New Model Helps L&D Professionals Meet the Needs of Modern Learners

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New ATD publication addresses the question of how L&D professionals can better design for modern learning.

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“If you approach a learning project as designing training and enabling knowledge acquisition, then you are living by time-honored, traditional instructional development principles and assumptions." — Author Crystal Kadakia

In Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM (ATD Press, June 2020), L&D experts Crystal Kadakia and Lisa M.D. Owens introduce the Owens-Kadakia Learning Cluster Design (OK-LCD) model to address the question of how L&D professionals can better design for modern learning.

In a world where learning is needed every day, the role of L&D is more important than ever, but the toolkit used by L&D professionals is outdated and incomplete. The expectations and realities of today’s learning environment are far more complex than traditional instructional design models were intended for. The holistic answer to learning in the modern workplace is the OK-LCD model. Owens states, “We believe that the OK-LCD model is more compatible with our current context of learning and working within a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. The model has greater potential to help learning professionals make a bigger impact with modern learning design.”

Developed and iterated over the past five years, the model is grounded in the fields of instructional systems development, neuroscience, cognitive and developmental psychology, and organization development. The OK-LCD model does not replace other ID models that guide L&D in how to create effective learning from start to finish; in fact, these models should still be used to design specific learning assets. But modern learning is about continuous, daily learning, across the flow of work, which is where OK-LCD comes in.

The model is based on four principles:

  • Go beyond one-and-done: Create multiple planned and unplanned learning assets across the flow of work—not just one asset, such as an event- or cohort-based course or class— to build employee capability.
  • Design the whole, not the parts: Design a strategically integrated set of learning assets—coined “learning clusters”— as opposed to designing random assets that don’t consider the impact of one asset on the others.
  • Focus on learner needs: Rather than focusing on what L&D can do (and most often does), focus on delivering learning assets for when, where, and how the learners need learning.
  • Change on-the-job behavior: Target the design to improve specific performance on the job where it counts, rather than only committing to knowledge and skills during a learning program.

OK-LCD is more than a philosophy and is composed of five Actions that L&D professionals can use to design learning clusters:
C: Change On-the-Job Behavior
L: Learn Learner-to-Learner-Differences
U: Upgrade Existing Assets
S: Surround Learners With Meaningful Assets
T-ER: Track Transformation of Everyone’s Results.

“If you approach a learning project as designing training and enabling knowledge acquisition, then you are living by time-honored, traditional instructional development principles and assumptions,” says Kadakia. “However, if instead you approach a learning project as designing and facilitating access to a wide variety of learning assets, and as empowering and measuring behavior change in the workplace, then you are living by the principles embedded in the Owens-Kadakia Learning Cluster Design model—and you are seamlessly connecting learners with the resources trainers need to change behavior on the job to deliver the desired business results.”

About the Authors

Lisa M.D. Owens is a learning expert who combines her engineering mindset with her deep interest in instructional design and learning sciences to create training that moves business forward. During her Procter & Gamble career, Owens was the leading training professional, with a broad range of cutting-edge internal programs. Since retiring from P&G, she co-authored Leaders as Teachers Action Guide; Your Career: How to Make It Happen, 9th edition; and Lo Start-Up Di Una Corporate University (Italian). Since 2009, she has served annually as a learning awards judge, including for ATD BEST and CLO ELITE. She holds a bachelor of chemical engineering from Georgia Tech as well as a master’s in education. She worked at the Savannah River nuclear facility before joining P&G in 1977 as a process design and construction engineer; in 1992 she took on full-time global training responsibilities at P&G. She was lead instructional designer for a nation-wide youth leadership training camp in use since 2003 in the United States and since 2006 in China.

Crystal Kadakia is a two-time TEDx speaker and organizational consultant, known for transforming the toughest digital age workplace challenges into exciting possibilities. As a consultant, she helps leaders reimagine and change people strategies in areas such as inclusion, organizational structure, leadership development, remote management, and employee engagement. One example of her work to challenge the status quo is how she has changed the story around generations through her bestselling book, The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs (Berrett-Koehler 2017), and keynotes, reaching thousands. She is honored to be a Power 30 Under 30, CLO Learning in Practice, and ATD One to Watch Award recipient. Her academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in organization development.

