Seven 2017 Learning Trends: Novel or Norm?

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At the start of a new year – or the end of an old one – we love to read about trends. Articles on trends can be fun reads, but do they really help us see the future? Do trends really matter?

I’ll let you decide. I went back and found a 1998 ATD (then ASTD) State of the Industry report. Note that the “trends” listed in this report were often reported by only 1% – 2% of the respondents, who numbered in the 300 range. This meant only three or four respondents were citing these trends as tools or tactics in their talent development toolkits:

  • Computer-based training (CD-ROMs)
  • Electronic Performance Support Systems (Interesting fact: Google was founded in September 1998.)
  • Interactive video laser disks
  • Intranets
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Individual development plans
  • 360-degree feedback

From Trend to Reality

If we look at 2017, we can see that 1998 trends were all hallmarks or rudimentary renditions of things we take for granted today:

  • Computer-based training delivered via CD-ROM has been replaced by custom-created eLearning delivered via the web as well as on-demand content from MOOCs, Lynda.com, or Software as a Service (SaaS) content providers such as Grovo or Skillsoft.
  • Early Electronic Performance Support Systems and intranets were the predecessors of modern help systems such as Lynda.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, or Google as well as collaboration, information sharing, and communication tools such as SharePoint, Slack, Basecamp, and Skype plus networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter.
  • Interactive video laser disks were quickly replaced first by VHS and Beta videotape and now by videos that can be shot and edited via a smartphone and streamed via the web.
  • Coaching and mentoring, along with 360-degree feedback, have created an entire new industry and a plethora of assessment instruments. DISC, Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, EQ assessments, leadership inventories, etc. all exist to provide us with feedback and enable others to coach us.
  • Individual development plans are a foundational element/concept related to the learning management system and now talent management systems, which try to catalog skills and knowledge required for various positions and document the development plans that enable someone to be successful in a given role.

In short, those 1998 trends evolved into today’s reality over a span of years. But the evolution was not always fast. In fact, the 1999 “trends” probably looked similar to 1998’s version.

Fast Forward to 2017

There are really two groups of learning trends to watch in 2017. The exciting group that everyone wants to talk about is new on the scene. We are seeing the first signs of these trends, but it will take several years for their usage to become meaningful. The second group has already been talked about for several years, some of them as far back as 2008. But just like those trends from 1998, they are now becoming mainstream.

Three 2017 Emerging Trends

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1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

This one is getting ready to boom. Artificial intelligence and machine learning take in lots of data inputs and provide pinpoint guidance back to us. AI is already in the classroom. It’s available to us as consumers. It’s logical to believe that corporate learners are going to expect an evolved learning experience that goes beyond static, unchanging content as we move to the future.

We are seeing lots of examples of machine learning (self-driving cars use machine learning, for example). Predictions are for virtual assistants to find their way into more and more classrooms; some already exist today. It’s realistic to think that at some point, virtual assistants will make their way into the HR and L&D realm as well.

2. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality

These new reality technologies have been sitting on the horizon for years. Technology has finally gotten to the point where the opportunity is catching up to the promise. In 2016, VR headsets and game systems emerged on the market that are relatively 1) affordable, and 2) comfortable to use at least for up to 30 minutes. Older systems tended to make people motion sick very quickly. Motion sickness can still be a problem, but most people can tolerate it for periods of up to 30 minutes’ time.

The eLearning Guild has announced its first VR and AR conference in 2017, a sure sign that this is a technology that’s moving past “interesting to watch” to “great examples of its use are out there.”

3. Storytelling

This one is a sleeper. It is not about technology. It’s about how we get people to pay attention. We are all going to have to get better at telling stories and using stories to help people learn. Videos, VR, and games all lend themselves to stories so the ability to craft compelling stories is going to be key to effective use of technologies.

Four 2017 Established Trends

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1. Microlearning

Simply put, microlearning is learning that is organized into small components or activities, typically about five minutes in length. Microlearning has been around as a term since the early 2000s; it has become immensely popular as a term in the past couple of years.

In the past three years, there has been a proliferation of SaaS solutions focused on microlearning, including Knowledge Guru, qStream, Axonify, Grovo, and Mindmarker.

Part of the push links to the uptick in interest is the arena of “learning science” and the science of learning. Increased awareness of the linkage between spaced repetition of content and long-term memory has sparked interest in microlearning.

2. Mobile

Mobile is no longer new, but it does appear to be “stuck” with adoption not proliferating as trend watchers predicted back in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  The constraints of the LMS – and lack of adoption of xAPI – keep it in limbo as a primary tool for learning. However, it’s an excellent tool for microlearning. The tools touted for microlearning rely heavily on smartphones to distribute their microlearning.

3. Gamification and learning games

This trend has moved mainstream. It is questionable whether it still warrants the term “trend” as the research is fairly compelling as to the efficacy of learning games as a tool.

