Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

“Why is Learning & Development so slow?” A client was recently asked this question. She and her team of employees and consultants are striving to create training for a massive, division-wide initiative.  She was frustrated, and rightfully so.

My joking response was, “Well, put the answers in terms that the group of engineers will understand. Advise them that we need inputs to produce outputs – just like in all the engineering process flows they want us to train nearly 2,000 people on this fall!”  She laughed, and responded, “the issue is, they don’t understand the importance of developing learning outcomes and then creating learning solutions to meet those outcomes.”

All joking aside, this is a common issue in the field of learning and development; the time spent up front to do a root cause analysis or align training solutions with the business goals is often seen as a) a waste of time; b) not necessary because ‘we just want an eLearning’ or c) slowing down the progress because ‘training needs to happen NOW’.

input model

Consider This…

How would you answer the following questions?

1. When a construction firm builds a structure meant to hold thousands of people, does he/she begin without a detailed drawing from an architect? Are specific outcomes and impacts to the users are considered in the final approved plan, prior to construction?

2. When you plan a graduation party, wedding, or family reunion type event, would you do it without first listing out the what, where, who, why for the various items you need to organize? The number of guests might impact the location of the event, or the budget may determine how many appetizers, for example.

3. When determining compensation plans, is this done without outlining specific individual and team metrics and measures prior to launching the plan?

4. Would you expect an R&D team to create a product without critical product specifications and requirements? If the end product was “create a water bottle,” how likely is it that you’d get a water bottle that met all of your requirements?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions above, you see the value of planning prior to investing hours and resources into an outcome that will impact many people. Additionally, the completion – or even prototype – of a plan is dependent upon getting information from the “expert” in the situation. The learning plan, the building, the party, the compensation plan – none can be completed without input from the ones impacted by the change.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, the training need wasn’t determined in a day, and nor will the finished training product be so. Set expectations for project owners, content experts, and learning professionals. Hold all parties accountable to deadlines set, and likely you’ll see that the process will increase speed.  Creating successful behavior change by using training as a communication vehicle can be well done through a collaborative approach between the project owners and the learning and development team.

A Public Restroom: Design Matters!

Ideas come in the strangest places. A reflection on learning design comes from, of all places, the ladies restroom at the public library. How would a visit to the ladies room at the public library translate into reflections on e-learning design, you might ask?

restroom sign.png

Consider this story for a moment. I was on my way out of the library, and decided to stop at the restroom first. As I got closer, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair trying to open the door to enter the restroom. She was maneuvering herself as best as she could but then started to wheel away.

“Can I open the door for you?” I asked. After making sure she made it to the stall, I started thinking, ‘well, now how is she going to get out?’ I asked the librarian to check on her to make sure she could get back out of the bathroom when needed.

As I left the library, a few key thoughts about how this scenario relates to e-learning were running through my mind.

It’s beautiful, but does it work for everyone?

The library referred to in the story is about 2 years old, and boasts sun panels and a gorgeous contemporary design, comfortable seating, and a large selection of books. However, the restroom does not have a handicapped accessible door that the woman in the wheelchair could reach.

How are we designing our programs to reach the audiences for which they are intended?When it comes to the library, what do we want our users to be able to do? You might answer: check out books, study at the tables, bring children to story time, use the computers for free, etc.

An important design consideration in this case, is also to reflect on the fact that we want people to spend time at the library; hence, an accessible bathroom is also important.

When it comes to designing learning courses, meeting this “basic need” could be as simple as providing a glossary link, links to printable handouts, and a searchable menu, so that the learner will spend time in your course and get their needs met with tools designed for them to use on the job.

Access is everything!

do not enter sign

How might your learner’s perceptions be colored if they couldn’t access or understand how to navigate your course the first time they try it?

What do you think the woman’s perception was of the library when it was difficult to fulfill a basic need? When it comes to designing courses, we have a plethora of tools from which to choose, and many fantastic graphic and interface options.

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

  • English-only options for a global audience;
  • No transcript printing availability for those who have English as a Second Language, or a hearing impairment;
  • Designs that are so labor intensive that it takes 6-9 months to build them, when the information is needed NOW;
  • Not available in multiple formats, such as iPad or mobile devices

They’re in, but can they get back out?

maze

Upon entering a public restroom, one expects to be able to exit at some point. Sometimes you need to go back the same way you entered; in others you need to exit through a separate doorway.

At the library, the woman was not going to be able to get back out, given that there was only one way to exit – a door handle she couldn’t reach. This is not helpful design for the user!

When it comes to designing learning programs, an important consideration has to do with navigation and “do-overs.”

  • What happens when the learner tries to go back and review an earlier section in the course? Can they do so; are the screens and animations reset so they can experience the content again, if needed?
  • What happens if the learner needs to leave the course in the middle? Will it track where the learner left off, or will he or she have to start over upon returning to the course?

Certainly there are more implications for design that you may think of, given ample time. I simply suggest that design “good learning” courses, where accessibility and applicability trump beauty and flashy tricks that don’t add to meeting the learner’s needs. Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out -with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out-with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

Pull It Up to the Front

There is an old saying that goes like this; “out of the mouths of babes, oft times come gems,” which essentially means that children have been known to say insightful things. Recently, my

basketball

Recently, my eight-year-old son and I took advantage of a beautiful day to take the dog for a long walk. During our walk, the subject of the previous night’s basketball practice arose.

My son was describing strategies, positions, reactive strategies, and many other pieces of information about how the game of basketball is played.

My son was describing strategies, positions, reactive strategies, and many other pieces of information about how the game of basketball is played.  After about 20 minutes of chatter about such things, peppered with my questions, I said, “Wow, Logan! You really have to keep a lot of things in mind at the same time. I don’t know how you remember all of that in the midst of a game.”

His answer certainly surprised me. “Well, mom,” said Logan, “you see, it’s really easy. You know your brain, it’s pretty big. So what I do when I have a game or practice is, I bring all the basketball stuff to the front of my brain. I take all the other stuff out, and shove it to the back of my brain, so it doesn’t get in the way.”

I asked him, “How do you do that?” The answer was, “Well, I just focus really hard on what I am doing – it gets easier to just pull it (the basketball “stuff) to the front after you practice it for a while. Then, you just play basketball and everything is clear.”

Did my son just describe the concept of attention density in an amazingly simple story?

brain

 What we choose to focus on is where the increased density of our attention occurs. It’s no secret that allowing ourselves to be distracted by emails, texts, phone, or meetings can impact our ability to be productive and make decisions.

Neuroscience research shows that we actually can make circuitry changes in the brain with our thinking patterns. Attention density is a way of focusing on something to come to a decision or increased clarity.

A simple example of this is the experience we often have after we purchase a new car, or even a new cellphone. Suddenly, we see our exact same car or cell phone everywhere, because now we are paying attention to that item.

What we choose to focus on is where the increased density of our attention occurs. It’s no secret that allowing ourselves to be distracted by emails, texts, phone, or meetings can impact our ability to be productive and make decisions. Neuroscience research shows that we actually can make circuitry changes in the brain with our thinking patterns. Attention density is a way of focusing on something to come to a decision or increased clarity. A simple example of this is the experience we often have after we purchase a new

How might this idea of attention density impact how we design learning materials? For that matter, how might it impact the way we allow our teams to structure their day? The idea of time for reflection and focus during our work and learning processes is where I see the potential for increasing attention density.

To learn more about the fascinating research on neuroscience and attention density and its implications for business, innovation and leadership, access the Neuroleadership Institute. For myself, when I find myself needing to focus, I now mentally picture myself pulling information to the front of my brain, and shoving the irrelevant information “to the back.”