“What’s the best authoring tool we should implement in our department?” is one of those questions I dread coming up against in my conversations with L&D managers, especially when I know that the budget is tight.
Because the answer depends on so many factors that there is no single answer that is right for everyone. What I do know, however, is that there are a few considerations that any team should put into the tech decision-making mix. But, in fact, many hide further downstream in the production phase, so they might not be an obvious influencing factor for many and may only rear their head in a couple of years.
In essence, your decision-making on which technology to choose to stay on a tight budget includes:
The investment in the authoring tool itself, and
The effort (“person-hours”) to implement, set up and maintain it to get the output at the quality level you need.
The choices you make will determine what you can get out of the authoring tool, and some lower-cost options, especially the ones relying on templated solutions, can come at the expense of quality and flexibility, which in turn can make your eLearning content feel generic and repetitive for your learners.
The authoring choice
On the top shelf, the highly involved end of the spectrum, there are custom Html builds. They may sound attractive due to their high level of flexibility, and ‘free’ in terms of not having to pay authoring tool licensing fees. However, their maintenance costs are much higher, and skilled Html developers are becoming harder to find, as there are many authoring tools around.
The art of boosting return on investment lies in asking the right questions and thinking beyond the licensing fee.
When it comes to the affordability of an authoring tool, it is worth thinking beyond the licence fee alone.
Are we planning to move from an LMS to LRS, or relying on both SCORM and xAPI reporting?
How many users do we want on the tool? This might include more than your in-house learning designers, for example, if you are running user-generated content strategies.
How often do we think we need to adjust the content?
If we are considering introducing VR/AR – there are now non-tethered options that do not require goggles to be experienced.
Are we relying on social learning campaigns?
What lead-time do we typically have for our learning pieces?
What technical skills and experience do we have in our team?
The content choice
How contextualised does our learning need to be, can we rely on stock imagery?
Can we use low-cost stock imagery, do we have graphic skills, and do we need to regularly shoot real footage?
Can we re-purpose assets and use them more than once without it looking like we’re scrimping?
When storyboarding – consider how many interactions are needed to engage the learner. Each movement on the screen and each click needs someone to make it happen, both in design and development and on the learner’s end.
Do we have an interest or time to make adjustments for mobile breakpoints, if needed?
Are we willing to outsource the main development work and only do maintenance updates in-house?
Could we get away with using a digital voice-over? (I am not a big fan, personally).
As you can see, there are many angles through which the right authoring tool choices can save you and your team some L&D budget; the art lies in asking the right questions and thinking outside of just the licensing fee. For me, the biggest question out of them all is are you supporting a mobile-first strategy, or do staff undertake their eLearning from a tablet or desktop?
Have you looked into your Slack channels (or your organisation’s social learning platform or instance chat messaging system) lately?
It’s a place where colleagues communicate, collaborate and drive projects, doing deep work. Or it can look more like this:
If you are thinking, ‘Well, that’s a friendly, busy, collegial team of people helping each other’, I’d like you to think again.
The problem with work interruptions, as confirmed by empirical studies, is that ‘people in the interrupted conditions experience a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure and effort’. Further, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after being interrupted.
Given those findings, it is not difficult to imagine the overall impact on productivity when people cannot find the information they need when and where THEY need it. For me, that’s the bottom line of human-centred learning design. If you cannot provide the learning or information when, where and how individuals require it, you’re missing the human in your design.
DIMENSIONS OF HUMAN-CENTRED DESIGN
Here is what humans need when it comes to learning that allows them to perform well:
Learning in the right TIME
Do you have any thoughts about the people you recruited and who have already started in their roles, but still have to wait a couple of months to get started in formal induction training? Who and what will inform their honeymoon time in your organisation, and how will you harness their first impressions to benefit from their ‘fresh pair of eyes’? If you are ignoring the right time for the availability of learning, both employers and employees are missing out. Chances are, your new recruits can be found in the Slack channels, hunting for information.
Learning in the right CONTEXT
Imagine you had to train your army for close combat situations in arid, rural regions; however, all your training videos and materials show close combat scenarios in jungle surrounds. Despite the ‘close combat’ angle remaining the same, one can argue that all other aspects will render jungle training useless to prepare for any other scenario. Quick self-check: are you still using training videos in which people shake hands? We are still in an active pandemic.
