L&D tips: how to create a learning strategy with maximum impact

Jul 07, 2022

Get Our Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest expert commentary, analysis, and news on enterprise learning and capability academies delivered straight to your inbox.

L&D has a huge role to play in helping organizations become more effective. Whether it's breaking down silos, improving collaboration, supporting the transition to remote or hybrid work, or ensuring a successful digital transformation, learning can be a powerful tool in making it all happen.

But how do you make sure you're creating a learning strategy that's truly impactful in supporting this important work?

L&D is at its best when it fosters collaboration

HR industry expert Josh Bersin has carried out research showing that high-performing organizations in the digital age operate as empowered networks, coordinated through culture, systems, and talent mobility. Whether it is through the removal of management layers, adoption of agile work processes, or digital tools to empower people to work in teams, a culture of collaboration is driving modern companies forward. Hybrid and remote work have added new challenges to creating the culture of collaboration, but they've also opened up new possibilities––if managers are empowered with the skills to lead effective remote and hybrid teams.

Historically, learning and development has focused on the individual; most digital learning, in particular, is not collaborative in nature. (In fact, much of it is quite lonely and isolating!) This has left L&D out of sync with the shifting demands of organizations, especially as organizations have grown to increasingly rely on digital learning technologies to scale across their global teams and overcome barriers to in-person learning presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, digital learning strategies must evolve to include a mix of top-down training methods, personalized learning, and, perhaps most importantly, collaborative learning with and from peers, the solution best poised to teach the teamwork-heavy skills needed to succeed at work today. The reality, however, is that most companies are doing one or two of these well, but not all three. Here are some initial actions L&D can take to get back on track.

How to design a collaborative learning strategy: three key steps

If you are tasked with creating a more inspiring and open learning culture, or driving stronger collaboration across your company, here are three key steps to design an effective collaborative learning strategy that will do just that.

1. Transition from an individual mindset to a team mindset.

It's time we change the conversation in learning to developing teams, not just people. Adopting a team-centric model across the organization requires a mindset shift all the way up from leaders down to learners at all levels. For L&D professionals, it will require new ways of structuring learning environments and new tools to empower and facilitate organic collaboration. It also might mean getting creative about how you're measuring learning: can you substitute team metrics for individual metrics? What might that look like? (More on metrics later.) Leading this transitions is not a quick or easy task, but if executed successfully, you can drive true cultural transformation and more productive, efficient, and innovative teams of people.

2. Be thoughtful and deliberate in the design of your collaborative learning strategy.

Technological advances make collaborative learning across global workforces more achievable. But not all collaborative learning solutions are created equal. There are many learning solutions in the market that confuse simple social functionality, such as likes, recommendations, and playlists, with actual, meaningful interactions between learners. A strong collaborative learning strategy is a thoughtfully designed ecosystem that leverages digital learning tools to provide an environment where people can interact, communicate, and learn from one another. It should be focused on developing high-performing teams, not just people.

Nomadic's semi-synchronous cohort-based learning academies are one example of what this looks like in action. Our HR capability academy, the Josh Bersin Academy, is one of the most successful academies we've built, with 30,000 members globally, and you can read more about what we've learned over our years of designing collaborative learning experiences on our post about three basics of great cohort design. (We can get pretty nerdy about learning design––but it's mostly because we've seen how powerful collaborative learning can be when it's done well!)

3. Look beyond standard metrics to show the impact.

As new digital learning approaches emerge, so do new ways of measuring learning. Just like in other spheres, a move to digital means data. Lots of data. And with even more data, we’re under more pressure to prove the impact of the dollars spent on learning initiatives. The question of ROI in learning is immensely complex and can change substantially depending on the strategic goal. But one simple thing is true of all learning: it’s about change.

If the learning experience hasn’t changed the way someone thinks, acts, and sees the world, it didn’t work. For collaborative learning, the intended change is usually less about particular skill development or small behavior change, and more about shifts in mindset and ways of approaching work.

Toward a more strategic L&D function

A McKinsey report noted that the L&D function is at a point of inflection:

"Every business leader would agree that L&D must align with a company’s overall priorities. Yet research has found that many L&D functions fall short on this dimension. Only 40 percent of companies say that their learning strategy is aligned with business goals. For 60 percent, then, learning has no explicit connection to the company’s strategic objectives. L&D functions may be out of sync with the business because of outdated approaches or because budgets have been based on priorities from previous years rather than today’s imperatives, such as a digital transformation."

