Why Learning Tracks Matter

Sam is a new management trainee that just promoted from being a Paint Department Associate. Her Store Manager recognized strong leadership skills and a solid work ethic over the last two years, and encouraged her to apply when the job was posted by the owner. Now, after earning her promotion, she sits at a fork in the road. A key factor in her success or failure in this new position lies, not in her own hands, but in the efforts her company will put forth, or fail to produce.

This is the point where companies often go wrong. A newly promoted employee, that has shown promise, is left to flounder in their new position without proper training. Often their new supervisor is expected to get them trained, but in many cases their supervisor was never properly trained either. Inconsistent messaging, knowledge gaps, and incorrect methods are learned and then perpetuated to future employees due to the lack of formal training.

In Sam’s case, she faces a fork that either leads her to success, or failure, depending on how well the company is positioned to ensure proper training for her. It’s very easy for a company to put someone in a new position, spend a few weeks “getting them trained,” and then inadvertently hang them out dry because no plan exists for further training or reinforcement of what was trained already. This is where a learning track is most powerful.

Learning tracks are planned pathways, often relevant to a specific job or role in an organization, that take the trainee from introductory knowledge to mastery of their position. This journey is often over a long period of time – even multiple years depending on the complexity of the job. Where a cashier at a hardware store might have a 3-month learning track, a new Vice President might have a track that takes 3-5 years to complete.

An important item to note: learning tracks don’t need to be completely developed (in fact they shouldn’t be) before being rolled out. If a company waits until full development before releasing, it’s highly likely some of the content would be out of date and need to be redone. This could be an unending cycle. As with all curriculum, a learning track is never truly “done.” There will be constant refreshing, adding, and deleting as business needs and role changes dictate.

How to create a learning track:

  1. Start by identifying key behaviors, expectations, abilities, and skills required to do the job properly. This should be part of a job description already, and will just need to be fleshed out more.
  2. Now go deeper. For each of the items identified in step 1, break them down further into tasks the learner will need to know. For example: if one item identified in step 1 is to sell product on a sales floor, break that down into the different ways product is handled: in-stock sales, special orders, product transfers from other stores, large orders, special discounts, sales policies, etc.
  3. Take the identified tasks and group anything that logically could be trained together, and then begin mapping out individual courses that will live in the learning track. If you have multiple tasks that have a customer service component, you group those together to form a customer service course that covers the various aspects of each of those tasks.
  4. Next, prioritize the courses for development and release. It’s obviously impossible to develop everything at once, and as mentioned earlier, you’ll want to release as individual courses are complete. I generally prioritize based on bottom-line impact to the organization, but there can be instances where something else takes precedence due to it’s long-term impact. Make those decisions and create your final priority list.
  5. Get feedback from stakeholders before you move any further. Stakeholders can be the employee in the new job, employees who recently held that job, supervisors, and executives. This is the stage where mistakes are caught and further refinement takes place, and is critical to the overall accuracy, and more importantly, buy-in for the learning track.
  6. After incorporating the relevant feedback from stakeholders, begin producing the individual courses. Build the learning track out over time as courses are produced. Ideally, publish the schedule of courses so learners in the track know when to expect new content. Courses should also give learners the opportunity to test out. If a learner genuinely has knowledge in a given area, it’s a waste of their time and company funds for them to sit through unneeded training. Also remember that courses can take many different forms: live, elearning, self-study, video-based, webcasts, etc. They can even be combinations of many forms (blended learning.) Find the most effective way for each – don’t worry about the form matching among all courses in the track.
  7. Finally, as the track develops, remember to check back on early courses to make sure they are still current and don’t need further tweaking. A good learning track is a living entity that will change and grow over time. It should never be stagnant.

If Sam’s company has an established learning track for her to follow, she’ll receive ongoing support and training all throughout her time growing into the new position. Not only will this support her in the new job, it gives the company continuous feedback on her success or failure.

I realize the process can sounds a bit overwhelming if you’ve never done it, but it’s much easier after your first time. If you are new to the process, find an easy position to start with and just take one step at a time. What can you start on this week?


This entry was posted in Analysis, Development, Management, Training. Bookmark the permalink.

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