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What Is a Learning Path? The Benefits of eLearning in Corporate Training

by Debbie Williams

We are all on some type of path. Some of us are moving forward, and some are moving backward. Many of us are standing still. Regardless of which direction we go, our paths promise to take us to a place we’ve never been before. If only we’ll travel them. This is not only a metaphor for life; it also applies well to online learning.

If learning is anything, it is a journey. With eLearning, we can tailor this journey to users. This can be done in a sequenced and structured manner. This is the value of learning paths. Each learning journey should be constant, never stagnant. Corporate leaders would do well to remember this when designing employee-training programs.

Some corporate training programs don't do enough. Some training programs have not evolved along with technology. Many companies train their employees in the same manner they did 5, 10, even 20 years ago. They use a classroom-style, traditional model of learning. This style of learning isn’t bad, but it isn’t always adequate. For example, books and written materials are often used in this style of training. People remember only about 10 percent1 of what they learn from books. This is true in cases where the book is read only once. In cases like this, an incredible 90 percent of what is read is soon forgotten. This is a good example of why traditional learning is not a wise investment for corporations. This mode of learning is becoming irrelevant. Improvements in technology are better meeting the needs of today’s employee.

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The Case for Online Training

One of the primary needs a business has is the need for quality training. Without it, companies crumble. Tracey Maurer2, director of new business development at the University of Vermont, said, "Consider industry leading organizations. It’s not a coincidence that they invest in training. Some companies throw more money at marketing. But if they have a well-trained and engaged workforce, they will have more to promote." These days, companies are investing more into employee training. According to Danielle Bullen2, companies in the US spend about $150 billion per year to train personnel. Statistics like these are proof. The question is not “will corporations invest in training?” Rather, it is “what type of training will companies invest in?”

It is unarguable that online learning is becoming the standard for corporate training. This holds true even for company leaders who don’t make use of a social learning platform. They often use social media or mobile learning. Particularly for training their employees. And why wouldn’t they? Online training is effective, cost-efficient, and engaging. It also pays back on the investment people make in it, no matter how large or small.

A good majority of company decision makers invest in online learning. But, many don't put it in place as well as they could. They don’t break eLearning modules down into segments. Segments that are small enough for learners to remember and use what they learn. In his article3 How Smaller Learning Can Make Your Learning Smarter and More Effective, Kasper Spiro explains. “One of the most common mistakes in eLearning is that authors create modules that are way too large. Research shows that the ideal duration of a module is 15 to 30 minutes. Of course this depends on audience, topic, and degree of interactivity. But smaller is better, that much is clear.” Why is it that smaller is better when it comes to eLearning (or any type of learning, for that matter)? The answer is simple: small “bites” of learning are more memorable than larger ones. This applies to all learning that takes place in the corporate world. It must promote knowledge retention to be useful.

In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus coined the term “the forgetting curve.” This applied to the human capacity for knowledge retention. According to Ebbinghaus, people forget information. Particularly if it is not presented in an easy-to-understand way. In fact, so much of what we learn is immediately forgotten or lost within minutes. This is evident when you meet someone, learn his or her name, and forget it quickly. It’s not uncommon to need to be reminded of a person’s name several times before you remember it. This is because our brains need repetition to grasp knowledge. Corporate leaders are usually aware of this. But they but do not always apply it to their training programs. As a result, their personnel quickly forget the learning that their company paid a lot of money for.

Small “Bites” of Information Increase Learning Retention

One must encounter knowledge over and over to remember it. Also, it must be encountered in small chunks. Sometimes eLearning designers craft online learning programs that feature small bites of information. They often refer to this practice as chunking.

Boosting Knowledge Retention in eLearning Infographic4 explains, “Chunking content means to break it down. To organize it into bite-sized chunks that are digestible. It's a good idea to compress data and arrange it to create logical associations. This makes it easy for learners to process information. Without burdening the long-term memory. Chunking is also an effective way to shorten your course. It does away with all the fluff. It makes retaining information that is critical to the learning process easier.” Chunking works well with the human memory. It helps employees recall information and skills. For companies, this has a great deal of value. It helps employees to succeed in the workplace.

Company leaders should keep the forgetting curve in mind. This will help promote knowledge retention to the utmost. It's good practice to provide repetitious learning experiences. It also helps to present learning in small chunks. A social learning management system (LMS) can help achieve this. But only a learning path can make this combination seem natural. And, also promote effortless learning experiences for people.

What Is a Learning Path? Why Is It Beneficial?

A learning path is a beautiful, valuable thing. An online, sequenced, structured learning route has many benefits. It allows people to gain knowledge, and in small chunks. It also puts the learner in the driver’s seat, so to speak. This is a far cry from traditional, classroom-style learning. Traditional learning is primarily led by the teacher or trainer. Many companies need their employees to get specific certifications. They may want employees to follow certain learning trees. These organizations should take advantage of learning paths. This will ensure their workers get the necessary certifications. And, in a timely and effective manner.

