In today’s ever-changing technological world, attention spans are getting shorter, learning and knowledge management is more critical, and technology advances faster all the time. How can we keep our LMS and learning experiences up to par? Further, the needs of training administrators and the learners’ expectations of a familiar and engaging experience are also evolving rapidly. How do we at least stay in the game, if not ahead of it?
We can address these issues by asking ourselves, as training professionals, “What do the learners want?” The answer to this may change periodically, but based on the analysis of trends, (and human nature) the learners, in a nutshell, want it to be about them.
So, what are the learners expecting from an LMS? Based on my experience, they expect a learning environment that:
- Is intuitive, transparent, and specifically tailored to their needs based on their culture, job, and what they need to know to succeed in their role.
- Is easily accessible at all times whether online, offline, or mobile, quickly supplies the information needed within a few clicks, has a workflow that logically follows their own thinking, and allows them to help themselves through the system when needed.
- Looks and feels familiar, like the web technology used every day in their personal lives, ideally allowing them to interact with other, similar users of the system on a social level for sharing of experience and information.
It’s all in the details
To take a closer look at this ideal environment, let’s examine each part.
Making the experience intuitive and easy to navigate
Long gone are the days of clunky workflows, clicking at multiple hit points and drilling down to get what you need. We now live in a well-established “Web 2.0” world. While they are absorbing knowledge in a virtual or self-paced environment, learners expect and deserve an interface that guides them directly to what they need in very little time. Getting trained on the training system is no longer an option for today’s users.
Creating a tailor-made learning system for the learners
Regardless of what buzzwords we use to describe it, learning portals need to accommodate learners individually, whether on the basis of job role, location, company, division, department, or any number of other variables. Just show them what they need and make it easy to access.
In addition to prescriptive learning based on training “pushed” to them, giving the learners the ability to effectively and efficiently search or “pull” the available knowledge is a must. Search engines do it; then why should the search box in the learning portal be an exception?
Making learning available when and where they need it
Whether learners are online, offline, or mobile, they need to have a system that is available to them whenever they have time to learn. For example, the time spent on the airplane may be the only free time members of a sales team have for learning. Training resources must be available anywhere, anytime—in small chunks that are easily digestible in a short span of time.
Making it work
The last thing a learner wants is to be prohibited or held up in any way due to poor technology planning. This includes waiting for content to load, not being able to access learning offline, and anything else that can make the experience cumbersome for the learner. Delays can and will eventually result in a situation that is not only painful for the learner, but also for the administrator. Ensure that the system, the content, and the delivery mechanisms are appropriate and reliable.
How to deliver what learners want
Now that we’ve identified the learner’s needs and expectations, let’s examine some key points on how, from a technology perspective, we can accommodate them and ensure an experience for the learner that addresses these challenges. In addition to meeting the challenges, addressing the challenges will also create an environment that gives the administrators the information they need to be successful in managing knowledge.
Engaging learners early
All too often a new system need is defined, evaluated, acquired, and implemented before bringing the end users into the communication loop. Oftentimes this is too late to make adjustments that would have been easier to make early on had the learners been involved in defining the requirements or during the implementation process. If creating a learner-driven environment is a top goal, incorporating your learners’ inputs early on makes the solution much more effective.
How to execute
Companies have adopted different methods to accomplish this goal. One healthcare organization utilized its clinical educators to host “town hall” type meetings. Promoted via the corporate communications department, these meetings gathered workers of diverse skill sets at scheduled times in groups of 20 to 30. During these meetings they conducted a verbal poll regarding priorities pertaining to professional development and at-work learning. They did this to identify what made a system and learning program most valuable, given the constraints of a fast-paced environment such as an acute-healthcare setting.
Another manufacturing plant hosted “lunch and learn” events for employees that highlighted the organization’s learning and performance goals. It later solicited feedback through surveys and questionnaires based on the information gathered during the sessions. This helped the organization to redefine and focus on organizational and workplace issues that created barriers to learning. This further lead to establishment of an executive leadership committee dedicated to resolving such issues and helping the organization in meeting the strategic and learning goals.
Create usability groups
Although focus groups and governance bodies are not a new concept, we often overlook creating them around the learners’ quality of experience. Including end users in groups that look at the workflow and layout of the system will ensure that we deploy it in a manner consistent with what users want.
How to execute
Interview system administrators and power users to find out where they spend the most non-productive time online or offline in their daily tasks. Then choose a system that is flexible enough to meet the workflow of the power users, instead of making the users meet the workflow of the system. See that the new platform eliminates current feature or function bottlenecks and increases efficiency by automating workflow tasks.
Make the training activities usage task specific, not system specific
Do not overload users with dozens of features and functions that are of very little value to them. Instead, focus your training specifically on completion of value-adding common tasks.
How to execute
Put the software on the back burner and find out, from a task perspective, the most repetitious activity in a day that will heavily utilize the system. Do this for each job role within groups. This will help in prioritizing your system requirements and in delivering team and/or job-specific training. This will also save the organization a great amount of effort, time, and expenditure, and it increases user adoption numbers and speed.
Gather feedback and take action
If you didn’t have the luxury at the beginning of the cycle to involve end users in planning and design, it’s not too late. Gathering feedback from the users on an already deployed solution is equally effective now as it would have been then. Immediate action may not be feasible, but that doesn’t mean that the next release can’t incorporate changes that make the system more learner-driven. Further, soliciting feedback engages learners more, as they feel involved in shaping their experience for the future.
Integrating in-line help into the system will allow learners to quickly pull up task-specific aids from the interface, without any constraint of availability.
The bottom line
Creating a user-centric, comprehensible learning experience is just as critical as integration, reporting, or any other back-end function of an LMS. Regardless of how great the manager dashboard looks, or how advanced the analytics functionality of an LMS is, if it is not engaging and appealing to the end users, it is not going to be a success.
The key element here is to provide learners with easy access to information whenever, wherever, and however. And time is of the essence. Making it painful for the end user to access the system and to get the relevant information when they need it defeats the basic purpose of the LMS and directly impacts ROI.
To put it simply, if we cannot make a training module as simple as playing Angry Birds, no prizes for guessing which one the learners will be doing more often.