Work-Life Balance: Customizing Learning Journeys to Meet Your Learners Where They Are

Barry Bickel

Barry Bickel

Principal Consultant
North America

Author

Jess Koerner

Senior Marketing Executive

North America

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Arcadia: Give us a little background on who you are and what you do at Arcadia? 

Barry Bickel: Sure, I am a Principal Consultant at Arcadia and I’ve worked here for just over three years. I lead the North American sales and marketing team. I also sit on the global sales and marketing leadership team and personally manage a large financial services client here in North America. 

Arcadia: With all of your consultation experience, how do you approach understanding your client’s pain points and challenges when designing a learning journey for them? 

Barry Bickel: Before we even discuss a learning journey, it comes down to preparation. Prior to engaging with the client, I do a bit of research on the industry that the client is in. I gather as much insight as I can prior to any call with them. Then, during a call with the client, it’s about having quality questions prepared and active listening skills ready to get to the bottom of what their challenges and pain points are.  

Once a learning journey is on the table, I’ve utilized diagnostic interviews to uncover a client’s organizational pain points and challenges. In diagnostic interviews, we engage with the clients and we set up a series of interviews with key stakeholders or possible participants in the program that Arcadia will conduct. Often, our research team will conduct the interviews and we’ll gain insight across an organization for a holistic view.  

Arcadia: You’ve already hit on this, but do you have anything you’d like to add with reference to what methods you use to ensure that the learning journey aligns with the client’s organizational culture and values? 

Barry Bickel: The only thing I’d add is that the longer you work with a client, the better you understand that client’s culture and how best to meet their needs. That’s a true benefit of maintaining a strong client relationship over time.  

Arcadia: That makes sense and highlights our client centricity approach. Can you describe a project where you tailored a learning journey to meet a client’s specific needs and objectives? 

Barry Bickel: Sure, one was with a large financial services client here in the US.  They came to us with a challenge surrounding their executive directors. Their high potential executive directors needed some work to better prepare them for possible promotions. They wanted to develop a program that spanned over a period of five to six months. One aspect of the program was to use different modalities of learning which is what we call blended learning. They also wanted the program to include sponsors within the organization that the participants would engage with in-between each of these touch points. The program ran last year in 2023 and ended in January 2024. It was very successful, and the client is going to repeat it again this year. 

Arcadia: That’s very exciting. How do you incorporate feedback from clients throughout the design and implementation process to ensure the learning journey meets their expectations? For example, you might have already implemented some learning modules and the client wants to make some tweaks. What does that process look like?  

Barry Bickel: We’re very flexible with clients. Everything we do is customized to the client’s needs, so the process would typically work where we gather feedback from the client and what they’re looking for is discussed well in advance of the solution creation. We would then design a solution. That solution would then be reviewed with the client several times.  

Even beyond client specifications, if the client is open to it, I always suggest conducting a pilot workshop or a pilot program. You can learn a lot with the first group. You’d have some participants that you interview throughout the program or at the end of the program, and then you can make adjustments together with the client. This way the future programs are the best they can possibly be. Obviously if it’s a one-off program, you can’t do that, but if you have a program that’s going to be run on an annual basis, it’s imperative that you gather that feedback after each round because you can always improve it. 

Arcadia:  That’s awesome: I’m sure potential clients love to hear how we put them and their results first. How do you define self-paced learning and what are the primary benefits it offers to learners and organizations? 

Barry Bickel: Self-paced learning to me is anything that an individual can do to learn on their own schedule. It offers flexibility for when and where they choose to engage with the learning versus a scheduled live workshop. Self-paced learning can be delivered in a lot of different ways. Historically, traditional eLearning has been the go-to for self-paced learning. But, now with advancements in technology, there are other approaches like interactive PDF which is self-paced learning where you can embed videos and embed quizzes and things like that. There is also bite-size mobile learning, where you can have a learner access a quick five to ten minute learning module on their device and engage with the learning on the go or when the time is right for them.  

Arcadia: What are the benefits that you’re witnessing self-paced learning bring to organizations? 

Barry Bickel:  I think COVID changed a lot of things in terms of learning traditionally. It was always in-person prior to COVID. Coming out of the pandemic now, most learning is still virtual. There is some in-person learning that’s being conducted, but what everybody learned during the pandemic was that you could deliver very high-quality learning either in a virtual setting or with a self-paced approach and it works 

We’ve found that learners, particularly younger learners, have an expectation that learning will be either virtual or be self-paced and that they would prefer self-paced because they’re used to it. In fact, a lot of them attended university or college through self-paced learning.   

