Stop That, Try This: Tips to Improve Your Digital Learning Experiences

I am just coming back to surface after a lovely long weekend. In fact, it was Thanksgiving here in Canada, which is a bit like the same holiday in the U.S., except much smaller, with added maple syrup, as we wait for the first polar bear sighting at dusk. I am joking about the last part, so I will say sorry. Because sorry is also what we Canadians do. I spent some hours on Monday responding to the many who wrote to me after my last post, “Learning Vendor: Here's Why I Ignored Your Email”. I closed that article with an open call to share your work and be open to feedback. A few came forward publicly – bravery much applauded. Others were more hesitant and reached out via email. One vendor started their email with “I am scared” and described my writing as “scathing”. I prefer honest, but will defer to my husband (Update: I just asked him and he yelled down the stairs, “scathing” – noted). Still, it takes a lot to put forward your product. Thank you for your trust. Whilst I might be forthright on my blog, I never name and shame. I also do not accept solicited endorsements because www.lori.ca is a personal endeavour. It is meant to keep my sanity in the world of L&D (and is far healthier than a 3 o’clock martini habit). Therefore, even when vendors were public about their requests for feedback, I made the decision to email my thoughts, rather than post them. After all, what I offered was an opinion, and those are like noses: everybody has one. What I did want to share were some of the trends I saw and suggest some ways we can get out of our patterns. I have done similar posts in the past (here and here), but over and over, I see the same thing. For me, the biggest hurdle is we are so precious about capital “L” Learning, we overlook the medium of digital. We compare and design by looking at other learning examples, instead of other digital content. This will be our downfall. So, let’s get started… History lessons. I am proud to have done my part in the fight to stop starting modules with a list of learning objectives. Unfortunately, the new default setting has become useless facts. I browsed through a set of modules about different project methodologies and every single one began with a) year developed; b) who developed it; and c) the country or origin. Basically, three pieces of information I do not give a toss about and do nothing to increase my knowledge of the methodology. You have wasted your crucial make-or-break intro time to engage with trivia. Think of your favourite news website – write with headlines. Put pertinent facts first; history can come later, if needed. Hire a digital content writer. As of the time of posting this article, I am. Why? Sorry (because: Canadian) most L&D people write content as if for textbooks. It is artificial, wooden, and lacks authenticity. At one company I worked at, a humble, mid-level, employee started a brilliant one-woman blog on our internal social collaboration site. She wrote with honesty, not perfection, and yet she had 1,000+ more followers than the CEO. That’s powerful. Filming a video? Bring in a scriptwriter. They can weave in a narrative to make your content go from contrived to thought-provoking. I know, writers do not know anything about cognitive loads or Bloom’s taxonomy. But they do write engaging copy – we can *gasp* learn from them. Read more about Authenticity here. Don’t have the money to hire a writer? Take a few hits from their Top 40 playlist: storytelling, metaphors, and analogies. With the former, add depth to your characters (not avatars) so people can relate to your case studies and scenarios. Do they make a good paella, or take a night course in Italian? Do they play rugby or practice candle-making? The details add realism. If you are writing a course about herding cats, tell a story about when 3,000 cats were wrangled (or try this which is a brilliant example). Storytelling makes content more memorable. Use it. As for metaphors and analogies, these speak to the very core of adult learning: context. If you can describe a difficult methodology as say, something akin to changing a tire, then you have something the audience can relate to and absorb. This is much more effective than a list of steps to memorise. Likewise, I will never forget that a blue whale’s heart is the size of a small piano. Why? Because I know the size of a piano, but would be unlikely to remember years later a whale’s heart is 5 feet long, 4 feet wide, 5 feet tall (152cm X 122cm X 152cm) and weighs about 400 pounds (181 kg). The ability to conceptualise and remember the size is more important. Avatars. Ugh, enough already. I have banged on about these so many times, and yet, they survive better than cockroaches after nuclear fallout. No, I do not care if Squidgie the Robot gives me a thumbs-up for a correct quiz answer. Why? Because Squidgie, Patty the Customer Rep, or Hootie the Owl, are not real. Imagine if when you went to bbc.co.uk, there was a cartoon directing you to headlines. Ridiculous. Likewise, enough with stock photography of man in ill-fitting suit, or woman pointing at forehead in thought. If you really want images to compliment your content, try some free downloads at www.pixabay.com. Use sparingly. Diversity. We can do better than John Smith and Jane Doe. If your audience cannot see themselves in the content, they will not care or engage. Now, this does not mean calling every Latin American character a token Diego or Maria, or every European Bjorn. Whilst popular names, they signal laziness to your learners. Be realistic. Also, beware of stereotyping. The shifty man with the dark hair should not always be the criminal. It could be a short, blonde woman, like me – because that is real equal opportunity (and an exciting, new, career path)! I could write a lot about this topic, but will leave you with this tool to help you out with names. Designing learning experiences is a tough business. It would be so much easier if there was a magic formula to follow. But people are not computers that download content. We have become complacent and with the tsunami of content available, we cannot rely on our old tricks. We continue to imitate each other and whilst a form a flattery, we have lost our direction. Next time you build a piece of content, ask yourself honestly if you would go through all the leaps and bounds of an LMS to get to it. If the answer is no, try again. Be bold. Dump the formulas. Push. Like what you read? I would be grateful for a like, share, or comment. Want more? Download my free eBook.

