Think back to a time when you needed to learn something new. Perhaps it was a step in a process, a problem to solve or a specific skill you needed to develop for your next career move. Chances are you didn’t relaunch an e–learning course that you took a few months ago or access that 500-page manual collecting dust on your shelf to seek the instruction you needed. You likely reached out to a colleague, watched a YouTube video, used a job aid or asked for guidance in an online forum. These are many forms of informal learning. The real magic of informal learning lies in the spontaneous nature in which people learn from the content and people around them.
Learners in today’s corporate world demand content that’s engaging, relevant and available in their daily workflow. They want the capability to access learning content —formal or informal— at the moment of need to improve their skills and performance. To deliver this level of learner experience, learning and development (L&D) organizations must shift to a strategy wherein learning content is considered a business asset that’s optimized for discovery.
There will always be a need for formal learning. However, it must be balanced with facilitating the informal back on the job, where the biggest performance gains can be achieved. These responsive and meaningful experiences are becoming the new standard, yet there’s a gap between expectation and reality when it comes to delivering on them. The question becomes how do we intentionally design and measure the impact of this type of learning?
Stop Trying to Formalize the Informal, Facilitate It
To be truly comprehensive and impactful, an L&D organization’s content strategy needs to focus on the human aspects of learning. The content strategy must be grounded in listening to and connecting with target audiences on a personal level to create relevant and innovative L&D experiences that resonate with employees and result in measurable business impact. Those experiences should empower and motivate audiences to achieve higher levels of performance in their current and future roles by blending formal curriculum with informal methods of learning.
As L&D professionals, we need to provide context over content to our audiences; informal learning provides that context. In other words, put employees in the driver’s seat. Let learners navigate learning opportunities and help them foster connections with others to get content at the time of need via clear paths and recommendations. To accomplish this, L&D organizations must develop and deliver relevant learning experiences in the workflow, following a unified framework.
Key point: A comprehensive content strategy should include a healthy mixture of formal and informal methods to facilitate learner experiences. It should be a deliberate and well thought out plan to deliver a holistic and continuous learning experience.
Step 1. Structure a Holistic Modern Learning Ecosystem
The modern learning ecosystem needs be viewed as an interconnected intelligent system. A modern ecosystem goes beyond traditional programs hosted on a learning management system (LMS) that measures only completions and training hours. These innovative, new ecosystems connect learning where it happens by measuring behavioral change and business impact. Content outside the LMS augments the learning experience, improving retention and adoption by providing content at the time of need.
Key point: This system is a shift in mindset to a more holistic view that considers the entire system. It’s a framework that allows for a high-performing learning organization, connecting people, content, technology, culture and strategy.
This system would respond to relevant triggers in an employee’s life that may call for a learning intervention based on data, proper metrics and learner preferences. It’s a systematic approach that involves various delivery systems to provide unique learning paths adapted to every learner’s needs. Success of this system requires a collaboration of efforts between all learning teams across an organization. It is important to continue to build on this vision to provide a cohesive, personalized and purposeful consumer-grade learning experience.
Step 2. Tidy Up Existing Systems and Channels
“There’s an opportunity to learn from all the things in your life, including the things that you discard.” – Marie Kondo, bestselling author and star of Netflix’s hit show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”
You’ve heard the expression less is more. This is not only true of content itself but also the systems and channels that host content. Due to the lack of tracking, audits and ownership of content, we have continuously cluttered systems with outdated and unused content with no expiration date. So, even with our best efforts to create new more engaging, personalized and relevant content, we still find this content being underutilized. Why?
A major cause of underutilization of content is that the content cannot be found, often due to poor integration of systems, ineffective search and the overabundance of irrelevant content. This leads to learner frustration and lack of trust in the systems that are supposed to provide them with the content they need, causing them to look for other means of upskilling themselves.
It is time to spring clean our systems and channels. Here are a few things you can do:
- Audit all existing content, internal and external, to the LMS.
- Map relationships of all content and determine how formal connects with the informal (job-aid, guides, performance support, etc.).
- Delete and retire old content.
- Set content expiration dates.
- Set content ownership.
Step 3. Employ a Modern Framework
The modern framework for content is designed to support the modern ecosystem by providing a set of resources and tactics in order to deliver a personalized learning experience. This framework provides a consistent process for creating learning experiences that are specific and relevant, giving learners just the right amount of content at the time of need.
The goal of the framework is to provide an employee experience that is more available and accessible at the moment of need rather than consistently requiring a structured formal learning solution. As we look for solutions to performance needs, it’s important that we start at the bottom of the framework with the informal and work our way up. We will also ask if the solution solves the performance needs, providing just the right amount of support.
Tip: Informal learning increases engagement and improves retention. It provides a means of continuous learning and performance support aiding personal and professional growth.
Step 4. Create Usable and Seamless Experiences
Learners interact with content through many channels (i.e., the web, email, mobile and tablet applications, chat, phone calls, face-to-face, etc.). Therefore, learners in an organization expect to experience content as a single overall experience, not one that feels like navigating an airport terminal every time they have an interaction. If the cost of an interaction appears to be more than the perceived value of the content itself, the user will typically abandon their efforts to consume the content. In many cases, users will no longer see that resource as a valuable or trusted.
When designing content, it’s important to design for the entire journey, not for a single interaction. We must consider how content will be accessed – whether mobile, desktop, chat or in-application – and use appropriate development tools and design methods to create the optimal experience. Instead of a collection of disjointed interactions, our aim should be to string together content and its various touchpoints into a seamless journey. This involves ensuring the transition from one channel to the next has minimal overhead, providing a smooth transition from one channel to the next. Achieving accessibility also requires that content is consistent, optimized, orchestrated, seamless and collaborative.
Step 5. Design for Continuous Improvement
It’s important to evaluate the entire experience, spanning the formal and the informal, to determine whether or not the program and content are effective.
Learning measurement and end-to-end content analytics serve as a foundation for making comprehensive, informed decisions about the learner experience. It provides valuable insights into content and systems and sets the stage for improved decision-making and continuous improvement. We can use this information to determine the amount of content being created, the nature of the content, how or if it is being used, and whether the content is providing real value and business impact.
We must hold ourselves accountable by measuring, tracking and reporting on L&D experiences using efficient processes and tools, as well as adopting meaningful key performance indicators that can be reported back to leadership, our clients and our audience.
It’s easy to get caught up in the ever-changing technology landscape. The important thing is to first establish an effective content strategy, one that is supported by overall business goals and objectives and one that accounts for the entire system and content lifecycle. The goal is to provide a holistic learner experience through content and activities that form meaningful connections. This includes understanding and leveraging all the ways people learn, both formally and informally; providing a system and methods that supports a seamless experience; evaluating the value of the content you are providing; and taking ownership of continuous improvement.
With that said, Rome was not built in day. Beyond all the things mentioned in this article, success requires organizations to adopt a mindset and culture that sees all content as an asset, values learning from all sources and channels, and continues to find ways to unify the learner experience.