Trainers: Don’t Forget to Coach!


It’s been many years now since my son learned to drive, but I still recall the first time he got behind the wheel with his learner’s permit to take the family on an outing. The destination was one he was familiar with. I calculate that he’d been a passenger in a car going to that destination at least 1,800 times before he attempted to make the journey as a driver instead of as a passenger.

Guess what? He backed out of the driveway and then turned to ask, “How do I get there?”

The previous 1,800 times he made the trip, he had been a passenger—and his job was not to navigate. He was completely unprepared, even though in my head he should know how to get there. My son had driver’s education training as well. I can tell you emphatically that those six classroom sessions did not prepare him to be a skillful driver. Only hundreds of hours of practice did that.

What does this story have to do with training and development, you ask?

We grossly overestimate employees’ abilities to execute tasks on the job that they haven’t done before… but they’ve seen done by others dozens or even hundreds of times. We overestimate the value that the formal training they receive will prepare them to execute in the workplace.

Consider Coaching

Companies, including our own, put a lot of energy into designing the formal instruction they give to employees. They may even do an excellent job of making that training highly interactive and hands-on, giving the trainee lots of practice opportunities during the training experience. I can tell you with 100% certainty, though, that even the best training will not fully prepare your worker to perform in the workplace.

You have to consider coaching. You have to plan for it. You have to design it into the learning experience and know that it is something you need to remain committed to for months, not hours.

Case in Point:

We’ve put our entire sales team through extensive sales training that started in 2015. The first layer was for our VP of Sales. She went through formal classes and then shifted into a blended approach of 1:1 coaching sessions followed by monthly 2-hour group training sessions. After she finished foundational training, the other members of her sales team began their training—with her providing ongoing coaching to them.

The results for us have been remarkable. We hit the Inc 5000 fastest growing companies in 2015 at 4049. If we applied again today, we would be at 3300 on that same list. Coaching was critical to helping us get there.

Coaching is required beyond the sales team. When you promote someone into project management or bring on a new employee, for example, you need to provide a lot of coaching for them to maximize their success with you. Here are three tips to consider:

1. Coaching needs to be a regular occurrence

It needs to be a regular part of how you build their skill set. A single sit-down session with a mentor is not enough to instill lasting behavior change. Regular meetings are critical, and virtual coaching can work just fine depending on the distribution of your workforce.

2. Coaching needs to be proactive… rather than reactive

I call reactive coaching “swoop and poop”coaching where the coach waits until you make a mistake and then swoops in to tell you what you did wrong and how to do better next time. Proactive coaching means you sit down together before a project begins and you routinely check in as the project unfolds. You discuss next steps together and you design checkpoints to assess how things are going and make course corrections. It takes time and it takes planning.

3. Coaching needs to be connected to the formal training you offer

Our clients have the most success when they incorporate the coaching into their formal training curriculums, typically as part of the post-training reinforcement phase. Make sure your formal training programs connect to the way coaches actually support your learners and vice versa.

When designed and implemented effectively, training can change behaviors and improve performance. But it’s a poor investment if it doesn’t get coupled with coaching.

Corporate Training in 2014: Business Goals, Learner Needs, or Both?


As we all settle back into our respective desk chairs for what should be an eventful 2014, our attention is naturally drawn to what’s new and trending. Where is the L&D industry headed? What new tools can help my learners right now? How does our business achieve the growth and performance goals it has set for the coming year?

We turn to two of our old friends, top 10 lists and emerging trends reports, to start answering these questions. My own browsing brought me to a few of my favorite sites:,,, and others. Through this browsing, I encountered a “2014 Learning Trends” article by Doug Harward in the Winter 2014 edition of Training Industry Magazine. 

The article is subtitled “Shifting to Business-Centric Learning.” In it, Harward suggests that the days of focusing on what learners need and want are over. It is time instead to focus first on the business objectives, and making sure training is carefully mapped to the desired outcomes.

I agree with Doug… to a point.

What’s your metric?

Corporate training is challenging because it has both tangible and intangible results. A 50% increase in average contract value for sales reps who complete training on a new product is a measurable outcome for training. We should be looking for these types of improvements… and expect to align training holistically with other parts of the business.

Training should be carefully embedded in the overarching company strategy. Why not make 2014 the year where (almost) every L&D initiative we launch is tied to a measurable outcome?

Who is your learner?

Objectives and outcomes are great, but If we move too far away from what learners need and, heaven forbid, want in the training they take, those tangible results will be more elusive. Considering the learner is still an important step in the process… but we must think on a deeper, more essential level.

Why not replace this:

“Let’s add points and badges to the course because learners think that’s fun.”