I am just coming back to surface after a lovely long weekend. In fact, it was Thanksgiving here in Canada, which is a bit like the same holiday in the U.S., except much smaller, with added maple syrup, as we wait for the first polar bear sighting at dusk. I am joking about the last part, so I will say sorry. Because sorry is also what we Canadians do.

I spent some hours on Monday responding to the many who wrote to me after my last post, “Learning Vendor: Here's Why I Ignored Your Email”. I closed that article with an open call to share your work and be open to feedback. A few came forward publicly – bravery much applauded. Others were more hesitant and reached out via email. One vendor started their email with “I am scared” and described my writing as “scathing”. I prefer honest, but will defer to my husband (Update: I just asked him and he yelled down the stairs, “scathing” – noted). Still, it takes a lot to put forward your product. Thank you for your trust.

Whilst I might be forthright on my blog, I never name and shame. I also do not accept solicited endorsements because www.lori.ca is a personal endeavour. It is meant to keep my sanity in the world of L&D (and is far healthier than a 3 o’clock martini habit). Therefore, even when vendors were public about their requests for feedback, I made the decision to email my thoughts, rather than post them. After all, what I offered was an opinion, and those are like noses: everybody has one.

What I did want to share were some of the trends I saw and suggest some ways we can get out of our patterns. I have done similar posts in the past (here and here), but over and over, I see the same thing.

For me, the biggest hurdle is we are so precious about capital “L” Learning, we overlook the medium of digital. We compare and design by looking at other learning examples, instead of other digital content. This will be our downfall.

So, let’s get started…

History lessons. I am proud to have done my part in the fight to stop starting modules with a list of learning objectives. Unfortunately, the new default setting has become useless facts. I browsed through a set of modules about different project methodologies and every single one began with a) year developed; b) who developed it; and c) the country or origin. Basically, three pieces of information I do not give a toss about and do nothing to increase my knowledge of the methodology. You have wasted your crucial make-or-break intro time to engage with trivia. Think of your favourite news website – write with headlines. Put pertinent facts first; history can come later, if needed.

Hire a digital content writer. As of the time of posting this article, I am. Why? Sorry (because: Canadian) most L&D people write content as if for textbooks. It is artificial, wooden, and lacks authenticity. At one company I worked at, a humble, mid-level, employee started a brilliant one-woman blog on our internal social collaboration site. She wrote with honesty, not perfection, and yet she had 1,000+ more followers than the CEO. That’s powerful.

Filming a video? Bring in a scriptwriter. They can weave in a narrative to make your content go from contrived to thought-provoking. I know, writers do not know anything about cognitive loads or Bloom’s taxonomy. But they do write engaging copy – we can *gasp* learn from them. Read more about Authenticity here.

Don’t have the money to hire a writer? Take a few hits from their Top 40 playlist: storytelling, metaphors, and analogies. With the former, add depth to your characters (not avatars) so people can relate to your case studies and scenarios. Do they make a good paella, or take a night course in Italian? Do they play rugby or practice candle-making? The details add realism. If you are writing a course about herding cats, tell a story about when 3,000 cats were wrangled (or try this which is a brilliant example). Storytelling makes content more memorable. Use it.

