Modular Learning: 5 steps to a successful implementation – a case study
Modular Learning means basically the division of a larger course into segments or modules. Each module has its own learning objective. This division into smaller units leads to many possibilities and advantages for you as an organisation and your learning employees.
With this article I want to give you some guidance on how to establish Modular Learning in your organisation and benefit from it using a practical example.
The benefits for the organisation and advantages for the learners can be briefly summarised to:
- Modules may be combined freely and thus lead to individualised learning
- More learners get access to the learning segments (self-directed learning)
- Modules can be designed for the same topic at various levels (e.g. no previous knowledge, with previous experience, expert level)
- Smaller units are easier to keep up-to-date.
- Smaller units are easier to (partially) transfer to another training format
- Your learners will be more satisfied and productive
Let’s explore this using a practical example: Imagine you run a flourishing pizzeria. Now you are in a position to hire new employees. Before they may be deployed on their positions they require some initial training. Onboarding has lots of qualities that allow to demonstrate the advantages of the Modular Learning approach particularly well. After all, the previous knowledge of people who are new to an organisation is often very different. On the one hand, this applies to training and experience in the assigned area, but also to general professional and life experience. On the other hand, there are some things that all new employees should know. Modular Learning allows you to tailor the onboarding programme to the individual needs of the participants and at the same time take advantage of the benefits of collaborative learning.
Step 1: Define your target audience and learning objectives
First of all, define personas for the employees starting in your organisation.
To illustrate this, we assume that you have to set up the onboarding programm for one position only: pizza baker.
Let’s assume you did define the following personas for this:
If you are recruiting for more complex job roles in your organisation, it is advisable to define personas not only for the experience levels, but also additional personas with different qualifications and characteristics like motivations, frustrations and skills.
Think about the skills, knowledge and competencies required from your pizza bakers.
- Skills could be things like making a pizza dough or preparing the workplace.
- Necessary knowledge might include hygiene rules, data protection laws or behaviour in case of illness.
- Required competencies for your team may include good stress management or team leadership.
In a second step you can derive learning objectives from the identified skills, knowledge and competencies. What must / should / could your employees know or be able to do after the onboarding.
You might identify different learning objectives for different hierarchical levels. For example, if you want Linda to take over the chef’s role, she will need additional competencies in the area of leadership and soft skills.
Step 2: Decide on the modules
How do I get from the learning objectives to the content for each module?
After defining the learning objectives you may determine the training need for each persona and the resulting learning content.
One learning objective for the prospective pizza bakers would be to be able to prepare the pizza dough following Nanna’s (grandmother’s) secret recipe.
Annika has no experience at all, Mario and Linda already prepared pizza dough for other restaurants. Thus, the individual gap is different for each persona.
Annika has the biggest gap: She would have to start with the ingredients, their properties and the basic preparation of a pizza dough. In the second step she would have to learn how to produce large quantities of Nonna’s pizza dough and in the third step how to keep the pizza dough fresh.
Mario and Linda are already familiar with the ingredients and general pizza dough preparation. They would therefore start with the second step, learning how to make Nonna’s special pizza dough.
After specifying the training needs in this way, the commonalities and differences are clearly visible.
From there you may collate your modules:
- Basics of pizza baking: product knowledge and dough preparation
Decide on the best way to convey your learning content
To increase the success of your onboarding programme it is important to choose the appropriate training format for each module. For large and complex modules a mix of different formats might be helpful. Of course, you may also provide alternative formats for the same content to allow self-directed learning. Each module should have a learning objective and consist of an introduction, a knowledge acquisition phase and an assessment at the end.
Let’s get back to our example once again:
Suitable formats for product knowledge may include: Classroom training, texts or a digital format such as an explanatory video or a web-based training.
For dough preparation or learning how to make Nonna’s special pizza dough, a practical application with a theoretical introduction may be the best option.
You will find more on this topic in our blog article: “Blended Learning: In 5 steps to a successful training concept“. There you could also find a short explanatory video that shows what needs to be considered when choosing a training format.