With this:

“Let’s add an element of competition to this learning solution because it is geared towards sales reps and they naturally work in a competitive environment. It will mirror their on-the-job situation… and we expect it will also increase retention.”

Even this example is rather basic. For every learning solution produced, it is the instructional designer’s job to really look at the science of how people learn… and how they forget. How should information be reinforced? Is it possible to use a research-based approach instead of just presenting content? Even the best instructional designers can fall victim to the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset that often plagues organizations.

let your goals and your learners work hand in hand

Let 2014 be the year when you consciously try to connect business goals to the learning solutions you develop. A business-centric approach is needed, and a major part of that approach includes designing and delivering training that learners will get the maximum benefit from. Its up to the L&D department to use a mix of modalities that will maximize engagement, motivation, and chances for relevant practice.

Let the business goals guide you… but let research-based approaches and best practices for learning design be the vehicle.

Why Don’t Trainers Worry About ROI?

ROI of Training

ROI has been a buzzword since the 90s. People talk about it all the time… and measuring ROI is cited as a goal for many initiatives across an organization. We’ve been designing learning solutions since 1995, and while we think ROI is really important, we can count the projects on one hand where people actually calculate ROI. Why isn’t it happening?

The answer depends on the organization. Here are a few possibilities to consider. Do any of these sound familiar in your organization?

The C-Level cares about ROI… but frontline employees are not as concerned

Company leadership often takes complete ownership of the strategic plan. They set the revenue goals and allocate budgets for each department. The bottom line is, for them, the most important thing. When frontline employees get too disconnected from the company’s strategic goals, ROI will be the last thing on their minds. For example, an L&D department that is allocated a certain budget may only be concerned with spending the entire budget (so they will get the same amount the following year) and showing that everyone completed training. If they have not bought in to the strategic goals of the organization, they will only be focused on convincing leadership that their job is valuable.

ROI is long-term, but we must respond to short term needs in the moment

Some of us are too busy putting out fires to look up at the horizon. We are meeting the needs of today without anticipating the needs of tomorrow and evaluating our past actions. At least, that’s what happens when we don’t think about our organizational investments. It’s not just training, either. In fact, overly worrying about ROI can also be detrimental if it keeps us from taking even the smallest actions. Analysis paralysis is a risk, just as failing to consider ROI is a risk. Since we often need to take an action and move forward quickly in the midst of daily tasks, ROI can get pushed aside entirely.

We lack the necessary tools to accurately calculate ROI

Learning and Development does not get too deep in the analytics department. Most LMS’s are just used as glorified “completion tracking engines.” We want to know whether or not someone took a course or not so we can tell our boss that everyone completed the training. What we don’t also see is how each learner performed on the learning objectives, or how job-related performance indicators changed after completion of the training. Some LMS’s are more full-featured than others, of course. In many cases, it’s just a matter of the L&D department making full use of the tracking capabilities available to them.

Formal training fills a fraction of our time at work.

Formal training makes up a small part of the learning picture, so it’s hard to track its impact

Sharon Boller’s 2013 Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities white paper points out that the average learner spends only 31 hours in formal training during a typical year. Meanwhile, their working life has at least 2049 more hours of activity… and most of the real learning happens on the job. Since formal training is a relatively minor part of our working lives, it sometimes plays a small part in our overall success on the job. It might help us get started, but its impact decreases over time. We need a way to track more of the learning experiences that happen in the flow of work and think of this informal learning as an important part of professional development. Tin Can API (also called Experience API) makes this infinitely easier to do.

We haven’t had to calculate it before… so we don’t now

Many companies have delivered the same type of training for years. It’s already a line item on the annual budget and no one questions it because they don’t remember not doing the training. Instead of re-evaluating the results of the training on a regular basis, it becomes embedded in the company culture and allowed to continue indefinitely. This is why bringing in a third party can be helpful.


When You May Not Need a Training Program

Training - too expensive to use as a band-aid.

I want to tell you a story.

Your sales reps are supposed to upload sent proposals to a shared server for future reference or reuse by other team members. One problem: the company firewall restricts access to the portal when reps are not on the company Internet network. When they are able to get connected, the portal is painfully slow. IT knows about the issue but has not fixed it. Since the sales reps are busy, they have learned NOT to upload completed proposals to the portal.  Instead, they email each-other asking for past proposals when they need them. As a result, work gets duplicated, and the reps spend lots of unneeded hours working around an inefficient process.

When the VP of Sales notices that a large number of proposals are not ending up in the portal, he pushes for a series of six 20 minute eLearning courses on “Sales Process Awareness.” The company pays an eLearning provider $30,000 to create the courses and organizes an all-day instructor-led training session for sales reps on best practices.

