It’s been six months since I wrote my last “monthly” Pivot column, which is intended for L&D managers who are new to eLearning, or new to managing an eLearning team. Since then, much has changed in workplaces around the world. All employees, from executives to frontline workers, have had to accept more radical changes in their work and workplaces more quickly than they’ve ever had to.
And yet, in this time when change is a constant and so much is still unknown about how and when this “new normal” will end, it has become clear that a few things are here to stay, including three eLearning best practices that have mattered more than ever these last several months.
Treat content as fluid and subject to change
There’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind us all that workplace priorities can change; suddenly, drastically, and irrevocably. Do you remember what you were working on so intently before lockdowns were enforced around the world? I suspect that you and your colleagues put many projects aside to focus on the essentials of helping organizations and their employees make it through another day safely.
This sudden pivot (see what I did there?) in workplaces should remind all L&D managers and specialists that training content is never “stable”, i.e., accurate forever. In fact, we need to accept that all workplace policies, practices, and guidelines are inherently mutable and are always at risk of becoming outdated by developments out of our control.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in good training content; rather, eLearning project teams must approach the task of curating content and key messages more like social media specialists than encyclopedists.
Social media specialists know that unforeseen events can and will shape next week’s posts, so they craft short, engaging pieces that are accurate and relevant today, and then follow up with another short, accurate, engaging piece tomorrow, next week, or next month. Encyclopedists, on the other hand, endeavor to craft one article on a topic that will remain accurate for years to come: an impossible task.
To wit, when you have a burning question about global politics or geography, which would you trust to give the more accurate answer: Wikipedia or that leather-bound encyclopedia set you haven’t touched in years?
How can you start treating content as fluid and subject to change?
eLearning managers, at the start of every project, remind your team members that employees need accurate, relevant information today.
It is always a more effective training strategy (that will achieve better organizational outcomes) to give employees access to a short, well-written course, video, or job aid that helps them with something today, rather than to wait months for a longer, more complicated offering that may be out of date, or worse, no longer needed.
Keep development schedules as short as possible
As a result of unforeseen but predicable changes in workplaces, eLearning managers and their teams have to keep their development time down to the absolute minimum. With development timeframes of months (or years), eLearning project teams risk losing their work when workplace changes render it out of date or irrelevant.
Of course, setting and sticking to a short schedule is easier said than done, but it’s just too risky to take longer than absolutely necessary. If ever there was a time to adopt a “just-enough, just-in-time” approach to creating eLearning, it’s now.
How can you keep eLearning development schedules as short as possible?
Instruct your eLearning project teams (which includes decision-makers and signer-offers) to avoid perpetual beta reviews. Do your level best to also limit how many times people can provide feedback on each component of the learning solution (design plan, storyboard, prototype, formatted, and programmed learning solution).
It isn’t easy, of course, as it requires sometimes saying, “Sorry, it’s too late” to people who ask for “just one more thing”. But it’s worth the discomfort of those conversations if hundreds or thousands of employees get the information they need when they need it, not after they need it.
If you can’t limit the number of review cycles for each component, then consider an equally effective strategy: divide larger courses into smaller pieces, and launch them as they are ready. After all, microlearning and spaced learning and are also eLearning best practices.
Offer eLearning that supports and reminds employees they are valued
Right now, in the middle of a global pandemic, employees at all levels need reassurance that they are valued and supported in the work they are doing, which is harder than ever because of the additional “load” the pandemic has brought to bear on each of us.
And yet, employees have always needed—and will continue to need—reassurance and support in their training. They are more likely to engage in the training if they feel valued, and they are more likely to apply what they learn if they feel supported.
If there was ever a time for organizations to lose the “do as we say or else” approach to training, it’s now, when employees are struggling each and every day because of the extra stress they are managing as a result of COVID.
In this pandemic, we must all “be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about”, which also holds true for the eLearning solutions we create.
How can you offer support and remind employees they are valued in your eLearning?
Instructional designers, write your courses as if you’re actually speaking to the people who are taking them. The difference between “Hello! We’re glad you’re here!” and “In this course, you will learn to A, B, and C” is all the difference between a human touch and robotic statement.
Not only are greetings important, so is tone: keep it sincere, conversational, and friendly. Now is not the time (nor was it ever) to create storyboards that include phrases like “employees must comply with DEF” or “it is mandatory to XYZ”. All passive, third-person sentences can be easily edited to personalize them. In other words, you can easily edit your storyboards to change third-person terms like “employees” to “you”, which speaks directly to people, thereby engaging them. You can also easily transform directives like “employees must do ABC” to more person-centred ones that reveal “what’s in it for me”, such as “Following the procedure for ABC saves you time, keeps you safe, produces better results, etc.”
Finally, just as you would in person, end your online learning solution by thanking people for their time, attention, and effort. We know that saying thank you goes a long way in all sorts of situations, and it goes even farther during a pandemic. We all need reassurance right now, so let’s reassure each other that we’re in this together.
On that note, dear readers, thank you for your interest in improving your eLearning and for reading this column. I appreciate it and hope that you, your families, and your colleagues stay healthy.