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5 Ways to Use Goal-Based Learning

October 3, 2012

by Tess Robinson

(Director, LReaching a goalearningAge Solutions)

So goal-based learning sounds great but what can you use it for? And how can technology augment this way of learning?

1. Performance support

Learning shouldn’t stop when a learner leaves the classroom. A goal-based approach can ensure that the learning continues into the workplace, making the most of the investment that the organisation has made and ensuring that learners are fully supported in attempting to improve their performance at work.

Imagine you’ve just sat through a whole day’s workshop on project management. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what usually happens is that you take the weighty folder  of documentation you’ve been given and the sheaf of notes you’ve written, you go back to your desk, shove it in a drawer and never look at it again. With a goal-based approach, following the training, you would conduct a 360 degree survey based on a number of goals relevant to the training. The results would help you to identify where your weaknesses lie and would suggest a number of specific goals that you could attempt in order to put your learning into practice and to help you to improve your performance. A second 360 survey after you have completed your goals would help you decide whether you need to do more work on them.

This is true integration of learning and work, reducing the need for time away from the workplace. Learners can be fully supported through technology by a library of resources, perhaps even user-generated, for each goal and by support from peers attempting the same goals. You could even, dare I say it, forget about the initial workshop completely and go for an entirely goal-based approach, reducing the need for time away entirely.

2. Performance review

Annual reviews, appraisals or whatever you like to call them usually include some sort of goal-setting and identification of area that need improving. Goal-based technology can be invaluable in making sure that the right goals are chosen to ensure performance improvement and in providing a clear route to achieving those goals. Technology can also be used to remind learners at regular intervals that these things need attention. Technology also, of course, allows the appraiser to monitor progress via reports.

3. ‘Pull’ learning

Arguably the next big thing for L&D; moving away from a traditional teacher/learner ‘push’ way of learning and instead empowering and challenging learners to find and access relevant resources at the point of need. The wonderful Alan Bellinger from the LPI defines ‘pull learning ‘ as:

helping people to develop the capabilities to become leaders in their own context, so when they’re confronting an unexpected challenge they have the initiative and the questing disposition that will make them want to embrace that challenge and find creative ways of overcoming it and addressing it, and in the process, learning from that experience. In a pull platform, talent development emphasises on-the-job learning and informal structures rather than a formal training programme. Pull learning gives people the ability to confront challenges and draw out the resources needed to develop solutions.’

He also pointed us in the direction of a really interesting book The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. By John Hagel and John Seely Brown. The book describes the ongoing shift in power from institutions to individuals through what the authors call “pull”. They argue that this type of learning requires a serious shift in organisational thinking:

“The learning is actually a by-product of facing unexpected challenges and ever-increasing performance requirements. If you really took that seriously, you would end up rethinking all aspects of the company from operations, how you design the organisation, even what kind of business strategy you would pursue, and certainly what kind of technology platforms you would use to support them in their work environments.”

Goal-based learning fits ‘pull’ learning style like a glove. It can and should be learner-driven. A goal-based technology platform can facilitate on-the-job learning as well as informal peer-to-peer learning through being mobile and social and allowing user-generated content in the form of rated resources.

4. Compliance training

This is a biggy. Compliance training is usually a costly necessity and often a tick-box exercise. However, if compliance training is mandatory, that means, by definition, that it’s important and deserves being turned into creative learning that will stick.

Goal-based learning can be used to ensure that compliance training is being translated into the workplace, as it allows learners to practice and hone behaviours in real time. Goal-based learning technology allows learners to have an electronic portfolio of evidence which shows that they have achieved required competence levels, through actually putting their knowledge about compliance into practice. This can be shown to assessors as part of an accreditation. This also, of course, relieves some of the pressure on L&D managers to reduce the cost of compliance as it transfers at least some of the learning to on-the-job.

5. Social learning

Goal-based learning doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. In fact, it’s ideal for social learning and making the most of the knowledge that already exists within the organisation. Technology can assist with this in creating group and shared resources, where peers can share their experiences and knowledge and learn from each other. They can also upload documents, links, blog posts and other things that they have found useful in helping them to achieve their goals. The resources can even be user rated and reviewed, like on Amazon, to give other existing and future learners a steer on the most useful ones.

6. Refresher training

A goal-based learning approach allows learners to review and identify their weaknesses and practice behaviours that will address and improve those weaknesses at any time. Used in conjunction with another method of training e.g. a face-to-face workshop or elearning courseware, it makes sure that what is learnt isn’t quickly forgotten, but instead is translated into learners working lives and practiced until perfect (or as near as dammit). Learners can go back to these goals and attempt them again at any time. Undertaking a simple 360 degree review on a regular basis is recommended so that learners can judge how much (or not) they’ve improved.

Goal-based technology allows this facility to be literally in the learners’ pockets. Including a repository of useful downloadable resources within goals also means that learners can look up relevant information on the job as they need it. The technology can also include reminders for learners that it’s time to review and refresh their skills.


OK, I admit that was 6 ways to use a goal-based approach, not 5. It’s such a versatile way of learning though that I could easily have stretched this list to 10, 15 or even 20 ways that it can be used. We love that it is such an active, empowering way of learning that really puts the learner themselves at the heart of it. What do you think?

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