The sales reps take the courses and attend the training… then go back to their regular jobs. Their day-to-day work does not change. In fact, they are even MORE busy playing catch-up from all that time they were taken away from their jobs to complete training. The portal still does not work correctly and proposals are still not getting saved. The problem continues.

That’s right, folks… sometimes training is not the answer. Improving performance is as much about process as it is awareness.

Analyze Until You Find a Root Cause… then take action

While the story above is fictional, I think it is a great example of a situation where training and eLearning are used as the solution to a problem that is a process problem, not a skill or knowledge problem. When we skip past the “A” in ADDIE, forgetting to conduct a thorough and thoughtful analysis, we risk embarking on a fool’s errand with little hope of success.

Training can help accomplish many things…

  • Help new hires learn the basics.
  • Introduce a new process or procedure.
  • Provide opportunities for practice and reinforcement.
  • Teach people background information and foundational knowledge.
  • Give people a “so what?” or “what’s in it for me?” that motivates them to perform better.
…But if a process is dysfunctional, re-teaching someone how to do it is not going to solve the problem. Sometimes, your team members are already motivated to do their jobs well, but they feel frustrated or limited by the structures in which they work. Over time they become numb to this frustration and just deal with it because “that’s the way things are around here.”

The Role of eLearning Providers

As consultants, we often end up producing some form of eLearning, mobile learning or gamified learning solution to help clients meet their objectives. But we also take the time to analyze the state of their business and make recommendations for process improvements when appropriate. It’s our job to offer the perspective of a neutral third party that knows a thing or two about helping people do their jobs better.
Use flow charts and process mapping

In a recent post discussing compliance training needs for the healthcare sector, I referenced a past project for a major pharmaceutical company that needed to implement good research principles across its organization. A pure “training” solution might have involved a serious of eLearning courses or instructor-led courses showing what the new principles are and telling people how to follow them. Since our client actually needed people to follow the principles and not just abstractly know about them, we had to take a more holistic approach. We learned that people didn’t need training on the principles – they needed training on how to audit their current functional areas and determine where principles need to be applied. They also needed a process defined for formulating implementation strategies.

Another recent project, conducted for Harlan Laboratories, had us creating an all-new curriculum for lab technicians. We spent lots of time on-site interviewing people and seeing what the work was like first hand before making any recommendations. If we had skipped this step, we would not have seen the necessity of forgoing eLearning and creating physical materials the techs could carry with them in their lab gear. More on how we make sure solutions hit the mark with target learners here.

Put People in Position for Success

Organizational change has to happen at both the macro and micro level. Too often, C-level folks assume that delivering training to drive “better awareness” for front-line team members will help them perform better. In so doing, they neglect to examine the organizational structure those team members are working inside of… and what role that structure plays in both their positive and negative performance. They also forget to address company culture issues that prevent people from speaking up when a problem is happening again and again.
Whether you develop learning solutions internally or rely on an outside vendor, make sure the responsible parties take their time to complete a thorough analysis… and have the experience and confidence to recommend process improvements when necessary. Because after all, an eLearning course is a pretty expensive band-aid.


Affordable Care Act: Training for Compliance

Affordable Care Act: Training for Compliance

In a recent post, we talked about compliance training… and the importance of making it memorable. We showed case studies of various approaches to compliance training for topics like avoiding bloodborne pathogens, evacuating a building and washing hands properly. The facts involved in these procedures could be communicated in a bulleted list, yes… but would people actually remember them? And most importantly, will people ultimately choose to comply?

Frontline employees make decisions every day (or perhaps multiple times a day) about whether or not they will comply or not comply with a procedure. Other times, they may forget about the procedure even though they were trained to do it. Since people will forget up to 90% of what they learn after 3-6 days without proper repetition (more on that here), memorable training with proper reinforcement is essential.

Affordable Care Act Challenges and Opportunities

Regulatory compliance recently got even more important for healthcare providers. The Affordable Care Act is reshaping our healthcare system… and recent changes to the way hospitals receive their funding make procedural excellence even more important. In April 2011, the Center for Medicare and  Medicaid Services (CMS) introduced Partnership for Patients. The initiative set a goal of reducing preventable injuries in hospitals by 40% and readmissions by 20% from 2010 – 2013. Reaching this goal would help avoid 1.8 million injuries, save 60,000 lives, and save 1.6 million patients from complications that force them to return to the hospitals.

