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Changing the Learning Landscape Through Learner Experiences

Topher Olsen, VP of Learning & Development, RPM, Roscoe Property Management
Topher Olsen, VP of Learning & Development, RPM, Roscoe Property Management

Topher Olsen, VP of Learning & Development, RPM, Roscoe Property Management

At 5 AM I’m awakened by the pulsating vibration of my Fitbit. I scramble out of bed and into the bathroom to beat the backup alarm of my phone going off and waking my sleeping wife. I throw on my workout clothes and stumble my way into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. With my black elixir in hand, instead of heading out the door to the gym, I head to my home office. You see, the date was March 16th of this year, and because of the lockdown, my gym was closed indefinitely.

Ever since college, I’ve started my day with some kind of workout. Cardio machines, swimming, group fitness classes, formerly called ‘aerobics’ (I told you I’ve been doing this a while), or weight machines, I do it all. Call it an obsession, fascination, or by now, 30 years later, just a plain habit. Either way, my routine was interrupted, and I had to figure out what to do.

I find myself in my office and I sit down at the computer and begin to Google, YouTube, and even Pinterest, which, believe it or not, is more than wedding planning and ways to transform your home into one of Chip and Joanna’s farmhouse masterpieces. I had a few dumbbells, but during my search, I find all kinds of equipment and workouts that I could do in the privacy of a new garage gym!

Within a few short minutes I had a plan and I was ready to execute. I did not have to take 2-hour training, attend a workshop, or shadow someone else who was an expert in garage gym renovations. Instead, I was able to control my own learning experience at the time and place I wanted to consume the information, and in a way that most appealed to me, who, being a visual learner, was through video and images. That being said, it begs the question, why do we learn at work, differently than we learn in our own lives?

In many organizations, Learning and Development departments still serve as ‘ticket takers’ for the organization and provide a plethora of training opportunities for their associates. However, the kind of learning they provide is not always tied to the overall business goals or objectives, nor are they designed in a way that actually appeals to how we learn and consume information in today’s technologically rich society.

Many L&D departments are almost obsessed with the desire for associates to ‘get through’ the highly polished training that they’ve created. E-Learning courses with rich animations and slick voice overs paired with ‘user engagement’ activities such as ‘drag and drop’ and ‘matching’ fill the learning landscape in many organizations. However, there are two fundamental problems here. Number one, training should never be something that someone must ‘get through’. Training should be something that associates want to do in order to become the best version of themselves performing the jobs they were hired to do. Many organizations talk about the idea of continuous improvement for their associates, but how can you do that, when the only time the associates are in the Learning Management System (LMS) is during their onboarding or their annual compliance training?

Which brings us to the second problem, and that is the idea held by many L&D professionals, that the longer someone spends time training will yield an associate that knows more about what they were trained on. A lot of effort is spent on course development using instructional design models and implementing various models for feedback, yet the experiences for most employees are painful and tedious instead of being relevant and impactful. Think about it, how many of us Google something every day for our personal and maybe even professional lives? We find the information we want, and we get on with our business. Why can’t we provide that same idea for learning in the workplace?

If L&D professionals are to be invited to the proverbial ‘table’, then we need to embrace the new ways in which people are engaging with and consuming information. To begin with, it’s time to ditch the LMS and move to a Next Gen or Learning Experience Platform (LXP). The problem with most LMSs is the fact that they are set up to keep you ‘compliant’ with your training. They are very linear in scope and do not allow you to consume information in a way that is most impactful for you. An LXP, on the other hand, embraces the tenets of Social Learning into their platform. So, instead of L&D being the sole provider of content, social learning leverages the collective mindset of everyone throughout the organization and allows them to share their own expertise and experiences to help others. With this model, L&D roles shift from content creators to content curators.

Secondly, we need to move away from long, drawn out e-learning courses and replace them with bite-sized chunks of information that associates can consume within their flow of work. We need to understand what makes things like Google, Facebook and Netflix popular and bring those ideas into the work environment. By incorporating video and storytelling into the learning fabric, you will find that your associates consume and retain more information because they see it as more relevant to them. And don’t just stop at one piece of training for a concept. See if there are other ways you can convert information into a buffet of knowledge. Think video, infographics, PDFs, PowerPoints, podcasts, interviews, workbooks, flow charts, job aides etc. By providing a variety of vehicles, you appeal to the different learning styles of associates and they, in turn, can ‘choose their own adventure’ in order to learn about a specific topic or process.

Finally, you need to tie the learning engagement to the performance metrics of the organization. Assuming your organization has a set of Key Performing Indicators or KPIs, every piece of content should be tied to reaching and exceeding those KPIs. Today when I sit down with department heads in the organization who are requesting training, I first ask, what KPI will this be tied to and what behaviors should we expect to see once implemented? If we can understand these two ideas, we then can measure the impact of the training on the business goals and objectives. The most difficult part of this process, however, is not constructing the learning experiences, but rather changing the learning experiences if we are not seeing the appropriate business impact. We can’t get so emotionally tied to the learning experiences we create that we can cut them loose if they aren’t working. At the end of the day, if the learning is not affecting positive change, then why would we require anyone take it?

With these types of changes in the implementation of a Learning Experience Platform, you are more equipped to evaluate the learning culture of your organization. In other words, instead of reviewing reporting on who is or is not compliant, you can start to see which learning experiences are resonating more with your associates and increasing their engagement with the organization. In addition, you can see how many times people return to content pieces or even what the drop-off rate is for others. For many organizations, you can move from the one-time annual engagement in learning to having 80-90% learner engagement every month!

So, six months later, my garage gym is almost complete. (Who knew how hard it was going to be to find dumbbells and kettlebells in COVID times.) I have horse stall mats for my rubber flooring which, according to my Pinterest research, is a ‘garage gym hack’, I have a weight bench that was an ‘Amazon Choice’, and I have now taken up jump rope in place of my cardio sessions thanks to some great YouTube videos from The Jump Rope Dudes. As for my performance metrics, I’ve dropped 10 pounds since March, so I would say my learning was effective and I did not have to take one single SCORM class to get there!.

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