Discover more from The Learning Science Newsletter, Powered by DOMS™️
Workplace L&D is Broken
Are online cohort-based courses the way to fix it?
Workplace L&D is broken. $95 billion dollars was spent on corporate training in the US in 2017, but:
90% of business leaders lack a leadership pipeline;
75% of employees feel disengaged & unsupported, leading to unprecedented levels of resignation.
So, what’s the problem and - more importantly - what might the solution look like?
A number of research projects (references are below) have found that networking, bonding & developing meaningful, collegial relationships is critical to professional development.
TL;DR - without the time and space to build meaningful relationships with peers and instructors (aka a sense of “cohort-ness”), learning initiatives will fail. To learn meaningfully, we need community and connection and the support, accountability and motivation that comes from it.
L&D training typically brings individuals or teams together in face-to-face settings to network and build their skills in short learning bursts. Think: long PowerPoint presentations followed by drinks receptions, delivered over a couple of days.
Delivering cohort-ness through these one off “learning events” is really hard, which might explain why a staggering 96% of workplace training experiences are reported to lead to no measurable impact on employee knowledge, skills or behaviour.
Meanwhile, McKinsey reports that two of the “workplace benefits” most commonly sought by employees are:
Skills growth for professional progression (mastery)
A supportive manager, team & broader community (motivation)
Cue the “the great resignation”.
So, what might the answer look like?
The pandemic forced more L&D training programs than ever to be delivered online, bringing up some interesting learning about the design & delivery of workplace L&D.
Data indicates that virtual L&D programs which intentionally foster a sense of cohort-ness as well as hands-on skills development (support + skills), leads to increased participant motivation & mastery, compared with in the flesh L&D training.
Cohort-based learning is an approach where groups of learners move through a course or series of courses together. Today, cohort-based learning models are typically online & highly collaborative.
A great example is the AltMBA: a fully online, team-based learning experience during which groups work together to ship a number of real-world, hands-on projects.
The AltMBA is pedagogically different from traditional L&D approaches by design:
Instead of teaching participants about business management, it intentionally requires learners to “learn by doing”, thus delivering real, applicable skills and driving learner motivation.
Instead of a one-off “learning event”, the AltMBA is a one-month intensive, with learners shipping a project with their team each week (flexibly, around other commitments).
Instead of a “sage on the stage” pedagogical model, the instructor is positioned as coach and emphasis placed on the importance of collaboration and co-creation to tackle challenging problems, thus delivering support & building networks and communities which stay connect way beyond the end of the course.
A Case Study: Mise Mode™️
What? Mise Mode™️ is a radical, cohort-based online programme for the food industry workforce.
Why? There is a crisis in L&D in the food industry. 85% of people who take on a role in hospitality resign due to a lack of professional progression (skills growth and support).
Before: The food world is trained via expensive, one-off and rare L&D events. Think: PowerPoint presentations, group discussions, drinks & then back to day to day operations. Participants get a short term rest from the chaos, but their need for meaningful skills development underpinned by a supportive community is not met.
The New Way: A cohort-based, online training experience:
Learners to “learn by doing”, thus driving motivation & delivering real, applicable “use it tomorrow” skills.
3+ week intensives (delivered flexibly, around other commitments). During the intensives, learners ship a series of projects with a team each week , building relationships and developing skills like communication and leadership by having to communicate and lead effectively (i.e. learning by doing).
Instructors are industry experts who teach & coach from deep & shared experience, not text books.
Instructors are also intentionally positioned as coach on the side, not sage on the stage; their role is to support learners in the process of active and collective problem solving & creation, not just to deliver content and take questions.
By connecting what we know about how humans learn with how we design & deliver L&D training, we’re likely to see more and more innovative workplace programs emerge which not only give learners what they want but give industries what they need to survive and thrive.
How might shifting to a cohort-based approach to workplace L&D impact your work?
Happy Designing 👋
PS: if you like this post, you can subscribe to my free weekly newsletter here.
If you want to deep dive the science of learning & optimise how you design your learning experiences, you can sign up to the Learning Science Digest: a monthly summary of learning science research, translated into easy to apply course design practices.
If you want to design or redesign an online or hybrid course with me and a group of people like me, you can apply for a place on my Learning Science Bootcamp: a three week, cohort-based design sprint, powered by DOMS™️ / the science of learning.
Fernandez, C., Garman, L., Noble, C., Donnald, S., Singer, G., & Corbie, G., Catalyzing “Cohortness” in Leadership Programs Pivoting to a Virtual Environment, American Journal of Distance Education
McKinsey, Bridging the advancement gap: What frontline employees want—and what employers think they want (July, 2022)