Five Critical Success Factors for Learning Designs that Work: A Chat with Ann Rollins, Solutions Architect

Our world is in transition—and so is the L&D industry.

That makes insight on designing effective learning experiences for a hybrid work environment invaluable. Our 2022 Trends Report, which was based on survey responses from more than eight hundred L&D professionals, backs up the statement. Some 53% of L&D professionals said their virtual/digital designs were less effective than their face-to-face counterparts.

Ann Rollins, a solutions architect with The Ken Blanchard Companies®, is responsible for bringing client learning experiences to life. Here, she shares from her recent webinar tips you can use to create transformative learning experiences.

Q: What is the state of the learner?

Ann: The last two years have been difficult. People are fatigued by the pandemic. It’s been a tough road.

Our challenge is to find ways to reach learners wherever they are. But we L&D professionals had little preparation for this. Delivering effective learning for people outside the classroom was a topic that received little airtime in our degree programs or on the conference circuit.

Q: What do L&D professionals think about their digital offerings?

Ann: They want more learner engagement, more social interaction, more learning, touchpoints that happen over time, and more integration into the flow of work. And they want more accountability for learners to finish training. The propensity is there to push out microlearning over time that may not have a cohesive thread and hope that we get the intended result. It checks a few boxes from the perspective of delivering more content, but this doesn’t create behavior change or lead to greater learner accountability. More content isn’t the issue; it’s experience, context and relevance that will move the needle.

I’d sum it up like this: It’s very easy for people to begin a training program and not finish. It’s very easy for learners to get tired. They don’t want to read articles. They want to know “How does this help me at work right now?” and “What can I do differently as an immediate result of completing what you’ve created for me?”

Q: What’s the first step L&D professionals can take?

Ann: You need to consider who you’re solving for. Your learners may be in their cars. They may be in an office setting. They may be at a home office. They may be on the move inside a manufacturing facility. The job is to reach them in a way that resonates.

At Blanchard, we believe that having a really good feel for who our learners are allows us to start out in a more powerful position. Knowing who we are solving for starts with creating personas that represent learners before we start envisioning and designing an experience.

Q: Tell us more about personas.

Ann: Personas have been around for a long time, but more recently—say, in the in the last five years or so—we see more and more L&D practices creating and using them as a keystone to their design work. They let us imagine a real person who is going to use the learning experience we’re building for them. Personas help us figure out a learner’s goals, their challenges, what makes them tick, how they show up for work, and how they use technology.

Ultimately, personas let us get really close to learners. When we do, we can better understand their needs and can design learning based on how they prefer to learn. And that lets us build extraordinary experiences no matter where the learners are.

Q: Now let’s talk about creating learning journeys.

Ann: It’s natural to think about the journey as the next step. At Blanchard, that’s not quite how we see it. Before we envision a learning journey, my peers and I take a really good look at what we call our Five Critical Success Factors for a Successful Engagement.

Key Influencer Buy-In starts with getting the sponsor actively involved. Best practices include having the sponsor provide a video that creates relevance for learners. Key influencers introduce and socialize the experience to help learners make a connection between what they’re learning and organizational objectives.

Strategic Integration. A tight communications plan builds on the introductory messaging from leaders and connects learners to what you’re doing and why. The comms plan should be designed in a way that keeps learners moving along. It’s not a one and done.

When we’re designing the experience, it’s more than just thinking about what people need to learn. It’s considering what they need to be able to do in the bigger scheme and the organizational impact of these new behaviors. We know that if we draw learners to create their own relevance, they’re going to be more engaged and invested.

Q: What are some key takeaways for Systematic Delivery, Blanchard’s third success factor for a successful engagement?

Ann: Systematic Delivery is really defining a comprehensive learning approach. We want a framework that uses spaced and blended learning. This creates an experience that doesn’t have a finite beginning and ending. We’re layering information, activities, experiences, and social learning in a continuum. And we’re being really smart about how the modalities blend. That is critical. It goes back to those preferred learning methods and designing an experience that aligns with what learners want and need.

Q: Follow-Up & Reinforcement is the fourth of Blanchard’s factors for a successful engagement. Can you elaborate?

Ann: Follow-up & Reinforcement should be holistic. Consider a curated playlist that includes opportunities for learners to practice and refine new skills. Or it could be about sustainment that happens over time, like using a scripted chatbot that will ping the learner and resurface content, test their knowledge, and provide nudges and guidance for them to apply what they’ve learned and try new things as part of the sustainment strategy.  

Individual and group coaching are great reinforcement measures that allow us to build on the foundation and add rigor and accountability to the experience as learners are integrating new learning into new ways of working. Coaching also knocks down silos and helps learners create peer networks they otherwise wouldn’t have. It creates an additional pull for learners to continue to do the work. Coaching is crucial hallmark in many of the journeys we’re implementing for our clients today.

Simulations are another valuable option. They help with knowledge acquisition and draw learners to apply what they’ve learned in a safe environment. Simulations also challenge learners to show what they might do in a future workplace situation.

Q: Demonstrate Tangible Value is the fifth element for a successful engagement. Tell us more.

Ann: Start by asking the question What does success look like and how are we going to measure it?

Immediate surveys can measure a learner’s confidence and capability, or knowledge and readiness. But the real measures of performance change come later. We recommend a follow-up at 60 to 90 days out to see if the learning made an impact. You also want to discover what content, resources, and tools learners are using, how they are helping, and which are making the biggest difference for them.

For instance, if I am having goal-setting meetings regularly with my people, and I never had them before training, we can track that and see how having more frequent goal setting conversations is moving the performance needle at the individual level.


Want to hear the rest of the conversation and take a deep dive into a selection of innovative learning journeys created by our Blanchard teams? Access the full webinar recording to see journey examples, hear about new ways to reach your hybrid learners, and get the tools and templates Ann shared with the community in the live event!

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