How To: Design a Learner-first Program That Drives Business Outcomes

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Richard Posluszny ·

Jun 10, 2021

It’s not uncommon for beginner — and even seasoned — learning experience designers to approach their program from an unstable, imbalanced or even biased place. This results in initiatives that fail to engage learners and achieve business outcomes due to irrelevant content that isn’t accessible to learners. 

When program leaders put the learner first, and do so at every step of the design process, the results are obvious. That’s because you see the following impact:

    • Improved employee performance
    • Reduced onboarding times
    • Reduced churn
    • Improved customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores

But, this is only the start.

Let’s “Set the Table”

Until recently, it was difficult for Learning & Development (L&D) teams to prove the ROI of their programs. This is what led to learning-powered initiatives taking a backseat when compared to more measurable drivers of growth, such as Marketing, Sales and Product. 

That has changed though. Advances in theory, methodology and technology have all led to the newfound ability to strategically design and measure the impact of online training.  

We’ve had a front-row seat, especially as we’ve worked with our install base, to understand what works, what doesn’t and why. Through these experiences, we’ve derived a 3-step framework, which we call Learning Ops

Let’s Break it Down

As a continual process, Learning Ops leverages what you’re already doing and levels that up in an iterative loop. Thus, the Learning Ops Flywheel is born. It’s crucial that today’s businesses remove as much friction as possible to ensure learning delivers value and drives tangible results. 

Learning Ops brings training to businesses’ decision makers to help companies deliver purpose-built learning programs with engagement, relevance and timeliness top of mind. Why? Because providing actual business impact is paramount.

Below, you’ll find a brief overview of the 3-step process behind Learning Ops. 

Step 1: Align Teams and Outcomes, and Prioritize for Impact

It’s crucial to gain consensus on the teams that will employ learning programs. This way you ensure that leadership embraces the initiative. Every org relies on its leaders to bring about necessary change. In many cases, a cultural shift is necessary — from the top down — for learning-powered initiatives to deliver an impact. 

Step 1 Action Items:

  1. Garner support from the business: This means finding an executive sponsor. An effective leader will support your initiative across the organization through active and visible sponsorship. It’s this reinforcement that leads to a learning-centric company culture and higher adoption rates across the business. 
  2. Understand the opportunities: This means taking an inventory of what’s already working and what’s not. Review any learner engagement and satisfaction data you have. From there, speak with learners and business unit (BU) leaders directly.

    Instead of prescribing training solutions that satisfy senior leaders, subject matter experts or even yourself, interview your learners. Pay special attention to any concerns or problems they have. Mine this information. If your programs are going to be learner first, this data should be at the forefront. The goal is to flip the conversation from “How do we teach this to someone?” to “How do we help someone with these concerns?”

    At this stage, many find the process of Empathy-Mapping quite helpful.
  3. Prioritize business outcomes: Without clearly defined — and measurable — objectives, there’s a minimal chance of designing a focused solution that truly benefits your business.

    Business outcomes describe the desired impact learning programs will make towards a company’s performance goals. They’re measurable and BU leaders set these metrics. 

Step 2: Create Engaging Content that Drives Better Performance

This step involves establishing learning objectives, mapping the learner journey (Where? When? How?) and creating content that is intentional, structured, well designed and personalized.

As noted in Northpass 101: Engaging Your Learners, here are some suggestions for keeping learners on the edge of their seats:

    • Keep courses short and sweet
    • Build around achievable milestones
    • Leverage personalization where possible
    • Deliver a mix of multimedia content

Step 3: Deliver a Frictionless and Human Learning Experience

Here, the focus is on integrating your learning content and program with any existing properties. This may include: Your company’s website, mobile app, help desk or CRM. Doing so enables you to meet your learners where they are by automatically delivering valuable content right within the interfaces and touch points they regularly access. 

Imagine being able to trigger highly contextual learning content based on an employee’s individual behavior.  With Learning Ops and Northpass, learning in the flow of work is possible.

There you have it. With Learning Ops, designing a learner-first program that drives business outcomes is only a matter of 3 steps. If you're looking for even more detail, check out our eBook: How Do You Actually Do Learning Ops?


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About the Author
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Richard Posluszny

Richard Posluszny oversees Northpass' marketing efforts. When Richard isn't spreading Northpass' gospel, he can be found driving something sporty, at an art gallery or learning more about American history.

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