Holistic Approach To Learning

Crafting A Holistic Approach To Learning

Companies are finding that learners increasingly benefit from courses that are offered in many different ways, partly for convenience, and more importantly, for knowledge retention.

Organizations today are struggling to figure out how to create a well-rounded, all-inclusive approach to learning that appeals to multiple generations of learners and makes the learning stick. An ideal holistic approach to learning might include:

  • Innovative learning through a blend of traditional classroom, virtual classroom, and Web-based (on-demand) modalities, as well as performance support through multimedia, mobile-accessible digital assets.
  • Everyday learning through job experiences, feedback and coaching, and peer-to-peer social collaboration, as well as by training engagement managers and performance managers on effective coaching and feedback.
  • Independent learning, where Learning and Development (L&D) encourages professionals to take responsibility for their ongoing development.

Many companies today offer both recorded and live e-learning, and many of those same companies offer learning live in a traditional, off line classroom environment. But how many offer the same course in both modalities, as well as make the content for the course available on learners’ mobile devices?

Companies are finding that learners increasingly benefit from courses that are offered in many different ways, partly for convenience, and more importantly, for knowledge retention. Presenting the content in more than one form gives learners more of an opportunity to assimilate the content.

Offline, Online, and Beyond

Some companies find that courses that start by being delivered in a traditional, live format can be augmented by additional online content and technological support. Training Top 125er Bankers Life and Casualty has found it useful to do just that, says Director of Learning Management Mike Catania, who points out that the company’s mostly field-based workforce benefits from a multifaceted approach. He points to the company’s Life Certification Program (LCP) as an example. “This was a live classroom-based training program we transitioned into a virtual format with some live post-session field support. This program is 11 sessions, spanning 11 weeks, with a new topic of focus each week,” he says.

Focus group respondents spoke highly of LCP, reporting that it was a “phenomenal” and “must-have” training, with 96 percent reporting in surveys that they will be able to apply the knowledge and skills learned in LCP to selling life insurance in their business.

The classroom-based elements alone of Bankers Life programs encompass a wide breadth of learning options:

  • Pre-work, including videos and practice scenarios, case analysis, and reading
  • Participant guides learners bring and use during live Zoom Webinar sessions or classroom sessions
  • Role-play in which case studies are provided to role-play with managers or peers, including identification of strategy for various sales situations
  • Online modules for pre-work or utilization of associated software tools
  • Post-work with building of action lists based on each concept
  • Breakout sessions for smaller working groups
  • Capstone presentations
  • Lecture/presentation

Bankers Life courses also typically include on-demand modules, including "both custom and sourced content for learners across the enterprise. Such modules can cover business and technical skills from vendors such as Skillsoft; industry-specific courses and videos from vendors such as Advisys, Hoopis Performance Network, FSEdNet, and National Underwriter; and home-produced video and online content for sales skills," says Bankers Life and Casualty Learning Manager Stacy Muentzer.

In addition, courses often have a coaching dimension, such as Ken Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials, which Muentzer describes as “a part of our Emerging Leaders Program focusing on newer high-potential managers. They have peer-to-peer informal coaching sessions included in this program, as well.”

The company also offers the coaching program, Firm Foundations, to its branch managers. “Professional coaching is offered through an outside organization, LIMRA. The internal management and leadership team gives a group coaching session, while peer-to-peer coaching is going on within their study groups,” Muentzer says.

Multi-Part, Multifaceted

Courses that are sweeping in scope give companies an opportunity to offer the learning in many different ways. One example is Training Top 125er ArcBest’s Leadership Series. “This comprehensive leadership training program is designed to develop leaders at all stages of their careers, and help us meet our strategic goal of improving employee engagement,” says Jason Turner, vice president of Talent and Growth Initiatives at ArcBest. “The program emphasizes retaining our high-potential employees and boosting leadership bench strength, while also demonstrating and promoting our core values.”

