Learner Experience

Enriching the Learner Experience

Once bounded by the duration and content of specific courses, the learner experience is growing to include the overall learning environment within the organization. That means efforts before, during, and after the training must be considered to help ensure learning can be sustained and retained.

The learner experience may be as important to Learning and Development (L&D) as the user experience is to software companies. In fact, it’s a key factor in determining whether L&D remains relevant.

Once bounded by the duration and content of specific courses, the learner experience is growing to include the overall learning environment within the organization. That means efforts before, during, and after the training must be considered to help ensure learning can be sustained and retained.

The renewed focus is a direct result of changing expectations by learners, as well as the explosion of information sources. For example, “the current generation wants to do real things rather than role-play,” says Phil Geldart, founder and CEO of Eagle’s Flight, an experiential learning organization. Therefore, learning content must be tightly targeted and delivered in a way that fits employees’ work/life cycles.

Feedback at Farmers Insurance

“Learners’ experience is about more than moving the dial or creating a good classroom experience. It’s about creating an internal brand, becoming strategic advisors, and fostering an environment that’s welcoming and engaging so people want to come to us,” says Grant Velie, director of Technology and Learners’ Experience, Farmers Insurance.

“At Farmers, we found we were really good at turning around content and getting results, but we weren’t as good at listening to our end-users,” Velie says. Feedback tools were targeted but lacked a holistic mechanism to track the learning environment enterprise-wide, which was needed to take learning to the next level.

To remedy that, Farmers’ chief learning officer conducted focus sessions on the experience at Farmers University, which last fall resulted in deployment of the University Pulse tool. More than 2,500 surveys regarding the learning ecosystem have been taken since then. Based on that feedback, Farmers is evaluating its online presence. “We’re working to make the learning management system (LMS) easier to use and adding guidance and advising features,” Velie says. “For example, we have a robust management behavior program and a wealth of curriculum and assessments, but learners say it is so extensive they get lost in the system.”

To guide them, Farmers developed a journey-mapping approach that begins with a brief assessment to identify areas that could be improved, followed by a subset of competencies. The tool then steers users through assessments to determine which are most beneficial to them. “It’s still in the early development stages,” Velie says. Micro-learning and user-generated videos and tips also are being expanded.

Farmers also is improving the logistics of learning by improving data feeds and technical support. It’s also analyzing its content to ensure it is fresh and up-to-date with legal, regulatory, and process changes so it reflects the current environment in business and at Farmers.

Velie says his goal is to integrate concern for learners’ needs into L&D so thoroughly that the consideration is second nature.

Translating the Amazon Experience to Deloitte

At Deloitte, “our talent model has transitioned from full-time professionals to six or seven employment options. To meet those needs, we had to develop nimble ways to provide learning that was more targeted and available in real time,” says Neda Schlictman, chief learning officer for Deloitte Tax LLP.

Initially, she says, “we stepped back to identify the learning experience we wanted to affect in our programs. We used focus groups and research, and found that learners want learning accessible 24/7, and in bite-sized modules rather than weeklong integrated simulations. We then developed guidelines for live and on-demand learning.”

One of Deloitte’s goals is to translate the Amazon shopping experience to learning. “We’re using smart analytics and machine learning to identify learners’ interests and give them suggestions, like Amazon does. In live classes, we also try to give options for topic areas, like electives to core classes,” Schlictman says.

Learners want to feel connected, she continues. “It’s important to them to be able to question leaders and peers and to share experiences.” Therefore, Deloitte encourages employees to blog during digital and live classes and to engage with the program host in training pre-sessions.

Deloitte’s new generation of learners, in particular, wants to have a positive impact on their community, Schlictman says. “Teambuilding has become increasingly about giving back to the local community. For example, we have created water filtration and meal packages for the developing world and for disasters, and have built bicycles for orphans.”

“We’re also trying to engage learners’ minds, bodies, and senses in these classes,” she adds. “We focus on the objective, but also on the feeling once they leave the class.”

Interacting with Leaders at GE

The learner experience at GE’s weeklong, on-site classes at its Crotonville, NY, training facility is enriched by the conscious inclusion of diverse business units and global participants.

Bob Lewis, faculty leader for Experience Leader Solutions, plots learners’ journeys from their Sunday arrival to Friday departure, focusing on the feel of the experience, the activities, and the ability to interact with leaders at all levels. “We encourage individuals to transform themselves and, in the process, bring back learnings for their coworkers to help them apply what they know.” To do this, Lewis says, “we bring in dynamic speakers, and teach through discussions and experiential activities.”

Participants learn from one another, as well as from the speakers. This continues after the classes, too. For example, “GE’s performance development feedback mechanism is built around ‘continue and consider’ comments. If someone is aware of something great you’ve done, even by mistake, it is promoted with a ‘continue doing this’ note. A ‘consider’ note is an idea lofted out for further thought,” Lewis explains.

Develop Personas for All

As L&D organizations focus on personalized learning, many are developing learners’ personas for key learning opportunities. At Farmers, Velie recalls, “one learning initiative took agents through their first three to five years with Farmers. The training was the same for everybody, regardless of whether they were fresh out of college or had owned an agency for 15 years. Now we’ve developed a customized track based on their backgrounds, so learners can best use their time in the classroom.”

Deloitte develops personas for all its target audiences, “not just the new folks,” Schlictman says. “We put ourselves in the shoes of staff. When they wake up in the morning, what are they doing? Are they in an Uber or do they drive themselves to work? When they open our Epicenter (learning content), how can they apply their experience on the job to their learning needs?

“This level of thinking about learning is becoming part of our rhythm for program development. It gives us insights into the audience,” she continues. Rather than looking only at skill levels and needs, “we’re looking at how they’re engaging in their Deloitte lives and how this will help them in their jobs.”

Positive Results

Refining the learning experience is a work in progress for Farmers, Deloitte, and GE. Deloitte Tax, for instance, reports an increase in retention and improvements in employee engagement.

Since Farmers’ program was revamped last May, Velie reports, “we’re seeing positive feedback around the changes.” Learners report the classes are easier to access, and many of the technical hurdles (such as issues with log-in and computer settings) have improved. “Help desk tickets have been reduced by 75 percent,” he says, which saves time and reduces frustration among learners.


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