Mobile games remain an intriguing learning solution, particularly when combined with the emerging interest in microlearning.

4. Interactive video, 360-degree video

Video keeps getting more and more useful as the tools available to produce it become more accessible. The newest iPhone, for example, has a very worthy video camera. It’s possible to shoot and edit a video all on a smartphone and then push it out to a video streaming site such as Vimeo or YouTube on that same phone.

Why Compare 1998 to 2017?

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As I pondered trends from 1998, I concluded these things:

1. Change can feel slow, but we never stand still.

Year-to-year change can be so slow that we may fail to recognize when big change is around the corner. It takes a decade or more for dramatic change to start to become visible. In that time, some “trends” will morph into completely different technologies. Clearly CBT has morphed into the eLearning we currently have. The eLearning we have now is likely to morph into AI, VR, or AR… or something we cannot yet envision.

2. The influence of technology has touched every aspect of L&D.

It affects design, development, implementation, and tracking. It has also dramatically affected talent development. No area is untouched. The skill sets of today’s L&D professionals include technical abilities those in the 1990s would have not even imagined.

3. Despite the evolution of technology, the “what” of training has remained very stable… with a few twists.

The 1990s marked the dawn of technology in the workplace as we now know it. This meant a ton of training on how to use a computer or how to use software. We don’t need that today. However, managerial training remains a constant as does compliance, product, and process training.

Finally, in answer to the question I posed at the start of this post: yes, trends DO matter. We need to pay attention to them. What starts as a trend – with only 1% or 2% of early adopters using a process, tool, or technology – does find its way into the mainstream. But it may take a while (virtual reality and augmented reality have actually been on the landscape for a decade). I started attending to games and gamification in 2008 and it is now close to mainstream in 2017. Eventually, however, these early trends become the way we do things. What is novel today becomes the norm tomorrow.

Why Learner Personas and Learning Design Go Hand-in-Hand

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Most learning and development professionals are familiar with the term audience analysis. To maximize the effectiveness of your learning experience, you need to analyze your audience. By crafting a learner persona, you can go beyond a typical audience analysis and paint a vivid picture of who you are designing a learning experience or materials for. This means gathering more than simple demographic data. Ideally, you will interact with the target learners. If that’s not possible, make sure someone on your design team has firsthand knowledge of the target – either she has been in the learner’s role in the past or the learners report to her.

How to Create a Learner Persona

Marketing professionals have long used buyer personas to gain a clear picture of whom they are selling to, what motivates them, and what strategies work best to target them. They base the personas on real market-research data, but fictionalize them to a degree to describe a single buyer, which personalizes the buyer for the marketer.

Your learner personas should be similar. Base your personas on the research you do to help you understand their goals, motivations, challenges, and daily work flows. Add to these data any company data that exist on age, gender, educational background, years of experience, and so on. The table below offers an example of a tool you can use to help create a persona. The column on the left identifies the type of information you want to gather and questions you want to answer. The column on the right is an example that shows you the right level of information detail to gather.

This particular tool is used to gather data with the intent of creating a learning game so it includes specifics around game play.

 Information-Gathering Tool for a Learner Persona

Persona Element and Description Example
Name: Give your persona a name. You want this persona to feel real to you and not be a bunch of statistics. Stephanie
Demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, college, etc.): Make your training look like your learner. Don’t assume anything. Age 41, Caucasian, Female. Four-year degree from a small liberal arts college. Majored in communications. Sorority member who achieved numerous academic honors while in college and was extremely active.
Experience with the company, within the role: What is representational of your learner? Go with the median, not the average. Averages can fool you. Ten years of experience within pharmaceutical sales with specific experience in three different therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, primary care, and gastroenterology. Shifted to selling biologics three years ago.
Biggest challenges on the job: Most roles have common challenges; find them and include them in your persona. ·       Pace—the days are long

·       Keeping up—there’s always more you could be reading to stay abreast of trends, issues, and competitors

What she values most about the role? What motivates this person regarding the role? What makes her want to do this particular job? Your training can acknowledge both challenges and values. ·       Being credible

·       Knowing her product helps patients have a better quality of life

·       Hitting goals she sets for herself

Workday flow: How does a day go from start to finish? Your training should reflect understanding of the workday flow. ·       Because her territory is urban, Stephanie may schedule as many as eight appointments in a day.

·       She’s up at 6 a.m., with her kids getting up at 6:30. She starts her “work” day around 7:30 and often ends as late as 10 p.m., although she may take a break in the late afternoon.

·       Evenings vary. If there is a professional meeting, she could be dining with healthcare providers (HCPs) at that meeting. If there’s no meeting, she could be planning calls for the next day, entering notes into Salesforce, catching up on reading, or responding to emails.

