In an increasingly competitive world, it is essential for employees to stay relevant and for organisations to retain their best talent. Investing in people through learning programmes is one of the best ways of achieving these two goals while helping to develop, lead and manage your organisation.

However, with tighter training budgets, it is crucial that any training and development effort determine the most effective, relevant approach that will deliver immediate on-the-job impact. To achieve this:

* Be certain about the essential skills and knowledge your employees need;

* Assess what their current skill and knowledge levels are;

* Ensure the right environment exists so that employees can apply what they learn on the job;

* View learning not as a one-time event, but as an ongoing process that needs to be supported and facilitated; and

* Measure the impact of the learning programme on employees and on their performance.

Do not be old school

Give your employees the learning options they demand. Offering learning via a range of delivery options, is essential to achieving learning programme goals.

Too often, organisations only look at course content, timing and cost. Research has shown that learning preferences, generational influences and culture have a tremendous effect on how well a learner absorbs and applies information.

In Asia, forward-thinking employers are increasingly using a blended learning approach. This means delivering learning in a variety of ways that are appropriate, as well as according to students’ preferences.

A blended learning programme could include an action-learning workshop using real-life case studies, independent e-learning, traditional instructor-led classroom training, on-demand reference tools, webinars, podcasts and more.

These approaches focus more on ensuring that the right learning takes place, rather than on content, cost and timing, while helping to ensure a greater learning impact for the individual and the organisation.

Blended learning contrasts with the type of organisational learning events most commonly seen in Asia today — commodity training focused on obtaining credentials. Credential training is a good starting point, but focuses exclusively on learning content, rather than on-the-job application.

Blended learning also delivers a range of cost savings and flexibility benefits by reducing travel, keeping people on the job and extending the learning from a few days to a few weeks. This helps learners to retain and practise what they learn while still having access to instructors and fellow students to solve problems.

Evaluation

The vast majority of strong learning evaluation programmes are based on the Kirkpatrick Model, which identifies four levels of learning evaluation:

Reaction: To what degree do participants react favourably to the training event?

Learning: To what degree do participants acquire the intended learning from the training event?

Behaviour: To what degree do participants apply what they learnt on the job?

Results: To what degree do desired outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement?

Unfortunately, most training event assessments focus on the wrong things — did participants like the instructors, the food, the room and the presentation of the course materials, all of which, has little to do with “what did you learn” and “how will you use it on the job”.

Asking questions that assess knowledge gained and its usefulness on the job is essential to effective evaluation as shown by the Kirkpatrick Model.

The assessments should take place not at the end of the last day of the course, but a couple of days afterwards. They should then be repeated in 30 to 90 days to see if participants’ immediate assumptions about the value and impact of the learning were accurate.

Continuous learning

One of the great things about blended learning is that it offers a wide range of possibilities to support continuous, informal learning across the enterprise.

Whether it is delivering learning content via apps or social media, or providing on-demand reference tools, learning is moving out of the classroom and being assimilated as part of the job itself, which leads to perhaps the most important learning opportunity of all — coaching.

Coaching and mentoring are old ideas that are even more relevant today. Whether it is a formal action-learning coaching event or simply creating a culture of one-on-one coaching in the organisation, coaching positively influences business results while also improving employee engagement.

From learning apps to instructor-led learning and a strong coaching culture, a balanced approach of all the tools and methods will deliver the greatest learning impact today.

This in turn helps organisations maintain their competitive edge as well as retain talent. And that, accompanied by an effective assessment and evaluation effort, will ensure senior management support for a strong, ongoing learning programme.