Learning technologies have continued to evolve across the learning and development field, from the LMS to the learning experience platform and mobile learning to virtual and augmented reality. Effectively managing these technologies, especially when you’re adopting a variety of platforms and tech solutions, can be a challenge.

In this episode of the Training Industry podcast, Jayson Maxell, CPTM, corporate director of learning and development at Six Flags, shares his advice on:

  • The essential platforms and solutions training organizations need.
  • How to successfully integrate and consolidate learning technology solutions.
  • Common challenges learning leaders face when implementing new solutions — and how to overcome those challenges.

Plus, Ken Taylor, president of Training Industry, shares his predictions for learning technology in 2020!

Listen now:

Resources for You:

To learn more about Ken’s predictions for 2020, fill out the form below and download a copy of Training Industry’s 2020 trends report:

The transcript of this episode follows:

Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Business of Learning, the learning leaders podcast from trainingindustry.com. I’m Sarah Gallo, associate editor here at Training Industry.

Taryn: And I’m Taryn Oesch, managing editor of digital content for trainingindustry.com. Before we get started, we want to let you know that this episode of the Business of Learning is sponsored by the Managing Learning Technology Certificate program.

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Managing learning technologies can be a challenge for the modern learning leader, especially since 96% of organizations use more than one technology. The Managing Learning Technologies Certificate examines the learning technology life cycle. Earning this certificate will help you successfully manage the learning tech stack and improve your learning initiatives at your organization. Download a course flyer at trainingindustry.com/mlt get started.

Taryn:
Learning technologies have continued to evolve across the learning and the development field from the LMS to the learning experience platform and mobile learning to virtual and augmented reality. Effectively managing all of these learning technologies, especially when you’re adopting a variety of platforms and solutions, be a challenge. So with that in mind, today we’re speaking with Jayson Maxwell on how to manage the learning tech stack. Jayson can is the corporate director of learning and development at Six Flags and a Certified Professional in Training Management. Jayson, welcome.

Jayson:
Thank you very much for having me.

Sarah:
To start off, what do we mean when we say “the learning tech stack”?

Jayson:
So, when we say learning tech stack, at least within our industry, how we use this type of modality is when we’re combining programs, tools and frameworks that basically developers use to create web and mobile applications. We’re trying to figure out the best way to integrate in our world, [asking ourselves] “How do we integrate the best mobile technology within our onboarding as well as our on the job training?”

Taryn:
Right. And we know that there’s an abundance of learning technology offerings on the market right now. What do you see as kind of the biggest central platforms and solutions that a training organization needs?

Jayson:
You know, we preach and we wholeheartedly believe that any type of interactivity where learner can break away from an instructor to be able to navigate through a module, a training or activity, to improve retention and recall strategies, will have the biggest impact on your learning organization. And obviously this varies from mobile phones [to] mobile tablets [to] laptops, but the point is simple in the way we see it. Give them something to watch, listen to or play, and you will improve the learning experience as well as the engagement level of the class.

Sarah:
Going off of that, what learning technologies have you used throughout your career as a learning leader, and how did you actually leverage them for an improved learning experience?

Jayson:
I think our biggest claim to success would be the way we’ve integrated mobile tablets into our onboarding and on the job training programs. To give an example, when we were able to take a mobile tablet and break away from instructor-led training and have the learner sit back and watch visuals, be able to read, but also be able to play games and take a virtual tour through the property that they were going to be working in. We felt that just that 25% of the period of time that they were spending with the mobile tablet equated over into savings out in the field based upon less time in development training as well as less time in repeating certain things that they may have forgotten in the class[room] because they were not as engaged.

Jayson:
So, their retention and recall strategy was obviously increased. We’ve gone on to improve that mobile tablet experience by creating a mixed reality tour within our property that you can actually, almost like a Google map, place yourself in one part of the park and then be able to zoom yourself through to the other side. Which, being able to kind of do a virtual park tour and see certain sites along the way when they actually go out into the field and they see those things again. You again have now just created more imprints on their minds to be able to improve the guest experience by being able to answer the questions that are there.

Jayson:
We then wanted to take a second approach [and ask ourselves,] “How can we get the mobile tablet out of the classroom completely and put it into the hands of our on the job trainees?” And so what we did is we took a[n] augmented reality experience of our cash register or point of sale system and put it into the mobile tablet. So this way, prior to a team member being in front of a guest, we actually created a guest experience within the mobile tablet where they can actually interact with the different various hot keys and buttons on the cash register, but then be able to lift the tablet up, see a guest in front of them and interact with that guest as they’re either taking an order or they are lodging a complaint, they may be changing their mind, but also using the various tools of loyalty programs and couponing that a lot of other companies are using as well as us. So this way, they are more prepared to be able to tender a transaction out in the field with less time. And what this also saves us is, instead of having 15-20 large point of sale units within a classroom to save space, you’ve got all of this on a mobile tablet. These are portable; they can go anywhere and they’re obviously less expensive.