Learning in the right PLACE
We need to move away from understanding ‘learning’ as something that only happens whenever L&D offers training sessions, whether online in an LMS or face-to-face in training rooms – or even a total hybrid approach. People should be able to learn instantly, whether they are sitting at a desk or carrying a handheld POS device on a shop floor.
You can do it!
‘But I can’t keep re-designing my training courses every five minutes whenever something changes! I don’t have enough staff!’ My answer to that is, ‘Yes, with smart use of technology and the help of user-generated content, you can!’
Here is how to do it using a social media approach to learning platforms and campaigns:
Start by listening.
I mean, really listening. Find out what people think or believe are the biggest barriers to them performing well in their role. Run polls and surveys and plan learning content around what people say they need; not what managers think or believe they may need. And yes, read those Slack threads.
Next, ask questions.
Look at search stats. What are people searching for most often? Look at learning stats. Which video gets watched most often? By whom? Are they rewinding a certain passage and rewatching it? Why?
Then, map out solutions.
Engage your subject matter experts in the production of artefacts to use in a learning content. Consider where else you can place learning so it’s in the moment of need. There may be opportunities to show role-based, pop-up system prompts within infrequently performed tasks. In the case of eLearning, use authoring tools that allow you to push out learning to mobile devices and enable xAPI statements so you can get valuable data to pivot quickly as needed. You could always have a Slack bot programmed with answers to FAQs too.
Gone is the time of happy sheet post-evaluations and hopefully ‘making the training better next year, for the next cohort’. This outdated approach of long-winded planning and rolling out approaches to training deployment only leads to slackness all round (pardon the pun!). It will not keep organisations competitive and fit for today’s fast-paced era of constant change. It’s time to broaden our horizons.
Human beings are great at telling other people how to do things. But when it comes to being self-aware of our own shortcomings or detecting how we could improve with professional development, the picture often gets blurry.
Of course, this is nothing new – as evidenced by old sayings such as, ‘it’s the carpenter’s door that doesn’t close properly’. We are also typically at ease in our own routines, our own way of accomplishing work and setting our own standards for what ‘good’ looks like.
But, here’s the thing: the day you think you’ve delivered a ‘good’ learning solution is the day you should chuck your laptop and walk away. Why? Because, in that moment, you will have relinquished your potential for doing better next time – and even better the time after that…
STRIVING FOR MORE
It’s about cultivating a sense of positive self- reflection which you can use to your advantage.
Every project comes with deadlines, quality requirements and cost constraints so, naturally, we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere to deliver and we may think, ‘this has got to be good enough now’ – that’s the nature of the beast. However, with every project and every task comes a chance to learn and improve. Greatness is in the eye of the beholder.
So, what are some ways to make sure you enter a cycle of continuous improvement for greatness?
01. Become a fan of your progress
Every month or so, pick up a project you worked on a year ago and evaluate it in terms of what you did, how you did it and whether your work delivered the desired outcomes and measured up to best practice.
Leveraging hindsight, what would you do differently if you had a chance to do it again, given what you know now? Make notes and plan how you can implement these improvements in upcoming projects.
There are always new ways to do existing tasks
02. Get external feedback from different angles
While reviewing older projects, it is also a great time to get back in touch with other project stakeholders to get feedback on the impact your work – and the project itself – had. Did you hit the target? If not, why not? If yes, what got you there?
Frequently liaise with people from other related professions to learn how and where they source new ideas or ways of completing work. There may be newly developed tools intended for other areas that could also help you in your role. Even in the project initiation stage, it can be a good idea to brainstorm with people from totally different professions to get fresh insights.
03. Networking and professional development
In a profession like ours, geared towards changing people’s behaviours, we must – wait for it – spend time with people! Nothing will replace real-life interaction so you should build it into your planned work schedule.
Thankfully, organisations like the Australian Institute of Training and Development, for whom I write this very article, make that exercise and professional development easy and achievable. From short topical courses to conferences and networking events, all it takes is your membership and your active commitment to prioritise your own professional development. In addition, networking can help you build relationships with potential employers or clients. These connections can lead to job opportunities, new projects or referrals.
When you go to events that have a speaker, it’s not enough to hop in and out of sessions and take notes. Instead, it would help if you internalised the content, reframed it into your own context and found a way to talk directly to that speaker. That’s when you see the deep and meaningful experience behind it; the one that sticks.
04. Lose your fear of new technologies
Technology is nothing to be afraid of; it is here to make our lives easier. For example, need I mention the washing machine and its benefits? There are always new ways to do existing tasks and regularly exploring new tools can save you time or money.
