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Learning For Everyone, Everywhere – The Four W’s of Inquiry to Build an Inclusive Learning Program

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The Four W’s of Inquiry — Who, What, Where, and Why — will show you how to build a thoughtful, inclusive, and user-centered learning program.

One of the biggest hurdles in education is expecting learners of diverse backgrounds to fit neatly into a one-size-fits-all model; you risk losing learners along the way because of unaddressed learning gaps and social-emotional disengagement. Businesses need to rethink the way training is built by centering the learners. Structuring the program around the Who, What, Where, and Why of training can result in highly employee engagement that’s aligned with the company culture.

Let’s explore how to identify learner needs in each of the four W’s of Inquiry, then internalize the information to build an inclusive, engaging training platform.

Who are your learners? 

As you design your training guide, you should think about who your learners are in order to understand their learning styles. The easiest way to segment your learners is by age and demographic, but these groupings don’t always accurately measure the varying levels of skills and professional development; not everyone in their 20’s is a tech wiz, and not all 40 year olds are seasoned industry professionals. The personas must consider habits, challenges, behavior patterns, and goals in the workplace. 

By creating at least three learner personas you can effectively address your workforce and create highly engaging and inclusive strands that encompass a wider variety of employees. It doesn’t mean you have to create three completely different program tracks; it could be a single curriculum with optional learning paths to help learners expand on skill sets that they’re interested in. This allows learners to personalize their learning experience with training that they’re excited about, increasing their engagement.

What do your learners need to succeed? 

You’ve already done the legwork in gathering the data to create your learner personas—so what does this data tell you they need? Ask yourself what needs to happen on a regular basis in order for them to work not only effectively, but dynamically. An integrated learning experience gives your users an element of control over their training—where and when they choose to interact with the program. Practice certainly makes perfect, so after they internalize these must-haves, your learners need to ease into practice from theory. Let them make mistakes in a safe space in order to grow their confidence and ability to navigate their new tools.  

Your program should be designed to cover the fundamentals of the job and on building strong workplace habits. Thinking through what they need and how they react throughout the course will provide a tangible focus for the design. There are all kinds of lively strands within these programs that encourage active practice, including gamification, social learning, and collaborative learning. Engage your trainees by embedding some of these interactive models into your learning system.

Where are your learners learning? 

There’s nothing quite as frustrating as watching a disengaged learner go through the motions of training. When executed correctly, the same training programs can help employees create a culture of togetherness during a time of physical isolation. Social gaps are learning gaps too, after all. For today’s remote workforce, virtual learning is key in fostering workplace culture. A flexible online platform incorporates self-study sessions, peer feedback, and coaching to scale culture and performance change. 

Collaboration, innovation, and active engagement increase when employees feel included. Incorporate group activities, breakout rooms on Zoom, and peer/mentor feedback sessions to foster this inclusiveness. Emotional engagement doesn’t necessarily mean creating an elaborate, entertaining song-and-dance number—it could simply be providing space for your new hires to interact with both peers and veterans in the company. Employees should feel  ambitious, productive, and a strong sense of belonging during these crucial first few weeks. 

Why do your learners need training?

Remember: carrots, not sticks. Your learners become motivated self-starters when they’re able to see the direct correlation between your training and their professional success. Trainers help identify and map personal training goals and learning objectives to answer each learner’s own unique “what’s-in-it-for-me” – whether it’s bigger commission checks, promotions or management recognition. Setting learning objectives as measurable benchmarks benefit both learners and trainers by giving them a common goal to work towards.

These benchmarks also provide your company with physical data correlating training to efficacy. This heightens investment in not only the product, but also the process of training. Tracking increased sales, promotions, and other metrics of success by aligning them with training goals shows your executive team that the process brings real, quantitative results. Your employees should meet not only external expectations, but also their own criteria for personal advancement. For example, if an engineer wanted to learn a new programming language, this could provide opportunities to participate in more complex projects or fasttrack her promotion. By tying learning objectives to their professional development goals, this engineer will become more invested and engaged in their learning experience.

Build an inclusive learning program.

A successful training program thinks about the user’s future place at the company and results in invested, intentional employees. Trainers need to be able to proactively scaffold training so that their learners reach the top equipped to not only execute their day-to-day tasks, but also to grow and handle potential challenges. Integrating inclusion into each step of the process lets designers place learners where they should be—at the center of the learning experience.