Sales call flow: Be clear on how the rep sells the product you are helping her learn about. Learn how much time a good sales call takes. Map what you believe reps need to know and know how to do with what they will actually use in a sales call.

Types of calls made in a typical day: Find out how many types of sales calls there are. If there are several different call types, make sure your training program reflects this reality.

·       Calls need to follow a “ladder” process. Early calls have different sales call objectives than later sales calls. The ladder is a six-call process. Each “rung” of the ladder has a specific call objective and message associated with it.

·       Call lengths vary from five minutes to 20 minutes.

·       Early calls focus on educating HCPs on the product category. Later calls focus on providing information on the specific product being sold.

·       There are two categories of customers: clinicians and pharmacy.

·       Getting from the bottom of the ladder to the top may take anywhere from six weeks to a few months’ time.

Devices and how they are used during the flow of a day: Design for the device that reps use the most. ·       Uses laptop in early mornings and late evenings. Does planning activities; documents information in Salesforce; takes e-learning courses (because they’re not available for phone or tablet).

·       Phone is constantly in her hand throughout her day. She uses it to track appointments, check and respond to emails and voice messages, and put quick notes into Salesforce between calls.

·       Uses tablet to pull sales aids up on tablet when talking with HCPs, if needed and appropriate.

Where self-paced training will be completed: Setting matters because it tells you how distracted reps are likely to be, how much time is realistic to allocate for any self-paced segments, and whether sound is a good or bad option to include. ·       Wherever she can squeeze it in. Usually she’s at home, later in the evening while she sips some herbal tea or has a glass of wine. She may also start her day with it, leaving it to a Friday when she does more home office work.

·       If she had access through a phone, she could do small bits between sales calls or while grabbing some lunch.

Games played and amount of time spent playing them: Ask your targets what games they play, how much time they spend playing them, and how frequently they play. ·       Stephanie is slightly embarrassed to admit it, but she is completely addicted to Candy Crush and other simple mobile games like it. It’s almost a stress reliever for her. She’ll play it whenever she’s in line or waiting.

·       She also really likes playing board games with her kids; it’s great family time.

The Next Step

Once you gather the information, your next step is to convert this into a more concise format that’s useful to your team. Learner personas are often shown to a team as presentation slides or printed so they can be posted on a workroom wall for ongoing reference throughout design and development of the learning solution. When you create your personas, search for images that capture their essence and help you think of the real learners represented by the personas.

Create your own learner persona with our learner persona worksheet. Reference our example profile above as you go along.

How to Target Training to Learner Personas (Free Worksheet)

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You want to make your training engaging… but why? Common sense tells us that engaging training is more likely to be successful. Blogs like this one share examples of award-winning training all the time, and it’s what people talk about at learning conferences as well. But sometimes us learning professionals do all the talking.

What do learners want?

If you found your way to the training field through a sales or marketing background, you probably already know what a buyer persona is. Here’s Hubspot’s definition:

 A semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.

But what about your target learners? Have you ever a created a persona for them? Do you know what motivates them, or what types of learning solutions will motivate them most? You might have assumptions or hunches, but don’t take that at face value. Here’s our definition of a learner persona, based off of Hubspot’s buyer persona description:

A semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. You base them on research you do plus data that exist. They help you create a training experience that aligns with the realities and preferences of your learners.

So how do you create a Learner Persona? You might consider information like this:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnic group
  • Years’ experience in role
  • Years’ experience with your company
  • Household income (estimate a range)
  • College background
  • LinkedIn presence
  • Marital status / family status

Demographic information helps paint the picture, but you still need to dig deeper. Here are some other questions to ask when creating your learner persona:

  • What’s a typical day like?
  • What makes the role challenging?
  • What values drive and motivate the employee?
  • What gaming experiences are typical? (If you are designing a game. Otherwise, change this to “training” or “learning.”)
  • What device experiences are typical?
  • If the learners are sales reps, what does a sales call really look like?
  • Is every call the same? How do they vary?
  • How should training be designed to optimize this transfer into the learners’ world?

It takes time and research just to get accurate demographic information, and asking those deeper questions about the target learner can be daunting. We’ll be leading a group through the exercise this week at the LTEN Annual Conference during our “Sales Enablement and Beyond” session, and we will give a shorter version of the session on June 22nd as a Lessons on Learning Webinar.

Learner Persona Worksheet

Want to create your own learner personas? Our worksheet lets you check to see what questions you are currently asking about learners, see a sample learner persona and create a persona of your own.

4 Steps to Sales Enablement Success Using Games

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Sales training professionals play a critical role in their organizations. Whether an organization has highly educated reps selling complex products or sales representatives helping customers in a high turnover retail environment, sales enablement is the key to a healthy sales pipeline.

We find that many organizations have similar challenges when it comes to sales enablement. They need their reps to communicate value, not features and benefits, through asking the right questions and telling a compelling story. They need to avoid competing on price, which is what customers use to make decisions when they can’t tell any real difference in value. And they need to quickly ramp up on new products after they are launched.

