Business processes mean so many things to so many different people and departments across the organization. Here’s a look at the major learning and development processes, how to structure them, and how they can be leveraged to bring improved engagement for learners in addition to stronger outcomes and ROI.
What is learning and development?
Learning and development is a strategy for employees to develop skills and acquire knowledge in order for the organization to improve overall business performance and meet its goals.
The learning and development function has grown complex over time, and is now considered a key component of business operations. This is because L&D has been able to demonstrate significant value to the bottom line, improving not only the output of employees but also the level of engagement of customers, who are the beneficiaries of a trained, competent workforce.
Indeed, according to LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, the percentage of L&D leaders who expect to have more spending power has reached a six-year high. Nearly three-fourths of L&D leaders agree that L&D has become more influential over the past year.
What are learning and development processes?
Learning and development processes are the workflows required to design, develop, deliver, and measure learning experiences.
As with other business functions, L&D needs processes that seek to streamline operations by reducing waste, identifying inefficiencies, removing redundancies, and increasing output.
L&D’s products—learning experiences—should not be seen as a succession of one-off courses, trainings, or assessments. Instead, they should be the result of a planned, organized business unit that leans on technology and data to produce consistent, high-quality experiences. Further, these learning experiences need to repeatedly deliver demonstrable value to the business.
Achieving this mature state requires L&D teams to focus on more than just the learning design process. L&D processes also include every part of the workflow from intake and strategic planning through to deployment and measurement.
Learning and development processes and business strategy
An L&D process must align with business strategy and business objectives. Without the organization’s goals in mind, efforts to develop and deliver learning experiences will fall flat, be difficult to measure, and pose a challenge for L&D to continue its efforts.
Data is baked into every L&D process which, if you’re using the right technology, can be leveraged into insights that can inform learning leaders as to whether the processes are delivering the desired results.
Why it’s important to focus on learning and development processes
While many organizations have processes in place for other functions, say, accounting or customer service, developing processes for learning and development initiatives can present unique challenges and opportunities, for both the L&D team and those throughout the organization who support their efforts.
Reviewing and redeveloping processes for L&D might present itself as a rather new pursuit. For some organizations, L&D may have previously rolled out training piecemeal whenever a business unit requested it, or when the industry or government required it, such as for compliance.
This simply won’t work in today’s remote, blended, and always-on workplaces that constantly need employees to improve or acquire new skills. While courses or support materials cannot be provided for every skill or knowledge gap, processes need to be in place to measure these gaps, determine the likelihood of success of developing and rolling out trainings to meet these needs, and observe the results.
Additionally, ad-hoc processes might work in the short-term as a Band-Aid to fix an immediate problem. But well-designed, optimized processes that incorporate anticipated challenges prevent L&D team burnout, reduce unexpected costs, and provide repeatable workflows that manage everyone’s expectations.
Examples of learning and development processes
The term “learning and development process” is vague. Is it the process of designing and building a course? Or could it refer to the act of learning a new skill and then applying it to one’s job?
Learning and development processes can mean many different things, but for the purposes of improving business performance both within the L&D department and across the company, here are a few processes whose components can be made much more efficient.
To determine what’s working and what’s not, it’s best to first have a deep dive into your team’s existing processes. Some of them may have been in place for some time, while others may have been created on the fly due to the pandemic or a sudden change in organizational structure (i.e., work from home, hiring of remote contractors).
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but when processes are adapted too quickly, they might not be as efficient as they could be. As such, auditing the efficiency of your current processes allows you to take a proactive approach to figuring out whether your team is working the best way it can.
During your audit process, some important questions you might ask yourself and your team include:
- Why do we do it this way?
- Did we do this differently in the past? Why did we change?
- Who does this process impact? What is their reaction or feedback?
- Is there documentation for the process or procedure?
- Does the team always follow the correct procedure? If not, why do they skip certain steps?
- Are some steps difficult? Do team members use workarounds?
- What is the time involved to complete the process?
- How much of the process relies on a technology vendor? Have we developed our own technology (i.e., a customized app) to get some or all of the process completed?
- Do we use software to automate any of the steps of these processes? Or perhaps the entire process?
- Are any steps being duplicated across different team members or departments?
The audit of your processes should help you:
- Enable you to pinpoint waste of resources (including time)
- Identify money saving opportunities or the need to explore more cost effective solutions
- Identify opportunities to maximize your team’s output
It’s important to note that audits shouldn’t always be about finding the waste or inefficiency. A thorough audit should also uncover the successes—what is working better than expected—so that these benefits can be applied appropriately to other processes that might need help.
You might also want to bring in other departments, such as human resources or L&D stakeholders, for assistance with the audit.
While questions about processes usually reveal a certain set of steps to complete a task successfully, be sure to also evaluate your tech stack. This goes far beyond your LMS or authoring tool of choice. As organizations have begun to implement digital transformation, determine whether you are using the most effective set of software for the following business needs:
- Project planning and management
- Training intake
- Learning data and analytics
- Course deployment
- Assessments and feedback
This does not need to be carried out in a vacuum. You can combine your process audit and your technology audit to determine that your team needs an all-in-one software platform that can combine messaging, documents, project management, and storage all in one location. Moving multiple processes to a single technology can save time and money, which can be spent on additional software for even more courses or learner support.