As for metaphors and analogies, these speak to the very core of adult learning: context. If you can describe a difficult methodology as say, something akin to changing a tire, then you have something the audience can relate to and absorb. This is much more effective than a list of steps to memorise. Likewise, I will never forget that a blue whale’s heart is the size of a small piano. Why? Because I know the size of a piano, but would be unlikely to remember years later a whale’s heart is 5 feet long, 4 feet wide, 5 feet tall (152cm X 122cm X 152cm) and weighs about 400 pounds (181 kg). The ability to conceptualise and remember the size is more important.

Avatars. Ugh, enough already. I have banged on about these so many times, and yet, they survive better than cockroaches after nuclear fallout. No, I do not care if Squidgie the Robot gives me a thumbs-up for a correct quiz answer. Why? Because Squidgie, Patty the Customer Rep, or Hootie the Owl, are not real. Imagine if when you went to bbc.co.uk, there was a cartoon directing you to headlines. Ridiculous. Likewise, enough with stock photography of man in ill-fitting suit, or woman pointing at forehead in thought. If you really want images to compliment your content, try some free downloads at www.pixabay.com. Use sparingly.

Diversity. We can do better than John Smith and Jane Doe. If your audience cannot see themselves in the content, they will not care or engage. Now, this does not mean calling every Latin American character a token Diego or Maria, or every European Bjorn. Whilst popular names, they signal laziness to your learners. Be realistic. Also, beware of stereotyping. The shifty man with the dark hair should not always be the criminal. It could be a short, blonde woman, like me – because that is real equal opportunity (and an exciting, new, career path)! I could write a lot about this topic, but will leave you with this tool to help you out with names.

Designing learning experiences is a tough business. It would be so much easier if there was a magic formula to follow. But people are not computers that download content. We have become complacent and with the tsunami of content available, we cannot rely on our old tricks. We continue to imitate each other and whilst a form a flattery, we have lost our direction. Next time you build a piece of content, ask yourself honestly if you would go through all the leaps and bounds of an LMS to get to it. If the answer is no, try again. Be bold. Dump the formulas. Push.

Like what you read? I would be grateful for a like, share, or comment. Want more? Download my free eBook.

Learning Vendor, Here's Why I Ignored Your Email

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Sometimes I put up a post on LinkedIn that gets a little more, ahem, attention than I expected. This would be the case last month when I posted the following:

Learning Vendor: We are a creative, innovative, design-thinking, company! We are learner-centric and agile!

Me: Sounds great - can I see some of your work?

Learning Vendor: Sure! Here's a 17 minute GoAnimate video

Me: **sobs uncontrollably**

It garnered a LOT of views. As in 41,000…which initially made me a bit queasy, until I realised the comments were more than just people agreeing with my frustration. There was a healthy debate on how the standards of innovation have dropped and the perils of mass-produced content. It signalled to me that I am not alone with my cynicism in the learning industry.

Like most L&D folk, I get a dozen emails a week, and probably more than twenty InMail requests from vendors pushing their wares. The email opens with some sort of fuzzy science statistic to illicit shock (note: it does not), followed by an impressive list of clients, and then some more blah, blah, about how wonderfully bespoke and innovative they are and when is the best time to meet? (because: presumptive close!).

This is not an article about sales. Yes, I get annoyed when business development folks do not take the time to find out about my pain points and spam me. Why? Because you are wasting my time and your InMail credits. However, I doubt this practice will change any time soon and in passive-aggressive protest, all these emails go straight into the recycling bin.

So, Learning Vendor, why am I not impressed with your GoAnimate video? Precisely because it is a GoAnimate video. It is something that with a cheap license, I could build in-house. However, I would not build something in GoAnimate. Sure, it is an intuitive, rapid development software, but a) the graphics are very quickly dated; b) it looks like everyone else’s videos; and c) I get insecure when I see the impossibly tiny waists on their avatars (seriously, what happened there?). My expectation is that a vendor brings something unique; something I cannot readily develop internally. Oh, and if you are peddling VideoScribe content, you are marginally better…not by much.

I know Learning Vendor, you are trying to cut costs and keep margins low. There are other ways, my friend.

For example, we used stock video to produce vignettes on money laundering. A few people asked where we got the budget to fly to South America with a film crew. We didn’t. Using Camtasia, we threaded together purchased footage and built a narrative. Cheap? Yup. Cartoons? Nope. It also won a Brandon Hall Award, which was a pleasant bonus.