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit

Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM
ISBN: 9781950496655 | 200 Pages | Paperback | Digital
To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with Crystal Kadakia or Lisa M.D. Owens, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at

Designing for Modern Learning: Beyond ADDIE and SAM

Q&A With Crystal Kadakia and Lisa M.D. Owens

1. What does “Designing for Modern Learning” mean? Is there a definition for modern learning or for the modern learner?

Crystal: When people hear the term modern learner, almost everyone thinks or describes someone from the millennial generation. Yet the definition of modern learner is much broader and more inclusive. We define a modern learner as someone who needs to learn fast in an ever-changing environment, who will access a wide variety of resources to get answers.

When we researched solutions for designing for modern learners, the common solution seemed to be to throw more technology into the mix to keep young people engaged. Yet, in talking to modern learners, that’s not what they were seeking. The key to designing for modern learners is to design pathways that quickly connect these learners to the best learning content and programs at their most likely moments of learning need. They might not use the same tools all the time and they might look for different content on different channels. It’s much more contextual and it’s also related to the mindset of a learner. Modern learners are focused on ongoing learning.

Lisa: This is a huge challenge for L&D. How do we get learners connected to the right content? How do we ensure it’s available when they need it? What systems do we establish to assure content is up-to-date, given how fast everything changes? And, most importantly for us, how do we do all this on the limited resources of L&D? These are the issues we sought to resolve as we started our work on how to design modern learning.

2. How did you first become interested in this topic?

Crystal: In 2015, I was asked by ATD, “Can you create a training program for L&D about modern learners?” The first person I thought of as a partner on this project was my colleague and good friend, Lisa. We met while at Procter & Gamble and really clicked in the way we think and work. Like me, Lisa is a revolutionary—she had extensive experience in navigating the training industry and asking the questions other people weren’t.

During our time at Procter & Gamble, we were immersed in a data-driven, high-performance, and consumer-focused culture. As engineers, we look through the lens of how to make things work better in reality, not just in theory. Together, we started researching the topic and talking with others to get perspective. We gathered and organized our different experiences and ideas around what’s shifting, what’s working, and what’s not working.

3: What were your biggest surprises about what is shifting, working, and not working in L&D?

Lisa: It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized that the L&D industry is trying to meet today’s needs using the same models and tools our 1960s L&D fathers used—although today we use PowerPoint slides and web pages, while they were using 35mm slides in a carousel.

I love the old models and modified them as needed to design using newer technologies. I’ve been an early adopter of new learning technologies: in the 1990s it was CD-ROMs and centralized LMSs; in the 2000s, web-based, virtual, and blended learning; and in 2010s, it was a fleet of remote presence robots enabling trainers to reach learners from anywhere in the world. During this time period, I led the master trainer certification for classroom delivery with tips on how to handle learners whose devices distracted them from learning. But all this was incremental change, even Band-Aid–solution thinking, compared to the technology-driven changes we face this decade. We’re in the middle of a revolution of disruptive innovation, and L&D needs to join up.

Crystal: My biggest surprise was how instructional design has been so focused on delivering just one thing—be it a manual, a classroom training, or an e-learning program—in answer to each training challenge. Our traditional and current instructional design models, such as ADDIE, SAM, Agile, and even design thinking, assume that the designers’ job is to create one main training deliverable or learning asset, as we call it. I am also surprised by how challenging it is for training professionals to get in touch with how different the experience of learning is today, much less to reflect on the implications of those differences for L&D in the workplace. To sum it up, it became clear to us that the L&D industry didn’t have a solid way to strategically design learning in a way that meets today’s digital reality.

4: Why did you write the book Designing for Modern Learning?

Crystal: We wanted to offer people a new resource to help them use the Owens-Kadakia Learning Cluster Design (OK-LCD) model. We had been teaching our model in face-to-face courses since 2016, and it was time to get broader reach for this approach. Writing the book gave us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned since 2015, and to share the meaning and impact of our work more deeply than we can do in a workshop.

