Editor’s Note: A recent research report sheds light on common challenges learning leaders face. These challenges were discovered through research and surveys conducted over the course of a decade. In this series of articles, we will explore these challenges and how learning leaders are responding. This article is the fifth of an eight-part series.

Training Industry, Inc. research found that as we have introduced more modalities into the workplace, it has become a challenge for learning leaders to provide excellent learner experience across them. With multi-modal training programs becoming more common and with so many modalities emerging, it is critical for learning leaders not only to understand these modalities but also to know how to effectively use them (whether in combination or individually) to drive learning and business results.

Challenge or Opportunity?

There are many factors that make providing an excellent learner experience challenging. However, most learning leaders agree the focus shouldn’t be on making the experience identical across modalities. For example, the experience in an e-learning course should not and more than likely will not be the same as the experience of a virtual instructor-led training (VILT) course.

Instead, the difficulty often goes a little deeper. Some of the factors that make this process challenging include ensuring learners receive the appropriate knowledge for their job and skill(s) development; consistency and relevancy of the content; successful behavior change; addressing technological skills gaps and biases; maintaining effectiveness when shifting training from one modality to another; and ensuring outcomes are successfully and consistently achieved, and then sustaining that impact.

When facing this challenge, L&D leaders may need to shift their mindset. Rose Benedicks, strategic consulting lead at LEO Learning, believes that while this is a challenge, it is also an opportunity. “The challenge is to think about ways of creating opportunities [and] to create the same opportunity for everyone to learn” and have access to knowledge and other people. The existence of multiple modalities presents an opportunity for L&D to achieve this goal.

Additionally, Ron Zamir, CEO of AllenComm, says, “The change in generation, the need for scale, the need for pushing training more to the workflow – that all creates opportunities for people to change behaviors and adopt new skills.” With the help of new modalities, learning leaders can create learning experiences that provide learners access to knowledge, information and other people in a way that allows for personal learning and growth. This approach will ultimately result in desired learning outcomes for both learners and businesses.

Mix and Match

For Annie Hodson, solution architect at SweetRush, the most common challenge she sees is organizations’ wanting to change an instructor-led training (ILT) course or event to a virtual format due to competing demands (e.g., cost, logistics, limited resources, a global audience, etc.) that require a change in modalities. But even when it’s the right business move, organizations are often concerned with the impact such a shift might have on their learners. Hodson says this pull of “wanting to accommodate learner preferences, but then having to balance those with business constraints, is really challenging.”

Switching a learning event from one modality to another can be challenging. For example, ILT events can have an informal learning aspect that’s sometimes more valuable than the learning content itself. So, how do you capture and recreate those same experiences and that energy in a virtual environment? By not limiting yourself and by challenging “your assumptions about what is possible,” says Hodson.

Not “all learning can be achieved equally well by all learning modalities – that just isn’t realistic,” says Hodson. However, it is possible to recreate certain elements of an existing training program by combining different modalities and tools.

Start by finding out what’s important to the learners and/or to the learning provider, and then find ways to capture those elements. Next, Hodson suggests combining “different modalities to recreate the experiences you’re looking for.” When redesigning, Zamir says to rethink how to change the design approach “to push more of the investment into performance support or on-the-job training support.”

The choice of modality (or modalities) can also depend on the learning content. “If the content is not relevant, it doesn’t matter what modality is [used],” says Zamir. “The appropriateness of the content and the relevancy of it relates to how well that content is contextualized for the needs that the employee has during the activity.”

So, consider the content you’re trying to teach. Again, what do learners need? Knowledge-based content is information learners need to be successful at their job and is usually easy to teach digitally in an e-learning course, for example. On the other hand, Hodson says judgement-based topics, such as facilitation skills, soft skills and negotiation skills, are not content-specific and typically requires practice, which means that a simple e-learning course isn’t going to cut it.

When it comes to judgement-based topics, you can teach learners facilitation strategies and information, but without practice, that information won’t stick. This is where having a mixture of modalities comes into play. For example, Hodson says, implementing a VILT program with an e-learning component for basic knowledge and interactive video tools for role-playing activities is a great combination to achieve that informal learning aspect of an original ILT event in a digital format.

Negative Perceptions

When addressing this challenge and navigating the learner experience, L&D leaders must also take into account any past experiences learners may have with modalities. For example, if a learner had a negative experience with an e-learning course, they probably won’t approach another one with an optimistic attitude.

It’s not easy to predict how a learner will react to a modality, but “there can be a change management component to help people shift mindsets and overcome some negative perceptions,” says Hodson. Start by communicating with learners to target the “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me), says Danielle Hart, the director of marketing at SweetRush. By talking to learners about why they are taking a certain course, you can determine their motivation and communicate to them how that course, no matter the modality used, can help them get what they want.

“There is a way to create an emotional connection with learners when you change the modality from something that’s face-to-face to something that’s virtual,” says Hart. Again, this can include combining different modalities. For example, by adding elements of VILT and gamification to an online course, you take the focus off the e-learning component and possibly change the perception a learner has about e-learning.

“If you’re seeing a negative perception to a modality you’re thinking about using, don’t let that stop you, because that can be overcome with creativity and thinking outside the box,” says Hart. One bad experience with a modality can seem to ruin that modality for a learner. But by brainstorming and combining modalities, you’re providing learners with the opportunity for a fresh, new experience that helps them realize it can actually be beneficial.

Taking Steps in the Right Direction

No matter what modality is used, the learning experience must be impactful. In order to understand what affected behavior change, you must evaluate the effectiveness of a training program after it has ended. Evaluation is a vital step in the process to understanding the impact of training and if you need to make any changes, like a change in modality.

When it comes to business outcomes, Benedicks suggests linking learning design to measurement. First, determine the business objectives and what learners need to get out of the program. “You have to link what you need [learners] to do or know to what it is you’re trying to achieve,” she says. Linking learning design to measurement allows you to know if a behavior change was successful, why it was or was not, and how to improve the training in the future. In other words, “You get what you measure,” says Benedicks.

Creating an excellent learning experience across modalities is a challenge, but it is one that learning leaders can overcome. Make a mindset shift, and view the multitude of emerging modalities as presenting you with opportunities rather than creating even more challenges. Additionally, rethink the learning design, target the WIIFM, brainstorm how to mix and match different tools to recreate desired learning experiences and outcomes, and then link that learning design to measurement to determine impact. In doing so, you will take great steps toward providing learners with excellent learning experiences across modalities.