Video is not the only delivery channel where the bar can be raised. These are just a few of the sins I still see in learning content from vendors:

a)      Woman with clipboard or iPad introducing module. Okay, so points for diversity, but beyond that, this is a relic from the days when elearning was supposed to mimic the classroom. We have moved way beyond. Your content should not require an avatar to direct navigating. Instead, learning must have an intuitive UX and be written to engage. If you do not believe me about the woman, do a Google image search of Storyline+Articulate+Woman (again note the impossibly small waists – if Paris Fashion Week can ban tiny models, can’t we?). In fact, most avatars should quietly retire.

b)     Any of the following types of interactivity: spinner, Jeopardy Game, memory matching, or dice. There is no science that proves gratuitous interactivity increases retention. Secondly, branding these as gamification is false. Lastly, these are interactivities I can download from Articulate or eLearning Heroes and build internally. Admittedly these are not particularly my taste but it still comes down to a vendor bringing new ideas and skillsets. Hence why you are being engaged for work.

c)      Green screen + bad actors. These have made a comeback in the past few years and much like shoulder pads, they are not a good idea. Stilted dialogue and superimposed backdrops are simply poor experiences. There is no context for a learner to relate to, only snicker at. Likewise, if you are complaining about keeping costs down, hiring actors and renting studio space IS expensive. You would do better with a candid clip from a SME recorded on a mobile device; more authentic, less canned, cheaper.

I could go on and on with examples, but those are not important. I am also aware of the many vendors who have told me the clients are the real problem – we want high quality at a low price and quickly. I assure you I do not have expectations of Givenchy on a WalMart price tag. I want simple, well-written, intuitive, learning content.

So, what does this look like? Well, that can vary depending the content but one that I share often on the blog is www.playspent.org. This was a piece developed by an advertising agency, but one of the more effective modules I have seen. The copy is clean and engaging. The interactivity contributes, not distracts, from the learning. Lastly, the learner is at the centre of the experience. Had this been put in the hands of an L&D shop, there would have been downtrodden avatars and dozens of Next Buttons, because that’s how rapid authoring tools work.

Another favourite of mine is the “Ryan Learns Something” series by Degreed. Now, before anyone says anything, I know these were high budget and slick to produce. However, what is intriguing about these examples is the simple concept of watching someone else learn. It is the ultimate way for a learner to contextualise the content. Rather than a passive viewer, you are constantly thinking, “what would my reaction be? Would I be like Ryan?”. That is damn powerful and can be done on a smaller and more cost- effective scale. Also, with all the hype around microlearning (keep it SHORT), these videos weigh in at an obese 10-15 minutes…yet they have been viewed more than 250,000 times. EACH. Mic dropped.

Wait? I am not going to give you more examples? Nope. Mostly because I do this in other parts of the blog and because I do not have all the ideas. When I do have them, I use them to keep me employed. Also, the more I provide, the more replication. There is no magic formula or template to follow for good learning. Design is independent. You can be inspired, but also need to create.

You would think I learned my lesson after my initial viral rant, but L&D folks are the worst students. That said, I do hesitate to put up this post. I know it will result in dozens of vendor emails and calls. I am currently on contract and therefore not able to engage anyone. Translation: I am not a good lead. For real.

With that out of the way, if you still think your learning cuts the muster, then here is a challenge: share it in the comments, not via InMail. Let’s have an open and honest feedback loop with our networks. It might sting at first, but it could improve us all. Are you up for it?

Stop in the Name of Attention Theft!

I remember my first experience with theft. It was over twenty years ago and I had just landed in Germany, en route to my second year of teaching in Poland. To be truthful, I flew into Frankfurt to visit my then-boyfriend in Bonn. However, as far as my parents were concerned, it was “cheaper” to land in Germany and take the train to Gdansk. Ah, the days before widespread internet and a very trusting mom and dad.

After getting my luggage, I stopped to use a pay phone (yup, it was a long time ago). When I hung up, I noticed that my wallet was no longer in my backpack. My first reaction was anger. My second reaction was, I need to cancel my credit card and fast! Fortunately, I had already bought my train ticket to Bonn. Unfortunately, it was leaving in less than five minutes and without the credit card, I could not change my ticket. There was no time or means to sort the situation out, so I legged it for the platform and boarded. 