Sarah:
And how do you successfully integrate and consolidate learning technology solutions at your organization?

Jayson:
Start small. That’s the number one piece of advice that I give anybody who asks and who has seen our programs. I always tell them start small and that’s exactly what we did. You have to be able to test and learn. Too many programs get scrapped or get pushed to the side because they don’t grow into a fully developed experience. They bite on the hype of tech, but they drown in the details because they have not successfully integrated the tech into the learning. So when I say we started out small, when we first started in 2014 we only started with two of our properties and only with about, I would say, 20 tablets total. And we hire over 50,000 people every single year. So for us to be able to build out from those two properties to then four, then to eight and then, by 2017, every single one of our properties was using mobile tablets. It’s the same approach that we took with augmented cash handling. We just introduced that in 2018 and by 2019, since we already had a nice learning curve from what we’d done in the past, we started out with a few more properties, but we started out with less tablets. So, you have to be able to test and learn. You have to be able to start small because in this way you’re also gaining more buy-in, not only from the park but from the trainer as well as from the learner.

Taryn:
I imagine, Jayson, that also helps with securing buy in from kind of the higher ups. The people who are giving you the budget for those technologies, is that the case?

Jayson:
You know, that’s a very valid point because the amount of money, what’s interesting is the money is not necessarily in the software. That’s actually the cheapest part. And I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still expensive, but the most expensive piece is in the hardware. When you’re purchasing tablets for so many different divisions and so many different properties, that’s where it really kind of can get you bogged down in the capital and decision making process and that can either get pushed out or denied. So to your point, when we started out small and we were actually able to show successes, it created more trust, which also created more buy-in, as you said. And then, of course, when we came back to ask for more money, they were less hesitant to give it to us.

Taryn:
Did you start out with that kind of plan in mind or did you kind of encounter some hesitation and then decide to start small? How did that kind of decision making work?

Jayson:
Yeah, [when] I started out, I knew we were going to have to start out small because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t setting our parks up for failure and I wanted to make sure that we had a successful program to run. Now, of course, even within my proposal, I saw a resistance to spending this type of money on training because it wasn’t necessarily consumer-focus[ed] or consumer-based. It was back of the house. So I was able to convince them that if they were to give me a trial run for a year with these smaller numbers of tablets and honestly with the parks, and we were able to show some traction, then incrementally increase that budget each year. But it was so successful within the first two years [that] by the third year of our program, they had given us money to make sure that every single property had tablets.

Sarah:
Great. What are some other common challenges that you think learning leaders face when it comes to implementing new learning technologies and managing their tech stack?

Jayson:
Definitely instructor and classroom buy-in. If the instructor is not into the tech it’s going to show in the class and then the class becomes disengaged. Also, tech is intimidating to some people, so you have to make sure it does not require a master’s degree to operate, or you will lose the audience completely. So, you really have to make sure, kind of in the grand scheme of things, that you have some instructor buy-in, which kind of goes into how do you solve some of these challenges. And I say that if you really want buy-in, you kind of have to bring your instructors in after you’ve already completed your needs assessment. You’ve proven the case studies of why the tech is needed, but now when it comes to, OK, what will they actually be playing with? Bringing some of those instructors in to give feedback to be able to play with it. Helps to solve that challenge. On the flip side of that, we saw the challenge on the learning side by designing with the end in mind, meaning we already know kind of what the goal is and what we want this to accomplish, but we try to make it as simple as possible. When there’s a simplicity mindset, in terms of what you have in front of them, and that it’s not too complicated, meaning that we’re designing not only with the end in mind, but we’re also designing for the end user. I think it makes it so much easier that when you put it in front of somebody who just may not be as tech savvy or doesn’t use technology as often, it actually increases their engagement, but it also makes them more curious and interested in getting tech on their own, which is great.

Sarah:
To wrap things up, what learning technologies do you see having the biggest impact on L&D as we go into 2020 and beyond and why?

Jayson:
You know, if… I can’t see into the future, and I can’t predict exactly what technology is going to have the biggest impact. It’s interesting to me how the consumer product side has influenced the training side and I think Training Industry, who is at the forefront in my opinion of being able to look at trends and see kind of what is kind of happening out there to be able to mold your learning into future programs. I think for us on the industry side, when we see 3D and we see augmented reality and virtual reality hitting on such a high note in the consumer marketplace, and then next thing you know it starts seeping its way into the training space. It’s interesting to see exactly what innovations and what applications are being used to solve such simple out in the field type of problems. And meeting some of those out in the field types of challenges. So I really think that what you carry around in your pocket or your purse or your backpack in terms of a mobile phone, a mobile tablet, or even a laptop, it’s going to be very interesting to see how these continue to grow further in industry and improve learning capabilities in the future.

