The Learning Experience: Start with Strategy, not Technology

By Carl Crisostomo

The buzz is deafening around new learning experience approaches and tools. The look, the feel, and overall encounter of employees interacting with learning and engagement software is heady and exciting. We see many organizations doing a great job of beautifying the learning experience. Some are getting really smart when it comes to recommendation and integrating into the flow of work.

However, if you disconnect the learning experience from skills requirements and performance outcomes then you are missing out on the golden opportunity: to show impact on business goals and to prove growth in individual performance. Both are critical to the value of learning experience, as it gives the learner a sense of place and with the right line of sight, they can connect their learning to personal and business outcomes.

A “better looking learning library” simply doesn’t cut it, and a beautiful dashboard or interface won’t drive employees to engage, learn and meet the organization’s expectations. Putting it simply: to really engage employees with their learning experience and drive completion and adoption, a personalized learning strategy is necessary.

When does learning fail?

What exactly is a learning experience? It may be easier to start with what a learning experience is not. It is not just a learning management system, a platform or a user interface. While technology is helpful and efficient, it is only an enabler. It is up to us to create a learning strategy that will give our teams and organizations real growth opportunities.

When employees have to contend with a poor learning experience (real or perceived), their engagement and adoption suffers, resulting in reduced impact and low ROI. For example, a traditional LMS (Learning Management System) often places thousands of pieces of content in front of employees, and relevant content becomes difficult to find. When content is difficult to find, the employee experience is diminished, and employees show minimal engagement with content unless the content is presented as “mandatory” or for compliance purposes.”

But with the right learning strategy in place, you can transform the employee development experience into something that drives real, tangible results for employees and the business. What’s the best approach?

How employees connect with learning?

Understanding how people want to learn is critical to making learning impactful. Employees will succeed so much more if their learning regiment is personalized to them, their interests, their timeframe and more. A strategy where every employee is forced to take the same learning under the same circumstances cuts down on individuality, personality, and talent. Not one employee is alike to another, we all have different perks, traits and skills, and we need a personalized framework to thrive.

The results are in: personalized learning yields results

Brandon Hall Group highlighted some noteworthy statistics in their recent Personalized Learning Survey, including that 62 percent of High Performers use personalized learning as part of their learning strategy.

  • Personalization matters. It says so in the numbers:
  • 93 percent agree that personalized learning supports an employee in reaching professional goals more efficiently
  • 91 percent agree that personalized learning supports employee needs for continuous development
  • 88 percent agree that personalized learning has helped to improve organizations’ strategies, missions, or visions
  • 81 percent agree that personalized learning aligns with the 70:20:10 framework
  • 95 percent agree that personalized learning has improved the link between learning and individual performance
  • 91 percent agree that personalized learning has improved the link between learning and organizational performance

It’s clear that high impact learning positively affects multiple important outcomes, including time to productivity, employee retention & engagement, and team effectiveness.

Neuroscience shows us the way

In a recent webinar, Nine Practical Tips for Using Neuroscience to Power Learning we explored three behavioral science principles which play an important part in making technology engaging to its users:

  1. Emotion has a significant influence on employee development and success. It’s important to weave into employee learning for optimal performance. Research shows that feeling something on an emotional level helps learners remember the situation. People will respond to something that they’ve done, whether it be fear that they’re fallen behind others, or pride in their achievement.
  2. Loss aversion can be applied in a competitive gamification of the learning experience. For fear of falling behind or not doing as well as others, employees will push themselves to bring out their best, leading to higher completion rates. This doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Some organizations gamify learning by awarding points for completed training. By starting employees off with points they can lose by not engaging with learning, we create the psychological effect that can increase learning adoption.
  3. Social motivations are a natural part of a human’s brain when we ask ourselves “how will this make me look?” and “what are other people doing?” This drives employees to maintain a stellar reputation and work hard.

Each of these concepts of neuroscience taps into peoples’ desires. Employees will connect with and dedicate themselves to learning that tunes in to their hardwiring.

Where to start?

Most learning leaders dream of creating this ultimate learning experience – one that is accessible and engaging, and leaves their employees feeling empowered and motivated. However, many organizations miss the mark by focusing too much on the learning experience itself. Instead, aligning learning experience with overall performance goals and business objectives delivers much strong results.

  • So, what’s the best way to deliver learning that drives results? Work backward from your desired business outcomes:
  • Strategic Alignment (overall alignment to the business, consultation in development) – defined strategy, learning linked to org objectives, clear goals & outcomes, learning recommendations, etc.
  • Design/Deployment (this is more where the tech comes in and how the learning content is delivered) – roles involved, content delivery types and mechanisms, etc.
  • Measurement (prove its impact) – can measure impact against key talent needs: individual performance, revenue growth, turnover, business process improvement, knowledge transfer, etc.

Armed with a strong strategy and a clear understanding of how people learn, it’s possible to deliver a rich learning experience that enables users to create their own journeys, based on content from anywhere. And this experience will be most effective when it’s connected to individual and business performance goals and integrated with overall corporate development programs.

About Author:

Carl is Saba’s Product Manager for Content. He is responsible for its content strategy. He’s a learning professional and storyteller who believes in using corporate learning to not only solve client problems but also to change people’s lives.

Send your email to