Two hours is a very long time to sit and hopelessly contemplate that your credit card is being charged to the limit on imagined first class tickets to Spain. I tried to relay my situation to the conductor in my pathetic German (Spoiler alert: my German is still brutal). He did his best to understand, but I had no success. Instead, he took generous pity on me and asked, “Rot oder Weiss?” repeatedly. Confused I said “Weiss” (white) and he promptly returned with a bottle of white wine. Let’s just say I tumbled off that train in Frankfurt 90 minutes later definitely less worried and angry!

So why the story? Well, I have been thinking a lot about theft lately. Mainly, my thoughts are around “attention theft” when ads are pushed to captive audiences who have not given consent. For example, you are stuck in a lift and there’s a TV playing a commercial. You have no interest in the ad, but when in a 6’x 6’ box suspended by cables with twenty other people you do not want to make eye contact with (because I am an urban Canadian), you are a slave to the message. It is maddening and disruptive, but part of our lives.

How many times do we commit attention theft when we design learning? From my experience, an awful lot. From designing to the lowest common denominator so the majority is sitting through content they already know, to spray and pray learning interventions that push modules that have little specific relevance to the learner but cover a broad swath of topics. Sure, we can do a fancy ROI to “prove” our learning was effective, but here’s an interesting little experiment I once did (location to remain anonymous): We took a data-sanitised list of top performers based on end-of-year ratings and compared these to their learning histories. Over 90% had only done their mandatory compliance training and never touched another object in the LMS in the past year.

It would be wrong to say these people did no learning all year, because obviously they were able to perform extremely well. When we spoke to a few of these people, they said they could get the content they needed quicker via their own search skills. Our courses were simply too slow or broad for their needs. Our content was simply attention theft.

Yes, these revelations certainly felt like a punch to the ego gut, but I have paid serious heed to this feedback. Consider the current rise of micro- and nano-learning: we all know learning needs to be shorter. That said, I get really twitchy when I hear these terms bandied about.

It is not about the length of the video or module. A poopy video is still poopy even if it is only 90 seconds long. Making content under five minutes does not magically render it immune to bad design.

Oh, the crimes against humanity I have witnessed committed with GoAnimate! To truly stop attention theft, we must design beyond length and look at the data.

It is no secret that I am in a love affair with xAPI. As a tool, it is built to track all learning experiences on and offline, and beyond the confines of the LMS. Bonus round: use it for detailed reporting on exactly how an audience is interacting with a piece of learning. Did they bypass the drag and drop? How many seconds did they spend on a page? Did they repeat an exercise? This gives you intimate knowledge on what is, and is not, important to your learner. It is then your job to revise based on these insights. If a page is often skipped, look deeper to see if you are committing attention theft and delete. If that content is critical, then present it in a different way. Then run it with xAPI and see if you increase engagement.

Not ready to use xAPI? (I would seriously question that decision) Simply pop your videos onto YouTube or Vimeo. Both will give you detailed analytics on how long your viewers are watching (Another spoiler alert: average watch time of short videos is 2 ½ minutes). Also, pay attention to the metrics of your peers in this space. I see a lot of microlearning being shared on LinkedIn with big hype, but when you look at the number of views on YouTube, sometimes the number is less than stellar.

Digital content providers and marketers have been in the data game for nearly a decade. There are thousands of articles on how to increase viewing times on YouTube to what attracts audiences in a headline. L&D has a lot of catching up to do for us to truly understand and design the way our learners want content, but with tools like xAPI, there is absolutely no excuse not to. I truly believe that in a few years time we will look at learning metrics as less about completions, and more about maximising engagement. I am excited for that paradigm shift.

I did get my credit card replaced without damages, which was a great relief. As for the then-boyfriend in Germany, I married him a decade later. Thankfully I did not meet xAPI until a couple years ago or he would have had some competition. As for my parents, I think they figured out my alternative travel plans but we never discuss it.

Note: photo for this article was taken from graffiti outside our local high school. Some things never change…

 

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Road Trip!

Looks like I have a full dance card this autumn, which is Über-exciting. The best part? This mini-tour is an opportunity to actually *gasp* meet many of the people I have been connecting with virtually over the past year.

