How to Use Learning Paths to Close Skills Gaps

In recent years, companies large and small have embraced skills development as the key to success in a rapidly changing world of work. As organizations look to prepare their workforce for the future, learning paths are becoming a necessary technique for L&D teams to master.

Learning paths are sequences of goal-oriented learning experiences designed to foster growth. Carefully designed learning paths reduce “analysis paralysis” and wasted time by presenting the learner with a roadmap to success.

The rise of learning pathways

Learning paths are an effective way to fill skills gaps within an organization, making the most of an existing talent pool without the hassle of recruiting and hiring. By providing learning pathways designed to teach in-demand skills, L&D can help build human capital when and where it’s needed most.

Learning pathways are not only beneficial at the organizational level, they also benefit learners. With so many opportunities to learn something new, well-designed learning paths cut through the noise by providing a clear series of steps to help employees achieve their goals.

An important factor in the success of a training program is the way it is delivered. It’s infinitely easier to lead learners when they know where they’re going and are excited to get there (as opposed to launching into a series of directions and nudging them into action).

Best practices for designing learning paths

The talent needed to take an organization to the next level often already exists internally, and learning paths can be an effective tool to unlock this untapped potential. The problem is that sometimes an organizational culture can cause employees to hide indicators of their need for personal growth.

Psychologist and professional development consultant Robert Kegan studied the impact of organizational culture on employees’ attitude towards failure. He discovered that people feel compelled to hide their weaknesses. Because these employees are not comfortable talking about the areas in which they need more training, their needs are not being met, which hampers productivity and stifles growth.

When L&D offers a variety of learning paths to choose from, especially in an on-demand format, it gives employees agency and autonomy in their professional development. They don’t need to reach out and ask for help; it is available whenever they need it.

Carefully designed learning paths reduce wasted time by presenting learners with a clear roadmap to success.

In this low-pressure environment, everyone in an organization can take ownership of improving their skills and addressing areas where they could benefit from additional training. They can also explore new skills and see if they have what it takes to try out an entirely different role.

In addition to using an on-demand format, here are some additional best practices learning professionals can use to develop a high-impact learning journey.

Select high quality resources

When curating resources for learning paths, using high-quality content is essential for learner engagement. YouTube and TikTok offer millions of videos with lessons from basic to advanced in every skill imaginable, so learners have developed new expectations that define for premium quality content. L&D teams can meet their needs by keeping tabs on learner preferences and keeping up to date with the best content providers.

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Include a mix of content

From supporting the development of soft skills to teaching hard skills, there are many ways to deliver content in a learning path. E-learning that includes a complementary mix of articles, videos, podcasts, and infographics is perhaps the most common. A article of Harvard Business Review states that offering content in a variety of formats “will keep learners engaged longer, increase recall of concepts, and cater to a wider range of learning preferences.”

Build learning scaffolds

Charles DuhiggPulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times and author of smarter faster better, says, “When I learn a piece of information…I only really remember it if I know how to fit it into a scaffolding of prior things I learned. The more we help people build scaffolds around new facts and figures or new ideas, the more we help them learn how to use that information in the future.

When a learner returns to the material after a state of temporary rest, their understanding of it increases.

Learning paths can help employees deepen their prior knowledge, especially when offered as micro-learning. Since microlearning experiences come in short incremental bursts, they allow a learner to take breaks and easily return to information later. When a learner later returns to the original material after a state of temporary rest, their understanding and retention of the content increases.

Communicate relevance

Assembling learning journeys requires an understanding of how best to engage adult learners. Adults are more motivated to engage in learning when it is highly relevant to them and when they understand the return on their time investment. At the start of a path, make sure the messages clearly communicate what learners will accomplish by following the path. Then, throughout the journey, look for ways to highlight the relevance of the learning by linking it to job tasks and company goals.

Keep learners motivated

In addition to highlighting relevance throughout a learning journey, designers can incorporate ways to celebrate learner milestones along the way. For example, at the end of a course, learners can receive a digital badge or a downloadable certificate that they can add to their CV. Employees place a high value on transferable credentials, so creating artifacts of success that can be included on LinkedIn or a professional portfolio can motivate them to grow. L&D can also highlight achievements such as course completion to the learner’s entire team or department.

Promote new learning paths

After developing a learning path, don’t just add it to the LMS and hope for the best. Kick it off by sending organization-wide emails and preparing promotional materials that convey the value of the journey. Share the opportunities that could result from mastering the skill. Leaders at all levels of the organization can also help by sharing information with their teams, perhaps even offering incentives to participate.

Final remark

Learning paths can prepare employees to take on greater responsibilities, qualify for a new role, or adopt better habits to improve performance. To choose which learning paths to build, L&D must gain a deep understanding of the business priorities as well as the skills gaps within the organization.

Industry trends can also offer clues. For example, McKinsey & Company conducts ongoing research into business trends which recently produced a list of 56 fundamental skills for the future of work.

Whatever skills they teach, learning paths are essential tools for continuous professional development and can be used as a central part of any training program. They offer employees the opportunity to explore and practice new skills, cultivating a mindset of sustainable growth throughout the organization.

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