Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Treating the Learner as a Consumer

I recently met with a new client to discuss a very specific problem. They had a internal business process that had been in place for quite a while. Some managers and executives followed this process while others did not. The interesting thing was nobody really understood how this process was integrated into the larger business strategy. Their initial thought was to create some sort of training to help the business leaders "understand" the connection. After talking with them I suggested we turn this on it's head and turn this into a marketing vehicle with nothing to do with training. This got me thinking . . .

As a business development director for a custom digital learning agency I have witnessed a shift in the past few years to measuring business impact as companies deploy and evaluate their learning and development programs. Although I still have my doubts around the ability to really isolate the impact of specific learning activities, it's gratifying to see attempts to use standard business measures and metrics to see if performance actually improves.

While there is talk and sometimes action around measurement of performance and alignment of learning to the business unit there still seems to be a impediment to significantly making a impact that can really measured. As a sales person, I have the unique benefit of being able to peek under the hood at my clients' learning programs. Many times I am told how L&D  is increasingly involved early on in the project scoping process. In these cases, L&D has the ability to influence how learning might or might not be able to have a measurable impact. So far so good . . .right?

When I am given the opportunity to actually review the elearning that was developed (either internally or by a partner) I am mostly disappointed by how flat and uninspiring it is . It seems like they talk a big game using jargon like "business alignment", "engagement", and "interactivity" when in reality it's a series of slides with text, images, voice-over, and maybe some knowledge checks. It reminds me of a cartoon I saw recently where the user is asked what they learned from a elearning program and he answers "how to move to the next page".

Am I missing something? Everything leading up to seeing that course was so promising. Then, the big let down! It seems like the pendulum has swung back to the steak. When we need more sizzle!

In our personal lives we interact with the online world in such elegant ways. We use apps like Pintrest, web sites like LinkedIn, and the iTunes interface is almost taken for granted. Why then can't we apply some of those same consumer-driven principals in our elearning?

Below I have listed the primary impediments and potential solutions that should be able to improve the user experience.

1) Lack of creativity in corporate L&D departments. Let's face it most L&D teams are comprised of instructional designers, elearning programmers, and maybe technical writers. Most, if any, creative talent is usually in the marketing group. It's very rare to have a quality "creative" in the learning group. I would suggest partnering with marketing to leverage some of that creative mojo. Or. if the project is high-profile enough you should be able to pay for outside creative support. Either way, most L&D groups need a healthy dose of out of the box thinking.

2) Defeatist thinking from the start. Very often, when I bring up user experience and design issues early in the scoping process, I get that look, which says "are you kidding, I can never get an idea like that approved or funded." It's like the awkward high school boy that doesn't have the confidence to ask out the girl he likes. Sometimes if you take a chance, spruce up your style and work on your confidence you can be surprised by what you can accomplish. My advice, work on your business case, show examples from the outside and be confident in your creative ideas. The response from the decision-makers might surprise you.

3) Being unaware of trends outside of L&D. Corporate learning is not at the vanguard of creativity and innovation. If you just looked at what the L&D space is creating you are limiting your point of view. Start looking at sales presentations, marketing campaigns, and even web sites for inspiration. It's OK to steal.

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