While the building of a course is often considered the main L&D process, a perhaps more important process starts long before the designers and developers of a course have their kickoff call: learning intake.
Training intake is a process through which L&D first discovers what types of learning employees need. This is often delivered as a series of requests sent to the department from business partners (i.e., managers) or sometimes, from the employees themselves.
A formalized training request process is imperative. Without it, L&D won’t know what learners or, by extension, the organization as a whole, needs regarding professional development.
Why learning intake matters
With a formalized training request process in place, you can make sure that no need for learning slips through the cracks or goes unacknowledged by the training team.
Any informal conversations, emails, or instant messages sent to L&D won’t be missed, and the entire process is formalized and structured, with thorough evaluation fully integrated on multiple levels.
Further, a formal training intake system sends a message to everyone in the organization that L&D is listening to their training needs, and that they should be encouraged to pursue learning and improve their knowledge. This free training request form template is just one of the building blocks you can use to boost employee engagement and get your new training intake system up and running.
Even if a new course will not be the result of their request, L&D can use the opportunity to direct requesters towards existing resources or third-party providers.
The training request form is the core of the training intake process. The form needs to be as detailed as possible so that L&D receives essential information in order to evaluate whether a course is viable. In a way, the right training intake form kickstarts the eventual process for developing a course, so the questions on the form can be said to serve as the basis for eventual course design and development.
Questions to include in the training intake form
What questions might be included in the training intake form? Here are several.
- What challenge, skill gap, or need is prompting this request?
- What type of training is required? (i.e., a full course, support materials, a single, instructor-led lecture, blended learning)
- How much time should the training reasonably take?
- Is a business result hinging on the employee’s completion of the course? What is the desired business outcome from training?
- What skills or competencies will be learned or what knowledge will be required?
- What is the preferred format for the training? Will it require additional software or equipment in order for it to be delivered?
- Approximately how many learners will take this training?
- What are the learning styles of the majority of the learners who would be taking this course?
- Does this training already exist in any format? If it does exist, can it simply be updated or refreshed?
- Are these technical skills to be learned, or soft skills?
- How will you measure the success of this training?
- Do you have documents or other resources that can be used as source material for this training?
Don’t be concerned that the number and complexity of the questions will alienate requesters. This information is necessary not only for L&D to be able to do its job, but also for L&D to be prevented from wasting time pursuing requests that will not yield solid, mission-critical business results.
Plus, when you use a standardized and centralized training intake system such as the one Cognota provides, capturing this critical information becomes simple and provides visibility to the entire training team. Try a free trial or speak with sales to learn more.
What the training intake form accomplishes
The level of depth of the training intake form should accomplish two things:
- Engage learners by making them think long and hard about the training they’re requesting. If they’re committed to learning, then they’ll answer as many questions as necessary on the form.
- Support the L&D team, by giving them a headstart in building the course. The information provided reduces risk and speeds up the analysis and scoping phases of instructional design. Casual requests made via a sticky note or instant message can’t possibly accomplish this.
Once you’ve established a training intake system, you’re on the right road to cultivating a culture of learning, which will manifest itself throughout the rest of your learning and development processes and methodologies into the organization as a whole. A training intake system leads to better outcomes for everyone.
L&D resource and capacity planning
Resource and capacity planning aims to maximize opportunities for efficiency and better outcomes at the operational level of your training team.
This type of planning coordinates resources and allocates them in the most efficient way possible between projects. Other terms for this process include resource allocation and resource management.
Resource planning’s moving parts
Resources can mean multiple things:
1. The total time needed to complete a learning project or task
This can be calculated based on historical data, such as the total number of hours required to complete an audit or to design an assessment.
2. The time available from each time member to work on that project or task
Not all team members might be full-time, and some might be outside contractors.
3. The particular skills that that team member would bring to that project
This is important, because the team member with the in-demand skill may not be available for the project.
4. The budget required to fund a training initiative
Whether it’s directly purchasing a course, welcoming an external training provider, or the cost of FTE hours that need to be dedicated to a project, all training costs money.
5. Software used to complete the learning project or task
While this seems like a given, it might not be, especially if a specialized platform or subscription software is needed to complete the project or task.
The phases of resources planning
Resource planning involves two main phases: analysis of existing (and needed) resources, followed by the allocation or scheduling of those resources to a training project schedule. During the analysis phase, it’s imperative to define and understand the capacity of your training team along with an inventory of the skills available on your team.
Proper resource or capacity planning attempts to prevent:
- Overscheduling team members on too many projects at once
- Wrongly assigning a team member lacking in a particular skill set to a project
- Unexpected cost overruns on temp contracts or software licenses
Proper resource planning helps your team make the most of staff and contractor hours, skill sets, and budgets. While avoiding the overutilization of resources is important, underutilizing resources can have an equally damaging effect.
Resource planning is not an exact science. However, the process, when made an integral part of L&D’s processes, will get stronger over time and lead to stronger decision making: L&D will know what it has and what it can do best within the right time frames.
