Over the last 14 months, as part of a team creating a new generation learning management system, I’ve come to truly appreciate the need for L&D to strive relentlessly to offer learners simplicity when it comes to their learning. With hindsight, I will now confess to having developed some amazing learning solutions, but which now look overly complex when it comes to meeting the needs of the modern learner. Talking to learners – and seeing things afresh through their eyes – has taught me that we, as L&D professionals, need to look again at what we deliver.
Here are some of my thoughts on how we could achieve this.
Making content easy to access is one of the areas where we’ve long striven to improve. So think about:
- How to make content available at point of need. If you can place deep links to content on your LMS from wherever that person will be when they have the learning need, then do so. And if this means delivering content outside of your LMS environment – and the benefits of immediate access overcome the need for tracking – then do so.
- Making it reachable with a single click. No-one wants to have to wade through a number of levels to get to a piece of content, so take the time to understand how best to organise your content, so that it’s not buried deep in a catalogue, for example.
- How to make it findable via consumer-grade search. Why do learners learn from Google? Because Google makes it so easy to find stuff, especially when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. So look for search tools that behave like those on the platforms your employees use elsewhere.
- Making your content shareable. Good content, that someone has found useful, deserves to find its way into the hands of others, so look to build in the ability for people to share what they’ve used with others.
Getting around a piece of content needs to be simple too. I’ve see all too often – particularly with longer pieces of content – that people get to the end, find they’ve missed something out (that means they can’t “complete” the learning), but then can’t find what they’ve inadvertently skipped. So ensure that you:
- Minimise the amount of navigating that a learner has to do. This might involve breaking up the content into smaller chunks, as well as looking again at the journey you want the learner to take through the content.
- Use popular standard conventions. If you have to explain what a button does, then I would say you’ve failed at the first hurdle. So make sure you use symbols, language and “calls to action” that have universal meaning.
The modern learner already votes with their feet – to a degree – and readily finds and consumes externally created content that delivers learning in an approach that works for them. So now is the time to consider:
- Using video assets to deliver short bursts of content in a variety of styles that education in different ways.
- Developing mobile learning options that provide the utmost convenience to the learner and force you to keep the learning simple.
- Sticking with formulaic approaches. Find approaches that work and then find other ways to use them, so that learners quickly become familiar and comfortable with the style of delivery.
- Using more checklists. Sometimes a step-by-step guide is all that’s needed and again forces you to keep things simple.
- Exploiting the PDF format. Probably still underutilised as a learning approach, they are quick to produce, easy to distribute and provide a simple to use resource. Electronic PDFs also offer many more interesting ways to include interactivity and multimedia in the content.
There simply isn’t enough time in the day – or budget in the kitty – to produce all the learning the business needs. Now is the time to reach out to the experts and practitioners in the business. Embrace them so that:
- You’re not reinventing the wheel, when there is plenty of good practice out there that could so easily be captured.
- You share content that is practical and to the point, penned by those who know exactly what needs to be known to get the job done.
- The content remains focused on the core tasks.
- The material can be contextualised time and time again for different audiences, based on how different subject matter experts – in different areas of the business – address similar issues. Simplicity means a learner not having to think about how something might work in their area of the business.
I’ve learned that our assumptions and unconscious bias can result in a failure to meet the expectations of learners, so now is the time to include “user testing” in your learning development project plans. Doing so will ensure that:
- You don’t rely on assumptions about what people need to know and how they like to learn. Your learners will cut to the chase and tell you how simple you can make things.
- The learners will tell you what works for them. Learners will test your content against what matters to them and in the context and environment in which they find themselves. And interestingly – from research undertaken by Google Ventures – just five test users will provide you with all the data you need; and
- Never stop testing. The second you take your eye off the ball, the old ways will slip back in and simplicity will be under threat.
“Short and sweet” is a characteristic of the way that the modern learner appears to prefer to learn. Making sure your content is easily digestible suggests that you consider:
- Thinking about designing performance support solutions, rather than courses.
- Keeping learning content short. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer additional content for those who need more depth, but the focus should be on satisfying the basic learning needs in as succinct a manner as possible.
- Getting straight to the point. There’s a time and a place for detail, but different audiences will have different levels of knowledge they require. So strip out all the superfluous detail and provide signposting to additional information as needed. Your user testing will help you to get the balance right too.
A surprising amount of research has been done by marketing agencies about what increases the consumption of content, including video assets. As much as we see doing some of this as a tedious chore, learning from this research implies that you should use:
- Short unequivocal titles that get straight to the heart of what the learner will learn.
- Succinct descriptions that provide enough detail to confirm the learner’s time will be well spent.
- Logical tagging that enables learners to quickly search and filter through content that might be of relevance.
- Appropriate imagery that serves to reinforce the nature of the content.
I hope these ideas will give you some pointers as you embark on your programme to simplify your offer.
Simplification should also unlock resources that you can use to increase the scope and scale of your operation.