People want control. We like to choose our own paths, and we don’t want to be force-fed institutional gruel in the form of bad online learning. We prefer to select from a wide and nutritious buffet of options that inform and instruct in a variety of ways. And we generally don’t like passive, one-way traffic of ideas — humans instinctively share and learn from each other through real connection. With today’s technologies, we select the apps and tools we want to access and interact with the information we choose.
Many claim this behavior is the territory of younger workers, but it’s not about age. The bottom line is almost everyone uses technology differently than we did five years ago, and no one wants to suffer through an endless, droning, two-hour e-learning experience. No one wants to be told: “Go to this classroom first and listen to what I tell you.”
Regardless of their generation, people want content and experiences that are relevant to their unique needs and help them focus on improving performance.
Start by designing learning programs that feel like engaging exploratory experiences instead of lock-me-in-a-box courses. Provide resources that get people what they need, when they need it. Your resources might include formal learning events, but also access to RSS feeds about specific topics, short videos that provide the essential information delivered by an expert, job aids, step-by-step guides and tools that help performance when it most counts — in the moment. You can provide gentle guidance to direct people in the right direction, or simply back off and let them investigate on their own.
Of course, as we make the move to resources instead of courses, there is a danger that the learning and development industry will overcorrect. If we’re not careful, we may end up with a giant smorgasbord of resources, not much easier to navigate than the much-hated company intranet. So, let’s help learners see a possible path for moving through that content. You may also need someone to play the role of learning librarian, curating and organizing content so the best bits float to the top.
Most importantly, let’s shift the focus from tracking what people have seen and completed to what they know or can do. Focus the formal aspects of learning — such as classroom training — around some smart forms of assessment, like evaluation of role plays. Or better yet, start measuring actual job performance in a meaningful way. For instance, spend time looking at quality scores for call center reps rather than seat time in a course or score on a quiz. It doesn’t really matter how learners gain skills and knowledge; it matters that they do their job well.
How can you do more of this? Keep these tips in mind as you design your next learning programs:
• Present a core recommended flow through the learning resources. You might suggest employees start with a 20 minute e-learning overview, then take the practice simulation, then download the job aid.
• Offer a range of recommended, curated resources such as how-to guides, videos, access to experts and e-learning programs to allow open exploration of a topic.
• Build in a ratings system for all resources, and be brave about letting your learners publicly criticize content.
• Allow learners to contribute their own views and content. Find an area for their content that can be unofficial but available for all.
• Find out what your learners think. Build in ongoing feedback paths and modify your solution to meet their needs.
It’s going to be a challenge to turn around some of the corporate learning super tankers that have been put into place, but the writing is on the wall for the old 60-minute, e-learning, tutorial-style course. We just need to be careful that in the clamor to be seen as cutting-edge we don’t fall into the trap of a resources good, courses bad mantra.