What Are Learning Paths: Maximizing Their Potential as Tools for Workplace Development

Learning Paths Page on Vuolearning Online Learning Platform

Learning paths are combinations of various learning and application-facilitating activities. They form a coherent, larger entity, typically to be studied over a longer period than the study of online courses or other individual training typically occurs.

The concept of learning paths combines micro-learning, i.e., tiny learning contents, and more traditional online courses as well as other training and activities over a longer period into one larger learning entity. From the learner's perspective, the subject to be learned appears consistent, integrates into the learner's daily life, and fits smoothly into individual study schedules.

The biggest difference between traditional training and course thinking is that learning paths often include practical activities, task lists, and, for example, meetings.

In the concept of learning paths, the focus is on the learner: how a larger subject to be learned can be divided into smaller parts – both theory and practical exercises and work tasks – so that the integrity of the whole is maintained, learning outcomes are impactful, and the cognitive load on the learner is lightened.

Additionally, the ultimate goal of learning paths, such as the induction of a new employee into the organization, their role, and work tasks, can be divided into smaller sub-goals, which the supervisor and the learner can monitor.

Where Learning Paths Can Be Utilized

Learning paths can and definitely should be utilized in many areas, such as induction paths, role- or skill-specific development projects, or guidance in supervisory work. However, learning paths are also exceptionally suitable for teaching and keeping in mind themes that are traditionally studied once during employment or once a year. Such themes include, for example, a Code of Conduct, safety training, and applying psychological safety in the workplace.

Using learning paths makes it possible to combine several smaller units into practical exercises related to the topic, inquiries about the effectiveness of tools through surveys, and engaging team tasks.

How to Utilize Learning Paths

As with all training or change project planning, it is advisable to start designing learning paths by defining the need or goal.

"What is supposed to change/develop/improve? What is this aiming for?"

Additionally, it is beneficial, if possible, to take a moment to reflect or even map out the current knowledge or situation of the learner target group in the subject being developed. This way, it is easier to monitor the impact of the learning path and its different sections.

From a higher-level need, we can define learning objectives and consider those skills important to the organization that is supposed to accumulate to the learner during the study of the learning path.

In contrast to designing broader online or other learning entities, where it is good to start by thinking about the entire course's goal, and learning objectives, and thus forming sub-themes of the courses or training, in the case of a learning path, we can approach the matter, for example, through:

  • A timeline, which allows scheduling learning activities appropriately so that the learner's skills accumulate in such a way that they can use their skills according to the schedules of their work tasks. For example, a person whose tasks include arranging the general meeting of a public limited company. Here the goal is clear: learn to organize the general meeting successfully. Moreover, the goal is very clearly tied to a specific time.
  • Certain milestones, where, for example, development in a sales role can be supported and guided through successes, learnings, and trials of new skills. For example: the first own lists, how to talk to a customer, the first calls, how to act in demo meetings, the first meetings, how to keep the customer interested in the product or service, how to close the sale, and how to maintain the customer relationship.
  • Skills-first, where learning paths can be built based on, for example, the organization's competency model and supplementary training so that there are enough people in the organization who meet the requirements of a certain competence profile. An example could be generative AI and its use in business. In a skills-first approach, different levels of competencies can be well defined, so that for some of the staff, writing prompts for ChatGPT is sufficient, while others need to know about large language models and other more under-the-hood aspects of AI.
  • From the perspective of learning work tasks, where a person starting in a new position or taking on new work tasks can be supported step by step in their work so that learning and development occur at a suitable pace and new skills are immediately put into practical use in the job. An obvious application for learning paths built from the perspective of learning work tasks is naturally induction.
An Example of a Learning Path on Vuolearning Online Learning Platform

Case Induction: Learning Path for Onboarding

Since induction is such an essential part of the employee experience, a new employee's job satisfaction, and future performance in their role, let's discuss it in more detail. How should the learning path for the newcomer be formed?

Here too, it is advisable to start with defining the need. The goal could be a knowledgeable and satisfied new employee who is committed to both the organization and the work community. Next, we can consider how to achieve these goals – what constitutes "knowledge", "satisfaction", and "commitment to the organization and work community". This can vary from one organization to another and naturally also from one role and job description to another. However, universally applicable aspects include, for example:

  • Familiarizing with the work tasks bit by bit
  • Continuous support from the supervisor
  • Getting to know team members and psychological safety
  • More broadly getting to know other staff
  • Understanding the organization's policies and guidelines
  • Learning about various technologies in use
  • Getting to know the work environment

The newcomer's path can in practice be built from various short or longer information-containing online courses, face-to-face or remote meetings, task lists, conversation notes, and achievements.

Both the newcomer's path and other learning paths should regularly add elements that measure learning and the learner's experience – this way, information can be obtained about both the impact of the path and the experience it provides to the learner. The learner's feedback is always valuable and should be utilized in the further development of learning paths.

Furthermore, in both the onboarding path and all other learning paths, it is crucial to provide learners with a vision of what lies ahead, what has already been accomplished, how progress is being made, and the impact of their learning and development on various aspects.

Where to Begin with Learning Paths

Often, the first entity in which learning path thinking is adopted in an organization is induction. Just as well, the first training to be transferred to the new way of thinking could be a coaching whole aimed at supervisors or perhaps a course series on artificial intelligence.

Where possible, it is advisable to ask for ideas or planning help from someone belonging to the learner target group – when talking about inductions, for example, from a relatively new employee who has been in their role for some time. They can provide valuable information and feedback on how their induction experience could have been improved.

The key to starting to utilize learning paths – as with all other online learning – is to start from a specific defined entity, thereafter test it, develop it further, and then expand the usage to other areas. Starting is often the biggest step, but it should be made as short as possible. One learns by doing, and in online learning, as in everything else, there are always areas for improvement and enhancement.

Learn more:

Fast start with distance learning — 5 steps to go online with your course
5 tips for building a successful onboarding for new employees
Helkama: Verifiability and unity in the onboarding process with Vuolearning’s learning platform

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