Monday, May 16, 2011

Make Learning Supportive and Available Everywhere

Thoughts on Elliot Masie's Lectora User Conference Keynote

By Jay Lambert

This year's 2011 Lectora user conference provided my first opportunity to hear learning futurist Elliot Masie (of The Masie Center) speak live; he didn't disappoint. We were treated to both his keynote and a follow-up conversation on his view of the learning industry's present and future. I was excited to see that so many of us are on the same page. As Masie said, we are at an age of incredible learning development opportunity.

One thing that struck me was how often Masie recommended that just-in-time electronic performance support would often meet an organization's needs instead of traditional training. Maybe he didn't come right out and make that statement, but that was my takeaway. And I think it ties in well to our industry's current trend to make Learning short, impactful, and available everywhere.

Here's a photo of what is on his learning radar as eLearning's next evolution.

And here are a few points he made with some of my thoughts attached.

Learning is changing. Learning is going to happen at the Moment of Need.

There are a few things driving this, but primarily it's the speed at which we need (and are accustomed to receiving) information and also that smartphones and tablets, high bandwidth, and an explosion of blogs and other knowledge bases are putting that information right in our hands. Today's workforce is not waiting to get the learning they need. If it is not readily available, they'll seek it on their own via Google or some other search mechanism. Instead of the old 'hey, Joe, how do you do this?' approach, we're switching to 'hey, Google...'

This ties in with thoughts lately that a good bit of online training might better be presented as electronic performance support organized in context. Make information focused, memorable, collaborative and easily obtainable at the Moment of Need. The training exercise for this type information would be on how to find it when you need it. Otherwise, it's irrelevant.

As Masie suggested, we're now outsourcing our memories to devices (Evernote, anyone?); we want to remember as little as possible. Learning professionals need to adapt to this change. By thinking of ourselves as 'learning and knowledge designers' instead of 'instructional designers,' we can focus on putting content into people's hands when they need it, not when it's scheduled on a calendar.

Learning is at the core of a business and making it successful.

Masie said that the number one concern of CEOs he meets with is that they will not have the talent available in their organization to meet business demand; this is kind of ironic considering the last few years of slashed training budgets that we've seen. But going forward, how can we nurture that talent? By making sure that actionable information is readily available to them.

Masie commented that today's top performers in an organization are both seekers of learning and avid networkers. They know how to find the information they need when they need it; as learning professionals, we should have a hand in creating, or at least pointing to, that information. Again, this is driving towards online performance support.

By the way, Masie recommended that this support should be digital with bigger type, be visually appealing, and searchable.

eLearning does not have to be high tech; it just has to increase expertise and change behavior.

Different learning objectives and/or needs call for different approaches. Masie recommended that we make the decision for each bit of content whether the learner is there to check the box or there to change their behavior; there is a time and place, he says, for both.

Masie told us that eLearning should stand for everyone, everywhere gaining expertise. Depending on the topic, you can often achieve this with even the simplest learning designs. Think of some of the most useful online learning you've seen; was it all high-end or did some of it simply present the information in an easily digestible format and provide plans for action? One of the most effective scenario-based learning courses I've seen was comprised of simply static images, a little text on screen, and engaging audio narration that moved the story along; it was inexpensive and easy to build and also highly effective.

Masie added that there is a growing importance of Moment of Need checklists in learning. Perhaps all your learners need to know is what to do when. Would a checklist approach meet your needs? We should all be our own learning labs; experiment in your organization and see what works.

Mobile devices are becoming the first screens for their users, not secondary screens.

Mobile is rapidly overtaking desktops and even laptops as the way we receive information. This is blowing up the lockdown IT departments have long had on corporate environments, but that can be a good thing. Masie suggested that there is no way anyone can control this; therefore, we might as well embrace it. As mentioned above, put the learning and information into people's hands. Design for mobile and make it easily findable.

One caveat -- since today's workforce is more empowered and helping themselves, this means that the information they are finding had better be accurate. Ideally, we have a hand in building it rather than trusting employees will find exactly what we want them to.

My wife experienced the use of mobile performance support recently to a good outcome; she was in a large home improvement retailer and had a question. The sales associate didn't know the answer, but pulled out his Android and looked up the product on a home improvement blog he follows. Her answer was right there. This was truly learning at the Moment of Need. The blog he referenced happened to be an independent site, but could easily have been sponsored by the retailer.

Second caveat -- if you start such a site, make sure it is maintained. Nothing frustrates more than a reference site with little useful information on it. If your learners are seeking help at the Moment of Need, then they need the information.

Also, the biggest complication I see with mobile delivery is screen resolution. We can't simply push our typical eLearning to mobile delivery. But think short nuggets of information; less on the screen is better. And allow for easy navigation and cross-linking of content.

Video is a learning game changer.

Video gives us the ability to easily build a collection of learning stories. Masie advised that stories are at the heart of learning and video is the great enabler of this. And it truly is; video gives us the ability to watch and react to stories from leaders, best performers, non-examples, etc. Learners are put in the moment.
YouTube has made using real, raw video acceptable in most situations. Video no longer has to be perfect, but can simply be  'good enough.' What it does have to be, though, is helpful and easily viewable.

As mentioned in More on Mobile Learning Trends, video also works really well on mobile devices. We live in a wonderful time where learning theory and technology capability are converging.

In Summary

The key theme among today's learning thought leaders, such as Elliot Masie, is that we should make Learning short, impactful, and available everywhere. Some topics will require application practice and a higher level of Bloom's Taxonomy. Others will require only information access in the Moment of Need. But video and low-tech eLearning can help us accomplish either.

We need to be addressing business needs (nothing new there) and putting learning content into people's hands wherever they might be (a.k.a. mobile). And the content they find needs to be useful and have contextual meaning.

How is your organization responding?

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