Expert Secrets: How to Build an Agile eLearning Experience


As the talent war heats up amid a historic, pandemic-driven labor shortage, building and delivering effective learning and development programs has only grown in importance. In fact, many believe it is one of the differentiating characteristics of organizations that will be able to recruit and retain talent. After all, job applicants now expect employers to provide continuous learning to help them succeed in their current role and well into the future. 

Recently, Ian McNaught, customer solutions architect at the education technology company Open LMS, shared eLearning instructional design secrets in a session at the HR Exchange Live: Corporate Learning EMEA online event. McNaught provided insight into how to recognize the maturity of your L&D plan and transition into more continuous education programs. Ultimately, the goal should be to make learning part of the flow of work.

To begin, McNaught, who was joined by Nia Humphreys, account executive at Open LMS, explained the misperception many have had about eLearning since the start of the pandemic. He wants people to understand that eLearning is much more than the emergency remote learning many made available in a pinch when the world was on lockdown. 

WATCH: Streamlining L&D Amidst Constant Change: Strategies for Optimizing Your eLearning Experiences

In addition, McNaught wants to help organizations devise agile education programs. 

“Agility is essential to create sustainability,” said McNaught. “To be sustainable, you need to be able to move with the times and to be able to change. Agility sometimes can also be a synonym for disorganized, unplanned, chaotic, just doing whatever pops in your head. With the right technology, I really believe it’s possible for agility and sustainability to work hand in hand.”

What Level of Learning Organization Maturity Are You?

In 2012, Human Resources expert Josh Bersin released a study that included his findings on high-impact learning organization research. The maturity models within that study help HR leaders identify at what stage in the process they are and determine how to improve. 

Level 1 Episodic/Programatic: This is the least mature category. Companies at this stage are deploying training in a reactive fashion. In other words, they offer something in response to a need but little or no planning or strategy is involved. 

Level 2 Responsive/Contextualized: A company in this category already has a learning and development team in place. Maybe the staff has already put together some sort of design. But mainly the purpose of learning is to tick off a few boxes. The majority of companies fell into this category in 2012, when the research was conducted. 

Level 3 Continuous/Empowering: At this stage, a company has decided to make talent development a core focus. “At level 3, there is recognition that company performance depends on individual performance,” said McNaught. 

Level 4 Anticipatory/Flow: This is the promiseland for learning and development. It is the highest level of maturity, and few organizations ever reach this stage. Employees and executives live the culture of continuous learning. They use formal and informal learning and develop tools that feed into their L&D strategy. Learning is part of the flow of work. 

What the study showed and McNaught pointed out is that high-impact learning organizations delivered profit growth three times greater than competitors over the previous four years. 

Shift to a Delivery-Centric Approach 

Companies that have embraced a content-centric approach invested in large, fancy, and expensive courseware. These programs are often difficult to use and unaffordable. They also seem outdated because you cannot really adapt to learner needs. 

In stark contrast, businesses that take a delivery-centric approach can quickly adapt and update their L&D offerings. There is a drip delivery that allows for continuous learning, and ways to create adaptive learning paths. Microlearning is also possible. 

Two Types of Instructional Design

Backwards design allows you to start at the end and work backward to create a program that works for your team or organization. The first step is to ask what learners need to know at the end. Then, you consider what is acceptable evidence that there was a knowledge transfer. Finally, you think about the type of instruction required to obtain knowledge. 

The other method, “Release Early, Release Often,” is aimed at those who need to get content to learners as quickly as possible. Essentially, you are never done improving the content. Some of the revisions are based upon feedback from learners, and it’s always a work in progress.  

What to Look for In a Platform

Creating a learning and development system that meets the needs of the organization and contributes to the culture of lifelong learning is not easy. But it will be more possible if you invest in the right kind of platform. Here’s a checklist of what you may need: 

  • Easy to use
  • No seat limits
  • Ability to move across many platforms
  • Supports external content
  • Variety of built-in tools for self-paced or instructor-led learning
  • Friendly and intuitive user experience for all roles
  • Multiple languages supported in one system

Investing in the right technology for your organization can sometimes be a challenge. “Digital tools cannot give you this culture, but they will help or hinder its development,” said McNaught. “The right tools are a catalyst to releasing learning organization maturity.” 

McNaught’s advice is to start small with your own team in Human Resources. This allows you to test the waters, make tweaks, and get leadership’s buy in before rolling it out to the entire company. Humphreys agreed. 

“eLearning is a huge can of all sorts of opportunities and options,” she said. “It can become very overwhelming very quickly.” 

Starting small can help you work your way up to a more mature learning and development plan. Recognize your level of maturity, set goals, and determine the kind of L&D strategy and technology that will best serve your organization. 

“A mature learning organization,” said McNaught, “is an agile one, where learning and talent development is embedded in the culture and strongly aligned to the organization’s mission.”  

Photo by George Milton for Pexels

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