The report also noted some ways organizations are making the L&D functions more strategic, including co-ownership of the function between business units and HR and more rigorous assessment of capabaility gaps. Another key shift is in organizations' thinking about the way results will be measured. Learning time, completion rates, and learner engagement are important, but there's an important question that many organizations are now asking: how do they translation to business impact?

Rethinking L&D strategy calls for rethinking the metrics used to measure success. To do this, learning leaders must look past learning outcomes and toward business outcomes. Completion rates offer some information. But impact on innovation, creativity, employee engagement, and the bottom line offer much more.

In one example, rather than hyper-focusing on quantitative data like completion rates, some of our clients at Nomadic focus their measures of success on qualitative data, like the number of innovative ideas that emerge from discussions within learner cohorts. Others continue to use quantitative measures, but focus primarily on the relationship betwen different measures: for example, analyzing the relationship between learner engagement, employee engagement, and an increase in the bottom line.

To identify the most important metrics at your organization, begin by asking questions like:

Key metrics will vary depending on the business strategy and desired results. But no matter what shape they take, learning metrics based on real business outcomes are invaluable for helping both learners and organizational leaders understand why learning matters.

L&D and business transformation: a huge opportunity

Ultimately, it's both a challenging and an exciting time for anyone working in the L&D space. Nomadic CEO and co-founder Matt Burr gave an interview on L&D and business transformation where he spoke about the major shift happening as, at many organizations, learning moves from playing a role primarily about compliance and basic skills-building toward something much more complex and mission critical: powering collaboration, deepening creativity, and enabling crucial transformations.

This moves learning toward the strategic center of the organization, whether that learning is sitting within HR, a separate L&D function, or within various business units. It also puts a lot of pressure on these learning leaders, whoever they may be. As Matt says:

"Now, you're moving into the culture sphere, into the media sphere, into the sphere of really understanding your audience. It can be very scary, because one thing that's nice about being in the background with the learning management system is it's relatively low-pressure: the CEO is not calling to check to see if everybody's taking their compliance courses, right? But when learning is driving every part of the transformation, you are going to get a call from leadership. And they are going to ask, is it working? Do you see real, meaningful change in our organization that's coming out of this experience?"

This is one reason that developing and using the right metrics for your learning strategy is so important. But the overall strategy will only be effective if you've also been using a consultative approach to creating your learning strategy, building learner and business needs into all your work from day one.

Training Industry outlines the internal consulting skills that will help L&D leaders get internal stakeholders on board with their efforts. Building these skills is crucial, and the most important takeaway is that communication should always be flowing in both directions. Listening to stakeholders' and learners' goals, needs, and concerns will help you understand the way your learning strategy can and should support them in their day-to-day work. Communicating the goals of your strategy, and how they intersect with the goals of the larger business, will tell the story of why learners and stakeholders should care.

Creating an impactful learning strategy: a final note

It's an uncertain and complex time for many businesses, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the organizations that will thrive are those that can adapt quickly and those whose teams can collaborate effectively and efficiently, bringing out the best in each individual. Learning is at the core of what helps organizations become adaptable and what helps teams work together well. Create a learning strategy that focuses on these core missions, and you'll find that stakeholder buy-in, learner engagement, and business impact will follow.


For more tips on creating a learning strategy that will drive business results and foster meaningful engagement, download your free copy of The New Learner Engagement Toolkit. It features seven key strategies and four tactical tips you can apply right away, alongside great insights from learning solutions experts. It also includes a checklist to help you put these learning strategy ideas into practice at your organization right away.

To learn more about Nomadic, you can also get in touch to discover how our cohort-based learning has driven real impact across industries and organizations.

Sign up to get the latest expert commentary, analysis, and news in learning and leadership delivered straight to your inbox.

Learner engagement tips for digital L&D

Check out these three tips for solving one of the stickiest problems in digital L&D: how to foster great learner engagement.

Why cohorts keep learners engaged

Dive into three ways cohort-based learning is effective for driving learner engagement, including how it can help your organization leverage the best digital learning has to offer...without the Zoom fatigue.

Semi-synchronous collaborative learning: a definition

Read about semi-synchronous collaborative learning, a digital learning model that offers the flexibility of asynchronous learning alongside the motivation, great learner engagement, and community spark most often associated with synchronous learning solutions.