There are plenty of resources to help you get started and, with a bit of effort, you can learn anything you need to know. Plan for that time to research and learn new tools – and make it a habit. Some tools will stay with you, some you will use on a needs basis and some you will let go again.
05. Throw away your laurels
Chances are you finished a formal degree or qualification to enter your job role. However, like me, you may have learnt about adult learning theory, for example, and this has become a somewhat hazy concept by now.
Knowing about something is the mere baseline fundamental but learning how to apply it successfully in different contexts is where the true art of L&D lies. And that only happens with experience and by keeping up the hard work of life-long learning and ongoing professional development.
Take pride in knowing you can always learn more and you can always find a way to enhance the learning experiences you create for others. You are only as good as the last job you did, but there is always a chance to make the next one even better.
A warm summer evening with a light breeze. A table laid under a canopy of fairy lights for 19 department heads including your seat at the business table as the invited representative from the L&D department.
You stand at the garden gate, taking in the scene of pre-dinner drinks, the conversational murmur interrupted by an occasional jovial laugh and the clink of two glasses meeting for cheers…How do you feel?
Food for thought
Some of you reading this will feel trepidation; some of you will feel elation. Some of you will feel excluded; some of you will feel invited.
‘Why does this matter?’, you ask.
I believe it matters because it describes the current collective psychological state of L&D in its broader organisational context. It picks up L&D’s call to, ‘finally have a seat at the business table’ – as can be observed in various social media laments.
At the same time, it also shows another world view which says that there always was a seat at the business table; it’s only a matter of taking your place and joining the business end of the conversation.
‘Uh, since when do we have dinners outside under a canopy of fairy lights?’, you ask.
Well, tell me one thing that has remained the same in our collective work environment since March 2020? So, we might as well use unthinkable settings to make a point!
In the end, it is this, thinking the unthinkable, that will take L&D – and indeed organisations worldwide – into our new, future reality. It will take a move away from a narrow lens focus, towards wide-angled shots, to see the new lay of the land before us.
What do I mean by that? Let’s look at some issues together:
I like food, so let’s stay with the analogy.
For starters, hybrid work models are here to stay. There will be no going back to offices as they were BC (‘Before Covid’). So, how is your appetite for proactively starting a conversation about what this means for your undoubtedly well-planned training calendar? Are you still hoping to ‘finally go back’ to half- or full-day, face-to-face training in a CBD location?
Well, what about the team members and stakeholders who have since moved up the coast, still merrily ‘Zoom-ing’ in bare feet and enjoying the non-commute life, being outrageously productive while doing so? What is your business answer to this conundrum? And if you are unsure, who could you liaise with to suss this out for the benefit of all involved?
Productivity levels are at a record high and must remain so to counteract the acute cross- industry skills shortages. And yet, learning must go on; some of it for sheer technical or compliance purposes and some to bolster soft skills organisation-wide.
What to do?
Well, to keep everyone eating while some are remote or highly mobile and some are sitting down to learn, let’s open all avenues to feed everyone the way they need it.
Some things in life are an acquired taste and may sound strange when done differently from what we are used to. Notice how I placed cheese straight after the main meal? Well, I have taken you to France, where they do it just like this. Are you willing to try that awkward looking piece? You may be rewarded with the most in-depth, authentic experience of a different culture if you do.
That same principle applies if you dare to try user-generated learning content from within a business unit. It will look different from what you know, but it may be THE key to opening doors to many ‘A-ha!’ moments as your subject matter expert on the screen talks the learners’ language like a native – because they actually are.
Have you invited users to create learning content? Do you know how to tell the good content from the not-so-good content? How will you socialise the learning and what will you do with feedback and commentary from peers?
Once you decide to take a plunge into this new world of attracting learners to your ecosystem rather than pushing training out as a default setting, you may find something else: There is a sweet freedom in this approach, in that your life as L&D will become more rewarding and, in some aspects, easier.
By opening up a continuous dialogue with business units – by providing flexible learning solutions that are also measurable in terms of performance impact – you will be seen as a true problem solver that matters for the bottom line, rather than a cost factor and a ‘we-need-training-in-XYZ’ order taker.
What you may also find is that, by pivoting to new authoring tools and modern learning platforms, your life will become less complicated. If ad-hoc learning content update requests used to spin your department around like sugar in a cotton candy machine, you now are in mission control because you are in command of well-tagged, thus easily searchable and easily updateable, learning content. Pair that with authoring software that can be used by anyone in your organisation and can deploy to any platform, and you will see how wide you have now cast your net of influence.