Taryn:
Jayson, kind of the flip side of that question. I’m wondering if you think there are any technologies that are either over hyped right now or you think maybe won’t have the impact, at least in the near future, that many people think that they will?

Jayson:
Yeah. It’s like the trends train, right? If you think like something comes out, it’s bright and shiny and everybody should jump on it. I think what is still sticking around and is still doing well is a mixed reality type of environment that places the learner within a situation that saves time, money and space within a business classroom. And so I definitely continue to see mixed reality, which is augmented and virtual reality, still continuing to forge ahead because a lot of companies, Verizon, us, I mean a lot of folks are using this type of technology to train their folks in various types of learning, safety and guest service type of situations.
And I think it’s working well. As far as the over-hype, I’m not so sure exactly how… and we’ll always have an online LMS. We’ll always be able to point people in prescribed coursework to them. But unless they can actually get involved and be interactive with what they’re using, I think that instructor-led [training], and I think online learning management type of programs are still going to be ranked a little bit lower than the interactivity piece [of training].

Taryn:
OK. And with all of these technologies that are in the space right now and all the innovations that are happening, do you have any advice that you can leave us with on how learning leaders can kind of keep up to date and make sure that their skills are up to scratch so that they’ll be able to understand these technologies and how they might use them to improve learning?

Jayson:
I think that’s where networking comes in. If you’re not out there, whether it be at a Training Industry conference or [a] different training conference, and you’re meeting people that are already kind of working on this type of innovation and then you’re going to see how that can fit into your organization. Magazines, in my opinion, aren’t the best way to expand your repertoire or expand your type of innovative thinking. I think it’s getting out there, seeing what competition is doing, seeing what other industries are doing. We are huge fans [of doing that]. We’re in the theme park and amusement business, but yet we still keep connections with Southwest Airlines and various other companies. Even though they’re not [in] our same industry, we’re all in the same game — and we’re not really competing with each other when it comes to learning. So we are constantly trying to see what’s out there and what other people are doing and find those best practices and then figure out how can we integrate those into our training [programs].

Sarah:
Definitely. Well, alright, Jayson of Six Flags, thank you so much for speaking with us both today.

Jayson:
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Sarah:
Next up, we wanted to talk to Ken Taylor, president here at Training Industry.

Taryn:
Ken has his finger on the pulse of the training market, and that obviously includes learning technology, so he has some valuable insights to offer us here. Ken, thanks for joining us.

Ken:
Well, thanks for having me.

Sarah:
To start off, what platforms do organizations need in order to offer both formal and informal learning opportunities?

Ken:
Well, it’s actually kind of a really interesting question, because there’s been quite a bit of evolution in that sort of administrative layer and delivery layer, when you’re thinking of the whole technology stack. I mean clearly they have to have an LMS of some form to manage and make sure that you have all of the administrative parts of learning and development taken care of. But you also have to consider both a knowledge management system, as well as a learning experience platform. Because really, what we’re trying to do now is make the learners experience as meaningful and as curated as possible. So really looking to these other systems to house the content, and then have them delivered through a platform that makes the learner experience as good as possible.

Taryn:
As we go into a brand new decade in just a month or so, what learning technologies do you think will have the biggest impact next year and even beyond?

Ken:
Well, I really think that the big movers and shakers are going to be the use of AI and machine learning to kind of create custom paths for learners to get to proficiency as quickly as possible. I also really see the start of the emergence of AR and VR being used in soft skills training, to actually provide safe environments for folks to practice their new skills in.

Sarah:
It’s an exciting time for sure. And to wrap things up, what kind of changes did you see here in the Learning Tech Market in 2019 and what can we look forward to seeing in 2020?

Ken:
To me, the biggest trend is that the large independent LMSs are starting to think of themselves as cable providers. What they’re doing now is they’re going out, and if you think about the cable market, it’s basically one company owns the pipe and then the content companies try and sell their content through the pipe, right? Well, LMSs are basically, they have subscribers, they have companies that have users, some of them have millions of users. And the notion is, put together a best-in-breed catalog of content, and then provide that as a value-add to those people that are already subscribed to their LMS. So that to me is a really exciting opportunity for both small training companies who have great content, but also for the LMS companies themselves to generate additional revenue from their existing client base.

Taryn:
All right. Well, Ken, thanks for coming on the podcast today. It’s always great to have you join us.

Ken:
Alright, well, thanks a lot.

Taryn:
As always, you can find additional resources on learning technologies and managing the tech stack in the show notes at trainingindustry.com/trainingindustrypodcast. And, of course, if you’re enjoying the podcast, we encourage you to rate it and leave a review on your podcast app to help other learning leaders find us.

Sarah:
Until next time.

Outro:
If you have feedback about this episode, or would like to suggest a topic for a future program, email us at info@trainingindustry.com, or use the contact us page at Trainingindustry.comcontact us page at Trainingindustry.com. Thanks for listening to the Training Industry podcast.

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