The Partnership for Patients has identified ten core patient safety areas of focus that include nine hospital-acquired conditions. The Partnership does not limit its work to these areas, but the following areas of focus are important places to begin:

  1. Adverse Drug Events
  2. Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections
  3. Central Line Associated Blood Stream Infections
  4. Injuries from Falls and Immobility
  5. Obstetrical Adverse Events
  6. Pressure Ulcers
  7. Surgical Site Infections
  8. Venous Thromboembolism
  9. Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia
  10. Readmissions

Meeting these goals is good for patients… but it now affects the fiscal health of the hospital, too. Medicare funding, once based on the volume of patients seen by the hospital, is now directly tied to how well hospitals reduce the occurrence of hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions. CMS will not reimburse the hospital if a Medicare patient acquires one of these conditions or is readmitted within 30 days.

If hospitals are unable to reduce patient harms and readmissions, they will lose money. In order to reach Partnership for Patients goals, new processes and training programs are needed.

The Challenge of Standardization

The resources available to hospitals that help them reduce patient harms do not always meet their needs. Local factors such as work environment, patient demographics and make-up of current policies make it hard to deliver one-size-fits-all information that is useful to all hospitals. Sometimes, experienced employees are too used to doing a process slightly incorrectly and find it difficult to change. In other instances, the experienced workers are deeply familiar with how to perform a process, but it is not properly documented and therefore difficult to teach new hires. With so many Baby Boomers in the workforce preparing for retirement, hospital executives have a major skills gap for which to prepare.

Training Problem vs Process Problem

A few years ago, we worked with a large pharmaceutical company that needed to implement good research principles across its organization. Their problem was not getting people to know what the principles were. Their biggest challenge was getting people to follow the principles. An eLearning course explaining the research principles was not going to do the trick. Here’s what we did:

  •  Put together cross-functional implementation teams. This enabled us to gather input from a variety of job roles and gain new perspectives.
  • Audited the current process. We took our time in the “Analysis” step of the ADDIE process to find the root cause of process problems. We also audited the new processes we implemented to gauge their efficacy.
  • Created action plans individuals could follow to help them meet the new standards. These increased accountability and also help people understand the practical steps they could take to improve.
Our approach worked… and we received a quality award from the client because of the project’s success. The challenge is figuring out when you have a training problem, a process problem, or both. Organizations shouldn’t making the mistake of deciding they need tons of training, then producing simple “tell” courses that just explain what the Affordable Care Act is without showing people what they need to do differently.


New generations of workers want to use technology to learn. As Millenials replace Baby Boomers in the workforce, you can expect the following mediums to be in even higher demand:

  • Mobile learning
  • Interactive eLearning
  • Video tutorials
  • Social media-enabled learning
  • Serious games and simulations
  • Gamified experiences

Setting generations aside, we still need to find better ways to communicate information and provide people ways to practice new behaviors. Reading a list of bulleted facts may tell you “what to do,” but it does not help you change your behavior… especially if an unwanted behavior is well worn and deeply ingrained.

The Affordable Care Act is still new… and healthcare systems will be working on meeting and exceeding these new standards for years. When the time comes to deliver new training and process-improvement initiatives, consider using cross-functional teams, auditing and action plans to achieve the desired results. And you need to produce eLearning, make sure you make it memorable.

3 Ways to Use Game Based Learning in Corporate Training

Want a really cool way to get the facts on Game Based Learning? Check out our new Game Based Learning Infographic! We lay out some great examples of the efficacy of game based learning and gamification, all backed by solid research and great case studies. Click Here to view.

“We learn everything that all the other schools learn, we just learn it differently.”

This is a quote from a middle school student at the Quest to Learn School that opened in Fall 2009. It’s one of the intro comments made in a short YouTube video that does a fantastic job of explaining and SHOWING the answer to “Why games as learning and teaching tools?” The video is embedded above.

The entire school is organized around game design. The curriculum uses game concepts – missions, quests, challenges – to help kids learn things such as science, math, and literature.

Katie Salen is the executive director of design at Quest to Learn, teaches game design, and runs a nonprofit institute called the Institute of Play. She says,

“We believe kids can and do learn in different ways – including digital. It’s a school that from the ground up has been designed to leverage the digital lives of kids…. it’s developed a pedagogical approach that leverages game-like learning.”

How so? Every class uses game concepts such as missions, challenges, and quests to allow kids to think about issues and solve complex problems.

Sound fishy? Can kids really learn well from this approach as opposed to say, a more traditional model of a teacher delivering a lecture, assigning reading and perhaps a project where the student writes a paper or prepares a posterboard?

