Which Learning Methods Fit Your Organization Best? Redthread Research Identifies Four Key Questions to Ask

Choosing the right learning methods from an expanding universe of options is a major challenge for today’s learning and development (L&D) leaders. A new report from RedThread Research explores how L&D leaders can identify the best fit for their organizations by asking four key questions. The report also explores how organizations with a strong learning culture differ from others, including the criteria they use to decide where to invest resources.

If you’re in charge of employee learning and development (L&D), how do you choose which kind of learning to offer? Do you start a mentoring program or create an online course? Are your resources best put toward in-person training or can books and videos get the job done? Do you make these decisions based on employee feedback or do you rely on usage and results data? Where does cost factor in?

A new report published this week by RedThread Research, “Choosing Learning Methods that ‘Fit’ Your Org,” explores how L&D leaders make these decisions and which strategies lead to more effective workforce development. The authors, Dani Johnson and Lauren Caddell, present research-backed guidance to help L&D functions feel more confident when deciding which methods fit their organization best.

“The real challenge for most L&D functions isn’t identifying what is available, it’s identifying what fits,” said Johnson, co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread. “L&D leaders can customize their approach based on a few key criteria.”

Through a survey of 1,500 employees, as well as interviews and roundtables with learning leaders, the research identified four areas where L&D leaders should evaluate fit: business challenge, organizational culture, audience, and resources.

The report also defines what a strong learning culture is, according to the data collected, and uses that measurement to deep dive into how organizations with a strong learning culture are using and identifying learning methods differently than others.

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“We looked closely at organizations with strong learning cultures to see what kind of strategies they were using that other organizations might learn from,” explained Johnson. “We found that L&D leaders at organizations with a strong learning culture chose learning methods in starkly different ways than their peers at other organizations.”

For example, organizations with strong learning cultures paid close attention to the business need when choosing employee development methods. Eighty percent of L&D professionals in organizations with a strong learning culture considered the business need “to a significant extent” when choosing how to deliver learning, while less than half at other organizations did.

The study found that L&D leaders in organizations with a strong learning culture also experiment more freely with learning methods. They were more agile, data-savvy, and interested in trying new methods and letting go of what’s not working.

Different groups rely on different learning methods, according to the data. When choosing a learning method, L&D needs to consider their audience and the methods they rely on most. Senior leaders, for example, tend to rely on methods that leverage relationships and connection, whereas managers and individual contributors tend to rely more on methods that help them perform in their roles. Even L&D professionals relied on different methods than everyone else.

“We saw how L&D pros don’t rely much on formal learning for their own development, which is knowledge that could be a catalyst for change in the development opportunities they offer to others,” said Johnson.

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Another driving force shaping how L&D chooses employee development opportunities was a desire to promote a sense of connection.

“Human connection really matters right now,” said Johnson. “Before the pandemic, there was a lot of emphasis on self-service learning, which is still important. But now there’s even more emphasis on bringing people together to learn and connect.”

Particularly since the pandemic, the idea that learning happens everywhere, not just in the classroom, means L&D functions have developed a much more expansive approach to what they offer and how they offer it. As organizations have expanded their definition of development, many low-cost or free methods have emerged. About half of the many learning methods identified in the study were low cost.

Today’s L&D leaders face high expectations and complex decisions, putting them under increasing pressure. L&D leaders can use the data and suggestions in this new report to make their choices with greater confidence.

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