Paul D Jagger FBCS, Business Area Manager and Learning Consultant for IBM Learning Development (Europe), hails a new era of learner experience.
For over a decade the world of enterprise workplace learning and development has been dominated by a centralised, top-down approach to design, development and deployment. This approach to managing workforce development has been enabled by the learning management system (LMS) that churn out mountains of uninspiring self-paced e-learning.
However you describe it, the LMS has always been very light on enhancing the learner’s experience and very heavy on the administration of learning. Most learning management systems have evolved to integrate with social learning platforms, virtual classroom environments and content authoring tools to varying degrees. Even so the LMS is an environment for managing learners, learning events and catalogues of learning content, and it remains essentially unchanged as a tool of centralised administration.
The LMS is ideally suited to a top-down, centralised view of corporate learning in which the HR function acts as both font of, and gatekeeper to, workplace learning in the wider context of talent development - especially in environments where uniformity is prized. The LMS has, therefore, proven particularly useful for deployment and tracking of learning programmes driven by corporate compliance and regulatory requirements.
This has led to the, often all too accurate, description of the LMS becoming a litigation mitigation system - pumping out page turner e-learning on subjects as exciting as export regulations, anti-bribery legislation, data protection, corporate induction and such like. That’s not to suggest these topics aren’t important, but they are rarely designed or delivered in a manner that fosters engagement with the learner - less still any sense of excitement or enjoyment.
A cornucopia of catalogue e-learning suppliers now offer off-the-shelf content to meet these demands, further emphasising the one-size-fits-all, commoditised approach to e-learning design.
This emphasis on centralised management and top-down deployment of uniform e-learning is increasingly out of step with the needs of the learner and the business. When there is a need for new knowledge, skills and desirable behavioural change in the business it is rarely the case that a learning programme can be designed, developed and delivered quickly enough following the centralised approach.
Since the knowledge and expertise required in the development of learning content usually reside at the operational coal face of the business, it makes sense to decentralise the development process and enable self-authoring. Many self-authoring tools and environments have developed to serve this need, but it doesn’t follow that subject matter experts intuitively understand, or can apply, good design in learning.
In the most forward-thinking businesses there is an increasing recognition of the primacy of the learner’s experience - what will engage learners, motivate them to learn and be most effective in ensuring they pick up the skills they need in a timely fashion (time to competence).
Too often e-learning is reduced to a slide show followed by a check your knowledge quiz - designed in an uninspiring manner and crammed full of information rather than learning that develops skills and behaviour. The LMS still has a vital role to play as a deployment platform, but the approach to design and development of learning is shifting away from the centralised model.
The design of workplace learning is shifting emphasis toward the needs of the learner and, in particular, their overall experience. Learner experience design (LX) seeks to increase the learner’s uptake, satisfaction and enjoyment by better design.
Learner experience design puts the human back at the centre and focuses on achieving learning goals (outcomes) and combines aspects of several fields, including: user experience design (UX), instructional design (ID), cognitive psychology, interaction design and experiential learning. That may give the impression that it is a hodgepodge of theories and ill-defined discipline, yet the practical implementation of LX is quite easy to grasp.
Here are some of the more practical ways in which better LX can be achieved:
This last point supports one of the principles codified in Pike’s 5 Laws of Adult Learning, i.e. that learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun experienced by the learner. Making learning fun and engaging is therefore not about dumbing down or trivialising the learning experience, rather it is about increasing its effectiveness.