Watch the video and see what you think. One class project focused on Aesop’s Fables. In a traditional class, the students might read several of the fables, talk about them in class, and perhaps write reflection papers on them or create their own modern fable. In Quest to Learn’s class, the kids work as a team to create a 3D game about the fables. They have to design and script the game, render it, and then “virtually” perform a fable in the game. Which approach do you think engages these students more and requires a greater amount of reflective thinking and problem-solving?

Bringing Game Based Learning Into Corporate Training

Now…how does this translate into corporate training? Here’s a few ways that immediately come to mind to me. I offer them all based on experience. I’ve done each of them:

  1. Structure an entire learning experience around a goal of designing a game. Give learners the topic, the learning objectives the game has to teach, and the freedom to create a game. Let them build the paper prototypes and have others playtest it. Huge learning comes from figuring out how you’d turn a topic or issue into a game.  We’ve done several learning game design workshops like this; people remain completely immersed in the experience the entire time.
  2. Create a multi-level digital game on your topic instead of a “click next” experience. Instead of telling people what they need to know, force them to find it or figure it out if they want to succeed in the game. Make succeeding in the game mirror what it takes to succeed in their jobs; for sales reps, success should mean they meet high sales goals… and so on. In the game, you make the measure of success hitting a targeted sales goal while making complaints and customer dissatisfaction negatively impact points or progress.
  3. Design and use a simulation instead of an “interactive discussion.” Forget about presenting the ideal leadership or team member traits/behaviors. Instead, let people rate their perceptions of themselves and then simulate a team experience – complete with personnel, budget, time, and regulatory pressures. I designed a 90-minute simulation that gave participants a HUGE ah-ha moment around the disconnect between their perceptions of how they would behave as a project team and how they actually behaved when time pressures, regulatory pressures, and environmental factors started pressing in around them. The post-simulation discussion was extremely powerful as people had to acknowledge these disconnects. It also gave them a framework for meaningful discussion. So – we didn’t have to completely abandon the idea of an interactive discussion. We simply created an experience that could make the discussion far more meaningful than it otherwise would have been.

Workshops on Getting Started With Game Based Learning

I partner with Dr. Karl Kapp, author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, to present workshops on learning game design. It focuses on people who know nothing about game-based learning and want to get started designing it. We start with the basics (questions like “What are games?”) and end with every person participating in the creation of a learning game that we playtest and modify as part of the day. You will walk away with tools you can use. Join us for one of these offerings and start building your learning game design skills. Check our events calendar for chances to participate.

What’s REALLY Going On? 6 Truths About Training in 2012

Most of us are curious about tomorrow (hence, our fascination with all the predictions for the upcoming year)… but we live in today.  At BLP, we have plans to report on top training trends we see emerging in 2013, but we want to first step back and look at what’s happening (and not happening) now. We’ve set all the hype aside to look at what was really happening in the training world in 2012.

Image courtesy of

Here’s the sources we used to help formulate a picture of today:

  • Responses to Training Magazine’s Training Top 125 submission. Training’s Top 125 acknowledges the companies whose efforts in learning and development (L&D) stand out from the rest in terms of their impact on the winners’ bottom-line results.
  • The 2012 State of the Industry Report from The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to the training and development field.
  • The 2012 mLearning Report, published in May 2012, by eLearning Guild, the world’s oldest and largest “community of practice” for eLearning professionals.

Here’s four truths we gleaned from reviewing this data…plus two others gleaned from experience. A caveat as you read the truths: This is a bit like The Blind Men and the Elephant[1]. Perspective is never really objective; it depends on your vantage point. We tried to cull from several sources, but your experience could differ. Feel free to comment!

Truth #1: ILT is NOT dead.

If you just focused on what gets publicized and written about, you’d swear there wasn’t a stand-up instructor left in corporate America. Yet, if ASTD’s State of the Industry Report is accurate, then a lot of very big companies still heavily rely on instructor-led training. Submitters to Training’s Top 125 award are much more focused on eLearning than ILT…but they still do a significant amount of ILT!

Distribution method ASTD State of the Industry Report Training Top 125 respondents
Instructor-led – classroom 59.4% 31%
Instructor-led – online 8.75% 5%
Instructor-led – remote (satellite, video) 4.5% Did not mention as category
Self-paced online 18.7% 69%
Mobile 1.4% Did not mention as category

See Truth #2 and Truth #5 for potential reasons why this is.

Truth #2: mLearning is a lot like sex. Lots of folks talking about it. Far fewer actually doing it yet.

mLearning and all things mobile have been hot topics for at least three years. Given the amount of info you can get in a Google search on mLearning, you’d think it was THE dominant distribution method. But it’s not – and it’s not even close. The ASTD State of the Industry report had well over 400 respondents, all from very big companies. Yet only 1.4% of respondents indicated that mobile is a current distribution method. The eLearning Guild’s May 2012 report on mLearning yields higher percentages who have implemented or are in the design stages of a solution…but the % is still small. And the eLearning Guild’s member demographic is more niche than ASTD’s; the folks in eLearning Guild are technology-focused in most instances.

