Connect learning to the business: Learning objectives and action mapping

I’m preparing my presentation for my concurrent session at DevLearn, Las Vegas. I will present about: Supporting business objectives with better learning objectives. Since only a small part of you will be present there (and even a smaller part will attend), I decided to give you a heads-up.

There is a lot of discussion on the relevance of formal eLearning. The trend is in the direction of workplace learning, social learning, mobile learning, just in time learning and performance support. The role of the formal eLearning courses in these developments is often seen as minimal or is not present at all. I do agree with the trend that wants to connect learning to the workplace. I disagree with the conclusion that eLearning courses shouldn’t be a part of that. Formal learning is an important instrument in changing and developing. There is more to learning than just solving your day-to-day problems. Real change requires insight and training and eLearning courses can and should be a part of this. In order to keep eLearning relevant we need to create better courses, we need to connect these courses to the business goals and we need to prove our added value to the business. That’s what this post and my presentation are about.

Action Mapping
When you are talking about connecting learning to business goals, you are talking about Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. Basically there are four steps in her approach, see her blog for more details:

  1. Identify the business goal
  2. Identify what people need to do (instead of need to know), translate them into actions
  3. Design a (real world) activity for each action that help people practice each behavior
  4. Identify what people really (really?) need to know, add that information

I really like this. It connects learning to the business goals and it helps you to create eLearning that is based on real situations. It puts the learning experience before the knowledge transfer. And this is all good. What I would like to add is the connection with learning objectives. That is important because:

  • Learning objectives will help you design the course
  • Learning objectives inform the learner on  his goals and progress
  • Learning objectives can make your course and your curriculum adaptive
  • Learning objectives are an ideal way to report results
  • Learning objectives will help you measure and evaluate.

What I propose is action mapping combined with the use of learning objectives.

  1. Identify business goals
  2. Create learning objectives based on these business goals (in terms what people need to do)
  3. Translate the learning objectives into activities
  4. Design your eLearning around these objectives and activities
  5. Inform the learner on his goal and progress
  6. Make courses and curriculum adaptive
  7. Report on the learning objectives
  8. Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals.

Use the objectives to:

You can write books about each of these steps. I will limit myself to some observations and comments for each step.

Identify business goals
If you start with this step, you might run into a major problem of eLearning development. Very often it is not a problem to identify the business goals, but it is a problem to connect to the people who set these goals. The Learning department is very often not connected to the business or not connected to the right level in the business. You need to solve this if you want a real chance of connecting learning to the business.

Create learning objectives based on these business goals (in terms what people need to do)
Once you have your connection to the business and your business goals you can define your learning objectives. They will describe what people need to be able to do in order to achieve the business goals. In the ideal situation you are part of the process of setting these business goals and you can translate them into your (departments) contribution for a longer period. Separate learning objectives will become different learning experiences. Do a baseline assessment to determine the gap between what people need to be able to do and what they actually can do. This will help you determine what kind of learning intervention you have to create.

Translate the learning objectives into activities
A specific learning experience will most of the times have a limited amount of learning objectives. Translating them into activities is often a challenge; again you need to be connected to the business side of your organization. You probably need to have subject matter experts that are embedded in the business process to help you create these situations.

Create eLearning around these activities; keep the knowledge to a minimum
Activities can be small, just a single activity the learner needs to be able to do. But very often it will be more complex; you will have a scenario that people have to go through in order to experience the ‘real life’ situation. It is important that you select an authoring tool that let you connect these scenario’s and activities to the learning objectives, so you can measure the progress and can report on them.

Inform the learner on his goal and progress
It is important that the learning objectives are visible to the learner in the eLearning course. He needs to know what you expect of him. Equally important is to report progress on these objectives during the learning process. It will be a big help and motivating factor for the learner.

Make courses and curriculum adaptive
If you use learning objectives in a smart way you can create a course that will adapt to the learner. You can offer an individual study advice to either improve knowledge on a weak point or to skip areas that already assess at the desired level. See this link for an example how this is done in easygenerator.

