The optimal learning experience, like selling real estate, is all about location. The terms “just in time” and the percentages 70-20-10 are hot topics in our industry right now. Almost every learning professional I talked to has built some aspect of this into his or her 2014 learning strategy or goals.
Unfortunately, we’re taking many of our old, tired learning assets and approaches and repackaging them, assuming they’ll be consumed. If this were the case our learners would have made this work years ago, with or without our help. We have to move away from the typical way of looking at things, and away from typical deliverables to meet learners where they live — in the work flow while they are trying to perform.
We must understand two important contexts that our learners work in every day. First, the physical side — this is all about accessibility. If a learning modality doesn’t fit into the physical context of employees’ workspace, they won’t consume it. It doesn’t matter how spectacular the content is, if learners can’t get to it quickly, they’ll never explore it. This fact has eluded our industry for far too long.
Correcting this means choosing the right delivery modality and not presenting a breadth of choices. We have always assumed that more is better. SharePoint sites, FAQs, coaching programs, learning portals and access to learning management systems run rampant in most organizations. How could all these options not be helpful?
But we live in a world of high stress, brevity and highly focused performance demands. These conditions are not solved by presenting a host of options. They are solved by providing one effective, focused answer. Our job is to build specific solutions around this context. We know the effectiveness of our learning assets. We know the depth and breadth of the content contained within each. It is our responsibility, not the learners, to create a learning and support solution that offers the best resource available at the right time.
This brings up the issue of modality. The delivery tools of our trade are as sophisticated as ever. Mobile technology holds great promise if we don’t take our old approaches to learning and design and funnel them through the technology in ways that are not optimal. Although mobile learning works, mobile support is an ideal use for smartphones and tablets if we mix highly focused designs with the accessibility of mobile devices.
The second context to consider is work flow itself. It’s one thing to make content physically contextual, it’s another to have it make sense for the learner’s work. We need to understand work flow analysis better. This is not a traditional task analysis, but rather an analysis of work flow itself relative to a learner’s role and circumstance. The danger of skipping work flow analysis and simply making content easily available is that accessibility does not equal relevance. Even with appropriate design and effective use of mobile technologies, if what’s presented isn’t based on the work flow and the problem at hand, the learner will not perform effectively.
The power of work flow context is often misunderstood. It’s replaced by search, but search is only effective when a learner understands what questions to ask. Learners often understand the problems they face in the work flow, but they may not know the content to address that problem. Work flow provides that context. The learner knows the situation. If we present that situation in our 70-20 learning and support programs, the learner simply chooses the scenario, and the appropriate answers are presented.
In a recent study done by a large manufacturing organization about the effectiveness of its learning and support program, it wanted to compare the effectiveness of work flow design over search. It found when the work flow is presented within the context of a problem, search was used fewer than 10 times out of the more than 2,000 times the program was accessed.
When designing for 70-20-10, content consumed needs to be correct, but getting there is more than half the battle. Remember, location, location, location. It’s everything in this new world of informal learning and performance support.