A learning pathway is the way an individual navigates their knowledge and skill development, growth and life experience through formal and informal education and training across their personal and professional lives.
Learning can be a positive and rewarding experience, yet it is not always so in the workplace. Organisational learning is a contributing factor in the achievement of organisational goals and objectives, the retention of key staff, staff engagement, morale and discretionary effort. It is often undervalued due the difficulties in evaluating development related return on investment but can be a defining catalyst for business success.
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In a work context it is important to develop learning pathways that not only meet organisational objectives but allow for alignment with personal objectives.
Build a learning pathway framework
The development of learning pathways requires the balancing of several elements. A pathway is at is simplest the method of progressing from the current situation to that described by the learning outcome. Is the answer to the question of how an organisation will get its people from now to the desired future and requires the design of complementary learning initiatives that will sequentially step participants toward the learning outcomes.
The most effective learning pathways cover five stages:
- Identify the goals, outcomes or objectives for work based learning
- Identify job tasks and activities to be included in the learning process outlining the steps that need to be learned
- Logically sequence job tasks and activities to reflect learner incremental development
- Involve experienced co-workers and experts to perform, model or demonstrate tasks to the learner
- Integrate opportunities for learner practice
Considerations throughout this process include the implications of learning at work, the selection and integration of offsite learning and the need to obtain the endorsement of relevant stakeholders.
Consider business implications of learning at work
Some industries are highly prescriptive about the content and quantity of training and development that must be undertaken by individuals to gain and maintain the authorisation to practice. In particular building trades and white-collar professions such as accountancy, medicine and law clearly define and monitor the training and development required to practice and continue practicing year on year.
Peak industry bodies may stipulate the quantity of professional development days, the specific content and the provider.
This can potentially impact learning at work initiatives by affecting learner availability and in some way defining learning content making it an important consideration when designing and developing learning programs.
Integrate external learning activities into framework
External learning is that which takes place outside of the workplace environment. The organisation itself may host and deliver programs offsite, they may secure the services of external training providers or may send their staff to attend industry or government facilitated programs in purpose built environments.
There are several potential challenges arising from businesses not having full control over the training and development programs their staff attend yet with adequate planning they can generally be taken into consideration resulting in minimal negative impact.
Potential issues to be accommodated include:
- The timing and frequency of programs offered by external providers
- The location of external programs requiring travel and accommodation arrangements for staff
- Alignment of skills, knowledge and learning content of external programs with internal learning objectives
- Ensuring learning is conducted sequentially
- Recognition of prior learning considerations
Learning programs may be delegated for delivery by external providers due to an internal lack of expertise, resources or time to conduct the training. It is also commonly considered that external training when conducted in open mixed classes can allow for industry networking and sharing of best practice although some organisations may wish to secure the services of external providers to deliver programs onsite exclusively to their teams.
External programs frequently scheduled by retailers as part of a larger organisational learning framework include:
- Product training
- Computer software training
- Skills training i.e. sales, service, dealing with difficult customers
- Management and leadership
- OHS & emergency training
Where external skills and knowledge are integral or essential to the learning pathway organisation representatives
responsible for the rollout must ensure open lines of communication with the external providers and establish viable avenues of timely feedback to allow for internal follow up and integration with other elements of the learning framework.
Acquire endorsement for learning pathway
When designing training and development pathways there are three stakeholders that must be part of the conversation.
Each is involved in a different way and if involved their endorsement is essential to the progress and success of a learning initiative:
- Learners are often provided with a training contract or a learning agreement, a clearly worded document agreed to by all stakeholders that directs and supports the activities of training facilitator and learner.
- Internal stakeholders impacted the learning objective:
- Often store managers are the last to be consulted about learning initiatives designed to support their staff in adequately performing their roles. Whilst they generally support training and development in principle they can be severely impacted by poorly scheduled staff training that leaves them short staffed or otherwise impacts operations at store level. It is essential then to keep the managers and leaders of learners abreast of training actions and consult with them on desirable training content and scheduling
- Governments funding training
- Learners undertaking government funded traineeships or apprenticeships do so via learning contracts with the government in question and the training provider. Both the Commonwealth and state governments in Australia offer training initiatives as part of larger employment programs. In retail the most commonly accessed are certificate and diploma studies in retail operations and management, which are generally administered by TAFE or private registered training organisations.
- Government funded traineeships place specific demands upon the learning content, learning environment and learner eligibility
- Employers, learners and training providers must undertake to adhere to the endorsed training plan in order to receive the assigned funding and eventual qualification
Prior to the implementation of a work based learning pathway all relevant stakeholders need to agree on the terms of the training process, desired outcomes and their role in it. Organisations may need to provide access to a training venue, resources and schedule learner attendance with workplace supervisors. Internal training staff will need to liaise with external training providers and the learner to design best-fit approaches to delivery and assessment.
Most importantly agreement to the terms of learning agreements must be adequately documented and copies provided to all stakeholders to ensure awareness and support.
Share objectives of work-based learning with learners
A key element of implementing work based learning initiatives is to share the objectives with the learners themselves.
Work based learning is often designed purely with the needs of the organisation in mind. Learning objectives are created to best prepare staff to fulfil organisational objectives and the learning pathway is often designed with workplace integration as a priority. It is important to remember the learner in the process.
Involving the learner in work based learning discussions early allows them to contribute ideas and build a commitment to their development. The buy-in of all stakeholders is important to the success of work based learning. Sharing learning objectives with learners allows them to inspire the commitment of colleagues and managers for learning initiatives that may benefit all of them. Integrating learning into work schedules and practices can be challenging, given the ongoing training and development increasing numbers of retailers are prioritising for their store teams so inspiring a tide of goodwill for learning can be very beneficial.
When sharing learning objectives with learners include an explanation of a learning pathway as the road travelled to reach learning goals.
About ARA Retail Institute
ARA Retail Institute is Australia’s leading retail training provider for both accredited and non-accredited learning programs. For more information, please visit: www.retailinstitute.org.au