Make sure that your course can report on learning objectives to your LMS. In some adaptive learning management systems you can even create an adaptive curriculum. Based on the outcome of a course the learner will be directed to a relevant next course. This is for example possible when you use a course created in easygenerator in a Learning management system like ANewSpring.

Report on the learning objectives
Through SCORM it is possible to report on the outcome per learner per objective. It is important that your LMS is capable of generating a report on the combined outcome of all the learners and all the objectives. This way you are able to show the effect eLearning has on these objectives and on the business goals. If you did a baseline at the beginning of this reporting period, you will even have a stronger case to really prove the return on investment in eLearning.

Evaluate the learning objectives in relation to the business goals
And then it is time to evaluate.  It is crucial that you are able to do this with the people from the business side that are responsible for achieving the business goals.

I hope to meet a lot of you at DevLearn. This presentation will be concurrent session 204, October 31, 1:15 PM. You can also find me at our booth at the expo (number 241).

Learning scenarios: the future of the learning organizations #lrnwscen

At the online Educa in Berlin Willem Manders and Hans de Zwart facilitated a workshop on the future of learning organizations. They both work For Shell. Shell uses scenarios to investigate the future to assess its current strategy. We applied this method to investigate the future of learning and learning organizations. We started out by brainstorming about general trends, from the outcome we choose two. Then we determined two extremes per trend, with this result:

  1. How work is done?
    Relationship driven vs data driven
  2. How work is organized?
    Structured, regulated and managed vs flexible, individualistic and enabled

If you put these trends on two axes, with the extremes attached to them, you get four quadrants with four possible scenario’s. We brainstormed about their characteristics and came up with four names:

  1. Old boy network
  2. In-crowd
  3. Big data
  4. Quantified self

The image shows the four scenario’s and their characteristic.

The four Learning scenario's

Last week we had a webinar to follow-up and to discuss each scenario. It was an interesting exercise. For starters it was the most complex online setup I ever participated in, with a central part and four separate groups. I was one of the moderators of a sub-group. It was a bit of a technical struggle, but despite of that we had very interesting discussions and outcomes. The results of these sessions will come available at the website A very interesting process and outcomes. You can participate via!

OEB11 Scenarios for the future of corporate e-Learning: participate! #lrnscen

The first online Educa day (pre-conference session day). After building up our booth I attended a workshop about the future of corporate learning. It was an interesting session. Both the process of creating the scenarios and the scenarios themselves.

Hans de Zwart en Willem Manders led the workshop, they both work at Shell. Shell uses scenarios to get insight in possible future developments (in their case about energy) to base their decision on they make today. And that is the essence of the scenario’s, you create scenarios of the future in order to make better decisions today. Hans en Willem took the initiative to apply this on learning.

Strategic environment (© Kees van der Heijden)

The process of creating scenarios is interesting by itself. Hans created a blog for this session ( which has more detailed information on the process. We where with about 30 people, divided into 4 groups. Each group had a facilitator. Our first assignment was to brainstorm about trends that might influence the future of (e)-Learning. We discussed themes like, speed, information overflow, the economic developments, culture, change in work ethics et cetera. Then we had to cluster the trends and come up with two extreme outcomes for each trend. An example of that is the Euro crises. The outcome can be that we end up with an integrated Europe with one economic policy, but the other extreme is that the European union will collapse and all countries will return to their own currency and policy. We shared the group outcomes and then we had to pick two trends (with their extreme outcomes) and place them in a quadrant. My group chose change of work ethics (extreme outcomes people will work for companies their entire live or people will work as independent contractors and go from project to project) and the availability of information (on the one hand all information is freely available on the other hand information is completely controlled by governments, organizations and corporations). You will get four possible scenarios and we tried to work them out in more detail. The groups all reported back on their outcomes. Hans en Willem gave us an assignment: we must look for trends at the online Educa conference and report them back to them. The idea is that this session was only the start of the process and we will collaborate through the website and work further on the scenarios. Hans en Willem will bring the scenarios we developed in the groups together as a starting point. You are also invited to take part in this process. Just go to the site and join in, next to the site we will use the #lrnscen hash tag to communicate. So please join this initiative, it is fun and interesting!


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