Switch from a one-off activity to a journey, and use the power of emotions.
The customer experience (CX) or user experience (UX) approach is no longer an option for companies that wish to remain competitive. To this list we could add the employee experience, candidate experience, or even one we all should hold close to our hearts, the learner experience (LX).
What it is
Our learners are asked to be agile workers, to multitask, to accelerate their time to performance. They use digital tools; have access to a plethora of resources anytime, anywhere, and on any device; and—at times—are overloaded with information. Learners expect to get answers to their questions right away, and they are becoming more sophisticated in their learning demands. They are looking for on-demand, individualized, on-the-job learning experiences. They want to be in control of their own development.
As talent development practitioners, we compete for learners' attention. If we don't provide them with the right learning resource at the right time, they will ask their network or will Google it.
How it works
We all know that emotions influence motivation, and that motivation is key to learning and applying what is learned. In addition, neuroscience research has shown that emotions directly influence processes of learning and memory. It is therefore crucial to provide our learners with learning experiences that generate positive emotions in addition to meeting their needs and being easily transferable.
As a result, we no longer can push dry, emotionless content and complex learning pathways. Instead, we need to adopt a learner-centric approach to provide learners with the best experience possible.
The objective of LX is to create a "wow" effect that guarantees learners' engagement; ensures that what is learned is relevant, meaningful, and valuable to them; and that their whole learning journey is streamlined, easy, and brings positive emotions from start to finish. These are crucial to maximizing on-the-job application of the new knowledge or skill, as well as behavior change.
To create that wow experience, and to make sure content is meaningful to our learners, we can use the design thinking approach.
Discovery phase. The first step is to stop jumping the gun and immediately thinking about the solution. That means not relying solely on your (or your sponsor's) assumptions about what learners need and want, and which modalities and digital tools are the ones to use. Take a problem-solving approach, which views the problem from different perspectives—including, obviously, that of the learner.
Rather than plowing ahead, ask questions to understand to whom the training is targeted, and to identify the problem the learners need to solve and the root causes of this problem. The answers might be different depending on whether you only ask the sponsor or the learners, and most likely will result in reframing of the problem.
In design thinking, this is called the discovery phase. Talk to some of your learners to get their views on the issue(s) this training initiative is aiming to solve, and get more information about the tools and systems they are using, as well as their preferences in terms of modalities, times, and interactions, and their constraints.
Identify the resources they currently access on their own to fill those learning gaps (both internally and externally). Interpreting these insights will enable you to create learner personas. You will have a clear understanding of the purpose of the training for each persona (what it is that learners want and need to do differently once the learning activity has been completed). This will inform your design and the project impact indicators (return on expectations).
Design phase. During the design phase, you will create a holistic journey that meets the needs of your learners relative to content, engagement, and modalities. This is a crucial shift away from typical approaches—one you need to embrace. Learning activities no longer should be seen as stand-alone or one-off; instead, any learning activity should now be thought of as part of a process that may involve looking for the course, registering, completing a diagnosis, and uploading a document. Your goal is to design an engaging, streamlined, enchanting journey throughout, not just at the beginning.
Whether the learning is done online or face-to-face, several of the steps listed above will need to be completed. Each must be hassle-free and provide a wow experience for the learner. That means we need to simplify the learning process, provide a great UX when using a digital delivery channel, avoid any pain points, and make the content engaging, relevant, and easily transferable.
You also will need to keep in mind that delivering a learning journey involves various people (for example, trainers, mentors, coaches, supervisors, and learning management system administrators). All these individuals should become LX ambassadors whose role, if they are involved at any point in the journey, is to deliver the best experience to the learner.
Another essential step in the design phase is some curation work to identify, gather, and assess the resources your learners currently access on their own to fill their knowledge or skills gap. While we don't want to overload them with resources, some may be important to refer to. Again, learners should inform that decision.
Prototyping and iterating phases. Once the design phase is complete, and prior to moving on to the development phase, test your approach with your sponsor and, ideally, with some of the learners. Then, iterate as necessary. Testing is essential, especially when you deploy complex learning activities at a large scale. You then might need to make some corrections or adjustments. In design thinking, these are the prototyping and iterating steps.
Talent development practitioners do have the benefit of having access to valuable data, thanks to their LMS or enterprise social network. These data points should be analyzed carefully and regularly to iterate the journey and the learning content, as necessary.
At Cegos, our 4REAL (real, efficient, adapted learning) model emphasizes the need for LX in designing effective learning solutions. As such, our learning designers must ask specific questions of our clients and talk to some learners as a first step in their work process.
Some talent development professionals may feel that by adopting the LX paradigm shift they lose control over the solution, that LX takes them outside of their comfort zone, that it will be expensive and time consuming. Ultimately, however, the rewards LX brings in terms of value creation, learner satisfaction, and impact on performance and engagement are worth it.
CHECKLIST: IMPROVING THE LEARNER EXPERIENCE
- Ask questions of both the sponsor and the learners to get key insights.
- Reframe the problem that the new learning solution seeks to solve.
- Identify resources currently used by learners to fill the gap.
- Create learner personas.
- Think about the whole journey your learners will go through.
- Engage all who will be involved.
- Test your solution. Iterate before developing and deploying.
- Gather, monitor, and analyze data; continue iterating if necessary.
Cegos. 2016. Innovation Handbook: The Changing Face of Training: 7 Questions to Build the Future. Chapter 6. http://static.cegos.com/wp-content/uploads/07122618/Cegos-Innovation-handbook_The-changing-face-of-training.pdf.
Floor, N. 2016. “This is Learning Experience Design.” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/learning-experience-design-niels-floor.
IDEO. 2013. Design Thinking for Educators. https://designthinkingforeducators.com/toolkit.
Marie-Laure Curie is a director for bespoke learning and consulting solutions at Cegos.