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Design Onboarding Around a Learning Culture, Not an LMS

I recently had a conversation with a senior learning leader at a well-known company. She was evaluating various LMSes for their potential fit in helping her organization reboot its learning culture, particularly during new-hire onboarding. She made a comment in passing that I found interesting. To paraphrase: After each LMS demo, her team found itself revisiting how it would need to adapt the company’s onboarding processes to fit the relative strengths and features of the given system.

This type of comment isn’t unusual or surprising. But shouldn’t it be? After all, we’re talking about an industry-leading, multibillion-dollar company actively discussing how to rebuild its onboarding learning culture around out-of-the-box, LMS feature sets. It feels like the definition of the tail wagging the dog.

But it’s not just the size of the company that makes this perspective noteworthy. Our organizational learning cultures consist of our collective learning habits and attitudes—how we think about training, set goals, engage and mentor, and align (or don’t) with the company mission and values. The potential business impact of a learning culture during onboarding is profound. According to the Wynhurst Group, new employees who participate in well-designed onboarding are nearly 60% more likely to remain with the company for three years, and additional research shows the right onboarding systems can improve new-hire productivity by 50%.

Given the importance of onboarding in our learning cultures, I believe we can benefit greatly by thinking culture first, system design second. That is, when we intentionally design onboarding learning systems around the learning cultures we want to build, aligning features to that vision, we can influence organizational learning habits, attitudes and outcomes for years to come.

To help start a conversation about the interplay of learning culture and onboarding systems design, here are five principles we often consider at Allen Communication for our learning portal. Each is aligned with a few examples showing how answers can influence features:

  • What kind of first impression do you want to make? New hires will make value judgments about an entire learning program, and training assets generally, based on their first clicks in the learning system. Those judgments will be difficult to uproot later. Think about the learning features you want to showcase, as well as the tools you want new hires to see first. Structure around your strengths as a training organization. Consider also how you want to welcome the learner into the system itself (from video tours to virtual walk-throughs to in-person reviews).
  • What kind of support networks should your new hires build? If your organization emphasizes team-based learning, for example, your onboarding system may benefit from social features and collaboration tools that reinforce those cultural values and help new hires immediately begin building their networks. Alternatively, you may want your online system to push learners through more quickly, so you can put emphasis elsewhere.
  • What sorts of reference habits do you want new hires to build? Do you want your system to reinforce a mentor relationship? Or will the system itself be the primary ongoing center for reference and performance support? In our experience, the answers to these types of questions should drive homepage design, as well as user toolsets and quick-access dashboards.
  • What sorts of brand experience do you want new hires to have? If your organization thrives on a strong, carefully controlled brand, you may want your system to showcase brand standards and messaging through every major learning interaction. In cases where branding is less important to a new-hire roadmap, that investment is better spent elsewhere.
  • What role should management play? For some of our partners, we build powerful management dashboards designed to help managers actively assess new-hire progress and participate in the onboarding process. In others, we create executive dashboards designed to help organizations measure the impact of onboarding assets and strategies and help leadership participate in the process.

By focusing first on the principles of your learning culture, you’ll create a design that achieves the experiences and results your company wants.

We’d love to hear from you. How are you thinking about learning culture design during onboarding, and what role are your technologies and learning platforms playing in those conversations?