If your calendar can swing it, here’s where I will be speaking September-November:

September 14, Webinar

Human Capital Institute

http://www.hci.org/lib/it-s-time-embrace-digital-revolution

September 20, Toronto ON

Canadian Community of Corporate Educators – CCCE

http://www.ccce.on.ca/events/panel-discussion/

September 28, Chicago IL

Degreed Lens

http://get.degreed.com/lenschicago

October 5, Toronto ON

Swiss VBS Learning Summit

www.swissvbs.com

There are a couple webinars which are TBD, but I will keep this page updated.

Really hope to see you at one of the stops – let’s collaborate, debate, and maybe have a drink (or two…mine's a vodka and soda).

Follow the Unsung L&D Heroes

I was travelling for a while in Central America and my iPhone frequently moved in-between dead zones. This made for long hours of silence and then a flurry of buzzes when we reached a town. Sure, I could have probably disconnected but that’s never been my style. I also liked the false sense of IT security while I avoided monkey poop and tarantulas (no exaggeration: howler monkeys do indeed throw their excrement at people who get too close. I stayed away).

Around Day 2, most people had already gotten my out of office notification and so my feed was distilled down into LinkedIn notifications, email newsletters I subscribe to, and my parents on WhatsApp. For the latter, this was usually my mother asking if I was okay, did I like this Ikea lamp (link to catalogue page), and my absolute favourite: my daily reminder that it is officially mojito o'clock. If you do not have a Polish mother, you have not lived. I digress…

Looking carefully at my inbox, it occurred to me that I get a lot of L&D noise email. This is not a surprise. There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in this space and I get stoked when I see provocative content. Few people are happy with their LMS and are finally starting to voice their frustrations (YAY!). People are questioning much of the junk science we were fed about theories like learning styles and interactivity (WOOT!). These are all good and valuable discussion to be had. It can, however, be hard to pick out the premium rum from all of the bottles on the shelf (insert mother mojito homage).

An interesting secret I discovered about our industry is that there are a remarkable number of senior leaders who are not actually L&D professionals. They are people who excel in a particular industry who then decided that they have a “passion for learning”. This is noble, but does not always mean the best voice in the crowd. Sometimes, they start bubbling to the top of your threads because they are really good at social media, or they have content marketing bench strength behind them. For an interesting take on this topic, see this brilliant post by Alan Walker. Anyone can call themselves a guru.

I am honestly not having a go at these folks. They spark conversation. A lot of great companies out there have solid ideas and products. They must push digital content from their marketing engine to build communities and sales, or wither on the vine. It is the cycle: resident thought-leader pens an article, marketing creates a campaign, they rally their advocates to love bomb with retweets, shares, and likes, and repeat. It works.

Additionally, there is likely a debate on what really constitutes a learning professional. Is it someone who has a Masters in Adult Ed? Full disclosure: I don’t. My only claim to fame is starting as an ID and hustling my way along. It keeps me fed and watered, but it is not traditional. This is a topic for another blog post.

My point is: as I sift through the emails, tweets, and posts swirling around me, what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle are the unsung voices that have the x-factor; a savvy combination of hard-earned experience, technical acumen, and usually some other random interest or skill that augments their mindset.

These are the people to pay attention to. They may not be bloggers, or eloquent (some are). They may not use twitter or post frequently (some do). Their feeds, however, are a stethoscope on what any strategic L&D person should be paying attention to.

Disclosure: No one on this list solicited an endorsement or recommendation. This post was inspired by a colleague who asked for a Top 5 LinkedIn People to Follow (thank you Josh Cardoz – he is hella smart – check him out). All of the people were selected based on my own opinion and because they do not post Zig Ziglar quotes. If anyone wishes to be removed, drop me a line at my blog.

Here's my list, in no particular order with links to profiles:

Quick note, the other quick way I whittled down my inbox is to dump any email newsletters that are not mobile enabled. You simply cannot be serious about invites to webinars on digital disruption if you picked a marketing automation engine that does not render on my iPhone. *raises mojito glass*

Play safe in the traffic, kids!

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Learning From Monkey Business

In the immortal words of Prince, “Dig, if you will, a picture…”:

Company ABC is introducing a new CRM solution and migrating from Outlook to Slack. Bonus points: they have dismantled their entire L&D team. Not one piece of internally developed learning content, SME blessed, and wrapped in shiny SCORM foil, will sit on the LMS. There will be no classroom event and you can forget about that continental breakfast. Employees will receive a few communications about the change and the following Monday, arrive to a new desktop.

