Training requirements exist in every organization, but if you poll learners, they rarely describe these experiences as valuable. Training events are not meaningful when they are too complex, unrelated to intended outcomes, non-specific to job roles or delivered as a one-time event. In a world where every organization now functions as a media company, it is critical to support team members as they access data to make more informed decisions. Learning experiences should benefit employees and customers not only in orienting and familiarizing them with new products, services and processes but any time the learners need to engage with content.
Fortunately, no training program has to be overhauled all at once. Simple changes to learning modes and activity types can provide practical, meaningful learning experiences that encourage action and lighten the cognitive load.
To illustrate quick wins in improving learning experiences, explore these three scenarios encountered working on projects encompassing instructional design, change management and communication. Each example sets up a scenario that may be familiar to learning leaders, but if not, you will be able to connect and relate your learning programs to the experiences and tips to enable your organization to provide learning solutions that are learner-centric in both content and context.
1. Break Monotonous Lecture with a Game
Imagine you are a new instructional designer, and your first project is to audit a four-week training program and suggest improvements. The learners are new employees who will process health claims and answer customer calls. A few challenges surface, but you can suggest a solution to improve just one lesson in the course for now.
Problem: Lack of empathy for the audience
One area lacking in the training program is an understanding of the audience. This training program – including four weeks of classroom instruction with little follow-up training – places too much stress on the learner. They are also navigating a stressful role that requires workers to focus on processing claims while simultaneously responding to customer calls and complaints. They will have a quota of both claims and calls to fulfill each day once they are on the job, and that quota increases the longer they remain with the company. So, they not only have to enter information into systems correctly, they have to do it while unhappy customers yell at them and keep up with a required pace each day.
The program primarily consists of lecture and slide decks with a large emphasis on quiz scores, contributing to a lack of engagement and ample stress.
Support change: Encourage rather than blame
There is often a resistance to change among trainers and managers when it comes to longstanding programs. The best way to encourage change is to work to understand the motivations and needs of your trainers and managers as you do for your learners. Most trainers want to deliver meaningful and actionable learning experiences but run out of time, face budget constraints, struggle to deal with higher-level politics, or simply don’t know how to sift through and effectively transform years of content.
Your best bet is to help them identify their strengths as trainers, content creators and managers rather than attacking their approach. Encourage them to share ideas, actively participate in changes and compliment them on what they are doing well.
Solution: Let’s play a game
A good way to break up content in lengthy training programs is to focus on quick wins, which may come in the form of agile or iterative deliverables. When stress levels and expectations are high, the amount of content in a training program is insurmountable, and your managers are resistant to change, take one area of content and turn it into a familiar game that breaks up the monotony.
For example, turn a boring quiz on medical coding terminology into a game of bingo. The game board includes medical coding term names. The trainer reads corresponding definitions, and learners see if they can correctly match names with definitions on their game board. Because the rules of bingo are simple and familiar, the learners have fun while confirming what they have learned but are not required to learn a new or complex game format.
You may run into trainers and managers who resist this version of the game, because they believe it is too easy. Just focus on the goal: Get the learners to actively apply their knowledge in a stress-free manner. Rather than tricking them, build comfort and activate recall. In turn, familiarity and comfort with the material leads to improved customer interactions and fewer complaints to managers – even more critical in a high-stress, sales-oriented environment.
2. Encourage Practice in a Realistic Environment
You are the instructional designer and developer on a consulting project, and your client is making the major switch from paper-based change requests to an online system accompanied with a mobile app. The online system has a great user interface and the screens are easy to navigate, so the client thinks screen video recordings are enough training support. You identify a few concerns and suggestions for improving the hands-on active learning experience.
Problem: The system is intuitive, but the process is not
The problem sometimes gets lost in a perceived solution. In this case, because the supporting system is developed to be easy to use, the client disregards the complexity of submitting a change request and providing all required information. They want to point learners to videos that cover everything in the order in which the form appears on screen without accounting for the other steps in the process. If a learner is stuck on the third step but the only supporting content is a video without timestamps, they waste time, get frustrated and may make mistakes when they start to use the system.
Support change: Capitalize on momentum and success
When an organization takes on a major technology initiative and begins to see how quality improves, you can focus on success and momentum to support learners in additional ways. When things are going well, you can remind the project team that they might be experts in the process, but that their learners may only touch the system once a year (if ever); you can help the team see how additional context continues the winning streak.
Solution: Let’s click submit
In this case, you can repurpose the video content, and transform it into a practice tool where learners enter real information, click submit and potentially receive feedback to improve their next submission. When video content is saved as slides in a common authoring tool, you can quickly mimic the actual system by adding a few collection variables and a submit button. Make sure the project team knows the additional development would only take your time and would not require any new content development. The end result gives learners a stress-free practice opportunity that reduces errors in the real system.
3. Deliver Dialogue and Realistic Scenarios to Improve Performance Management
In this final example, you are brought in to help a company move from once-a-year performance reviews that managers and employees dread to year-round discussions that support performance enhancement. You are focusing on strategy and delivery related to content and change management.
Problem: Move the needle from generic to specific
The client team says they want to revolutionize their performance management process to improve communication and employee satisfaction, yet the materials they give you are still generic and cold. So, you decide to interview them about some of the most challenging performance review conversations they have had to get more context and brainstorm how to create practical conversation guidance rather than more slide deck copy.
Support change: They say they are ready for change but do not know how to do it
You know that videos are popular in learning environments, yet you also know they need to be instructionally sound and context specific to deliver meaning to your learners. After you interview the client team, you realize reproducing real conversations in videos with illustrated characters could go a long way in transforming the performance management process into meaningful, year-round collaboration. By watching, hearing and seeing the content, learners can gauge when a conversation is productive or becoming aggressive and awkward.
Solution: They see it, and they expand on it
The video content does more than you expect. By using the right medium at the right time, the learning activity meaningfully connects with learners in a way you hope for but can never guarantee. When they respond to surveys after specific video lessons, they do not focus on the quality of video. Rather, they report they have connected with the learning experience so much that they request additional video-based learning on other challenging situations they encounter and do not know how to handle.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, designing, delivering and maintaining meaningful learning experiences. However, you can diagnose problems with outdated learning approaches and organizational resistance, communicate well to make change less daunting, and deliver quick wins to improve portions of learning content.