On my last post, I got a comment that really made me think. The problem was content coming as PPTs from SMEs, and the question was poignant: “Given limited time and resources on a project how can you plan in advance to ensure that your learning is engaging and creates effective outcomes?” I commented a reply, but I’d like to elaborate on that.
I like the focus on the ‘planning’ part: what can you do up front to increase the quality of your learning outcomes? It’s a recursive design problem: people need to be able to design better, what training, job aids, tools, and/or social learning can we develop to make this work? Having just done this on a project where a team I was a member of were responsible for generating a whole curriculum around the domain, I can speak with some confidence about how to make this work.
First, are the tools. Too often, the templates enforce rigor around having the elements, rather than about what makes those elements really work. So, on the project, I not only guided the design of the templates, but the definitions associated with the elements that helped ensure they accomplished the necessary learning activities. For example, it’s no good to have an introduction that doesn’t activate the relevant prior experience and knowledge, doesn’t help the learner comprehend why this learning is important, or even accomplishes this in an aversive way (can you say: “pre-test“? :). This is the performance support component, that helps make it easy to do things well and more difficult to do the wrong thing. Similarly with ensuring meaningful activity in the first place, etc.
Next is the understanding. This comes both by creating a shared understanding in the team, and then refining the process, making the outcome a ‘habit’. First, I’d worked with some of the team before, so they shared my design principles, then I presented and co-developed with the client that understanding. Then, as first draft content came out, I’d critique it and used that to tune the template, and the understanding amongst the content developers.
The involvement in refining the design process took some time, but really paid off as the quality of the resulting output took a steep increase and then stabilized as good quality learning experience yet reproducible in a cost-effective way and sustainable and manageable way.
As I’ve mentioned before, the nuances between bad elearning and really effective and engaging content are subtle to the untrained eye, but the outcomes are not, both subjectively from the learner’s experience, and objectively from the outcomes. You should be collecting both those metrics, and reviewing the outcomes, as they both provide useful information about how your design is working (or not) and how to improve it.
If it matters, and it should, you really should be reviewing and tuning your processes to achieve engagement and learning outcomes. It’s not more expensive, in the long term, though it does take more work. But otherwise, it’s just a waste of money and that is expensive! You’ll end up in the situation Charles Jenning’s cites, when”you might as well throw the money spent on these activities out the window.” Don’t waste money, spend the time assuring that your learning design processes achieve what they need to. Your organization, and your learners, will thank you.