One of the most effective ways to engage training participants and ensure retention is through the creation of structured learning paths. Using a structured approach gives participants an idea of what their learning will look like over a particular unit or time period, and also allows their learning to build naturally from one subject to the next.

There are several ways to create structured learning, but first and foremost remember that any learning path must be accurately recorded and communicated to participants.One of the first ways to create structured learning is to space classroom training alternately with “real-life” or on the job interventions.

For example, bank account representatives can attend classroom training on opening basic accounts, such as checking and savings accounts. After the classroom portions, participants can be allowed to go back to their offices to observe and open basic accounts – but no more. This type of controlled OTJ training can enhance the classroom experience and prepare participants for the next series of more advanced courses. Obviously this sequence can take place over a period of days or even hours, depending on the size of the class and the organization.

Another structured learning technique is to create self-taught learning experiences with strict emphasis on the sequence. For example, customer service associates may be required to read a book on customer service and answer a questionnaire afterwards. In this type of structure, it should be clear that participants should read the book after a certain group of tasks and before another group of tasks. It should be noted that taking the activities out of sequence could have an adverse effect on the student’s progress. With this type of intervention, students are given the opportunity to learn on their own, formulate their own ideas, and then progress to more advanced study. One of the benefits of this type of intervention is that students at certain levels will all have the same knowledge before progressing further.

When combining various types of interventions in a structured path, don’t forget the benefits of including online training with classroom and OTJ. Just as reading a book can provide a base of knowledge, so can an online course. For example, flight attendant trainees may be required to take online training that explains the elements of a first-class beverage cart before they go into the simulator to work with it. This way, a base of knowledge is created before students are given the application. Alternatively, highly regulated companies such as banks or investment houses use online interventions for compliance rules – and then put students through a simulation in training where they are required to draw on the compliance knowledge.

Structured learning can also involve a mentor program. Let’s suppose you’ve created new hire training for manufacturing associates. The students have been involved in alternating classroom and on-the-job interventions. When that segment of training is concluded, what happens to the new hires? Are they simply left on the doorstep of the manager or supervisor, or are they transitioned into their new roles via a mentor? The mentor program can be structured for both the mentor and the new associate. The mentor should be instructed on what tasks to show the new associate – and should not sign off on the new hire until they are convinced he or she can complete the tasks. Mentor programs serve as a transitional piece of a structured learning plan – and can be very effective in reducing the shock of returning to the job.

Finally, training design must be evaluated as any part of a structured learning path. If existing courses are being used to create the learning path, ensure that courses fit a natural sequence of knowledge, such as easiest concepts to hardest or time related steps in order. If training is not organized in a natural sequence, it must be placed in one before it is used as part of a structured learning path. In addition, make sure that the sequence of training, both classroom and online, is in a natural sequence with the other interventions. In other words, don’t just place an OTJ intervention in the sequence because you feel the students have been in the classroom for too long – each piece should have a logical sequence and reasoning behind being present in the learning path.

Using these techniques, you can build a structured learning path that allows knowledge to build – and gives students adequate preparation for the jobs or tasks they will be carrying out in the real environment.

Copyright  Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.