These challenges are amplified in the competitive, highly regulated life science and medical device space. If you come from an organization in this space, you are faced with providing excellent sales enablement plus navigating issues such as the healthcare shift from volume to value, a more complex sales process and a shift from 1:1 selling to physicians to strategic account management and selling to the C-suite.

It all comes down to this: Preparing sales reps and account managers for success in an increasingly challenging environment.

It takes a blend of learning solutions to meet most sales enablement objectives, but game-based learning is often part of the mix. For example, a sales enablement curriculum about a new product might include gamified online learning as prework, games and roleplay activities at the launch event and a mobile reinforcement game available post-launch.

If you think a game will work well with your reps, consider the following:

1. What is my business objective?

This should come before anything else!

2. Who are my learners?

Learner Personas, similar to Buyer Personas, provide a semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. Take the time to create rock-solid personas before designing the training itself.

3. What are my learning objectives?

As with any learning solution, you must have a clear picture of what reps should know/do/believe/avoid doing after the training. This will impact the design of your game.

4. What game mechanics/elements best link to my learning objectives?

Once you know your learning objectives, match them to the game mechanics and game elements that best support those objectives. You should also use your learner persona(s) to decide what type of game your target learners will most benefit from.

Access our recorded webinar to learn more

We cover this information and more in our Sales Enablement and Beyond webinar. It’s part of our ongoing Lessons on Learning Webinar Series.

Benchmark Your Training With Our Learning Solution Scorecard

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All training is designed to help target learners improve their performance, but that’s not where the story ends. Stakeholders and training vendors are also judged by the success or failure of a learning solution.

We all have a lot to gain when training meets its intended goal. And we have just as much to lose when it doesn’t. When learning solutions are successful, job performance improves, satisfaction increases, the business meets its goals, and L&D professionals receive more budget (!) to make an even greater impact.

And when training fails to improve performance, well… we won’t get into that.

The definition of a successful learning solution can be subjective. There isn’t a consistent rubric to measure learning solutions against each other to see which ones are the best. Award programs like Brandon Hall and CLO help with this to some extent, but unless you plan to submit every learning solution you create for an award, benchmarking is tough.

That’s why we created our Learning Solution Scorecard. We introduce it to clients at the beginning of every project to coach them on what factors will make their training succeed. We use it at the end of projects to measure their success. And we use the scorecard during a project to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.

By scoring learning solutions across four categories, we are able to assess whether they are Performance Accelerating, Performance Promoting or Performance Demoting.

Is the learning solution meaningful?

Meaningful learning solutions are linked to a clearly defined business problem or need. They are designed with the needs and motivations of target learners in mind and have a clear learning solution goal that defines what learners need to do differently based on the training.

Is it memorable?

When we say memorable, we mean that learners should be able to remember what they learned and apply it on the job. The scorecard checks for a variety of instructional design approaches based on learning science to make sure the learning solution maximizes retention and recall.

Is it engaging?

By understanding the target learner, we can create solutions they will find engaging. The scorecard checks to verify that the learning materials have high production value and use innovative approaches where appropriate to enhance the learning experience.

Is it supported post-training?

Learners need more than one touch-point to remember new information and skills. The scorecard verifies that mechanisms are in place to ensure performance on the job. It also makes sure supervisors encourage and monitor the learner’s efforts in applying the learning.

Get the scorecard

How Gestalt Can Help You Create Better Training: This Month on #BLPLearn

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Welcome back to our #BLPLearn blog series, where we offer a monthly look at design and technology as it pertains to learning and development. I’m your host, Jake Huhn… Senior Marketing Technologist at Bottom-Line Performance.

Let’s Talk About Gestalt Principles

Learning design and graphic design sometimes feel like two distant worlds. When you’re building a course—or working with a vendor—and you’re responsible for results, it can make graphic design seem like a trivial afterthought. You’re concerned with making sure every word is perfect, and making sure every step is explained thoroughly, and making sure you provide accurate definitions. Where’s the time to worry about how “pretty” that screen looks?

But I want to encourage you to make graphic design a higher priority—and there’s science to back me up.

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It all has to do with Gestalt Principles of Organization. “The Gestalt principles of organization involve observations about the ways in which we group together various stimuli to arrive at perceptions of patterns and shapes.” [Gestalt Principles of Organization] These principles are essentially graphic design 101, and every designer should at least be familiar with them. And researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have shown how Gestalt theory can help improve learning:

“The new screen designs were then evaluated by asking students and others to compare the designs. The viewers were also asked to rate directly the value of using the eleven Gestalt design principles in the redesign, both for improving the product’s appearance and improving its value for learning.The evaluation results were overwhelmingly positive. Both the new design and the value of applying the eleven Gestalt laws to improve learning were strongly supported by the students’ opinions.”