Good business ideas often start over a good chat and a coffee (virtual or otherwise). So, which departmental leader, sitting next to you at your proverbial end of the business table, can you call today to have a chat to? Likewise, who are some external allies you can invite along with you if you feel uncomfortable joining that table on your own?
I am always available to be your sounding board if you need some ideas on how to proceed.
What is personalisation in eLearning? Remember Mary Poppins’ carpet bag of goodies? It contained exactly the right thing at the right time, for the right situation and audience. Imagine having that bag and all its belongings handy in learning and development. What would come out of it?
Digital learning offers fascinating alternatives if you are using the latest tech authoring tools for personalisation in eLearning.
What if you could offer learning that leaves the learner wondering, ‘How did they know? It’s exactly what I needed right now!’ Well, to a certain degree, you can. If you know to ask the right questions and use the latest technology, you can make your learning ‘just so’, through personalisation.
Personalisation in eLearning, of course, starts with understanding who your learners are and why, when and how they need to access the learning. Organisations still choosing to shepherd entire branches into all-staff training sessions are missing out on incredible opportunities to make their learning investment go the extra mile through personalisation efforts. In our experience, the upfront investment of learner cohort analysis and exploration of non-traditional learning offerings to suit them is a cornerstone for modern learner engagement.
The learner analysis will uncover what differentiates the different learner personas’ needs and what are some commonalities that you can use for synergies, i.e., what can they all learn in the same way and what portion needs to be divided into cohort-specific content?
Choose modern learning design tools that can personalise at scale
Contrary to face-to-face training, where the entire room of learners listens to the same case study example or perhaps works through a handful of scenarios in break- out groups, digital learning offers fascinating alternatives if you are using the latest tech authoring tools. In this, our new digital-learning reality, you can have learners watch a video with a question popping up at time stamp 01:20:00. Depending on the viewer’s answer, the video will resume at different points and only show content relevant to the individual viewer. This may sound like a complicated feature to create, but it is just a plug-in readily available in top-tier authoring tools. For personalisation in eLearning, all you need to do is upload your branching video segments in one file and identify the branching points through the video’s time codes.
Think beyond your LMS or intranet for broader access and better learner experience
Another way to personalise your learning is by empowering your learners to access learning when and where they need it. For example, just before an important meeting or to refresh product knowledge to upsell while attending to a retail customer’s needs.
When you use device-agnostic authoring tools, your content will work on any platform and reach even locally dispersed cohorts. There are tools that enable that without extra coding around breakpoints. All your instructional designers will have to determine is whether a certain image should be replaced with another one for a smaller screen, as might be needed for complex diagrams.
Develop once, personalise by brand
Large, umbrella-brand organisations can take advantage of personalising a learning resource for one brand and rolling it out to ‘like audiences’ in their daughter/sister companies. The branding switch happens by simply applying different branded themes to the learning content in the authoring tool, making tedious rebranding of content a story of the past.
Provide career-specific learning pathways
Modern capability development frameworks are linked into smart learning ecosystems for people to tap into. Create some logical pathways in people’s careers and offer curated content dependent on their specific development needs. As a result, people feel supported and able to pull the learning content when they want. This supports timely, job-specific learning and also satisfies curious life-long learners.
This type of personalisation in eLearning can be expanded to a virtual one-on-one mentor or coach – letting your staff select their online coach or mentor best suited to their learning journey. Let them discover ‘a day in the life’ of someone who started the job one year or ten years ago or learn the information through the specific lens of the most relatable persona.
Use accessibility functions for user preferences
Wherever it makes sense according to the diversity requirements or context of the learning piece, achieving accessibility to level 2.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) should be your standard approach. When you apply accessibility practices in your learning from the start, your users will have more opportunities to tailor their learning experience to what they prefer and need. For example, some learners may prefer to refresh on some learning while commuting on the bus, so closed captions will be helpful to have.
WHAT IS WCAG? The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is an internationally recognised standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The purpose of the WCAG standard is to define how to ‘… make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities…These guidelines also make web content more usable by older individuals with changing abilities due to ageing and often improve usability for users in general.’ Find out more at www.accessibility.org.au/guides/what-is-the-wcag-standard/
Offer branching case studies for different learner personas
When you have to address the question, ‘what will this mean for me in my role?’, branching case studies offer meaningful learning experiences that users can relate to. The art of efficiently creating these types of scenarios is to get the scope right between ‘just enough’ backstory with persona journeys, without adding too much padding that does not drive the core message.
