Top tips to engage learners and stakeholders in designing learning

Jack Stuart shares his advice on analysing challenges and stakeholders’ needs to get the dream buy-in that you want


Tip number 1: Analyse the problem

It can be really tempting to come up with a solution to a potential problem that you think exists – but this may simply be your perception. You need to start by analysing the problem.

What are the challenges that people are facing across the organisation? How is this potentially impacting their ability to achieve their objectives, and ultimately the organisation’s ambitions?

Learning and development (L&D) is making a shift towards evidence-based decisions and outcomes. Whilst evaluation has always been a challenge for L&D practitioners, there is a growing need for us to factor evidence into our decisions, helping us to demonstrate the value that we add to the organisation.

Tip number 2: What’s your vision?

Consider what your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is! What change are you looking to make and what will it look like? How will it solve the problems explored in tip #1?

This relates to the most important factor to consider which is: Why? Simon Sinek is famous for his book and work Start With Why for good reason. Whilst you may be interested in what the change is, and how it will look, your target audience may not. They may be asking themselves one or two different questions instead: ‘Why should I care about this?’ and ‘What’s in it for me?’

Tip Number 3: Identify your key players

You don’t just need the buy-in of key influencers, such as your head of learning and development or your board of directors, to make this happen. You also need the support of the people most impacted by your solutions…the learners. Themselves.

The impact on learners is perhaps your most important measure of success. But all too often L&D practitioners sit in a metaphorical darkroom and design solutions in isolation from the organisation. It’s more important than ever to involve participants in all aspects of the design cycle. From analysis, through to design, development, implementation and of course evaluation.

Mendelow’s Matrix (power/influence vs interest), for example, is a classic and enabling tool which allows you to group your stakeholders according to whether they should be ‘managed closely’, ‘monitored’, ‘kept satisfied’ or ‘informed’.

Tip Number 4: Create a plan

Once you’ve identified your stakeholders, the next step is to identify ways in which you can engage with them. Consider the findings of your stakeholder analysis and what this means in terms of the best channel to use to interact with them. How will you engage with those who don’t use mainstream channels?

Friedman and Miles created the iconic ladder of stakeholder management and engagement, which sets out an entire spectrum of the level of engagement you can utilise with your stakeholders. This goes from non-participative and autocratic engagement – which sits along the lines of one way information streaming and therapy – right the way up to active engagement via multi-way dialogue, collaboration and partnerships. 

Giving your learners greater say over how learning is designed, delivered and implemented via joint decision making is a sure-fire way to ensure high levels of buy-in and support for your learning intervention.

Learner-centric learning is key in this modern age. Clive Shepherd’s PIAF structure (preparation, input, application, follow up) is a useful model to ensure that you involve learners before, during and after any learning event. But it also presents opportunities to consider how that learning is best delivered, applied and therefore embedded.

Tip Number 5: Use a working group as a sounding board

We created an L&D working group within our organisation. A group of highly passionate and engaged individuals whom hold the concept of development as a core part of their identity. Working groups are more than forums, they act as sounding boards to test out new ideas and theories, as well as collaborative work spaces to co-create, co-design and invite constructive challenges to our methods and ideologies.

Tip Number 6: Get programme/project management support

If you’re lucky enough to have the resources of a project manager or a programme management team within the organisation, then use them. Project managers are unusually skilled in asking coaching questions which are designed to challenge your thinking and your creativity. Whilst many of us dread the almighty Gantt chart, most of us do thrive in an environment where there is a clear structure, a clear list of critical tasks and an end goal for us to work towards.

Tip Number 7: Keep on engaging and evaluating

Once you’ve implemented, it can be easy to slide into business as usual – or what lovers of change might describe as ‘boring and unexciting’. However, feedback is a gift and it’s important to keep working to continuously improve your offering and ensure it’s meeting the needs of your people.

Utilise your communications channels such as Yammer or Slack to keep asking questions. Ask people what’s working for them and what isn’t. What are their pain points? How can we build on what we’ve already developed?

Robert Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method of evaluation is always a useful tool to identify the most extreme cases of performance i.e. the learners who benefitted from real enhanced behaviour change and self-awareness, vs the learners who were totally disengaged and not interested in your learning. 

About Jack Stuart

Jack Stuart is a dedicated learning and development specialist and Associate CIPD member. He has a varied background in operations and people practice before specialising in learning and organisational development. He has worked both in the public and private sector.

Jack leads the L&D agenda within the Gambling Commission and is proud to be working with the organisation to deliver the latest emerging trends in L&D practice, to help improve the capabilities of the people within the Commission.

Continued professional development is at the core of what he does having completed several CIPD qualifications in people practice and organisational learning and development. His most recent accomplishment was a distinction in a Level 5 Learning & Development Business Partner/Consultant Apprenticeship Standard.

Jack continues to give back to fellow people practitioners through his work with Avado as a marker and assessor for the Associate level qualifications.

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