These researchers aren’t alone, either. Other research has shown how these principles facilitate Visual Working Memory, an essential part of learning and other cognitive processes.

Implications for Learning Design

As a graphic designer, I gravitate towards how beautiful, clean design can improve learners’ comprehension of a course… but there’s more that Gestalt theory can offer learning designers. Gestalt is more than graphic design, it’s an entire psychology of perception—and it can improve more than just looks.

Consider what Gestalt theory teaches us about Similarity. Learning is facilitated if similar ideas are treated and linked together and then contrasted with opposing or complementary sets of ideas.

It can also shape the way you challenge your learners (think quizzing). “The Gestalt theory of learning purports the importance of presenting information or images that contain gaps and elements that don’t exactly fit into the picture. This type of learning requires the learner to use critical thinking and problem solving skills. Rather than putting out answers by rote memory, the learner must examine and deliberate in order to find the answers they are seeking.” [Gestalt Theory (von Ehrenfels)]

And bringing it back to where we started, the graphic design of your learning solution (the proximity of text to images, the negative space, the clean lines) is yet another piece of the puzzle when it comes to facilitating proper learning. If you organize your information and images according to these principles, your learning solution will look beautiful and be more effective.

So Take the Time to Learn About Gestalt Theory

I hope I’ve made the case that taking graphic design 101 can actually benefit your learning design. There is a lot of information on the web—from either universities or graphic design authorities—that can help give you an overview of Gestalt principles in design. A great starting point is this Designer’s Guide to Gestalt Theory on Creative Bloq. From there you can dive into the actual psychology and even explore eLearning Industry’s website for more industry specific coverage.

References

Chang, Dempsey, Laurence Dooley, and Juhani E. Tuovinen. “Gestalt Theory in Visual Screen Design: A New Look at an Old Subject.” Proceedings of the Seventh World Conference on Computers in Education Conference on Computers in Education: Australian Topics 8 (2002). Accessed March 27, 2016. http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=820062.

“Gestalt Theory (von Ehrenfels).” Learning-Theories.com. 2014. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://www.learning-theories.com/gestalt-theory-von-ehrenfels.html.

Peterson, Dwight J., and Marian E. Berryhill. “The Gestalt Principle of Similarity Benefits Visual Working Memory.” Psychon Bull Rev. 20, no. 6 (December 20, 2013): 1282-289. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3806891/#R23.

“Gestalt Principles of Organization.” Psychology Encyclopedia. 2013. Accessed March 27, 2016. http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/278/Gestalt-Principles-Organization.html.

Why “70:20:10” Is Not Enough

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In a recent article, Bill Brandon speculates that we’ve hit a tipping point in the workplace. Learning demands placed on workers have exceed workers’ capacity to meet them. In other words, we are inundating today’s workers with training and asking them to complete all of it while still maintaining high levels of productivity. This really struck a chord with me… because I see it happening again and again in our clients’ organizations.

I liked Brandon’s article and tweeted it out, saying it was a nice piece… and it was. However, I found myself going back to it and feeling like Brandon neglected a very important point. He advocated for us to think about three elements that all contribute to our accomplishments and performance in the workplace:

  • Our skills and knowledge
  • Our shared experience (things gleaned from others, informal learning we do via social networks, interactions with peers, etc.)
  • Our individual experience (things we learn by doing)

Brandon felt that if L&D professionals thought less in terms of “courses” and used the 70-20-10 “rule of thumb” to consider how to help someone build competence, then we’d be better off. (Caution flag here: 70-20-10 is NOT a proven model; it is described by the person who originally coined it as “folklore.” See page 5 of this journal article written by the originator of 70-20-10, Morgan McCall.) Brandon advocated that we embrace social learning and learning pathways as the means of reducing the stress and burnout so many are experiencing.

The Elephant in the Room

While I do not disagree that avenues other than courses can be hugely valuable in helping build people’s proficiencies, I realized that the article failed to mention the elephant in the stress/burnout room. The elephant is time, or rather lack thereof. Learning takes time, whether we do it informally or formally. In today’s workplaces, we’re pushing people to do more and more. We are failing to acknowledge what this “more and more” often means: we are asking people to go way beyond 40 hours in their work week to do the learning required to build and maintain proficiency and to do the work that contributes to company profits.

Harold Jarche had it right when he said that in today’s economy, work is learning and learning is the work. THAT is the model employers and employees have to get into our heads…that learning on the job is simply part of doing our jobs.

To manage stress and minimize burnout, we have to incorporate “learning curve” into the work people do. We have to factor this learning curve into the time things will take to complete and the amount someone will accomplish in a day or a week. And because people are constantly figuring out how to do something while they are working on their projects, we have to build in this constant “learning curve” into our expectations of what people will accomplish and how fast they will accomplish it.

