As the events of 2020 showed us, digital transformation in learning doesn’t stop at transferring classroom training into a webinar or other virtual setting. In fact, that’s barely the start.
Over 20 years of working in corporate learning, we developed the six-stage LEO Learning Transformation Model to help organizations understand that digital learning transformation isn’t just ongoing; it’s cyclical. Learning cannot be a one-step, single event. A cyclical and continuous approach to learning can result in greater outcomes and higher levels of engagement with the learning experience.
The process needs to be ongoing, and in a time when we’ve all been separated, continuous and collaborative development of learning processes and programs have never been more important. What’s more, there are a lot of parallels between the corporate world we design learning for with this model and the education sector.
Let’s start by exploring the six key stages of the model.
Strategic Learning Design
The top half of our model delivers our strategic design methodology. This follows a three-step process:
- Inquire: gaining an understanding of the current learning environment.
- Design: using this information to strategically design learning content, reporting, and goals.
- Activate: taking the output of previous stages to create the assets, reports, and project planning
Stage 1: Inquire
We begin with the Inquire process. This allows us to gain a deep understanding of all aspects of the learning environment, covering everything from technology and content to behaviors and culture.
The perfect starting point for any cycle of learning transformation, this information-gathering stage allows us to really understand what the needs of an organization are and perhaps more importantly, what their starting point is for transformation.
As aligning learning and business goals is vital to this process, we also use the Inquire stage to understand strategic organizational goals and challenges. This provides us with vital context from which we can help organizations align learning with business needs.
Inquire for the Education Sector
For the education sector, the focus needs to remain not on organizational goals, but on the learners, curriculum, and educational strategies. It’s important to take time to understand the students’ prior knowledge and their needs in terms of tools, content, social learning, and distance learning.
What are the barriers to learning and what are the enablers in a higher education context? And how can you find this out? We’d recommend starting with surveys, focus groups, and faculty inquiry. At this stage in the process, context is everything, so begin with the people affected by the upcoming changes.
Stage 2: Design
The next stage is to explore learning design. This is where we take everything we learned in the Inquire phase, collect all of the data, and process it through a series of steps to help us inform the way learning should be designed.
Our process is very collaborative, and if you want to run something internally, we recommend yours is too. We engage stakeholders from across an organization, facilitate a number of sessions, and share information and viewpoints back and forth. Collaboration is the key to this stage of the process.
We focus on highly visual techniques including drawing, visualizing, and using tools like story mapping to help everyone get to grips with process design. We also bring in best practices from a range of sectors, covering a broad selection of learning solutions to help bring the process together and prompt collaboration.
Design for the Education Sector
While the design stage of the process remains mostly similar for the education sector, it’s important to widen the net when it comes to stakeholder involvement. For example, in higher education, you’ll need to include faculty, subject matter experts, governance, quality control, and certification to design solutions that are suitable for your learning needs and environment.
Stage 3: Activate
Now that we understand the context of the organization we’re working with, what their key challenges are, and have a good idea of how the learning design is going to be shaped, it’s time to focus on putting it into action. We call this stage Activation.
The main focus of this section is to answer the following question: ‘What do I need to do next to deliver on this vision?’
The way we manage this depends on stakeholder engagement and how many other people this process needs to go through before we can begin implementation. For example, if the strategy needs to be presented to and reviewed by a broader audience, we help organizations to deliver clear visualizations and articulation of the vision.
If the strategy outputs require guidelines, we recommend using models, manuals, roadmaps, and process designs to ensure the vision is clear, fit-for-audience, and practical. Checklists, templates, and examples can also play a useful role in this stage.
Before we move into implementation, it’s also important to consider any learning and capability building for your L&D team(s) that may be worth putting in place to ensure the continued success of your learning transformation moving forward.
Activate in the Education Sector
The main difference for this stage in the education sector is the scale. It’s likely that the changes needed will be greater than those in a corporate context, with bigger leaps in innovation. So we’d recommend piloting aspects of the design ahead of implementation in order to test, both on a technical and usability level, the significant changes that are to be put in place.
Implementation, Ongoing Measurement, and Evaluation
The second half of the model focuses on delivery, evaluation, measurement, data collection, and continuous improvements based on real evidence.
This is achieved by taking the outputs, research, and design from the first half of the process to create meaningful, lasting change within an organization. Measurement and data collection tools are vital in the second stage of this process, and should be built into the design and activation stages in part one of the learning transformation model.
This data is what makes the Sustain step possible. More on that later.
Step 4: Implement
This is the stage where design, development, and delivery come together for all components, assets, media, and tools needed to create an engaging experience for your learners. Alongside this, you should also focus on creating a valuable, efficient, and fully measurable experience for your organization as a whole.
