What stops learning innovation? One of the big blockers is the “way we have always done things around here.” Another is choice.

You won’t find innovators if you look only at the usual suspects

I’ll give you an example. This is the process I followed as an internal L&D (learning and development) professional looking to outsource eLearning: I talked internally about how we thought various approaches could meet the learning “need.” This often led to discussions about games, interactive movies, animations, and apps. We included our colleagues in these discussions, and they got very excited about the possibilities of eLearning interventions.

We then passed our requirements to shortlisted eLearning agencies and awaited their responses. Often, the ideas we received back were a halfway house between traditional eLearning and some elements of the different products we had discussed.

None of the options were pure-play interactive games or apps because the vendors did not have the skills to produce them. In the end, we went with the best option in front of us, not the best option for the business challenge we were trying to overcome.

The problem here is that if an agency doesn’t have “eLearning” in its name, companies won’t consider it. That means, as an L&D professional, you won’t get access to the agencies that are expert at creating apps or animated films. These are the agencies that will bring fresh perspectives to your learning challenges and creative solutions to your content.

Process as an innovation killer

This is the process that stops digital learning innovation. But L&D wants innovative solutions to business challenges. Research from learning benchmarking organization Towards Maturity shows that L&D professionals have high aspirations regarding what learning technologies will achieve. For example, 98 percent of L&D professionals want to improve flexibility and access to learning.

And employees and the business want it, too. Business wants agile solutions to support better performance, and employees want better digital learning at the point of need. According to City & Guilds Kineo’s latest Learning Insights report, a top priority for organizations is to support self-led learning. The authors say that means commissioning and developing better-quality learning. They say, “Turn the prisoner into the explorer—make learning a solution, not a punishment!”

Leverage ALL of your choices

Which brings us to choice. There is now so much choice in digital technology and digital learning solutions. Faced with so much choice, organizations revert to what they know, hence the outsourcing process I described in my example. The problem with this is that you get what you have always gotten. For many organizations, choice kills innovation.

So how can you identify app builders, animators, and interactive movie makers?

First, get comfortable with the fact that it is your job to take a lead in finding something different for your learners. You need to be keen and curious to see how digital content beyond eLearning could work for your organization. Having so many choices of technology and solutions is a good thing, so embrace it.

Second, find good agencies that will identify technologies that might be worth exploring.

Third, be clear on what the business problem is that needs fixing.

Fourth, supply agencies with a clear, concise brief of what the solution needs to achieve, performance-wise, and with the normal information regarding target audience, budget, time scales, etc. This should be enough for them to generate ideas.

By doing this, you could reasonably expect to receive back a number of options to meet your needs—options that make relevant use of new and emerging technologies, along with more generic eLearning solutions. This should enable you to sit down with your team, consider the options, and agree on the next steps.

And remember, this is not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Traditional eLearning produced using rapid authoring tools has its place. The issue is to know when to use those tools and when to use a different approach. It can be an act of bravery to choose to do something in a completely different way, but it can deliver extraordinary results.