Goal-based learning

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Training is an essential part of the modern workplace, since it provides employees with the skills they need to succeed – but which is better, goal-based learning or comprehensive training?

Comprehensive training certainly has its merits, but in today’s fast-paced work environment, goal-based learning is often more suitable.


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Below, we’ll examine both approaches and discover why goal-based learning is better for both employees and organizations.

Goal-Based Learning vs. Broad Training in Business

Goal-based learning is an approach to learning that emphasizes the achievement of personal goals, rather than broad knowledge of a subject.

Training that is broad and comprehensive, however, helps learners gain a more generalized understanding of a topic.

Each approach has its advantages, disadvantages, and use cases, so we cannot proclaim that one is universally better than the other.

In business, however, goal-based learning is usually the most profitable approach.

There are several reasons why:

  • Goal-based learning provides the critical skills needed to achieve a specific goal, which tends to make goal-based learning more personalized and engaging
  • Training content that focuses on goals is more practical and less theoretical, which means that employees will be able to apply it and achieve real-world results more quickly
  • Learning that revolves around practical goals is less wasteful, since it only focuses on relevant job skills and workflows

Unlike goal-based learning, broad training programs emphasize generalized information rather than personalized goals, specific skills, and practical techniques.

In the workplace, this approach tends to be more wasteful, since employees only apply a fraction of what they have learned. And, since it is less relevant to an employee’s personal goals and job requirements, they are often less engaged.

This is not to say that broad training has no value, however.

Generalized training can help to:

  • Diversify employees’ knowledge and skill base
  • Provide more in-depth content than goal-based learning
  • Help employees better understand and collaborate with other departments

To illustrate this last point, consider an employee who has a broad education in data science. Unlike a worker who only has practical skills with a single analytics tool, the employee with a broad education will be better able to collaborate with data workers in a variety of contexts.

However, if training is too imbalanced in favor of generalization, then the employee may lack practical skills – and those practical skills directly correlate with performance.

How to Find the Right Training Mix in Today’s Digital Workplace

The digital workplace is fast-paced and ever-changing. Digital disruption and innovation drive constant digital transformation and adoption, which, in turn, fuel the need for continual employee learning.

From the organization’s perspective, as mentioned, goal-based learning offers the best ROI in terms of immediate employee productivity.

When developing employee training programs, here are a few points to consider:

  • Personalized micro-training delivers practical skills, while reducing cognitive load. In today’s evolving work world, employees must become perpetual learners. Yet traditional training methods are too generalized, too slow, and too inefficient. Instead of offering comprehensive training, organizations should focus on micro-training – that is, just-in-time training that focuses only on practical skills.
  • Cross-training ensures that employees have a broad skill base and helps them stay adaptable. The digital workplace is a complex ecosystem of tools, teams, and processes. In such an environment, proficiency with a single digital tool is hardly enough to keep workers productive. Employee training, therefore, should cover entire workflows, rather than individual software applications.
  • Self-service solutions keep employees independent and self-reliant, improving the employee experience. Human-led training, such as classroom training or technical support, is too inefficient for the modern workplace. While these training methods certainly have their benefits, they are unaffordable and they cannot be scaled effectively. Since the workplace is only becoming more digital by the day, it pays to invest in self-service training solutions, such as digital adoption platforms.
  • In-app training is more contextual and hands-on, which boosts engagement and performance. Experiential learning improves knowledge retention, since people can immediately apply what they have learned. In the digital workplace, experiential training approaches can reduce time-to-competency, while improving employee engagement, productivity, and performance.

Techniques such as these can be considered goal-based and personalized, which is ideal for skills training.

Over the long term, however, broad education can help prepare employees for managerial and leadership positions.

As mentioned above, for instance, the broader one’s knowledge base, the easier it is to relate to and communicate with workers from other business units. Those improvements, in turn, will be very advantageous for managers and leaders, who must be able to think strategically and collaborate with a wide range of personnel.

Final Thoughts

Broad training certainly has its place – a comprehensive, top-down approach to education can offer new perspectives, widen horizons, and deepen insights, while also improving workers’ ability to understand and relate to other personnel.

However, when it comes to job performance, goal-based learning is more effective.

Training that covers practical skills keeps employees engaged, reduces waste, and, ultimately, improves workplace performance.

When evaluating these two training approaches, it pays to understand the employee’s needs, their context, and their career development plan, then tailor the training’s content to suit their specific situation.

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