart, high-value investments while identifying ways to increase efficiency and productivity.

Whirlpool University leveraged the opportunity of marketplace-driven circumstances to create the “Closed Loop Learning Method.” The methodology was created in response to the challenge of developing and deploying high-value learning investments at the most efficient cost possible.

The Closed Loop Learning Method integrates:

  1. The power of the online learning environment
  2. Face-to-face classroom
  3. Application of skills
  4. The employee’s manager

All four of these levers enable the learning to come alive for the employee. The method has had dramatic impacts on the speed and scale of deployment, as well as increased application of skills, while economizing on the investment of training. It also has pushed Whirlpool University to experiment with more engaging online learning, such as graphic visual content and chunking learning into snippets.

One of the first courses to convert to online was Whirlpool’s Strategic Architecture. Prior to 2008, the corporation’s Strategic Architecture was taught in a traditional classroom. Whirlpool University chunked the content into 30-minute modules comprising what is known as Foundations of Whirlpool, a series of 12 online modules. The series serves as a powerful pre-requisite to higher-level skill building in business strategy, as well as a sustainable onboarding tool for new employees.

In the effort to reinvent the learning space, the Whirlpool University team challenged several orthodoxies to solve the challenges they faced. These strongly held beliefs of how learning is developed and deployed held back the power of the University’s curriculum. With the methodology in place, we can ratchet training up or down and be assured that the level of investment is driving the impact we desire.

Lessons Learned

Challenge the orthodoxies of everything you do. In the case of Whirlpool University, we had to overcome two big orthodoxies:

  1. All training delivery must occur face-to-face to ensure quality and impact.
  2. The online learning environment was not engaging for our employees.

The result of challenging these orthodoxies was a constructive pattern of innovation in how we approach and deploy learning at Whirlpool.

Push the envelope in development of courses and programs. We are using different styles of presenting content to our learners that remain cost effective yet engaging and interactive. For example, we recently developed a visual graphic story of our brands and have embedded that into an online learning course. We are spring-boarding off of unrelated areas to benefit corporate employee learning.

Provide the means for managers to step up their game in supporting the application of their employees’ newly learned skills. Engage managers in the learning process and equip them to coach the use of newly acquired skills. Don’t be afraid to hold them accountable for the application of the skills through tracking of assessments and business results.

Deep Dive Into the Methodology

Virtual Learning

Moving from the classroom to the virtual space can be a leap of faith. The face-to-face classroom can provide a false sense of security that individuals are learning. In reality, many individuals are multitasking and not taking it all in. By chunking the learning into virtual modules and presenting the content in an engaging format, learners can pace themselves. The virtual space also allows learners to go back and replay the course after they practice application of the skills. Today’s technology has enabled synchronous virtual learning, as well, providing the opportunity for peer and faculty interaction.

Face-to Face-Classroom

Whirlpool University developed a set of criteria to add rigor to the use of the face-to-face classroom. For content to qualify for the classroom, the outcome of the learning event had to meet one or more of these criteria:

  1. Creating new knowledge together
  2. Making decisions
  3. Strengthening networks in cohort groups.

If the outcome of the learning did not meet one of these criteria, it was moved to the virtual classroom.

Application of Skill

The application of skills learned on the job is where learning practitioners take their most pride; however, it is the hardest to achieve. Whirlpool University uses a graduated level of application interspersed throughout the duration of strategically important programs. The learner is able to grow in skill application from a safe practice area with gradual movement to the application of the skill in the workplace, where it counts. Skill application is supported by experts and just-in-time tools.

Manager Accountability

All of us have experienced the frustration of an engaged learner returning to their workplace only to find the manager as a barrier to application of their new skills. At Whirlpool University, each program has a component to ensure the manager is held accountable for the application of skills. Whirlpool University equips the manager with the skills they need to leverage their employee’s new skill set. Strategically important programs are tracked to the bottom line. The learning practitioner, the learner, and the manager are accountable for Level 5 business results.

Final Results

The Closed Loop Learning Method has changed the landscape of learning at Whirlpool University and has driven cost efficiencies during a recessionary time. The University can scale learning products with speed and efficiency through the use of the virtual classroom. The focus on application and manager accountability has achieved significant returns in business results and employee engagement. And most important, the face-to-face classroom time has become an enriching experience for the learner.

Tammy Patrick, director of Whirlpool University, leads the Global Learning and Development Team at Whirlpool Corporation. Over the last 18 years, Patrick has led several practice areas for Whirlpool, including Employee Learning and Development, Leadership Development, Knowledge Management, and Change Management. Patrick and her team’s mission is to equip the organization with scalable solutions to accelerate the execution of strategic goals and deliver business impact. Patrick also oversees the operations of Whirlpool Corporation’s Corporate University, Brandywine Creek.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.