5: What is the OK-LCD model, and how will it help L&D?

Lisa: The OK-LCD model is composed of five Actions that L&D is best suited to take. As is suggested by the OK-LCD graphic, most people start with the Action on the left and move toward the right. But each Action influences the others and can be taken in any order depending on the situation and business needs. All Actions feed into the central Surround Action, which is what differentiates the model from any other. The Surround Action provides L&D with a strategy to piece together a variety of learning assets of various sizes and methods to provide learners with the learning they need, based on how, when, and where they need it.

Crystal: The OK-LCD model gives us a new way of thinking and doing; it helps L&D professionals make the shifts needed to play a more critical role that benefits the learners, the business, and the L&D field as a whole.

For learners, the model guides L&D to take the time to create multiple learner personas (rather than one target audience), which then leads to multiple learning assets they can use. Not just classroom or programmatic assets either—assets that can be used when learning isn’t planned, but is needed on the go, in the flow of work.

For the business, the model starts by making sure L&D connects the capability gap to the impact on the business and the on-the-job behaviors the business wants to change. This sounds simple, but it’s a huge step. L&D typically writes learning objectives based on what it has control over; that is, the things that can be measured during or shortly after learning occurs. The OK-LCD model breaks through this tunnel-minded programmatic approach with its new strategic performance objectives (SPO) delivered through learning clusters.

Finally, for the L&D field, because the learning cluster—the main deliverable of the OK-LCD model—is so learner-personalized and oriented for on-the-job change, L&D as a department grows in its impact and relevance. With the new OK-LCD thinking, templates, and a few examples shared in the book, L&D can successfully make this shift to a bigger playing field.

6. What are some of the unique points of view your readers will learn?

Crystal: Of course, as we’ve shared, the biggest unique point of view on L&D’s new modern learning job is to strategically design multiple learning assets to meet a capability goal. And we share how to do it—by designing a learning cluster across what we call three learning touchpoints: social, formal, and immediate. You can learn more about these in the book, but it’s a way to organize and design learning assets that help L&D move beyond formal training alone. This is what L&D needs to do to level up our own way of living, working, and learning in a digital world.

Some other unique points of view concern our thoughts on L&D’s role and technology. Rather than eschewing responsibility when talking about things like self-directed learning, we encourage L&D to step up and guide the learning so that people aren’t wasting their time filtering through tons of irrelevant information on intranets or the internet. We also believe L&D has a necessary and important role to play with technology like virtual reality and artificial intelligence. We need L&D to partner closely with vendors in these areas and provide their learning design expertise so these solutions are used in a way that is consistent with the neuroscience of learning, adult learning principles, and more learning theories that are in our wheelhouse.

Lisa: Along with these new points of view, there comes new terms. Learning clusters and learning assets, for example, is a new way to talk about the products L&D creates. And instead of a monolithic description of our target learners, we now talk about several learner personas within our target and focus on those that are likely to have the biggest impact on changing the related business KPIs.

We also don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water. Many L&D conversations about modern learning imply that we need to start from scratch. The OK-LCD model has an answer for that—the Upgrade Action, which guides L&D to reuse, repurpose, and modernize existing assets, using what we call the Nine Elements of Modern Learning.

Our L&D scorecard changes too. While continuing to measure individual learning assets for effectiveness, we broaden our measures to include the impact of the entire learning cluster on the business. We set up channels to gather qualitative and quantitative data, as well as KPI data that the business is already using. This data can be correlated to the use of the learning clusters. The Change and Measure Actions help L&D avoid the issues we’ve often run into when trying to prove our worth strictly through ROI measures.

9. Do you recommend that readers just start from the beginning and read through to the end?

Crystal: We want you to have the option to learn when, where, and how you want to learn. The headings and the layouts will help readers easily navigate the book to the chunks they are most interested in.

Lisa: Maybe you just want to read the first two chapters and skim the stories as a start. Maybe you want to begin with the tools in the appendix, and then read the “The Action Implemented” sections. Or, if you want to deep dive into the whole thing, go grab your coffee and get immersed. We want you to choose your own path based on your learning preferences and needs.

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