Five alternatives to formal learning for busy L&D teams

When your L&D team is up to capacity and another SME comes to you asking for a formal training course, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But is formal learning always the right answer? Sometimes you can find an effective way to provide learning without taking on another large design and development job.

There are plenty of instances where a formal learning intervention is the right thing to do, but we’ve been in situations before where it just doesn’t feel right. It’s perhaps the easier option to go along with what the client wants and produce the classroom or eLearning course as requested, but what does this achieve for the learners and the long-term relationship with the client?

Saying ‘no’ can feel counter-productive and no-one likes to talk themselves out of revenue, so below we’ve looked at five alternatives to a formal learning course that might be a better option for learners and your client relationships, be they internal or external. Read on to learn more.

On the job learning

We know that ‘on the job’ learning is a powerful way to instil the right behaviours and skills in a learner. Doing something for real makes it, well, real! Learning something online or in a classroom is great, and you can certainly role play in a classroom but there’s nothing quite like doing something in a real situation to embed learning.
We’re not suggesting that you throw people out in front of customers to see if they sink or swim though. Shadowing can be a very effective way to give people exposure to real-life situations where it’s still safe for them to learn. Sales is a good example of this. You can put people in a classroom for six months and give them theory, role plays and tests, but there’s nothing quite like nervously dialling a number with a ‘real’ person on the other end. Particularly in sales, the quicker people fail, the quicker they’ll learn how to do it properly. If you find out it’s not someone’s cup of tea, then it probably never would have been. It’s better to find out sooner than have someone hating every minute of their work life.

Mentoring and coaching

Mentoring and coaching are a step on from shadowing. Often these terms are used for the same thing, but coaching is generally a shorter-term fix for a particular issue, whereas mentoring is usually over the longer-term. Coaching is useful where someone is struggling with a particular aspect of their work, it could be having difficult conversations with clients for example. A short intervention on a one to one basis can be really useful to get someone over a sticking point. The most important thing with coaching is to quickly identify the issue and then come up with a strategy to get the learner past it. Going back to the example of having difficult conversations with a client, this could mean a few coaching sessions to solve that particular issue.

Mentoring on the other hand is over the long-term and does not focus on one issue. It’s used more to take someone on a journey, for example, if someone wants to move into higher level management then a mentor who has been there and done it can be used. The mentor and mentee would meet regularly to both set goals and track progress. The mentor is there for ad hoc conversations as well as to push the mentee along the right track. This might involved coaching for specific aspects that need addressing, but coaching as discussed would only be for certain things.

Podcast learning

Podcasts have become very popular over recent years in mainstream channels but they haven’t been used that much in learning, from what we have seen and experienced. We have been involved in podcasting though and have seen the huge potential of the medium as an alternative to formal learning interventions. Podcasts create intrigue amongst learners because they are very different from other forms of learning they may have experienced in the past. They can listen at lunchtime or download and listen to them on their commute, at home or at the gym. This puts the learner in a different frame of mind where they’re able to relax a bit more and listen to the content more carefully.

Podcasts are great to get behind the ‘corporate mask’ and hear from the real people in the organisation. For example, if you’re trying to get people behind a cultural change then PowerPoint slides and presentations just won’t cut it. A podcast with the CEO on the other hand will allow the real person behind the CEO label to talk frankly about the change and why it’s a good idea. Podcasting is quite an intimate way of getting a message across, and it’s also relatively low cost. With a reasonably good microphone, some of which plug into mobile phones, people can record podcasts and send the files across quickly and easily. They may not even need editing which again cuts down the time. A series of podcasts from different stakeholders around the business will give plenty of time for people to buy into the change and also appreciate the different views of others in the organisation.

Workshop learning

Inviting people to workshops is a powerful way of getting them involved in the change happening within the organisation. With clear aims and objectives, facilitators can help people to understand what the organisation is trying to achieve. Rather than formal learning, workshops are more informal, and participants should be encouraged to share their thoughts. As well as helping the learners, workshops can be very useful for the organisation to learn what people really think of the change. With the informal style, people will be more honest and are likely to share freely.

Make sure to take the learning from the workshops and ‘play it back’ to the organisation. This shows that you are listening and you value the contributions of people. Change, after all, is a never-ending process which is why this approach works well as opposed to a one-off formal training course.

Management cascade learning

Using managers to cascade messages allows them to communicate in their own way. Although this can be a double-edged sword, as long as clear guidelines have been given then it can work well. Perhaps invite managers to an online session where the change is discussed and the rationale put into easy to digest points. You can give managers a ‘toolkit’ with which to cascade the messages to their direct reports. This is often better received than in a formal training course as it means more coming from people that are known and trusted.

Managers can also gather feedback from their cascade sessions to feedback to the higher management levels. The purpose of this is to tweak messages or perhaps even solutions as needed based on the feedback received.

About Lawford Knight

Lawford Knight is a training company with expertise in eLearning, classroom and blended learning. We understand how to design, develop and deliver training programmes that achieve real behavioural change. If you’re ready to work with a company that really understands how training works, please get in contact to discuss your next training requirement.

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