Here’s the data from eLearning Guild’s report on mobile:

What this means to you? You’ve still got time to figure out mLearnining and understand it. We love this great post from RJ Jacquez on what to be thinking about.

Truth #3: Outside vendors matter.

Really. The numbers in ASTD’s report back us up. Respondents shared that 30% of their L&D budget goes to external resources. They also report an average ratio of 315 company employees to every L&D employee. Take a very lean L&D organization and the need to serve a large population of employees and you get a need to supplement internal resources with external resources. Staying on top of trends and technologies in learning and development – and having the skill set to design with those technologies –  gets tougher every day. Most companies are NOT in the L&D business; they are in business to do something else. Hence…the need for outside expertise.

What’s this mean to you? Vet vendors carefully and select people who can truly partner with you in supporting your L&D efforts. Selfishly for us, we advocate for vendors who stay on the leading edge and communicate clearly what’s possible today as well as what to be thinking about tomorrow.

Truth #4: We need to be more focused on the informal and on-the-job experiences people have.

31 hours. That’s the average amount of time ASTD’s survey respondents say an employee spends in formal training in a year’s time. That translates to 1.5% of someone’s work hours (assuming 2080 work hours in a year, which is 52 weeks x 40). The ASTD BEST award winners (a subset of respondents to the annual survey who have won an award similar to the Training Top 125 award) report more time in formal training – 49 hours or 2.3%.of work time.

Now consider this number: $1228. That’s the average amount of spend per employee inside the ASTD survey respondents’ organizations. Multiply that by, oh, 5,000 employees, and you see companies spending A LOT of money on formal training…which only occupies about 1.5% of someone’s time in a year. Hmmm….good value or no?

What’s this mean for you? If you are in L&D, you tend to think of training as REALLY important. The numbers, though, indicate that formal training cannot have nearly as much relevance or criticality as on-the-job experiences, access to “just-in-time” resources that help employees do their jobs, and access to informal learning opportunities. Pay attention to all those posts on social learning and informal learning. Figure out how to cultivate those opportunities inside your organizations – and create the tools/make tools available for employees.

Disclaimer: Truth #5 and Truth #6 come from our experience…not any of the reports in the industry. So here goes…

Truth #5: The majority of eLearning – in reality – is pretty painful to go through and poorly designed.

At the start of a project, clients ALWAYS say they want something that is “engaging” and not too content-heavy. They say they are focused on outcomes. Yet – when you ask a subject matter expert or requester of training what they want people to know or do after training – or what problem they are trying to solve, they can go strangely silent. They revert to listing what they want to include in a course…not what they want learners to GET OUT of a course.

The result, of course, becomes “text and next” with tons of content and little relationship to any behaviorally based outcomes. The consequence is eLearning courses that are painful to take for anyone other than the subject matter expert who wanted all the content put in. Worse, the people taking them actually don’t learn anything in many cases…meaning the investment in creating the course was wasted!

What’s this mean for you? As L&D professionals, we need to do better in our conversations with those requesting eLearning…and we need to advocate for ourselves and what we bring to the table. No company wants to waste money or waste employee’s time. Bad eLearning does both..and it fuels Truth #1 – which is continuing with ILT. Many a client has told us, “Oh, we HATE eLearning. We need to stick with ILT. People like it better.” (Note – no comments on whether one format or another yields better ROI, just “people like it better.”)

Truth #6: Very Few People Actually Pull Data From the LMS… but They All Believe They Need the Data.

Being able to access and use data is great… but only if you will, well, access and use the data. In the majority of organizations we work in, we NEVER see our clients go back to pull data or evaluate results. Yet almost all clients insist that their courses be SCORM-compliant and reside inside an LMS. Companies spend huge sums of money purchasing, maintaining, and upgrading LMS systems…and don’t really appear to use the data gathering and reporting functionality they are paying big dollars to have. To us, this simply seems like a waste of money.

I always feel like I’m the kid in the fairy tale “The Emperor Who Had No Clothes” when I attempt to point this out, however. No one wants to hear, “I don’t think that the LMS that you spend $1M on is really giving you value because you aren’t using it to do anything other than serve as a course repository.”