In the Implement stage, all components are designed, referenced, and checked against the strategic designs and principles outlined in steps 1-3.
The breadth of content design here can stretch from workshops, virtual classrooms, and webinars through to eLearning, games and gamification, video, and animation. It may also include delivery platforms, such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and Learning Experience Platforms (LXPs).
When working with corporate clients, we ensure that we maintain a collaborative partnership throughout, including support in measurement and delivery.
Implement in the Education Sector
The main adaptation for the education sector when it comes to implementation is the type of content likely to be delivered. While we understand that each institution will have different needs, there’s a high likelihood that, in education, we’d be looking at virtual learning packages, resource packages, and social components, and that the outputs will be more focused on student workload and grades.
Step 5: Evaluate
Evaluation is something that runs through each stage of this model but sits on its own here as this is when we focus on data-centered activities. This is the stage in the process where evidence and data is gathered to understand and measure the performance of your learning initiatives.
The integration of business and learning goals are paramount. Using business performance indicators and advanced analytics, this stage contains the bulk of the reporting on your learning programs.
The focus on data gathering here is critical both to understanding the success of your learning transformation so far and to moving on to the final stage of the transformation cycle.
Evaluation activities include:
- Defining measurement and data strategies
- Identifying existing and required data sources
- Piloting your new measurement process
When working with corporate clients, this is also when we deliver capability building and training workshops with L&D teams. At this stage, we ensure L&D teams fully understand the benefits of learning measurement to the business and that key stakeholder buy-in is achieved from the start, and is data-driven. It’s vital to the ongoing success of the learning transformation model that an evidenced decision-making culture within learning becomes the norm for the organization.
Evaluate in the Education Sector
The biggest shift in this stage of the process for education again focuses on stakeholder involvement. When evaluating the success of your transformation so far, you need to consult students, alumni, tutors, course leaders, assessors, and anyone else directly affected by or involved in the changes. This is how you can achieve a broader view of the success of the course(s) in place.
Step 6: Sustain
The data and evaluation outputs from step 5 feed directly into our Sustain step. Here, we take this data and align it to the strategic goals and imperatives set up in the Inquire and Design steps of the transformation model.
The evaluation outputs may include:
- Learner reactions and feedback
- Correlations with business performance
- Completion rates of digital learning content
- Traceable behavioral change
Focusing on evidenced data allows us to assess and go on to improve learning pathways, the use of tools and content, and roadmap the next steps of learning transformation. This is absolutely essential to the whole process, and because we so rarely see it happen formally, we’ve given it its own stage in the cycle.
After all, learning transformation is a cycle. While stage 6 may represent a final step, in order for effective and sustained transformation to take place, this should be the beginning and not the end.
Once this data has been crunched, evaluated, and measured alongside strategic business goals, it’s important to ensure that recommendations made based on the evidence are both actionable and implemented.
Any changes recommended then go into step 1 of the next cycle, as we understand from the data and practices put in place during the activation and implementation stages what works, what doesn’t, and, vitally, what can be improved. This leads us into the Inquiry step, through to Design and on through the cycle from there.
What Does This Mean for the Education Sector?
There are a few key takeaways for the education sector from our corporate learning transformation model.
Ultimately, making decisions based on evidence should be a priority. While this evidence may come from different sources in the education sector, collecting, understanding and evaluating this data is as important as ever. We’ve already covered how each of these stages impacts education, but above all, remember that launching your new program or initiative is not the end of the process; it’s the start.
We understand that the context of learning transformation is different in education. The scale, the scope, and the stakeholders are all different—especially when looking at students, a number of your key stakeholders change every few years. Goals are also not as clear cut in education, but once they are defined, the process works just the same.
Don’t throw out the best parts of your learning strategies but also don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s important to focus your design around your students and embrace the fact that student expectations will change over time.
Ultimately, this learning transformation model is a continuous cycle of innovation and development that should benefit both your organization and your students. One of the most important things to remember is that piloting and testing these innovations is critical to the success of transforming learning in the education sector.
In a year unlike any other, 2020 sent many organizations and academic institutions racing down a path to digital transformation. Whether already on a journey to digitization or just starting out, institutions of all types and sizes sought to either strengthen or build their digital offering to facilitate online learning without interruptions and optimizing resources. In this special issue of E-Learn, we explore the digital transformation taking place all over the world. Read on to discover trends, insights, and best practices on how corporations and academic institutions are adjusting to the new era of Education.
Andrew Joly, Director of Strategic Design at LEO Learning