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The Golden circle of e-learning: 3 questions to guide you to perfect training

“Getting started is the hardest part”. This might be a cliché phrase, yet it communicates a universal truth that scares young and experienced training managers alike. It is not easy to figure out how to approach the learning process in a company, especially if it concerns e-learning. Should training managers gather all the available materials? Should they turn to subject matter experts? Is it necessary to prepare employees for e-learning? INTEA suggests asking three guiding questions that will lead to perfect training: Why? How? and What?

The Golden Circle

Investing money in training that never pays off can be painful. Still, some companies cannot avoid making this mistake and are stuck going through the learning process over and over again, trying to understand what went wrong. This may take months as quite often the problem is more fundamental and not immediately visible, such as a learning platform bug or unattractive design. Often the true cause of failure lies in the misperception of training goals. We forget that the creation of a course is not the final goal.

Learning in any form, be it a face-to-face lecture or an e-learning course, is just an instrument. Its sole purpose is to correspond to the business needs of a company.

To illustrate the importance of thinking about business goals, INTEA has adopted the Golden circle framework. The concept of Why-How-What was originally presented by Simon Sinek to help companies create strong brand perception by singling out their unique value. The idea is that one should always start thinking about Why – why a company exists and what its purpose is. Next, the managers must find ways How to deliver their beliefs to customers and How they differentiate from other companies in the same sector. Finally, the answer to What kind of product they sell is needed.

Our broad experience in the field has proved that the Golden circle principles provide excellent guidance for corporate managers.When training fulfils particular company goals, is delivered in the right way, and has all the necessary content, a firm will not only get to the desired point but also will see increased employee motivation and customer satisfaction.


When it comes to e-learning, we believe that it is essential to start approaching every new training with the Why question in mind. Sinek believes that Why is the most crucial component in defining strong brands. What we mean by asking Why in the learning process is understanding your business goals. Think about it – does all of your training correspond to your business goals? If they don’t, you might be in trouble, for your courses lack purpose. It is just an investment that in no way helps your company grow or develop in the anticipated direction.

Always start by defining your company’s long-term goals. Maybe it’s revenue growth? Higher customer satisfaction? Remarkable brand loyalty? The goals can be diverse, and they may be connected with one another, but the learning process should align with them in every aspect. Keep in mind though, that one training cannot correspond to an endless amount of goals since it runs a risk of containing too much information or lose flow.

What happens if a company does not take into consideration the Why can be illustrated by the case of a retail company who turned to INTEA for assistance in changing their existing in-person hygiene training. The company created a course only because it was obliged to do so by the government. As there was no incentive to make an effective course, it ended up with 200 navigation-less slides that were mandatory for each new employee to read. As a result, the new hires were constantly disturbing more experienced employees by asking them to briefly explain the most necessary points, rather than spending hours at the slides and trying to figure out what exactly was required for their job. Without the WHY companies are more likely to produce training that is not engaging, which can result in lower productivity and decreased employee morale.


Your next step in creating ideal training is to understand How learning helps your firm achieve the desired goal. What if your business goal is to decrease customer retention? Training your employees how to treat clients is not the one and only way to achieve this. For example, you may also introduce a bonus system for customers who have been with your company longer than a year or come up with family offers. So, at this stage it is important to be realistic about how the training, and not any other measures, may benefit your company.

Training is implemented to solve a problem or enhance the current state of work. To succeed in doing so, you must clearly define the learning objectives. In the above-mentioned example, the company may eventually find out that the problem indeed lies in employees’ attitude towards customers. Therefore, the learning objective may be to teach interpersonal skills or to improve knowledge about product features. Without even thinking about the content, it becomes clear that those are completely different objectives and each would require a different training approach. But HOW goes far beyond learning objectives.

Consider the culture and values of the company. HOW do employees perceive your firm? What is the environment? Raivis Freimanis, the CEO of INTEA, emphasizes the essence of corporate culture by comparing learning with gardening:

You have to look at the soil. The soil is the culture and values. If it’s a complete desert, no matter how much you try and how often you water the seeds, flowers will never grow there. Similarly, you don’t expect roses to grow in the soil that is meant for grapes.

Imagine an accounting firm Quarter that has a culture based on Theory X, where every employee is assumed to be lazy and demotivated to work. Quarter aims at creating a training about the best ways of giving peer feedback. But the underlying assumption of this training is that everyone wants to receive feedback in order to improve their skills and better complete their job, which is in line with Theory Y. It is very unlikely that Quarter will succeed with this course, considering that the culture of the company contradicts the main idea of the training. So, always keep in mind that training can only affect the culture in minor ways, and therefore should align not only with the business goals but with the learning environment of your company.


When you have gone through Why and How several times and you are sure your future training will align with your business goals as well as training objectives, it’s time to think about the content and ways of presenting it to your employees. Online or offline, e-learning platform or an independent course, skill-oriented of information-heavy – all these decisions have to answer the WHAT question.

Whereas WHY and HOW are important for you as an employer, content is still the King of training, as this is the only part your employee will see.

The problem many companies face at this stage is deciding on the amount and quality of the content to put into training. Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs, are the people who have the expertise to provide the material. For example, in a bank that has 20 different products, there is a particular person responsible for 1-2 products who knows every single detail about them. However, being an expert in a particular field does not necessarily imply that this person is a good teacher. In this case, a learner (for example, someone responsible for communicating with clients in the regional branch) will get lost if every expert puts all their knowledge in one course. So, even though a company has thought about WHY and HOW, it will be WHAT that will either enable or prevent employees from learning effectively.

The possible consequences that can come with too much information presented at once are: cognitive overload, unattractive design, and lack of relevance to employees’ everyday work. All these factors prevent learners from understanding and remembering the material. To avoid this, the bank should rather consider teaching employees the skill of finding product information. This way, cognitive overload is no longer a problem as there is less information to digest. Moreover, the relevance issues are solved as well. Of course, there are more tips and tricks on how to create engaging content, which we will share with you in one of our upcoming blogposts.

To show how the Golden circle of learning can lead to training success we want to present a recent client case. Latvia’s State Forests (LSF) is a state-owned enterprise entrusted with the management of forests in Latvia. What its management wanted to do is to teach employees some behaviors from the updated code of ethics.

Why: The mission of LSF is to ensure that one of the most valuable Latvian resources, forests, are used efficiently. Consequently, one of the company’s business goals is to support its ethical image. This stems from the fact that it is owned by the state, and any ethical issues within the company will negatively affect the reputation of the government as a resource management body.

How: The key learning objective was to teach the employees the ethical code and to make sure they are equipped to deal with ambiguous situations. So, it was skills that learners needed to acquire.

What: Since reading the code document itself would cover only a few most obvious cases, INTEA has proposed a game where employees are given situations and have to say whether it is acceptable or not from the ethical standpoint. This way, the goal of acquiring the skill - ethical awareness among LSF’s workers - was achieved at the highest level.

Creating training is never an easy process and it requires companies to work out effective internal communication, as well as to devote a lot of effort, money and time. Therefore, it is very important to start by asking the right questions to avoid a waste of resources. WHY do you need this training? HOW can it help you achieve business goals? WHAT content should be put in the course? The Golden circle approach will not let you forget about the initial purpose of your training and may help you achieve greater training outcomes.
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