What’s this mean for you? Before embarking on the LMS journey or agreeing to major upgrades or investments in a new system, address the elephant in the room and ask, “What’s the ROI of this investment in the LMS? How are we using it? What do we do with the data?” What happens if we do NOT use an LMS? What’s the alternative?

Got any other truths that I missed? I could have included truths about games and gamification (my favorite topic as I’m passionate about the value of learning games), video in training, and a few others…but I need to save some stuff for next week’s emerging trends and technologies post!

Shifting from Trainer to Community Manager

Profit margins are razor thin and the business landscape is more competitive than ever. Past inefficiencies that were once tolerable at work are now unsustainable. As businesses, we must adapt or contract. But where does this leave the learning and development department?

The training paradigm has not changed too much in the last 100 years, has it?

Much maligned after years of instructor led training, powerpoint presentations, and “click next” eLearning courses, it’s time for Learning and Development to step up. We have a role to play in the changing economy, and it’s a big one. After all, knowledge is one of the only renewable resources we have, and knowledge workers need to constantly replenish their supply of it.

Many L&D professionals still think of themselves as a trainer. They are the teacher standing in front of the classroom. They are the omnipotent architect of the eLearning curriculum that is delivered via the LMS. They are the Encyclopedia Britannica, the keeper of knowledge. It’s up to them to deliver the skills and training their company will need at their daily jobs. But we stopped buying Encyclopedia Britannica years ago in favor of using Wikipedia.

The same paradigm shift is happening in learning. Knowledge workers are constantly pursuing the information they need to perform their jobs. Whether it’s a quick chat with a coworker in the office, a YouTube search for a how-to guide, or a visit to the user community for the software they are using, the ubiquity of quality information has raised our expectation for speed and ease of acquiring new information.

This mindset does not mesh well with the traditional ADDIE model of eLearning development. The development cycle for producing a suite of eLearning courses can take an incredibly long time. Sometimes, the subject matter being taught is no longer relevant by the time it is delivered to the learner. Even worse, “awareness level” courses attempt to cram loads of content into a single twenty minute course… and the content is never supported or reinforced once the course is completed. Learning and Development need only prove learners have passed the post-test and been exposed to the material to check the box and move on.

This process works quite tidily for L&D, but it leaves learners in a different predicament. While L&D is able to design, develop and deploy these courses in a highly prescribed, organized way, learners are constantly in need of new information throughout the course of their work days. They do not have time to wait for your course to be posted to the LMS, and by the time it is ready they have likely already figured out what it is they need to know.

We need to be able to respond more rapidly to the changing needs of knowledge workers… and we need to have a more accurate picture of what those needs actually are. We need to stop trying to solve business process failures with eLearning modules and we need to start preparing learners to take charge of their own learning. We need to shift our mindset from trainer to community manager. Here’s how:

Trainers Talk, Community Managers listen: This is where the use of a public or private social network becomes incredibly useful. Many companies are using tools like Yammer to bring the social networking experience inside the company firewall. Create a workplace culture where employees actively ask questions, share success stories, and express their joys and frustrations on social media. You’ll be able to see what learning needs people have in real time and rapidly respond with learning aids, tutorial videos, and yes, courses.

Trainers know all the answers, Community Managers connect you with someone who does: Let’s face it, it’s impossible to be a Subject Matter Expert in every field. The traditional instructional design model has L&D working with SMEs to create training, but what about when the need is for a more rapid, informal support tool? Developing an internal social network or support forum where learners can post their problems is ideal. It’s up to the Community Manager to constantly monitor the tool and connect learners with the help they need.

Trainers fire and forget, Community Managers provide long-term support: Formal training has its place, and chances are you will be producing eLearning for years to come. But if the scope of the project ends with the delivery of a course, you’re doing it wrong. Build in a phase in your work plan to support learners with the knowledge gained from an eLearning course. Host in-person or social media chats, post learning aids, or have them play a learning game as a reinforcement tool. Cement the knowledge and make sure they know it for the long haul.

What do you think? Is any of this relevant to your company? I’d love your thoughts. I also give a webinar on the topic.

Why Learning Games Succeed Where Traditional Training Fails

Why is everyone always picking on traditional training? And what makes learning games so special anyway? It’s not that we dislike traditional training, we just think there are a lot more benefits to learning games. For example, learning games are fun, competitive, rewarding, interactive, and attention-grabbing. Traditional training is…not any of those. Just to clarify – we’re talking about learning games here, not gamification.

Make no mistake… our assertion that learning games are more effective than traditional training is not a matter of preference. So what do learning games offer over traditional training?

