guided learning

Setting the Stage for Guided Learning in Your Organization

By: Jamie McGee


Think back to your favorite college class. Chances are, it wasn’t one where the teacher droned on about a dry subject. Instead, it was likely a class where you were able to crack open new ideas, learn things that felt relevant to your future career, and walk away feeling accomplished. 

More organizations are starting to see the appeal of making training feel more engaging when it comes to learning in a corporate setting. The hard part? Many companies don’t know where to start. While you know that you have to teach your team new material to stay relevant and move upward with modern growth, you also know that you don’t want to offer training only to have half of your team tune out or forget the new material. 

Recently, I worked with a client to rethink their approach to skilling up team members. In doing so, we cracked open a new process that allowed us to increase participation among participants by 34% from the first session thru the final session. This approach is called Guided Learning, which you might want to consider for your organization.

What is Guided Learning?

Guided learning takes a more hands-on approach to develop participants in new teachings and training. Rather than have someone appear as a talking head on a Zoom call, students are encouraged to take a more active role in their learning process and deepen their understanding through interaction with their fellow active colleagues. 

With the client I mentioned above, where we deployed this method of training recently, we were teaching specifically on Rule-Based Intelligent Automation Solutions. The challenge we faced was that we didn’t know how familiar the team was with Intelligent Automations. Rather than throw concepts on the Zoom wall like spaghetti, we opted to morph the training into a Guided Learning approach to empower the participants to grasp the topic easier. 

As we developed the program, we created a framework to make this learning format repeatable across all topics and subject matter. Here’s what that framework looks like in action.

Stage 1: Lay the Foundation

The first step to building a new training program using Guided Learning mechanisms is to lay a firm foundation. This includes answering a few critical questions. 

Who do you want to attend? 

The people in the room participating in the training will have the chance to connect with their peers and learn from one another. Discussions allow participants to build relationships and come together as a team. Knowing who will be in attendance is crucial so you can understand the best way to reach each person.

How many people should attend? 

It’s hard to engage an entire football stadium full of people. Maximum engagement happens when enough people are in the room to spark meaningful discussions. On the flip side, engagement struggles when there are only a few loud voices in the room. 

It’s important to look for the sweet spot in how you can maximize your trainer’s time alongside engagement. That number will fluctuate based on training. Think through what’s best for the Guided Learning you’re doing as you prepare the foundation for your new training. Although the timeline for guided learning varies depending on the team, goals, and organizational culture, the sweet spot for the number of attendees is 15.

What topics will you cover?

Guided learning should be broad enough to offer numerous opportunities for takeaways but focused enough not to overwhelm the students participating. Narrowing the topics you want to cover will allow you and your participants to better understand the focus of your training, how many sessions you’ll need, and the length of each session. 

Once you decide on the subject for Guided Learning, you’ll be able to break out logical ways to split up the topics into sessions for maximum learning. Then, you can schedule the training’s dates, times, and frequency. 

How will you communicate about the training opportunity?

Guided learning is a hands-on learning experience, but that interaction happens before, during, and after the training begins. 

When laying your foundation, plan how you will communicate with your participants. With our client, we found seven different communications were needed, which we were able to write ahead of time.

  1. Register Now
  2. Program details to those who registered
  3. Post Session recaps after each Guided Learning training
  4. Post Course Wrap Up

Having these planned and written ahead of time let us see the scaffolding around what was needed for the participants to stay engaged.

Benefit: Setting up a predictable framework and schedule for this type of learning makes it easier on the team. You can set clear expectations while setting the stage to replicate this learning style easily. 

Stage 2: Set Engagement Expectations Early and Often

With the foundation set, it’s time to start crafting the content. This is probably the most time-consuming part of the process, but once you complete formatting for the first session, you can use the same formatting for the remainder of the sessions. 

Guided Learning techniques go beyond basic slide design. In addition to presenting the materials, you will guide your participants through a discussion and a final quiz to solidify the learnings and takeaways. 

With our client, we used Poll Everywhere, a survey tool that allowed us to have knowledge checks throughout the training. Because we designed the training to be so interactive, participants anticipated that they would be tested, which set their mindset to be more engaged. In addition, we gamified the experience, awarding the top three people with the highest scores at the end of the course with a prize. Competition is always a hit!

Adding in a gamification element is one of the best decisions you can make for Guided Learning. Participants enjoy having a challenge and appreciate that there are checks and balances to avoid overwhelm. If participants answered the question incorrectly, they were immediately shown the correct choice and why the answer was wrong. 

At the end of each session, we opened up a feedback loop, asking participants to complete a survey, which allowed us to learn more about what they loved and where they struggled. 

Benefit: Allowing students to learn at the moment, find fun in training, and have a voice in each session allows them to stay more engaged. They feel like they’re participating rather than simply showing up to be told something new. That mindset shift boosts engagement, which also lends itself to better comprehension and application of the new material.

Stage 3: Show the Content in Action

It’s one thing to understand the why of the content. Implementing what you’ve learned in a real-life setting is a whole other thing. 

With our client, we included a video in each session that highlighted use cases. Rather than simply learning something new, the team could understand how the information would be relevant to their day-to-day job outside the course. 

In addition to showing the use case, you can put your participants into breakout rooms to discuss real-life scenarios. Ask them what they would do or how they would respond in a specific situation before giving them the answer. In discussing their response, they’re able to spot questions they might not have anticipated had they not been thinking critically through the content. This also allows you, the trainer, to spot holes in the content and areas where you can expand in future training.

Benefit: Using breakout rooms allows participants to go deeper into conversation with one another. It also creates a more intimate environment where people who might not be as ready to speak up in larger groups feel more comfortable sharing their voice. Extending this dialogue in a learning environment outside a basic chat box allows for deeper comprehension. The feedback on the breakout rooms was outstanding, showing that participants were grateful for this opportunity.  

Stage 4: Hold a Retrospective

With your training complete, it’s a good idea to hold a retrospective to address what went well and where you can improve. Gathering responses from Poll Everywhere allows you to spot trends and identify key metrics around comprehension, engagement, and satisfaction. Benefit: Seeing what worked well for the team and what didn’t go as anticipated allows teams to fail forward and pivot fast. Ultimately, this retrospective allows the team to build a strong foundation for future guided learning sessions so that deploying this training method often becomes more efficient.

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