The 5 Learning Models: Innovation

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In the last few weeks, I’ve described four of the primary learning models as Performance Support, Mass Distribution, Partnership, and University, most of which place at least some focus on the Information Dissemination learning pattern. This week, I’ll be covering the final learning model in the series, the Innovation Model, for those organizations that invest most heavily in the Skills Development pattern.


Whereas a model like Mass Distribution involves knowledge across a broad base, the Innovation Model is all about concentrating on specific jobs, skills and processes. It is generally the most technology-intensive form of training, exhibited by immersive simulations and gamification, but it also encompasses in-person, simulated practice. A flight simulator for airplane pilots is one evocative example, but even mundane skills such as customer service could be developed in adaptive role-playing exercises typical of the Innovation Model. The defining feature here is that training in this model gives people a safe place to succeed (or fail) in a close to realistic environment.

The Innovation Model is on the far-right side of the above continuum because Skills Development doesn’t occur in a single instance at the moment of need, as is the case in the Performance Support Model. Rather, it is practice that employees must engage in repeatedly and over time. Though Skills Development may be less urgent than Information Dissemination, L&D organizations operating in this model still require a great deal of time to design complex role-playing scenarios. On top of that, the technical development and troubleshooting required of deep, technology-assisted simulations can stretch out timetables even further.


  • The Innovation Model allows employees to develop skills in a safe environment, as opposed to on the job where they may be reticent to practice new approaches to their work.
  • Simulations provide immediate feedback on an employee’s performance, so any corrective actions can be taken before they affect business outcomes.


  • When operating under an Innovation Model, the time to design and develop the simulations, games, and technology required can push up L&D’s budget requirements.
  • The repetitive nature of a Skills-Development-heavy model means the time employees will be away from their actual job duties could be significant.


Time is a considerable dependency in the Innovation Model. But whereas the Information Dissemination pattern demands immediate attention, Skills Development is a long-term need. Time is required to design and develop accurate conditions for simulated training. Designers that don’t take the time to fine tune their simulations run the risk of putting out a product that is insufficient in depth of content, or lacks the realism necessary to prepare employees for their actual working environments.

Similarly, this model is dependent on the quality of its subject matter experts. Realistic simulations take expertise to investigate case studies and workforce data, then analyze the findings to come up with practical approaches to teaching these skills. Facilitators must be ready to target specific soft skills and push the workforce to practice processes repeatedly.

Connection to the Learning Revolution

While employees have usurped much of the responsibility over Information Dissemination, Skills Development remains a big part of what they need from L&D. What has changed is their expectations of quality of content, complexity, and relevance to their jobs. Technologically, L&D is now competing with slickly designed, consumer-grade apps, programs, and entertainment. Doing so has required a shift in spending away from singular LMSs and towards apps and simulations typical of a distributed learning ecosystem.

Just as employees expect information to be at their fingertips at the speed they need it, they’ll also question taking the time away from their jobs to participate in a simulation unless learning leaders can make the case that the skills and competencies being cultivated are valuable to their work. This means organizations should focus less on producing generic information on using certain tools, and instead be prepared to provide in-depth, hands-on practice to optimize the use of tools already in employees’ existing workflows.

Questions to Qualify

  • Are you providing valuable learning experiences to individuals based on their existing skills?
  • Do your simulations improve real-world skills through practice and experimentation?
  • Does your training provide a safe place for people to make mistakes?

If you recognize that your organization follows the Innovation Model, you should be asking these questions to develop your workforce’s skills effectively. Next week I’ll be covering [Depends on next week’s blog]. If you have any questions about any of the learning models or another Saltbox Savvy topic, leave a comment below or get in touch with us here.


Whereas some of the other learning models allow the business to reinforce its marketing messages and ideal processes, the key to the Innovation Model is designing around the user, based on conditions that are as true to life as possible. This means understanding the employee’s workflow and point of view when developing a simulation. You may consider shifting resources towards more polished, realistic environments in your simulations so that your workforce can derive full value from skills training programs.