Trends come and go in learning and development. These days they’re often centered on social learning, mobile technologies, gaming and increased interactivity. And while it’s often tempting to get caught up in the possibilities introduced by every new technology, learning professionals must remain grounded in the basics of learning and performance. Too often, an innovative program using the latest technology is rolled out in a company with much fanfare, and then employees don’t adopt it or the desired business results aren’t achieved or even measured.
In a time of tightening budgets, learning departments must take a pragmatic approach to the trends in the marketplace. Before jumping on the bandwagon and developing a program based on a new innovation, take these four actions to mitigate the risk associated with early adoption:
1. Ask these three questions:
• Who is this program for? The push to adopt a trend frequently originates from an executive initiative rather than the end users. A new learning offering should begin with thorough consideration of the end users’ needs.
• How well is it connected to an actual business need? If trend adoption isn’t connected to improving a business metric, it risks wasting the company’s money. There is power in the adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
• What are end users saying and doing? As with any high-quality training program, the end users’ voice must be part of the equation. If there is any uncertainty about their opinions and habits, spend time observing and collecting data. At a minimum, this provides a better perspective about trend adoption.
2. Know the difference between consumer and corporate.
For example, consider gaming in training programs, whether using them in workshops or designing video games that simulate a work environment. When it comes to a trend like this, it is essential to understand how it works in a consumer setting versus a corporate one. For consumers, games are primarily meant to be fun. In a corporate setting, games should be oriented around competition, team problem-solving, scoring and goal orientation, which may be aspects of consumer games but aren’t requirements. Instead of rolling out a “Words With Friends” game tailored to business, look for opportunities for end users to collaborate in natural work teams and solve a relevant problem.
3. Go small.
There is an allure in being part of something big — winning over key stakeholders; planning an initiative; crafting a vision; and providing the organization with a game-changing program. But many times the excitement at the beginning of an initiative fizzles during development and implementation. Expectations aren’t met, investments are questioned, end users aren’t satisfied and another flash-in-the-pan comes to pass. This can be avoided through small-scale piloting. With the ubiquity of social networking and video, websites like Ning or YouTube can be used at little cost to test different training approaches. The learning gained from small-scale piloting greatly outweighs the risks of large, costly endeavors.
4. Wait and focus on the basics.
Remember that many trends are simply performance enablers. Mobile technology and social networking are not magic formulas for improving performance. While many may consider them passe, concepts like high standards, accountability, clear expectations and behavior modeling still apply. While not as exciting as the latest trend, many have found success by simply waiting and shoring up the basics.
It’s a mistake to view the latest trends as a replacement for the fundamentals of learning. People have learned the same way for centuries. The key is to augment the way in which people naturally learn how to perform. Taking a measured approach to trends will help ensure success and support a healthy organization.
Ed Francis is the managing director of learning and performance solutions and Brian Donovan is the director of insights and client solutions for Root Learning, a learning services provider. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.