Catch the wave of disruption in Learning


Working in high tech most of my career, I am no stranger to disruption. We often said that the only constant was change. When my large corporate strategy changed 3 years ago, it was due to the disruption in the world brought on from mobilization, globalization and consumerization of the IT industry. Users were demanding that IT behave like their consumer devices.

Now the same disruption has trickled down to learning. In the past year, much hype has been dispensed over micro learning, personalization, social, mobile, curation and lots of new technology. L&D departments are looking at how they can convert to the new methods and technologies. Cool new ideas! We see clients off and running to microlearning and converting 2 day programs to bite sized videos. We urge them to stop, think about strategy first and set up some goals and a new mindset. First, allow me offer a different perspective.

Moving to digital does indeed involve adapting to new stuff. It does mean re-creating. But the emphasis should be on the user experience and not the technology. And, transition – blend your content into a continuum, rather than a wholesale conversion.

Digital learning is Learner Centric

The center of the storm is user experience. How can we create the environment or the ecosystem that our users need and want?

Let’s step back in time for a minute. Years ago, Performance Consulting was all the rage. L&D professionals studied how to improve employee performance. We were embedded in the business and worked in silos to make the business function better. Instructional Designers analyzed the root of performance problems to find how to fix them with training.

The next craze was to create Participant Centered Learning, melding action learning into designs and creating experiential programs. We accomplished most of this in a blend of e-learning and face-to-face programs. Good stuff. But often expensive, with limited reach and long wait times for classes. We bought expensive e-learning from vendors to fill gaps.

All of this good stuff was up on an LMS, often hard to find with rules that made adding course hard and finding them harder. Typically, users had to wait for a class to be available to learn.

The biggest differences today are the learners. They have different expectations and access to information on the internet. Today, if I want to learn how to coach someone, I google it. I find tons of YouTube videos and articles on difficult conversations and lots of ideas of how to coach someone. I do not go to the LMS and see what is there – why wait for a class? Learners do not want to wait – they are overwhelmed and the thought of 2 days out is not appealing. So no show rates are up, and businesses are clamoring for new solutions.

I know, I a preaching to the choir. You know this – but how do you fundamentally change what you have today? How do you, in your company, disrupt training to be continuous learning, quickly, in budget and smoothly?

Getting started in digital learning

To me the first step is to address the user experience head on. Many recent articles talk about the demise of the LMS. But if you are invested in your LMS, I say change the interface and evolve to a different system. Fortunately, adding this technology is fairly simple and not expensive. The addition of a learning portal can change the user experience greatly and add the essential features you need today. Plus, you gain an amazing array of analytics!

A portal is technology that provides a front end that allows the integration of informal, external, social and personal learning. It comes in a few different forms and new companies are popping up all the time. The best known of these are Pathgather, Degreed, Go1 and EdCast,. There are other iterations available that sit in Salesforce, (Sales Hood, Learningly) or focus on microlearning (Grovo) or add mentoring (Everwise) and more. And some provide different services. Do some research or bring in a consultant to help select the right portal for your needs.

Adding a portal to the face of your learning has shown to dramatically improve learner engagement. Learners will be able to find the right learning using approved methodologies within the corporate environment and work with peers and subject matter experts to grow and develop. They will see curated content from a variety of sources.

Take the example of a newly promoted manager who is about to have a difficult coaching conversation. First, the manager can go to the learning portal and look at the learning paths just for the position and job family. Upon searching for coaching, the manager is given curated content that provides the method of coaching that fits the company culture. A path on coaching could include short articles on methods, short video examples and a book excerpt on difficult conversations. They can access SMEs or mentors and ask peers questions, quickly. And that content is available to them because the HRIS system says they are 1) a manager, 2) new to the job and 3) interested in that topic.

Adding new formatted content

We hear many questions from our clients about how to convert a 2-day class to be a learning path. Or how do they curate content and how to design for bite sized flows?

Making this type of transition is a good time to reevaluate content, internal and external. First of all, we suggest taking a long hard look at your external content library subscriptions. These include, Skill Soft, Lynda, Cross Knowledge, Harvard Manage Mentor, Udemy, Pleurlsite, EdX and more. I was part of a similar corporate review, where we found that some of the old libraries that we have used for years were quite outdated in content and in methods. Some are so huge they present too much content that is very uneven in content and quality. Nonetheless, external libraries can certainly help, especially at a 101 level. And today, there are different libraries for different applications (like technical, professional skills and leadership). As needs change, so should your libraries. As a result, I suggest re-evaluating them at least every other year.

From a design vs. buy vs. convert point of view, your options are much more varied. Adding learning paths through a portal means that you can add in articles, websites, lots of content that you can curate rather than create. But we are not out of the creation business. We have access to many new tools to create content. Yes, that mean micro-learning, but it also means creating content that mixes modalities to provide different solutions for different learning styles and needs.

For example, a new sales onboarding program could create pre-work in a learning path that included company information, overviews of products and markets. That could be followed by a boot camp in a mix of face-to-face and on line learning by cohort. Each cohort would be facilitated in a social learning environment with external and internal micro and virtual content. Ongoing learning could be in a mix of micro lessons, moment of need content and spaced learning.

More examples of this type of strategy in future articles.

Moving on to continuous learning

The ultimate goal of all this user experience is to create a pull from the learners. This strategy creates user action to go first to the learning portal to get information, rather than to Google it. Up to this point, we have pushed out training. Now, with curated content, technology, social learning and personalization, they can use the portal to learn, every day.

Once you have all those features available on your portal, you can look at learning in a new way. When your content is wrapped about personalization by grouping solutions in job families and levels, you can then link to competencies. All the personal data on a learner will come down from the HRIS system, like job role or families and any HRIS action like a new job, a promotion or level can trigger assigning new paths to a learner.

So let’s get started.

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