If you’ve checked your phone lately, you’ll notice text message-based learning is taking the world by storm. With bite-sized courses delivered in the flow of SMS, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms, we’re seeing an increased adoption rate of text-based learning, along with high net promoter scores (NPS) and satisfaction scores. Text-based learning is also, notably, driving employees to take measurable action on what they’ve learned.

Surprisingly, text-first is how we interact with most new information at work. Maybe it’s an SMS message from a friend, an email from a coworker, or an Microsoft Teams message from a colleague. Arist research shows that text-based learning mediums are digested more frequently and consistently, and lead to better learning outcomes than their video counterparts.

This presents a challenge, though, because the tools that promise the greatest return are also met with the most skepticism. Often, learning leaders rolling out text-based programs are left wondering, “Will people actually like this?” or “This seems too good to be true….”

Fear not, innovative learning leaders: Let’s dive into how to fit text-based learning into your strategy, what use cases to start with and how to get buy-in from key stakeholders.

How to Get Started

A fairly new medium, text-based learning is becoming popular for everything from standalone courses to reinforcement for more traditional training. It’s especially effective for training on topics when:

  • There’s a 50/50 split between knowledge or concept introduction and actions taken:
    Consider the structurer of most eLearning in your learning management system (LMS)’s arsenal; I’ll wager it spends 95% of the time telling learners information and 5% prompting them to set an action plan, speak to their manager, seek out a new project or challenge their own beliefs. Use text-based learning when behavior change or actions taken is your dream outcome and you’ll build skills that last.
  • You’re working with a set of simple and standard concepts reaching a large audience: If your learning can be broken into bite-sized pieces and is reaching more than 100 learners, you’ll find it fits into this format and benefits from its scalability. When there are skills you want everyone in the organization to learn this medium saves lots of time.
  • There’s a need for effective reinforcement: Text-based learning shows ample promise when driving a learner to take action, given its spaced and short-form nature. Short-form, actionable messages close the “intention-action gap” between a learner receiving new information and taking action on it. Use low-friction mediums when there are immediate applications from the course content.

In comparison, mobile-first learning is ineffective for highly specialized training, small groups or training that needs instant, customized and/or one-on-one feedback loops. This medium is one for the masses.

Which Use Cases to Start With

Luckily, the vast majority of all workplace learning fits the above selection criteria, meaning that mobile-first learning can be transformational to learning strategy. Specifically, many common use cases include training on topics like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) manager development, career readiness, return to work expectations, company culture and value setting, safety and compliance, sales upskilling and more.

When starting out, select a use case that both fits the above selection criteria and is difficult for other types of training to do well, as this will show the greatest efficacy of the new medium.

How to Gain Buy-in from Key Stakeholders

If you ask 10 people to agree on an ice cream flavor, they will likely select chocolate or vanilla. It’s important to remember that the larger the organization, the more consensus will drive and the less innovative outcomes will emerge. If innovation in your culture means that nobody said no, then you’ll need to show a proof point first. Here are a few recommendations to do so:

  • Select an off-the-shelf use case that is widely applicable and fits the criteria above, like manager development or company culture building. This will allow stakeholders to envision applicability in their own departments.
  • Reach out to potential stakeholders and send them learning materials to take themselves. Usually, we forgo this route because “senior executives are far too busy.” However, when each lesson takes less than five minutes, we can use this to our advantage to get rapid buy-in.
  • Define specific success criteria for the initial test case that can be proven quickly. Often, having learners rate their competency with a subject before and after lessons and measuring the actions they took the week thereafter are great initial indicators. Ask stakeholders these questions, such as, “How likely were you to interact with this training compared to others?” and “Please rate your comfortability discussing [subject] before, after taking this course.”
  • After data from an initial course, map a list of the next five to 10 use cases for senior stakeholders that fit the above criteria and stage a crawl, walk, run approach out. A good rule of thumb is starting with less than three use cases and 10% of the total learner population, then moving to 30% in the first eight months and 60% in the first year. If there’s hesitation around replacing an existing program entirely, start by using mobile-first learning as a way to reinforce this method before switching to it altogether.

Now What?

Once you’re able to accurately qualify use cases, identify starting points and get buy-in from higher-ups, all you need is a nimble team. It can be helpful to use vendors that are very hands on for the first year of your training’s launch, combined with a focus on building this internally. Depending on your team structure, it will often make sense to have an expert dedicated to building learning in this format.

Start by adapting your most important and highly visible training into this format and deploying it to a diverse sample within the organization.

As with all types of innovation, you’ll receive pushback, doubts and the occasional raised eyebrow when launching text-based learning programs. Survey learners closely and let learning outcomes speak for themselves. People won’t learn from what they don’t care about or enjoy, so keep content light, fun, engaging and fresh when possible.

In 2022, we can expect unprecedented levels of rapid upskilling, onboarding, new practice training, crisis communication and turnover. The biggest risk your learning organization can take is trying nothing new at all.

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