In recent months, COVID-19 has presented organizations with an urgent need to rethink how they deliver learning. We have witnessed learning professionals scramble to quickly convert in-person training to online learning. With this conversion there’s been a catch all of quality—some organizations have slapped content together, aka survival mode, and others have produced stunning webinars with expert presenters and extensive interaction. Out of this necessity for change has come a clear challenge for learner designers and professionals. For some, it is a desperate need for how-to information and structure. For the experienced, it is an opportunity to reflect on quality. Is my design as good as I thought it was? Has my audience seen so much great material that our learning is now lagging?
Organizations have done the best they can but as reality sets in, the way we deliver and consume learning has changed. Not only are we seeing a decreased interest in in-person training, we’ve also observed that learners are experiencing webinar fatigue. As an organization that delivers an extensive amount of both in-person and online events, we had fallen into a routine of delivering material aligned to traditional delivery modalities: in-person, webinars, and eLearning. We’ve realized we can no longer continue to deliver these modalities in the same way.
Our new model would focus on rethinking content design and reshaping traditional forms of learning. Sure, we’d keep these three traditional models to a certain extent but how could we add to them and deliver content differently? We recognized that we needed to shift to a more digital delivery, and we developed a framework to guide us through this change. We hope that other learning professionals facing similar challenges with content conversion or those with less experience will also benefit from this structured and flexible approach.
Goals of our framework
The purpose of our framework is to ensure that our approach to redesigning learning is structured, flexible, and engaging. To add focus to the design of our framework, we developed four goals:
1. Develop a process that was simple to apply
We defined a clear way to analyze and categorize existing content material and then came up with a list of potential activities and methods to redesign the delivery of each type of learning.
2. Ensure foundational material is converted to a self-directed format where possible
We converted foundational material to a self-directed format where possible. This enabled us to deliver learning in a more effective way and give learners as much flexibility in their schedule as possible.
3. Streamline our live interactions so they are truly meaningful
We removed foundational and review material from our webinars and reduced the amount of synchronous time, while ensuring precious face time focused on meaningful conversation and discussion.
4. Keep the learning fun and engaging
We aligned the learning to a wide range of approaches so we could keep the delivery focused, engaging and better aligned to the learning goal.
Applying the framework became straight forward and opened up content treatments that we typically wouldn’t have considered.
Phases of the framework
This framework outlines specific ways to redesign content and includes the following phases:
1. Analyzing the content
2. Categorizing the material into one of three digital models
3. Identifying the learning treatment
The final phases, developing content and socializing it more broadly are outside of the scope of this framework and not discussed in this article. The following sections outline how to apply the framework.
Analyzing the content
In the first phase, the designer reviews the material from start to finish and organizes each chunk of content into a learner action. We recommend using Bloom’s taxonomy to support this.
The categories we’ve used are as follows:
- Remember – Recall facts and basic concepts
- Understand – Explain ideas or concepts
- Apply – Use information in new situations
- Analyze – Draw connections among ideas
- Evaluate – Justify a stand or decision
- Create – Produce a new or original work
To assist in analyzing the content the content from the learner perspective, answer these questions:
- What information do you want the learner to know?
- What task are you asking the learner to perform or complete?
- Why is it important that the learner knows this information or can complete this task?
- How will the learner use this information in real life?
Categorizing the material into a digital model
Once the content topics are organized into learner actions, use the framework to further categorize materials into levels. Each level aligns to one of three digital models. Your final course or program may consist of components from one or more models. There may be some variation in the model used, depending on the content, and we leave the final decision to the discretion of the designer.
Digital Model 1 — Foundational
Foundational learning is a learner action in the remember or understand categories. It addresses concepts and theory and requires basic level thinking, skills, and competencies.
Foundational and supporting content is delivered through self-directed digital formats. Some applied learning is also delivered in this format, if the learner requires foundational information before building on more complex concepts. Components may include animations, infographics, games, or more traditional pieces like reading material, video and eLearning.
Digital Model 2 — Applied
Applied learning is a learner action in the apply or analyze categories. It can be applied to workplace situations and includes more challenging concepts. It may require the learner do something new and apply what they have learned.
More complex courses may be divided into foundational and applied material. In this model, foundational material is still delivered in an online or self-directed format and might include assignments (case study, calculations, compare/contrast, provide an example, short answer).
Applied material is delivered through a focused webinar or another moderated format such as a discussion or group work (breakouts).
How do we decide what format to use for applied material? Our typical approach is to ask a series of questions:
- Can the learner learn the concepts on their own? If so, it’s foundational and we teach them through self-directed learning.
- Would the learner benefit from discussing or sharing information about the topic? If so, we open up a facilitated online discussion or provide assignments that incorporate peer feedback. Webinars can also be used to facilitate discussion.
- Would the learner benefit from a facilitator interaction or walk through to learn more complex topics? If so, we would typically host a live webinar facilitated by a subject matter expert.
Digital Model 3 — Advanced
Advanced learning is a learner action in the evaluate or create categories. It requires participants make a judgement call, change a behavior, analyze and make a recommendation, or offer alternative solutions.
In the third model, foundational material is still delivered in an online or self-directed format; however, this content typically contains far more advanced concepts. Cases, thoughtful discussion, and other live activities that require interaction with peers and facilitators are used to communicate complex topics.
Here are other components that may be included in the models.
For content delivered through traditional eLearning, we target up to 20 minutes for foundational topics and 30 minutes for more complex topics. Longer modules are bundled into a series and learners need to complete the series in order to complete the course.
Webinars are structured and focus on discussion, case exploration, or analysis (for complex topics). The duration will depend on the complexity of the cases or topics. For example:
- Two easy cases = 60 minutes
- Two complex cases = 90 minutes
Pre-work is included with our webinars. It might include reading an article or resource, conducting research, or reviewing the background information on a case study or scenario.
Identifying the learning treatment
After you’ve selected one of the models above identify the learning treatment for each section. Now that the content has been segmented differently you can look at creative ways to energize the content.
There are several questions to ask yourself: What activities support each type of learning? How can we look outside the traditional delivery and use X instead of Y?
Review the framework to determine which learning treatment to apply to each section of content.
Once you’ve completed this final step, the framework is complete and you are ready to move on to development and roll out.
With or without COVID-19, the world of learning will continue to shift and the way learners engage with content will continue to change. As learning professionals, we need tools for designing flexible learning solutions so that we can seize the opportunities that come our way instead of being overwhelmed by the challenges they bring.
The goal of this framework is to provide a focused approach to redesigning the learning experience and the way training is delivered. It can be used in different ways from reshaping traditional modalities to designing new options that are fresh and engaging.