1. Learning games are realistic

Unlike its traditional training counterpart, learning games allow us to interact with a hypothetical environment and explore scenarios we might actually encounter in the workplace. They provide us with a safe haven to test our newly acquired knowledge before going out and bettering the world with it. With traditional training, there is no opportunity to apply what we’ve been preached – we are simply taking it in and spitting it back out at our customers. By simulating reality, learning games prepare us for the “What ifs” and the “Worst case scenarios” before they actually happen and with minimal risk. A great example of this is our “Formulation Type Matters” sales scenario game:

Formulation Type Matters is a learning game by Bottom-Line Performance.

2. Learning games are repetitive

“Could you please repeat that?” is something you won’t ever have to worry about with learning games. Learning games give us the chance to try, try again if at first we don’t succeed and understand the consequences of our actions. Levels or turns provide us with the opportunity to evaluate our choices and make better decisions as the game progresses… and the anticipated rewards create feedback loops to keep us motivated. Repetition repetition (is there an echo?) is how we actually remember new information; the more times we see or hear something, the more likely we are to remember it. Many games have learners begin a behavior on level one, and slowly add new ones on later levels. This creates powerful “scaffolding” of knowledge.

3. Learning games are engaging

Raise your hand if you’ve NEVER fallen asleep during a training course, presentation, or lecture (those of you raising your hand right now – you’re liars). Let’s face it – traditional training is BOR-ING. But learning games? They’re fun, they’re interactive, and they maintain our attention. Most importantly, they induce a state of flow. We’re not watching the clock or making bets on how many times the speaker will say “technology” because we’re engaged. We become emotionally invested in games, so when we play we start to relate to the material by putting ourselves in the scenarios or by connecting with the characters in the game, and before you know it – you’re learning. It makes sense that we strive to become better at something we enjoy doing.

4. Learning games are effective

Not only are they fun, but learning games produce results too. After speaking with Sharon Boller, our company president and in-house expert on learning games, we felt we better understood why they are so effective:

“Games provide clear, measurable goals that add purpose to the experience… and there is a clear psychology that we are innately drawn to that. [Games] tap into a lot of the intrinsic motivation we already have, and when both our emotional and cognitive sides of the brain are engaged in what we are doing, we learn more.”

In short, games are effective because we’re motivated by them… and that is a big deal when it comes to corporate learning.

5. Learning games are social

Games can be social experiences even if they aren’t face-to-face. Through scoreboards, messaging features, and multi-player options, we interact with other players and feel like we are taking part in a common experience. The Knowledge Guru™ is a perfect example – it’s a single-player game… but the scoreboards create competition and remind us that we’re not the only ones playing. As humans,we’re hard-wired for competition and it drives us to perform to the best of our ability. Jane McGonigal coined the term “blissful productivity” when talking about how happy playing games makes us. Games bring people together, make them feel like they are doing something important and motivate them to work hard. The social aspect learning games provide is unmatched through traditional training.

We’ve been lucky enough to see the power of learning games in action through our recent work, whether it be an immersive simulation like “A Paycheck Away” or gamified social app like Knowledge Guru. What ways have you seen learning games succeed over traditional training… and how do they overlap?


Corporate Training – Journalism or Entertainment?

Corporate training often includes content that discusses the challenging, difficult, or stressful aspects of a job… but how much reality should you convey in a training course? This can be uncomfortable – we may not want to be that “real” in the course. Sometimes it’s hard to take a good hard look at ourselves.

Which begs the question: Are we entertainers or journalists? Are we trying to entertain learners or given them an accurate picture of the job or task? Are the two ideas opposed? When we “soften” the course and remove any negative or challenging ideas from the course, we veer towards the world of entertainment rather than learning.

I think that as instructional designers, we have a responsibility to portray as much reality as possible in the courses we create. But how can we help our clients be comfortable with this approach? A few thoughts:

  • Keep going back to “What would the learner want?” I don’t know about you, but I want to know if I’m going to be jumping off a cliff anytime soon. I listen more carefully to the instructions about how to pack a parachute if I know I’m going to be using it!
  • Get other perspectives. Sometimes a subject-matter expert will say that it wasn’t stated strongly enough!
  • Ask questions. If I only receive positive answers to my questions about the content, I begin to wonder if I’m getting the whole story.

The issue is even more relevant to Corporate Training Directors. How do you create buy-in with management circles who may not understand training and learning the way you do? How do you answer the tough questions (“What’s the ROI? Do we really want to show them this?”) while also guiding the decision-making content to include the content and learning goals you know are necessary?

We aren’t always aware of the real skills and knowledge that go in to our daily workflows….which makes designing training even harder. Journalism and entertainment just might both have their place in training. The trick is to toe the line.

What do you think? How do you work to accurately portray the job in training courses?