The 10-part series was designed and implemented by the ArcBest Training group, and consists of the following instructor-led classes:

  • Leadership Overview
  • Building Trust
  • Employee Development
  • Communication Skills
  • Teambuilding and Empowerment
  • Progressive Discipline
  • Culture and Values
  • Change Management
  • Goal Setting
  • Leadership Review

A different member of the ArcBest Leadership team kicks off each of these instructor-led classes. Instructors lead participants through discussions about the topic, and then have them engage in exercises and/or role-plays to reinforce the content. These 10 leadership classes are presented in two-and-a-half-hour sessions, taught over a 10-month period.

"We utilize pre- and post-course assignments to supplement the material covered in the class," explains ArcBest Senior Training Manager Bradly Truitt. "We also created an online cohort within our talent management system, where the participants and graduates of the Leadership Series can share best practices and engage in peer-to-peer learning." Truitt notes that the Leadership Series is taught to leaders and future leaders from all of ArcBest's subsidiaries, and classes are customized for each audience.

ArcBest also takes a multifaceted approach to measuring the results of its training. "We utilize several different types of metrics to measure the effectiveness of our training classes," says Truitt. "These include: revenue and tonnage growth, employee engagement scores, employee retention rates, internal promotions, and post-class surveys."

Another company that takes a multifaceted approach to coursework is Kaplan Leadership and Professional Development, where a systematic approach to diagnosing, designing, and delivering learning ensures each course is tailored to the individual and organization's needs, says Global Director of Leadership and Professional Development Andy Perkins. "Our aim is to create learning that can be transferred seamlessly back into the workplace; that is tailored to the needs of individuals and the organization; that embraces blended learning strategies; and, perhaps most importantly, drives the business' performance through better decision-making."

Kaplan uses the following framework for its courses:

  • Trigger: Digital surveys and assessments or face-to-face experiences that act as catalysts for personal and professional development
  • Support: Ways and means of supporting the learner's development journey—online or face-to-face or with coaching.
  • Embed: Collaborating with clients to facilitate the transference of the learning back into the workplace—through mentoring, on-the-job learning, digitally facilitated sessions, or "digital nudges"

At Training Top 125er Alamo Pharma Services, courses receive a three-phase treatment, says Executive Director of Training & Development Denise Fullowan.

Phase 1: Sales representatives are introduced through a two-week, self-study period. "Objectives include reviewing disease state and product knowledge modules, knowledge assessments, and Webinars. The representative spends a day in the field observing product presentations and interactions with providers," says Fullowan.

Phase 2: This one- to two-week initial training helps representatives prepare for application of day-to-day sales experiences. “Participants learn through trainer-led workshops, role-play simulation exercises, knowledge assessments, and evening assignments,” she notes.

Phase 3: Continuous learning begins as early as one month after Phase 2, and encompasses Kirkpatrick Level 3 evaluation. “Reps are immersed in instructor-led Webinars focusing on application of skills, knowledge, and behaviors relevant to daily tasks. Surveys and roundtable discussions are designed to gather feedback to gauge their learning, and to continue providing relevant training,” says Fullowan. The process wraps up with Kirkpatrick Level 4 evaluation. “Through the ‘Transfer Matrix’ with the rep, direct manager, and trainer, results are measured before, during, and after each time period, which reflects employee engagement, morale, and productivity,” says Fullowan.

Blended to Reinforce Learning

A key to a holistic approach to learning is effectively blending a variety of elements. Training Top 125er Arrow Electronics tries to do that in all of its offerings, says Learning and Development, Business Coaching, and Consultant ReLita Clarke. “Classroom- based elements that are within some of our programs include discussion questions that reinforce an objective, or important topic, and activities such as group discussions and role-plays that engage our learners to comprehend a concept in the classroom,” Clarke explains. “In addition, all students have the option to print the class materials, including PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and blank assessments, so they can continue to test their skills.”

