These are demanding times for eLearning courses. Any eLearning course designed for in-house corporate training programs must meet several difficult constraints on a training efficacy checklist.
The course must:
- Meet an ROI threshold
- Make valuable use of learners’ time
- Disseminate information on subjects ranging from hard facts about policies to the softer aspects of customer service
- Change learner behavior, improving their performance on the job
A case study
Changing behavior, in the best of times, is tough. Changing behavior through an eLearning course is tougher still. Yet, with careful instructional design, one just may be able to pull it off the way we did for one client.
The client is a large energy and public utility company. Its goal was to train its field personnel in the following two areas:
- Work Area Protection–where workers learn how to execute maintenance projects on roads efficiently and safely.
- Customer Service Orientation–where workers learn to be more sensitive to customers. This goal arose after the company found that, although proficient in their tasks, the employees were usually brusque with the public.
The company identified eLearning modules as the training intervention for these requirements. They were also very clear that they wanted engaging eLearning modules where their field personnel wouldn’t just click “Next” to get through the training. They wanted the employees to click “Next” and, they hoped, change their behavior.
After an initial discussion with management and a preliminary review of the material, our training team wondered about the extent to which an eLearning course could meet the company’s goals. As it turns out, quite a lot, if you do it right.
We took our design approach from Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. This book addresses the issue of achieving lasting behavioral change, especially when the training is hard. The book’s insights seemed relevant to the design of the eLearning modules in the project. For any lasting behavioral change to occur, according to the authors, training must impact three areas:
- The objective understanding of a situation
- The subjective response to a situation
- The environment in which the change takes place
We devised an instructional strategy that would have the eLearning modules for the client address all three aspects.
Step by step
1) Affecting the objective understanding of a situation:
The book makes it clear that the learner must have clear, direct instruction as to what do in a particular situation.
Most of the client’s employees working in the field had manuals showing diagrams of correct work area protection. Usually the supervisors who planned the projects followed these instructions. However, workers who executed the instructions often did not understand them. To help them we:
- Made the diagrams solution-focused. We did away with isolated diagrams. Instead, we used scenarios to explain how a diagram was actually a solution for a specific problem. This helped workers and supervisors get a context for reading diagrams and understanding the underlying strategy of these diagrams.
- Outlined specific behavior. Here, we focused on
training workers and supervisors to get a “preparation and troubleshooting”
mindset that is critical in work area protection. We created training nuggets
that had specific information, including:
- A checklist of factors to consider while designing a work area
- How to read a blueprint
- Methods to ensure that work areas were under frequent supervision, with details on where to focus
- Critical mistakes to avoid and methods to correct any errors
2) The subjective response to the situation:
As the book notes, more information does not mean creating lasting change. A deeper engagement, however, does. The key is to get people to feel more about something instead of simply knowing more about it.
Most of the customer’s field personnel believed that customer service was the responsibility of the customer service department. They did not see the “payoff” of being polite.
To address this gap, we worked on a strategy that first got workers to care about their job and then move on to caring about who the job was for. So,
- We developed a campaign, not a course. We leveraged the company’s history of innovation and service to design an eCommercial. The aim here was to sensitize employees to the fact that their work affected millions of people. We got them to see that their range of operations was not simply a road or an avenue, but the whole city.
- Narratives and videos were used to build empathy. We utilized the company’s stock of videos showing work performed on roads. We wove a strong storyline around these videos to show every situation from three vantage points: (1) the way the public views a work area, (2) the way workers themselves view the work area, and (3) the way the work area actually looked. This strategy was used to get learners to empathize with their customers, the public.
- We taught specific behaviors that conveyed a “customer-focused” mindset.
3) The work environment where the situation must change:
Lastly, the book shows that effecting change could depend on tweaking the situation. Many times, altering a situation to support change can be the catalyst for lasting change to occur. In order to keep the training relevant and fresh in the learners’ minds, we worked on bringing training close to the task. We developed a strong repository of job aids that learners could use in the field. These aids included checklists, diagram configurations, and do’s and don’ts on how to respond to customers. This way, there would be constant reinforcement of the training.
With these three areas addressed, we were able to get eLearning to accomplish that elusive learning objective, creating change that lasts.