Some experiments are cruel. Case in point: Harlow’s Rhesus monkey case study. In case you missed it, baby monkeys were separated from their mothers and given wire or cloth pseudo-mothers so psychologists could learn about attachment. Yay science! Not so good for the baby monkeys.

Few, if any, would be willing to take on the Company ABC experiment, which is sad. It is an interesting scenario to postulate upon, especially on a snowy afternoon like today.

If we delivered no support tools, infographics, or job aids, what would be the outcome on an audience? Would there be shrieking and poop throwing, or would teams learn to adapt, eventually settling back into banana eating and grooming?

This is what I think would happen:

Yes, there would be initial uncertainty; likely complaining and a loss of productivity for a spell. Eventually, there would be adaptation. Sales staff hungry to close deals would team up to figure out the CRM through trial and error. They would ferret out job aids and tools on the CRM product website, and join online forums to ask questions to other users. As for Slack, there is a short tutorial from the developers, plus a Slackbot to answer questions. As incredible as it sounds, users just might figure it out. Dare I say, they would *gasp* learn. And they would do it without our efforts.

One of the most common complaints I hear from L&D professionals is that learning is always consulted too late. By the time a project team thinks about training, the timeframe to design, develop, and deploy, is too short. Or is it? Nature abhors a vacuum and the more projects I oversee I have discovered that L&D people love to fill space. Without supervision, we happily performance consult, document performance outcomes, write learning objectives, draft storyboards, three rounds of SME feedback, Alpha and Beta testing, and do not forget Kirkpatrick levels 1-4. Cue the dopamine rush!

For those who follow my posts (thank you!) know I have been on this soapbox for a while. Interestingly enough, my last article, “Dear ADDIE, it’s not me, it’s you” actually generated some LinkedIn hate mail. I was in equal parts, both horrified and impressed. There were also a large number of people who are ready to move to more agile models, which was inspiring. (As for ADDIE, I quote Taylor Swift: “We are never, ever, ever, getting back together”).

It is not so much about challenging the status quo, but it is about thinking hard about what a learning experience is. Do we need to architect every bit of the 70:20:10? (And yes, I have my skeptical thoughts on 70:20:10, but I will be quiet) Applying a new lens, I now view learning initiatives like big adult colouring books. The temptation for us to fill in every single space is great…cue dopamine rush #2. Maybe we leave some blanks for learners to colour in.

Consider the course navigation page. We used to build these when eLearning was still new to our audiences. It supposedly reduced stress within the learning environment. That was ten years ago and some courses still have this page and they do our learners a disservice. First of all, if your design is not intuitive, that is to your shame. Secondly, spoon feeding navigation does not allow for the natural increase of digital literacy and competency that comes from exploration and doing (remember that 70%?).

Take a long look at your learning objectives and consider: what pieces of content design fall into the “obvious” category? Detailed job aids on technology platforms may ensure every eventual question is covered. They might also result in over-reliance on the tools instead of being learning to be self-sufficient at problem-solving within the application. It is the proverbial, give a man fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life.

Once you have filtered out this “obvious” content, what can you embed to increase or enhance other competencies on top of the set learning objectives? This is the “team a man to fish”, or what I like to call, the 2-for-1 special. A course about effective sales conversations could also increase mobile learning literacy. Likewise, a module about agile project management might also sharpen triangulation of data skills.

There is a lot of talk about whether we are seeing the death of the instructional designer. I think we are seeing the cannibalization of L&D. There are so many ways we need to evolve, but stall. It is not enough to simply be faster, we need to develop smarter. At the start of your next project, instead of performance consulting (which is valuable), ask one simple question: “What would happen if there was no learning?”. Work backwards, and ruthlessly, to build your framework. Streamline your design to give your learners opportunities to stretch.

Thinking back to Harlow’s poor experiment, maybe the baby rhesus monkey is actually, well, us. We are the wide-eyed, panicked stricken ones clinging to the cloth of ADDIE, or the artificial wire frame of learning styles (which are total BS). That position is una-peel-ing (my bad banana pun).

On The LMS Campaign Trail

No, this is not a post about politics. When I see political debates on LinkedIn, I’m quick to unfollow. For me, those very important discussions (and they are important) belong on Facebook and other outlets. Of course, I also unfollow anyone who posts Zig Ziglar quotes, which to me sound like, “Do not question whether you are the humble bologna or noble turkey breast – just know you are part of an bigger sandwich, blah, blah, blah”.