The organization also offers on-demand options. “Many of the courses are geared toward soft skills, such as time management, e-mail etiquette, communication, and leadership skills. This allows employees to enhance their skills or gain insight into a topic they haven’t yet explored,” Clarke says. “The ability to continually develop knowledge around everyday skills to perform their job successfully results in well-rounded employees who can assist in meeting company goals.”

The key, Clarke notes, is that it’s a blend of learning opportunities, rather than just one or two, and the blend differs depending on the course. “Not all classes incorporate all three classroom elements. We may have different engagement components, such as videos or materials from an online resource. A course on business professionalism, for example, may have an instructor-led course and a follow-up on-demand course a few weeks later to assess their knowledge.”

Another company that uses a different blend of learning modalities depending on the course is Training Top 125er Assurant, Inc. “We look for ways to maximize learning by thoughtfully choosing the appropriate way to learn. Classroom- based elements often are reserved for education that requires dialogue and collaboration, practice, and/or culturebuilding,” says Vice President of Global Learning and Talent Development Kimberly Kavala.

One example is Assurant’s people-leader program called Experience 2.0. “It is an intensive learning program for all leaders, from the front-line to the director level. We aim to deepen our leaders’ knowledge of key leadership processes, mindsets, and skills that will help foster a culture of engagement, growth, and performance,” says Kavala, who explains that learners begin by completing an e-learning course that introduces key concepts, and then spend three days in class. To stay sharp following their classroom experience, learners can access related resources at any time on MyLearning, Assurant’s learning management system.

“The classroom portion is important, not only for the practice time in a safe environment,” says Kavala, “but also because it instills common language and behaviors, and establishes a network of peers who support the learning long after they leave the classroom.”


  • Offer live, classroom-based training programs, which transition into a virtual format with live, post-session field support.
  • Utilize pre- and post-course assignments to supplement the material covered in the class, and create an online cohort within your talent management system, where the participants and graduates of the course can share best practices and engage in peer-to-peer learning.
  • Provide coaching through an outside organization if you can't do it internally. A group coaching session can be given by your internal management and leadership team, with complementary peer-to-peer coaching happening within study groups.
  • Have instructors lead participants through lively discussions about topics, and then have learners engage in exercises and/ or role-plays to reinforce the course content.
  • Use Webinars to focus on application of skills, knowledge, and behaviors relevant to daily tasks.
  • Give learners the option to print class materials, including PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and blank assessments, so they can continue to test their skills after the course is over.


By Bill John, President and Founder, Odyssey Teams Inc. (https://odysseyteams.com/)

If the term, “holistic,” brings to mind incense, candles, and the faint air of mysticism, you’re not alone. However, when it comes to the corporate world, a holistic approach is critical to successful training, learning, and team collaboration. Here are three realistic and applicable tips to keep in mind when planning your next session:

1. Use authentic tasks to engage team members. Nothing gets eyes rolling like an inauthentic role-playing game or a scenario that is far removed from participants’ reality. Instead, introduce activities that mimic the situations your team encounters on a daily basis. If it’s meaningful, it will motivate and resonate.

2. Focus on building knowledge vs. reproducing facts and opinions. While having an employee who can parrot page 5 of the company handbook may stroke an executive ego, being surrounded by “yes men” weakens corporate decision-making. Fostering opportunities for team members to constantly learn increases collective critical thinking, challenges the status quo, and boosts tolerance of other viewpoints.

3. Continually encourage learners to develop and apply understanding. Although this may sound obvious, think of how many times you’ve completed a workshop or professional development session feeling empowered by a new skill or knowledge, only to file it away forever. Without application, both soft and hard skills fade. If you’ve invested in training or continuing education for your team, offer encouragement and opportunities to apply that understanding whenever possible.

It’s a new year and an optimum time to rekindle the connections among the members of your team. By providing them with opportunities to both engage with real tasks that build knowledge and apply that understanding together, you’ll be taking an important step toward a more connected, motivated, engaged, and ultimately happier team. As Jim Goodnight, co-founder and CEO of SAS said, “Treat employees like they make a difference. And they will…”


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