Step 3: Compile your Modular Learning approach
Now ask yourself which modules are needed for which persona to be optimally equipped to start as a pizza baker in your pizzeria. Ask yourself once again whether all the learning objectives that you marked in the preparation as “must” are covered by the modules.
Then put together the various modules for Annika, Mario and Linda to tailour their onboarding programme to their needs without taking other factors into account. Highlight those modules that will be needed by more than one persona.
This assignment and highlighting shows you which parts of the onboarding programme you can organise for all new employees and which parts need to be provided specifically for a particular job role or experience level.
Please consider: Employees with different levels of experience benefit from the exchange of joint life trainings (virtual or face-to-face) or social learning formats.
Tip: Use this overview again to evaluate the chosen formats. For Modules attended by all employees, digital formats might be a good alternative.
Streamline your programme
Furthermore, you should now consider factors that could influence the composition of your onboarding programmes:
- Logistics: Can the routes for the participants be optimised? Should online and face-to-face times be combined or divided?
- Flexibility: How flexible are the individual modules concerning time? Is it necessary to offer a different format to allow participants to complete the module in time?
- Self-directed learning: If possible, plan phases of self-directed learning. Like this learners will gain control over their personal onboarding. As a result motivation and retentiveness.
Tip: At this point you have a good overview of the synergy effects that your Modular Learning approach creates. You can see how many modules benefit from joint learning and the capacities you can possibly save. Compile this data to convince your management of your approach.
Step 4: Check the feasibility of your onboarding programmes
Before starting with the implementation, you need to check the feasibility of your approach in your organisation:
- Resources of the participants: Do the new employees have the time and the necessary equipment to participate in the Modular Learning Programme?
- Competencies for participation: Can they handle a learning platform, for example?
- Equipment: Do they have the necessary hardware and software? How can you get them?
- Resources for the programme: It is essential that you have a realistic calculation for this.
How can you get these resources?
Tip: Look for an executive sponsor for your project.
Required resources could be:
- Working hours of departments for planned on-the-job training,
- Budget for external services or expertise on specific topics?
- Learning culture: Does your organisation have a suitable learning culture, i.e. is it realistic to implement this modular learning approach with a fixed schedule and effort from all participants?
There are parts of your planned onboarding programme that are not feasible? Make the necessary adjustments! Sometimes the second best solution is better than none.
Tip: Accompany the implementation of your concept / programme with an internal marketing campaign. All stakeholders should be informed about the new onboarding process and at best be enthusiastic about it. They should know what is expected of them. A key role is played by the management of the new employees: They should support the onboarding programme and either be available as contact persons themselves or appoint one – for example a mentor.
Step 5: Evaluate your Modular Learning approach
After putting together your Modular Learning Programme, do not forget to evaluate it.
- What advantages does your new Modular Learning concept offer compared to the previous onboarding process?
- What kind of feedback do you get from your new employees?
- Do they benefit from learning together?
- Does the arrangement work?
On the one hand, this evaluation allows you to readjust if a part of your programme does not (yet) run smoothly or is unsuccessful. On the other hand, you have the opportunity to present your management with figures that will convince them that an investment in your programme was worthwhile.
Splitting the learning content into modules offers many advantages. Your new employees get exactly the onboarding they need to get off to a good start in your organisation. The modules offer you the optimal format mix for sustainable success. In addition, the modules offer greater networking opportunities. In various modules you get to know other newcomers whom you would not meet (virtually) in a classic specialised onboarding course.
Modules also offer possibilities after the onboarding. Learning paths for further development can be tailored to the employees’ needs. In performance management the training may be specifically targeted to the area the employee needs support.
How well Modular Learning can be integrated into your organisation depends, as in the articles on blended and social learning approaches already discussed, on the prevailing learning culture and infrastructure. And of course your concept must consist of the appropriate modules. Keep in mind that a good supervision of the learners may also be necessary during the training measure.
If you take all this into account, you will receive a flexible and custom-fit programme for your onboarding and further training. More importantly you gain satisfied and empowered employees.
Would you like further individual advice?
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Do you have questions or experiences with Modular Learning?
Please do share them with us in the comments. Thank you so much.