No matter who you voted for or support (again, no debates in the comments section, s’il vous plait) what can be said is many insights about online behaviour and engagement were demonstrated during the run-up to the election. Mainly, that there were many who were surprised by the presidential win based on what they were seeing on their social media feeds. People had created their own filter bubbles to serve up to them a world of opinions that matched their own values.

I am 100% guilty of this. In addition to my annoyance with Zig Ziglar, the other posts I ferociously weed out on LinkedIn are:   

  • My son/daughter is graduating this year and is looking for opportunities; Do your kid a favour and help them build their own LI profile and network, then I will happily engage
  • Anyone posting about Learning Styles and MBTI; you make me itchy
  • Real Estate agents stalking me; I’m not selling my house and you are creepy

But this is not a post about LinkedIn grievances and politics. Rather, this has me thinking a lot about how we push content to our audiences and the complex and nuanced relationships that exist online.

Part of my Predictions for 2017 in L&D was the death of the traditional LMS. I quickly learned that this was a provocative statement, but I still stand by it. While LMSs are improving, the majority of the big players are simply not evolving fast enough. More importantly, as learners naturally gravitate to their own fields of beliefs, it is important that we begin to understand how these arenas of influence operate.

Some LMSs are embracing the social. There are portals, communities, shares and likes, to entice the learner into engaging with content. This is a far cry from the graphic-free, non-HTML automated generic email, from the monolithic LMS, advising that Employee # 83H627 (FYI: that’s you) is overdue on their Code of Conduct training #bigbrother.

Likewise, other content providers curate daily feeds to their audiences, based on algorithms of their likes and previously viewed learning. This interests me because I am all about using data to make informed design decisions. If we do not seek the insights based on our learners’ digital body language, then we are wasting our time (shameless plug: here’s the free eBook).

While both social and curation are eons ahead of where we were, they have one fundamental flaw: the learner can make themselves cozy in their filtered bubble. This is great when the learner is keen on a topic. It does not function as well for a company undertaking a culture shift or transformation. Sure, you can force messages, but then you are back in Compliance Town, living on Lockstep Avenue.

What I would really like to see is an LMS with an embedded marketing automated engine. Yes, I know. L&D people hate the M-Word, but hear me out. Consider this standard scenario: To make a purchase or download a whitepaper, you provide your email address to a company. Behind the scenes you are segmented according to profile and are funneled into a text or email content campaign designed to spark interest and engagement with their offerings.

This campaign is not a linear path, but rather a flowchart of if/then actions to guide you towards a solution. Of course, parts of the campaign take into account your expressed preferences, while other parts of the campaign (and this is key) are curated to drip-feed content you may not have searched for on your own, or might not even be aware of.

I would love to do the same: build out a learning campaign based not only on algorithms for personalization and interests, but also a flowchart to insert content to meet performance outcomes; as in, the topics the learner might not naturally gravitate towards but are important to the business. I believe it is a way to socialise new concepts and continuously engage and challenge audiences. It also removes one from the filtered bubble.

Have a quick look at your LinkedIn Pulse. You are probably seeing content your connections liked, plus articles trending in your network, along with overall popular LinkedIn topics. A good benchmark in marketing is that a new concept has to be viewed 3-5 unique times before clicking. Single email notifications are not going to cut through the digital noise our learners receive. Learning campaigns are a way to craft that curiosity.

Another item on the wish list? An aggregate view of webs of influencers and connections on a social LMS platform, please. I want to understand how interwoven an audience is, who the trusted posters, and where are the outliers. Digital relationships are finicky. BS detectors are set to max because we lose the visual cues normally found in face-to-face conversations. This is why establishing trust and credibility are paramount. Previously, an email communication from the CEO was de rigueur.

For better or worse, you are more likely to pay attention to someone you have digital respect for rather than someone you have never had an online conversation or relationship with, regardless of the senior CEO title.

A better understanding of the landscape could mean increasing cross-pollination of silos and strengthening advocacy for a certain learning object.

Learning from past posts, let me be upfront and say that I am but a humble consultant and have no means to invest in an LMS. If you are in sales and your LMS has these functionalities, I would love to hear about them, but I am budget-poor. If you are an LMS, or even an LRS, vendor and think these are intriguing ideas to consider building, then you know where to find me.