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Home / Resources / 10 critical characteristics of effective learning.

10 critical characteristics of effective learning.


How can L&D teams create amazing elearning solutions to keep up with the ever present demand from employee and employer alike? We've put together a list of 10 critical characteristics of effective learning so that you can create fantastic learning that sticks.

How does great learning cut through the noise?

The modern learning landscape is complex and demanding. Organisations want to see real, tangible impact from their L&D teams, yet 67% of learning leaders do not believe their function is equipped to meet the future needs of business. And modern learners have high expectations too. They’re overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information at their disposal – one quick Google search can give them over a million results on almost any topic.

They’re looking to L&D to provide them with engaging and inspiring learning opportunities that help them achieve their professional goals. So, it’s no surprise, when faced with these two demanding stakeholders, that L&D often feel like they’re being pulled from pillar to post when it comes to creating truly effective learning experiences.

So, what makes a learning experience effective? In this article we’ll share with you the 10 critical characteristics of effective learning - and what your learning needs to wow your audience and create real business impact.

1. Aligns with your business strategy.

L&D have a historic reputation as order takers. Someone in the business requests the creation of a piece of learning and L&D does it – no questions asked. But it’s time that stopped. For truly effective learning experiences, your strategy, resources and content must work towards your organisation’s business goals. It is only by aligning your learning experiences with these organisational objectives that you’ll start to move the needle and impact the bottom line. 

2. Addresses organisational skills gaps.

Skills gaps are a hot topic in the learning space right now. With Industry 4.0 hurtling towards us, learning teams have a focus on skills rather than knowledge acquisition. One of the key ways to make your learning truly applicable to your audience is ensuring it works to fill skills gaps that you’ve observed. This will not only help you meet organisational objectives, but will also ensure that your content is hyper-relevant for demanding learners. 

3.  Considers the full learner experience.

Often when considering the characteristics of effective learning we think about one learning intervention. But this approach is likely causing a disjointed experience for your people. Instead, you should be considering the entire experience – from the very first interaction with your L&D team through to skills mastery. Looking at your learning in a holistic way will make sure your learners are always experiencing high quality, relevant and applicable content. 

4. Utilises a blended approach.

Blended learning is a must in 2023 and beyond. It allows learning designers to interweave your online experiences with instructor-led training, on-the-job resources, mentoring and much more. This approach allows flexibility and learning on-demand, allowing your learners to access resources in a way, and at a time that best suits them.

5. Uses a range of modalities.

When designing learning interventions make sure you’re using a range of learning modalities. For example, use video and animation within your online learning, or games and VR simulations to ensure your learners are actively participating in the learning experience. If all of your learning is in an identical format and encourages passive ‘click next’ interactions, your learners will very quickly get fatigued.

6. Is accessible for everyone.

Accessibility has two meanings when it comes to learning content. First, your content must meet the WCAG 2.2 standards – ensuring all users, regardless of disabilities, can access your content in the same way. This is a vital characteristic of effective learning and should not be overlooked.

However, there is a second application of the word ‘accessible’ and it relates to the ease of finding your learning materials. For your learning to be truly effective, your learners must be able to find the content in the first place. Remember, your competition is the likes of Google and YouTube, where searching could not be easier. So make sure your learners can find the resources they need easily, or they’ll quickly look elsewhere.

7. Allows application of skills acquired.

The most successful learning interventions ensure that learning can be applied in a timely manner. This could be done in real-life scenarios, such as applying learning on-the-job, or it could be implemented through simulation based learning – allowing your audience to apply their skills in a digital space without the fear or risk of failure. Whichever approach you choose, ensure your people have the opportunity to test new knowledge or skills in a timely manner.

8. Utilises interaction.

Another characteristic of effective learning is interaction that ensures your learners are actively involved in the experience. Interaction can come in a range of guises, from drag-and-drop in an elearning course, all the way through to discussions with colleagues and peers on social learning platforms. But for interaction to boost the efficacy of your learning, it needs to be purposeful – interaction for the sake of it is off-putting to even the most enthusiastic learners!

9. Backed by science.

One of the unifying components of really great learningn is the science behind it. The science of learning teaches us how the human brain learns best, so why wouldn’t you integrate that into your learning experiences? Learning science should equip you to ensure your people are motivated to learn, your experience builds on information they already know, and allows consolidation of the learning to ensure long-term retention.

10. Tested for impact.

All too often learning designers spend a lot of time designing a course, only to publish it and (assuming there’s no technical issues) never look at it again. This is one of the biggest downfalls in L&D and is likely to hamper your learning success. In other departments – such as marketing and design – testing and iterating is commonplace, and it’s time L&D adopted this practice. Make sure your learning is achieving your learning goals and working for your target audience.

It is only after considering these characteristics of effective learning that you can be confident that your intervention is designed to meet both organisational and learner demands. Regardless of the technology you use, the marketing you do, or the budget you spend – if your learning experiences are ineffective, you will not create the learning culture needed to tackle the future of business. So, consider this article your cheatsheet, check your learning against it before clicking the ‘go live’ button, and see how your learning starts contributing to the bottom line of your organisation.

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