In My Experience

I run a business and our formula for billable time is not 40 hours a week. Depending on the team member’s role, we estimate that 80% of their time can be devoted to billable tasks. The remainder is allocated to learning and administrative tasks. Giving people time to learn on the job is essential in an industry where we need to stay on the leading edge of what’s possible re: learning solutions. We have communities of practice that people are part of, we have weekly link-sharing and discussions, we have periodic all-company “demo-fests” where we share out projects with each other. On top of all that, we have periodic formal courses that people will attend to build skills in niche areas. All these things take time…in addition to the constant learning someone does in the course of executing projects.

So Bill Brandon, I most definitely agree that we can and should think beyond formal courses in helping people build proficiency. But we cannot do so – even via informal means – if we fail to acknowledge that we have to build the time in for people to learn. Even looking something up requires time.

Should Instructional Designers “Teach to the Test”?

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There is a lot of angst these days in the education field about “teaching to the test.” It started in K-12 but it’s crept into corporate speak as well. Some say that tests are no longer relevant. They are viewed as hold-overs of an out-of-touch education system. A growing bandwagon of people are saying that they want to help people learn to problem-solve and do critical thinking… and not just memorize facts.

In the corporate world, people really do need to recall facts to do their jobs well. There are plenty of times where being able to “Google it” is not enough: they need to know it if they want to perform their job efficiently and/or safely. In compliance and safety situations, we need some objective verification that they do know it before they are allowed to perform the job. This is needed both to satisfy OSHA regulations and as a way to protect the employee and business.

Case in Point

I sat on a materials review call for a course we are developing within the healthcare industry. This particular scenario asks quite a bit from the learner:

  1. They need to be able to recall the steps to performing a variety of tasks.
  2. They need to select the appropriate tools to do specifics jobs.
  3. They need to be able to correctly put on personal protective equipment (PPE) when entering spaces where high-risk infections are present.
  4. They need to know what protective equipment is required in specific situations, which means they need to recognize different signage located outside patient rooms.

The entire course concludes with a certification test. The test directly links to what this role needs to know…and know how to do. I was concerned to hear a materials reviewer push to add course content that was not going to be part of the test.  This reviewer said, “We need to go beyond teaching to the test.” The implication was that we would fail the learner if we only include content that will be on the test. In essence, we want to give them a smorgasbord of information and heighten their competency by doing so.

What's Wrong with the Test

What’s Wrong With The Test?

We act as if it is shameful if we “only” teach to a test, but why? I suspect many of us believe that we are dumbing things down if we do just focus on a test. Perhaps we are afraid that teaching to a test limits our ability to deliver a rich, meaningful experience that elevates the general abilities of the learner. Too often, we want to turn people into the experts that we are rather than arming them with basic proficiency to do their jobs well.

What’s the risk? If we mix nice-to-know and need-to-know content, learners will likely experience cognitive overload. Worse, we risk them remembering some of the irrelevant information at the expense of the most relevant information.*

What Does “Good” Look Like?

A good test should be an accurate assessment of the body of knowledge learners need to know to perform their jobs. If appropriate, it should also assess the skills people have or their decision-making ability when judgment is a component of executing the job. It should only assess the knowledge and skill required to do the job. Courses that are designed to teach steps, processes, and the “why’s” behind those steps and processes need to keep their focus laser-sharp. People can only remember so much.

If it is essential that workers recall a specific body of knowledge and apply that knowledge to the execution of a set of procedures and processes then, please, don’t include anything that is not essential to them.

The problem is not tests. The problem is bad tests. Bad tests contain irrelevant material. Bad tests are poorly worded. Bad tests are too easy or too hard. Bad tests are not comprehensive, covering all the knowledge and skills critical to a job or situation.

Please do teach to the test… But only if you want to verify that people gained the skill and knowledge you have defined as essential to successful performance of the job.

—-

*- Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer, The Science of Instruction, New Jersey: Pfeiffer, 2011.

Maybe you have a training need that requires some additional analysis? You can use our free Training Needs Analysis Worksheet to get to the heart of the matter.

Once Is Not Enough: How to Playtest Custom Learning Games

Once is Not Enough

I believe playtesting is a crucial, and often overlooked, part of learning game design. It takes multiple iterations to determine the right combination of game mechanics and game elements for your target learners. Whether you are an experienced game designer or an instructional designer trying to design a game for the first time, your game will benefit from multiple rounds of playtesting.

Of course, if we are going to tell everyone else to playtest their games, we have to do so as well! The following is the step-by-step story of how we created and play-tested a recent learning game for a client.

Example: Serious Game for Healthcare Workers

We recently created a game called “Five Star Facility,” targeted towards environmental technicians who work in healthcare settings. These technicians clean the patients’ rooms and other areas of a hospital or long-term care facility. It took us four iterations to get the game we wanted and players could most learn from.