Project management as a business process is certainly nothing new. Software to manage projects abounds: crowdsourced software review site G2 counts 397 project management software solutions currently available.
Project management as a process for L&D is a natural fit: learning projects need organization, structure, visibility, and oversight as they are managed.
However, simply because it is a commonly accepted process—and that there are so many readily available software applications—does not mean that any one of these would make sense for learning and development.
Learning teams have special requirements when seeking project management tools to help guide them and keep them on track as they develop learning experiences for employees.
Project management for instructional design
Conventional project management software is not built for instructional design because such software doesn’t incorporate the often iterative, back and forth process of designing courses.
Most project management tools focus on the completion of tasks. Generic project management software measures the number of tasks completed by the due date in a dashboard or column/Kanban format, as a way to show project managers what is coming due, what is late, and who is responsible.
However, the rather fluid process of instructional design models doesn’t fit in with the nature of these traditional project management tools. If a subject matter expert finishes providing the text-based content, they would simply mark it off as complete in regular project management software.
However, in instructional design, once the SME has handed in their work, they continue to be needed on the project to refine messaging, as designers and programmers will need the SME to step in and adjust content on a rolling basis.
Demonstrating the value of L&D
Conventional project management software does capture data—data on projects completed, on time, late, and such.
However, what is missing is the ability to send this data back to the business to understand the time and costs associated with the development of courses or training support materials.
While many project management software tools allow integrations, such as for timekeeping or expense tracking, those are add-ons and might not be relevant or necessary for L&D.
To fully understand and demonstrate the value L&D is providing, the project management process needs to showcase where learning investments are being made across the business by sharing the dashboard link or exporting the data.
A discussion of learning and development processes wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the instructional design process, or the workflows involved in creating the learning content itself.
ADDIE is an instructional systems design framework that many instructional designers and training developers use to develop courses. Still widely in use today after being developed over 50 years ago, the five phases of ADDIE—Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation—together represent a dynamic, flexible guide for building effective learning experiences and performance support tools.
The reason ADDIE is such an enduring instructional design model is that its different phases can still be applied to many of the newer models of instructional design. The principles developed under the model continue to stand the test of time, even today, even though the tools to build, host, and deliver learning experiences may continue to evolve.
The success of instructional and learning design processes for L&D is dependent on two key characteristics:
While ADDIE has been criticized in the past for being linear, instructional design is anything but. Oftentimes, subject matter experts and contributors are needed further along in the learning design process, even after their initial content has been shared.
Collaboration, and the anticipation that further edits and changes will be needed at a later time, are critical to today’s instructional design process
The learning design process must incorporate the ability to create and use templates and branding for multiple types of content—courses, assessments, support tools, and the like. Chief Learning Officer magazine points to the need for a content governance strategy, where all content assets are organized and evaluated in order to streamline the instructional design process.
This enables rapid prototyping of courses and even the development and launch of courses at scale. Standardization and the always-on availability of reusable content meets the needs of organizations with accelerated needs for their learners.
Feedback and assessments
A final L&D process centers around what occurs after a course has been built, delivered, and taken by learners. The ability to streamline feedback and assessments is essential for a deeper understanding of what worked and what didn’t—and what needs to be changed for the future.
Of course, the very answer to the question, “Did it work?” varies from one organization to another.
The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model is usually mentioned in discussions on how to measure training effectiveness. Its various stages range from simply asking learners, “Did you enjoy the course?” (known as Level 1) all the way to evaluating the financial impact of improved employee performance across the entire organization (Level 5).
Feedback and assessments need to be an integral, continuing process, baked into all L&D efforts. A few considerations include:
What to measure
Given the wide scope of the Kirkpatrick Model, organizations need to decide which efforts matter most, and concentrate on those. Qualitative feedback, especially when anonymized, might be helpful for the L&D team to better understand how learners perceived or reacted to the material. However, that may not necessarily translate into improved performance on the job.
This might be harder to capture, but is important to better understand the impact that learning had on the learner and the business.
To measure quantitative improvement in performance, L&D will need to establish processes with the business to determine the KPIs that best demonstrate absorption, retention, and application of material.
Milestones or measures of success
As another part of the assessment process, the L&D team will need to decide what exactly determines a measure of success. Percentage improvement in numbers might seem to be universally acceptable, but numbers might not be telling the whole story.
As with setting up the data collection process with the business, learning leaders will need to develop a process for deciding what milestones or factors for each employee, team, department or division would constitute success.
Streamline your L&D processes with learning operations software
Overhauling your learning and development processes can seem daunting. But getting the right technology on board can instantly streamline existing processes and formalize those that were previously ad-hoc and scattered across disparate tools.
As the first and only operations platform built specifically for L&D teams, Cognota’s LearnOps platform brings your entire workflow from intake to design into one place. Not only does this save time and create cost efficiencies, but you’ll get auto-generated insights into the performance of your team and the learning needs of your entire organization.
Streamline your training intake, planning, capacity management, resource allocation, collaboration, and more in one place. Check out Cognota in action with a free trial or speak with the sales team to book a demo.