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Learning Cycles and the Maturity Model

Bob Little 

September 11, 2015

Change happens all the time. The challenge comes in embedding that change in your organization. You might move a crowd of people from one room to another but, if you leave the connecting door open, some will inevitably drift back again. Similarly, if it’s easy for learners to revert to their old way of doing things, they will – and the training is wasted. So you must ensure they can’t take a step back after undergoing the learning inputs.

Every learning program has a natural life cycle. Typically:

  • Usage rises sharply once the program is launched.
  • There’s an even sharper rise in usage as the program achieves “rapid take-up.”
  • Usage gradually levels into a steady state.
  • After that, the program goes into decline.

As an L&D professional, you’ll need to carry out a review at each of these four stages.

Meanwhile, the wider organization will be experiencing several simultaneous life cycles of its own. One cycle that it might consciously adopt is the learning management maturity model (LMMM).

There are five stages to the LMMM:

  • Stage one – learning is ad hoc, departmental, reactive, and unpredictable – there are no formal, consistent processes.
  • Stage two – learning is managed – there’s a consistent but basic approach.
  • Stage three – learning is competency-driven – there’s a consistent, comprehensive approach.
  • Stage four – learning is integrated with performance – it’s integrated into business planning.
  • Stage five – learning is strategic and enterprise-wide – it’s seen as central to the organization’s well-being.

Let’s look at these stages in more detail.

At stage one:

  • There are many incomplete, informal approaches for managing learning.
  • There are unpredictable learning outcomes.
  • There is little organizational support for L&D.
  • There is a mix of manual and automated systems.
  • Local-level learning management systems (LMSs) are in place but aren’t connected.
  • Generic learning content is used.

Program strategy and design are partly engaged but knowledge management, collaboration, change leadership, testing and assessment, performance management, and competency management aren’t happening.

At stage two, knowledge, performance and competency management are still not happening, but program strategy and design, along with the LMS, are fully engaged, with other factors being partly engaged. Buyers know about learning in their organization. They focus on avoiding cost and getting the business ready for change.

At stage three, knowledge and performance management are still absent, change leadership and competency management are partially engaged, and all the other factors are fully engaged. Here, the key questions to consider are, “How do I get my organization proficient at learning?” and “How can we use learning to achieve the specific business results we want?”

Stage four has only knowledge and performance management lagging, and sees the organization taking learning to the workforce and winning business. It’s now a learning organization.

At stage five, all elements are fully engaged and the organization is talking about delivering stakeholder value and a return on its assets from learning.

Boris Blumenschein, CEO of the Innovation and Leadership Business Academy in Croatia, uses the LMMM as both a communication and a diagnostic tool: “It’s simple to present. It describes the benefits to an organization of being at each stage but it also sets out the actions needed to reach the next level – and what the result of that would be for the organization.

“I have been using a similar type of assessment in some other fields – such as business process management. This model can be used to assess the learning maturity of different parts of the same organization because, often, they are not on the same level. We use a simple rating system to establish creative competition between these parts of the organization.

“The model is also useful for benchmarking. It can be used to compare different organizations – even in different parts of the world or in different industries – which, otherwise, wouldn’t be comparable.

“Finally, it can be a motivation tool, since it’s obvious who in the organization is responsible for each of these activities.”

Roger Mayo, director of MT&D Learning Solutions, comments: “My experience in the blue chip paper and packaging, telecommunications, and security industries was that functions and departments were always at different stages of the LMMM. So, as an L&D professional, I almost needed to speak a different language with director A from the language I used with director B. All the time I was trying to coax people further up the curve, citing those at more advanced stages as models to be emulated. However, the biggest and most positive change usually occurred when there was a new incumbent – then the dialogue was different too.”

Consider where in the learning life cycle your L&D programs are, and what stage of the learning management maturity model your organization has reached. What action do you need to take? Share your experiences below.

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