We believe it is high time to consistently harness the power of digital technology to make learning the best it can be, for all learners. Unlike a group of learners in a room, online learning can be, and should feel like, a tailored one-on-one personalised experience.
Are you using the right tools to create personal learning experiences? Where are you on the personalisation in eLearning opportunity spectrum?
This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, June 2021 Vol. 48 No. 2, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.
by Melany Blackwell, co-founder and CEO, App-eLearn
The email arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. Critical training needed to be rolled out to a large cohort of several thousand people on Monday morning – on a shoestring budget. It was a high-profile project. The training was a matter of saving lives.
So, with no time to lose, it was a case of roll-up-the-sleeves and get it done well and fast. But how do we produce a quality learning resource under such constraints?
What sounds like an impossible scenario can be a harsh reality in times of crisis. Need we mention ‘COVID- related training’ and its impact on the way we do business since 2020?
Learning and development teams can be valuable champions of crisis communications and training if they are able to build on their strengths and can adjust their usual modus operandi. So, here are a few considerations to aid a successful high-profile crisis training project.
Think basics during crisis L&D
The need for speed leaves no room for L&D business as usual – which normally comes with planning cycles to design eLearning courses and training programs intended for a long shelf life in a learning management system (LMS).
What is needed during a time-critical crisis is a rapid development piece, homing in on the core message to be conveyed. Ask, ‘what does the minimal learning solution look like that covers all a learner needs right now?’
Who? Where? What? How?
Communication and training channels during a crisis may differ from where people normally access their training. When there is a need to deliver training to thousands of learners within days, face-to-face sessions are unlikely to be an option (especially during the peak of COVID), so digital is the way to go.
The learning piece needs to be able to be deployed across all necessary and existing channels and devices, with minimal bandwidth and fit for purpose for the situation at hand. The channels can be an organisation’s own LMS, LRS or social learning platform, but may also need to include access through mobile and web channels. The chosen learning format needs to cater for a full suite of diversity and accessibility without delay.
It is important to assign clear, uncomplicated review cycles and accountability for content development. There is no room for a substandard performance in learning design, accessibility issues or unplanned technical complications when it comes around to delivery time on the Monday morning.
The same principle applies to input from subject matter experts and ensuring stakeholder reviews are tightly managed. Look for the shortest route to obtain definite, authoritative sign-offs on technical matters. Should in- house team capacity or skill be a threat to the project, engage trusted learning vendors with a proven track record of being able to deliver high quality fast. A job like this one cannot afford to go wrong – people’s lives were at risk.
Tools and resources
Crisis L&D is not the time for long storyboarding or designing learning artefacts in an iterative, agile way; this is the time to be on-point with key learning messages. Think repurposed photography, rapidly produced video and illustration, and eLearning authoring tools that offer the flexibility to carry them all.
Use authoring/design tools with templates, a range of interactivity effects that are accessible, responsive and platform agnostic – and that inexperienced learning authors could operate under remote instruction if required. If mobile deployment is needed, choose an authoring tool that is natively fully responsive, without the need to recode or manually adjust break points for different screen sizes.
L&D teams are on a front line during this pandemic.
Melany Blackwell, Co-founder and CEO, App-eLearn
Typically, in a crisis, a watertight way to see who has completed the training is needed. Whatever learning platform and authoring tool is used, the end product needs to seamlessly integrate learning analytics and big- data tracking into existing systems for fast and detailed reporting.
L&D teams have become much better at learning analytics over the past few months; some have learned about, and adopted, xAPI. Those teams will be ahead of the game in deploying rapid learning pieces with solid granular trackability for compliance and performance measuring purposes.
L&D teams are on a front line during this pandemic. They can be a catalyst for rapid development of quality crisis learning artefacts if they build on their wealth of experience, embrace tools which support rapid development using easy-to-use pre-built templates, with automation around responsive design and learning analytics.
In our high-profile crisis case, the COVID-related training was indeed delivered Monday morning and it was accessible immediately from any location, any device, automatically capturing learner data and completions for analytics.
Months later, we are able to validate that the training was timely and effective. As L&D professionals, we were rewarded in knowing our training played a critical role in keeping staff trained, and in turn, our crisis L&D helped save lives.