We reached a great game in the end, but it took good playtesting and iteration to get us there. Our stellar design team of Amanda Gentry, Matt Kroeger, Kristen Hewett, and Erika Bartlett did a terrific job!

Version One – Let’s create something “sort of like Clue”

This version has similarity to a commercial game called Clue. The design team felt the target learners would be pretty familiar with Clue’s  rules and core dynamics (exploration, collection), and they wanted a game that learners could quickly learn to play. Gameplay was competitive. The game goal was to be the first person to collect all the room tokens, which represented all the categories of information players needed to learn and remember. Players rolled a die to determine how many spaces they moved on the board. Each space corresponded to a different category of environmental protection/cleaning. Players had to answer questions related to whatever category they landed on. Similar to Clue, they had to go into each room on the board. Answering a question in the room earned them a token for that room. The first player to earn all the tokens won the game.

First version of five star facility game.

First version of five star facility game.

It wasn’t a terrible game design… but it was just okay.

Problems With the First Design:

  1. The game could get sort of long if people were rolling lots of low numbers.
  2. The designers made the game competitive. In the real-world, environmental technicians should behave cooperatively with each other and with the healthcare team as a whole.
  3. This first rendition ignored the “why” of the environmental tech’s job and didn’t help them see the connection between what they do and how the healthcare facility gets dollars to stay in business. Survey ratings determine the reimbursements healthcare facilities receive from Medicare. If your facility’s aggregate survey ratings are only three stars, you do not receive the same dollars as a facility who received five star ratings.

Version Two – Scrap the Clue idea. Let’s race to the finish.

The icons are gone, the die is gone, and we have a path we’re traveling and monetary targets to reach. This version stunk. It was boring and tedious to play. Players simply took turns drawing cards to try to reach the target dollar amount. They worked together to answer the questions, but when the designers switched from competition to cooperation, they failed to include game mechanics that created any conflict or tension within the players. There was no “Lose” state or no really bad things that could happen. This version was quickly ditched.

Version Two: Lots and lots of dots.

Version Two: Lots and lots of dots.

Version Three – Bring back the game icons. Add in a progress tracker.

Version three was much better! The team latched on to the realization that five star ratings led to better reimbursements. Now players had to secure at least $70K in reimbursements to win… and mistakes would push their survey ratings downward. This was better, but there was still a serious flaw. Players’ dollars didn’t go down when they made mistakes; only their survey ratings did. In the real world, these are tied together. We also discovered as we played that we needed to better write our questions to eliminate ambiguity of responses. On the plus side, the discussion team members did before deciding on a correct response was phenomenal. Lots of learning happened in these discussions.

Version 3: We’re getting closer to the final product.

Version 3: We’re getting closer to the final product.

 Version Four – We have a winner!

The final version of the game was the winner. Look at how we tied together survey ratings and reimbursement dollars. Players start with a 1.5 star rating and $30K in reimbursement dollars. To move to the right and earn more dollars, they have to enter a room and respond correctly to that category’s question. They still roll a die to move a team token around the board. If they land on a space outside of a room, they have to answer a question that corresponds to the icon they land on. A correct response allows play to progress to the next player with no adverse event. An incorrect response forces players to move to a lower survey rating. If they hit the zero starts spot on the game board, the game is over and the team loses. If they earn $10K from every “room” on the game board and achieve at least $70K in reimbursement, they win.

Version four: By George, we’ve got it!

Version four: By George, we’ve got it!

Lessons for learning game designers:

  1. Make sure your choice of a competitive game or a cooperative game mirrors the real-world environment. Do not have people competing in a learning game if their real-world context requires cooperation or collaboration to be successful.
  2. Be aware that competitive games do not tend to be as influential of learning experiences as cooperative ones do. In competitive games, only one person or team wins. The “losers” can disengage from the experience entirely if it is not managed well.
  3. Make sure the game mechanics (rules) and game goal complement – or at least do not detract – from your real-world situation.
  4. Make sure your game includes enough “tension” in it to keep things interesting. Interesting translates into “fun.” If there are not realistically significant odds of losing the game, it becomes boring to play.
  5. Don’t be content with the first version of your game; it will not be the best version.
  6. Don’t playtest once; identify changes to make, and then fail to playtest to verify those changes improve the game play and learning experience. You have to test every time you make a change.

Can Micro-Learning Help Stressed, Unmotivated Learners?

micro-learning-2

I’ve published two posts on micro-learning in recent months. One was on this site; one was done for ATD. Both generated discussion with some folks debating my assertion that we need to be very cautious about leaping to it. I’m going to stand by my assertion. I think “micro-lessons” can be great for some things; I do not think they are the answer to most things. And for learners who are over-extended and not motivated to learn in the first place, they are not the answer at all.