A learning path has a plethora of benefits. For example, it can be customized to individuals or groups. Also, the information encountered along the path can often be “self-taught.” Bryant Nielson5, Managing Director of Your Training Edge, gave a great example of a self-taught learning path:

“Another structured learning technique is to create self-taught learning experiences. Experiences that have strict emphasis on the sequence. For example. Customer service associates may be required to read a book on customer service. They may have to answer a questionnaire afterwards. In this type of structure, participants should be told to read the book after a certain group of tasks. And, before another group of tasks. One thing that is important to note. Taking the activities out of sequence could have an adverse effect on the student’s progress. With this type of intervention, students get the opportunity to learn on their own. Students form their own ideas, and then progress to more advanced study. There's still another benefit to this type of intervention. Students at certain levels will all have the same knowledge before progressing further.”

A learning path creates self-paced learning experiences. It's also customizable and self-teachable. As mentioned earlier, learning paths must be broken down into small pieces. They must be encountered time after time, to become permanent in someone’s memory. But, to ease and maximize a user's understanding, learning must also be self-paced.

There is much value in self-paced learning. In The Rationale for Self-Paced Learning6, Steven J. Bartlett wrote, “Academic education attempts to teach a student information and skills. Yet a good part of that information is forgotten. But, what a person is interested in and has learned on their own may be retained better. Students using self-paced instruction can make use of resources offered by the teacher. They are also encouraged to set their own tasks at their own pace. In a self-paced class, students decide which and how many tests they wish to pass. They have many chances to gain mastery over the material covered by a single test. They are encouraged to select readings that relate to their interests. And, they know in advance what evaluation corresponds to the goals they have set.” Like progressive learning, self-paced learning is more easily assimilated by students.

Self-paced learning is optimal. There are several ways to achieve this. It is important to give a learner the ability to pace his or her own progress. But the very best way is via a learning path.

The High Value of Learning Paths

Company leaders would like employees to remember what they learn in training sessions. The reasons for this are obvious. They want their workers to be competent and skilled. Decision makers must also remember that information recall increases business revenue. They should not take the quality of employee training for granted. Is this training going to be memorable or helpful to workers? Company leaders have to be proactive. They need to ensure that the training they pay for will address workers’ and companies’ needs. How to do this? It's key to install and integrate eLearning and learning paths into employee-training programs.

Learning paths help employees learn vital skills, practices, and protocols. They prevent the loss of costly training knowledge, and in doing so lower a company’s bottom line. This is what makes learning paths valuable, even indispensable, to any corporation.

An LMS and a Learning Path Go Hand-In-Hand

A learning path makes the process of attaining knowledge obvious and simple. But it’s not always easy for course designers to create such a path. This is where a social learning management system (LMS) comes into play. What is the best eLearning platform? Particularly for companies wanting to install learning paths into their corporate training? A cloud-based LMS works best. One that includes learning paths functionality.

There are several reasons why an LMS goes hand-in-hand with a learning path. First of all, a full-featured LMS facilitates mobile learning. Mobile learning lends itself well to a learning path. Why? Because information nuggets shared through a mobile device are usually succinct. This is due to the very nature of mobile learning. (For example, consider people who use a tablet or smartphone. They may only have a few minutes to watch a short video or take a quick quiz.) Both Learning paths and mobile learning systems make training convenient and concise. This means they pair well together and compliment one another. Second, a cloud-based eLearning platform is key. One that includes the online learning paths feature. One that allows you to create a sequenced order of delivery for a list of courses and materials. The course/material sequence is then allocated to selected users or user groups. It's best to limit access to courses. Users gain access to more advanced courses only after completing prior courses in the learning path set. Users can only access content assigned to their learning path. In a robust eLearning platform, learning paths will maximize what learners remember.

With any LMS, it’s always best to choose a platform that does not charge per-user fees. One that hosts an unlimited number of learners. This type of learning management system best serves a corporation and its employees.

Learning paths are valuable to a company. This is because they create a learning culture and promote a healthy bottom line. Learning paths increase knowledge retention. They also ensure that funds invested in training are well spent. This is good news for corporate leaders. Employees can be expertly trained to help make their companies more productive.

It's easiest to create and deliver learning paths through social learning management systems. If you’d like to put in place learning paths, consider launching a full-featured LMS.



  1. https://www.trainingindustry.com/wiki/entries/forgetting-curve.aspx
  2. http://www.skilledup.com/insights/how-top-companies-make-the-roi-case-for-employee-training
  3. https://elearningindustry.com/learning-nuggets-learning-paths-learning-maps-learning-gps
  4. http://elearninginfographics.com/boosting-knowledge-retention-elearning-infographic/
  5. http://www.yourtrainingedge.com/developing-a-structured-learning-path/
  6. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED188551
Debbie Williams

Debbie Williams

Director, Marketing