How to Solve L&D Problems for the Modern Learner

Wisetail’s President, Ali Knapp and Learning Cluster Design’s CEO, Crystal Kadakia Answers the Top Training Questions 


Wisetail sat down with our fearless leader, Ali Knapp and Crystal Kadakia, founder of Learning Cluster Design to discuss trends we are seeing in the learning and development industry as learners evolve.

What are the 2-3 fundamental issues you notice with traditional LMS and how do we address these? 

Sometimes we can see that traditional learning platforms are stagnant, a little bit dated, and they definitely facilitate more of a top-down approach. We are trying to create a modern technique that really encourages learners from every area of the organization to be a part of the overall learning experience. We want learner engagement and sources from all different areas, so it’s not just a top-down company. By pulling third-party content into this experience, you’re encouraging communication between learners and really trying to facilitate a community of engaged learners. Because of engaged learners, you’ll see they’re going to elevate and take their skills to a completely different level than if you are setting it from more of that top-down organizational standard. That’s what we’re on a mission to do.

Social and engagement are important to learning tools, can you share the ways social is integrated seamlessly with Wisetail for modern learning? 

As a platform, it was really built with a ‘social first mindset’. In the beginning, we were taken to be more of a YouTube channel for engagement. How do you bring more of those employee conversations together in video format? It was really what evolved over time into more of a true LMS and an LXP product. Every component of the Wisetail platform has social woven into it. If you are in our training module, you can engage with other learners in conversation. There’s a full dialogue section on our platform where you can push out communication, such as newsletters. We have companies that are facilitating book clubs, for example, through our platform as part of this overall learning community. Clients are tying in some of these social components that bring learners back to this watering hole that has everything you may need at your fingertips.

A big part of modern learning is tying learning to learner context. How do your clients organize content and make it feel “for me” for learners?

We live in such a content-rich world where everything is changing every 30 seconds. As a society, we’re moving quickly and our learning methods need to keep up with that. Those times when you put out a piece of training content and you update it in two to three years, is no longer efficient nor relevant anymore. Our clients have some of the most meaningful content from crowdsourcing. They have content sourced directly from their learners and from their community that resonates more with their audience. We have clients that have created short videos with phones and then directly uploaded them. Those videos are getting more views than anything else on the platform, because people see it as authentic content coming directly from the field. When people post training content that they’ve read from different sources or pulled in from third parties, it can really enrich that overall learning experience as well.


Ali was joined by Crystal Kadakia – a two-time TEDx speaker, CLO Best Learning In Practice award recipient, best-selling author of Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM (ATD Publishing, 2020) and The Millennial Myth (Berrett-Koehler, 2017), and an OD consultant. She is the co-creator of the Owens-Kadakia Learning Cluster Design Model, a new model for designing learning that shows those designing learning how to move from one and done, one size fits all programs to the modern way of learning: “Learning Clusters” that surround learners with meaningful Learning Assets. Clients like Atlassian, Pepsi, General Mills, and the World Bank work with the LCD Group to grow their skills in the model and work with LCD Group’s consultants to solve modern learning challenges. Crystal has a bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering and a master’s in Organization Development. 

One of the five key Actions of the LCD model shows learning designers how to: “Surround Learners.” Could you give a few examples of Surrounding Learners?

An example of surrounding learners is a problem we are trying to solve as a Silicon Valley company: try to create a balance between standard ways of working and autonomous culture.

A lot of Silicon Valley companies have the struggle of being a start-up and having tons of independence in work. You want that independence to continue because it drives innovation. However, once these companies grow, they want a standard way of working to take place. Of course, you could run a class on “here are our standard ways of working from now on” but that leaves you to wonder if that is really going to work, especially given this autonomous culture that has been created. So one of the things that we did was identify what best work practices are people really hungry for and find valuable. Then we looked at different personas within the community. What we found was there were people who had a lot of experience where standard ways of working were almost getting in their way because they could read the context and know what to do better than someone who’s newer in the organization who might find those standard ways of working more as guidance and help.

Looking at personas, we started finding different practices to be more helpful to different groups, delivered in different ways. That’s an example of how we start to break down a business challenge into not just delivering training but thinking about diverse learner personas and what types of learning assets might speak to those learning personas – when and where and how.  We end up with recommendations around different topics, different personas, and we find some pretty key personas that pass learning throughout the organization from a social-learning standpoint. We end up with a kind of cluster of learning assets as our recommendation to those SIlicon Valley companies.

One of the first questions we often get is, “Now we’re going to be creating all these different learning assets, how do we know that they’re gonna be perfect? How do we know that every learner is gonna be using all of this great stuff we have out there?” By design, that is not the point. Every learner is not going to use every asset. You’re going to hypothesize and experiment with your diverse learner personas and try to speak to them.

How does the LCD model help change on the job behavior?

In traditional L&D and most other learning design models, we focus on our learning goals and terminal objectives for the end of the class or course. What will the learner be able to do by the end of this video? By default, right from the start, we inherently limit our results. The moment you determine your goal is the moment you begin to shape the path to the solution and its related results. 

The Learning Cluster Design (LCD) model takes a significant leap towards having a much greater impact by setting a new goal: to change on-the-job behavior. Not only is our goal different, but so is our process to meet that goal. We don’t rely on a single class or course to change on-the-job behavior. The LCD model’s default is to design more than one learning asset to change performance where it counts, back on the job. By designing a learning cluster, a smartly selected set of learning assets across media, times, and places, we beat the doubts around having an impact on the job. How do you design a learning cluster? The LCD model shows you how to do just that.

Ali wraps it up with the keys to success for L&D teams.

What skills and beliefs do your most successful, modern L&D clients hold? 

Our clients are constantly seeking improvement and are never completely satisfied with themselves. They are seeking to challenge themselves and, most importantly, they do not follow trends. They do not look at the latest learning and development trends, but rather look at trends in technology and in growing industries for innovation. Our most successful clients see how they can use those trends to learn and apply them to their people-focused learning strategy. They are investing in technology and have lost the mentality of delivering a class. They are delivering an overall learning experience and gaining ROI on their strategies. 

If you have a traditional learning approach, it may not resonate as much with modern learning approaches. How do we better educate or get people on board to this methodology? 

In any work, it is proving what works. We can set up smaller use cases and use a modern learning approach within them. We are going to put different resources to drive the overall piece, measure the result, and see how that overall program worked. Start off small and do it around a singular topic, prove that it works and build on that. 

It’s impactful to your overall organization because results, driven in any company, are what can start an overall movement. If you can show what works, it’s going to be more widely adopted and ultimately successful. 

Find the full, video version of the webinar here.