Will Thalheimer, someone I respect tremendously in the arena of learning science research and applying research to practices, wrote an extensive comment to my ATD post. He also linked to a post by Alex Khurgin, CEO of Grovo, a SaaS company that produces lots of micro-learning. Khurgin positions micro-learning as good for 21st century businesses. Khurgin’s blog is high-level and, in general, promotes micro-learning as the solution to the crazy pace that exemplifies many of today’s organizations.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I am an example of the “C-suite” person so many say are the reason we need to shift to micro-learning. I do not own a Fortune 500 company, but I am a business owner who has concerns about maximizing what my team can do. My company has been named as one of the top 25 fastest growing companies in Indiana… and making sure our team members continually learn and grow is a key reason why we’re on that list. Their skill and knowledge fuels company growth.

Why Companies *Think* Learners Need Micro-Learning

Micro-Learning 1

Within my company (and probably many others), these truths all affect my team’s ability to learn:

  1. We’re stressed. Life is stressful, not just work. We all have a bazillion things to do each day and many people who need things from us.
  2. We face multiple interruptions each day. If we don’t discipline ourselves to ignore email, disconnect from instant messaging, or mute our phones, we can be distracted every few minutes all day long every day.
  3. Time is limited. We never feel like we have enough time to get things done.
  4. We want to enjoy life. Most folks don’t want to work 60-hour weeks; we need for our work – and our learning – to happen within the sanity of a 40- to 45-hour work week. Sadly, we don’t all hit the goal of 45-hour maximums, which makes carving out time for learning a constant challenge if it is not prioritized.
  5. Maintaining focus is HARD. New technologies and ideas are like squirrels, tempting us to run off in new directions all the time. We see these squirrels when we consume content on social media – checking out links sent via tweets,  perusing Zite, monitoring our Feed.ly accounts. We can get highly distracted just trying to “keep up.”

Micro-learning is identified as the answer to items 2, 3, and 5 from that list, but I do not believe it is truly “the” answer to any of them. It sounds great on the surface, but the root of the problem goes deeper.

Motivate, Focus, Repeat.

So what is the answer? I think these things are…

  1. Make sure motivation exists. Putting people who have zero desire to be learning into a learning situation is a recipe for flushing money down the drain. Motivation trumps almost everything else. Really great instructional designers can help with motivation, but only to a point. People need to perceive that learning the new skill matters to them in a significant way.
  2. Make sure focused time is available  Get clear on company priorities…and realize you can  only execute on one priority at a time. Without time to focus, people cannot learn. Don’t think you can squeeze a learning experience into five minutes per day.
  3. Repeat to remember. Assume that people will need to have multiple repetitions to truly learn something. Repetition can be effective in short, continuous bursts… but I’ll save that discussion for another blog post.
  4. Make sure there are immediate opportunities to use what’s being learned. Without the immediate opportunity to apply, learning gets lost.This would be a second way you can flush money down a drain.
  5. Make sure someone else – besides the learner – cares about what someone is learning. Someone else, either a manager or co-worker, needs to inquire about what’s being learned. If people never get to talk about or reflect on what they are learning, the learning will be extremely limited and difficult for the person to apply it.

Example

Right now, I am taking a 5-session MOOC (massive open online course) called Smart Growth for Private Businesses. It includes about 5.5 hours of lectures, several quizzes, and four case studies that are each 12-15 pages in length. I started the class about three weeks ago; I’m now three-fourths of the way through it and should have it completed in the next week or so. The lectures are organized into relatively small chunks, which are interspersed with 2-minute quizzes. The first sessions lectures are organized into “bites” of varying lengths that range in length from 2 minutes to 26 minutes. To date, I’ve invested several hours and I think every hour as been hugely valuable.

My completion of this course hits the five ingredients I feel are necessary for learning:

  1. I’m motivated. My company is growing extremely fast; we want to control our growth to maximize the health of our company and its team members. We’re also getting ready to start another strategic planning cycle and I will use the info from the course as we execute this process.
  2. I’m finding time to focus because focus matters. I’ve clarified my priorities… and taking this course is one of those priorities.
  3. I am reviewing the content with myself and others. I have taken notes, I’ve gone back and reviewed sections, etc. I’m repeating to remember… even using the white boards on my walls to write down key concepts I want to retain.
  4. I already mentioned strategic planning we’re preparing to do. I have an immediate need for the content.
  5. Two others in the company are also taking the course. Having someone to talk to is huge in retaining the information and learning from it.

So… that’s not micro-learning as I’ve seen it defined. But I can tell you I am getting excellent results, and I absolutely do not believe I would be getting excellent results if this content was of low or even medium value to me and delivered in small, five-minute chunks each day.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: can micro-learning truly help an employee who is stressed and lacks motivation learn?


Want to revamp your training? Plan out more engaging solutions and curriculums with our Simple Template for Planning Your Training Program.