The benefits of utilizing self-paced are that you’re meeting the needs of your learners and that it allows you to deploy learning during periods throughout the year that might be less conducive to virtual or in person workshops, like the summer, for example, where there are a lot of vacations. It’s nearly impossible to schedule workshops that can accommodate everyone’s PTO schedules. We can combat that by deploying self-paced learning where every learner can engage at a time that works for them and you don’t miss upskilling anybody. 

Arcadia: Can you share examples of self-paced learning modalities that you have incorporated into learning journeys and how have they been received? 

Barry Bickel: Sure, I’ll keep it within the same project I mentioned before. We used interactive PDF-based self-paced learning. The way it was structured was that the learners would attend a 2-hour workshop and then they would have three weeks to complete a self-paced learning module that was deployed to them right after the workshop. The self-paced learning complemented what they learned in the virtual workshop and added on to the learning as well. The PDF contained some reading, videos, questions to answer within the PDF and then they would take a quiz at the end of the PDF learning. The total time to do each module was about 15 minutes, so it was a very quick hit of learning for them which was easy for them to manage, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In that program we had five months of workshops and five months of alternating self-paced learning modules. 

Arcadia: That’s a good point that you bring up about learner buy-in and making the learning manageable for them. Would you also consider PresentR, VR, and our LMS services part of self-paced? 

Barry Bickel:  Yeah, 100%. Those are newer technologies and I’ve not personally used them yet with a client, but PresentR is a great example of self-paced where you can actually work on your presentation skills by yourself on your computer and get AI feedback directly delivered to you after practicing. It’s really an amazing tool. 

Arcadia:  That does sound amazing. With the PDF-based example that you’ve provided, what strategies did you employ to ensure that the self-paced learning remained engaging and effective for learners? 

Barry Bickel: It starts with a very appealing design to the modules. In addition to that, it needs to be short enough. If the learners get into it and it looks too complicated or too long, they will withdraw from it. I like to keep them engaged by using videos. Everyone likes to watch a video, particularly videos that are short, fun, and interesting.  

The other thing that stands out is having a caveat of, “in order to advance through the learning module”, they have to capture some thoughts. For example, we may have them read, watch a video, and then prompt them with, “how do you think you’re going to apply this to your work after the program is over?” Then, what they type in, they get to keep for reference later.  

This forces them to pause and think about the learning, and it helps to embed the learning in their brains as they’re going through it. Plus, it keeps their fingers on the keyboard, so they can’t multitask. They have to be fully engaged versus some of the traditional eLearning, which we’ve all done where you can click through it and not even pay attention and get to the end and then just check the box, but you never learn anything. Kindly forcing them to engage throughout the process is important. 

Arcadia: What would you consider embedded learning and how does it contribute to a more seamless and integrated learning experience for learners? 

Barry Bickel: Embedded learning is learning that is done in the context of a real-world situation. It’s about helping the learners to come to the table with real world situations in mind and then absorbing the learning within the context of those real-world situations. Many must learn while doing in our field of leadership, communication, and mindset and the only way to do that is to have them practice on the job.  

I think you’re failing the learner if you don’t help them embed the learnings in their day-to-day work. If you just talk theory throughout a workshop or a self-paced learning module they are never going to fully grasp it. By engaging with the material, mindset, or whatever the case may be, they intrinsically learn it.  

Arcadia: Can you provide examples of how you’ve integrated embedded learning components into client learning journeys? 

Barry Bickel: Of course, one example would be to send someone through a workshop on presentation skills and maybe executive presence and then you have them practice on a tool like PresentR which gives them feedback and a score.  Then you’d follow it up with supplemental coaching. 

Arcadia: How do you balance the flexibility of self-paced learning with the need for structure and guidance to ensure that learners stay on track and achieve their learning objectives? 

Barry Bickel: I don’t like 100% self-paced programs. That being said, I think 100% self-paced is fine for compliance things like ethics, computer security, or something like that. But, if you really want something like leadership training or mindset workshops or communication skills with active presence, you have to alternate workshop experience with self-paced learning. Self-paced is also a great way to extend an existing investment of a learning journey.  

Arcadia: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Barry Bickel:  I would reiterate, that we as an industry have a long way to go in the world of self-paced, bite sized, artificial intelligence, and embedded learning. But just embrace it and give it a try! I encourage all organizations to really look hard at things like different modalities and approaches such as blended and self-paced learning. Do what makes the most sense to meet the needs of your learners: meet them where they are in every sense. 

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