SQUIRREL! Avoiding the Bright, Shiny Objects and Focusing on Outcomes
Regardless of the industry, there’s an appeal to what’s new and trendy. It’s exciting when the branding of a product changes to something more modern. New technologies and widgets enter the market daily, promising convenience, automation and engagement.
Recently, a team used an augmented reality (AR) app to train retail store associates, bringing “oohs” and “ahhs” from colleagues. But then, just as the team was celebrating, someone asked rather skeptically, “Isn’t that just a fancy alternative for a QR code?” The team paused. QR codes are so 2012, and AR is so new and so cool. One certainly could have argued that the technologies were completely different and that the application of AR is much more seamless and integrated than using a clunky and unattractive QR code. But in reality, the outcome the team was trying to achieve wasn’t entirely different: giving associates a way to learn more about a product in the store while talking to a customer. A QR code could work. And so could AR.
Are we using technology for technology's sake?
The “technology first” conversation drives learning solutions more than ever before. In many ways, it’s also a “deployment first” conversation: “If I want to use this app or technology to design and develop and deploy content, how can I reverse-engineer the entire learning solution to make it work?”
Many individuals in learning and development (L&D) organizations tend to get blindsided on what looks "cool" - whether it’s a live-action video, hand-drawn animation, 3D e-learning module, flipped classroom, AR or virtual reality (VR). It’s easy to understand why – clients/business partners are asking for assets that are visually appealing and "micro” to meet employees’ short attention spans and competing demands. Clients and business partners are integrating technology at home and in their products and there’s an expectation for learning to keep pace.
There’s so much out there…
The industry has become flooded with so many new platforms and tools: curation engines, applications that one can design, develop and deploy content all in one space, mobile learning, social collaboration sites, MOOCs/SPOCs, AR/VR, badging, and don’t forget that LMSs are upping their game to stay alive and relevant. The impact of flocking to the "shiny object" can obscure whether there was a learning need in the first place.
How does L&D feel about this?
L&D professionals have become so averse to having something that looks and feels the “same” as what was done previously, anything other than a technology-driven solution is considered “traditional” (such a dreaded term for any creative professional to hear!). Many have expressed concerns that if learning organizations don’t embrace technology and find newer ways to deploy and distribute content, they will be left behind and become irrelevant.
But how does L&D analyze learning needs and the performance outcomes for a particular role and stay on top of the various learning experience platforms or cloud-based content development tools at the same time? How does L&D ensure that outcomes drive the learning experience, not the tools themselves? And nobody's even talking about the sustainment of any of the content that is developed within these tools/platforms, and the financial impact of organizations if they choose to part ways.
When technology dictates the learning experience, what often results is an asset that can quickly become out of date (with a high cost to update). Or worse, the asset fails to help people do their job. While the number of "likes" or "views" may seem like an immediate success, learning organizations must stop focusing all efforts on the bright, shiny objects and start realigning their gaze with an outcomes approach to help people perform their job and engage in their career.
So, how can we turn it around?
How can learning professionals prevent getting distracted by all that is shiny and focus on the outcome of what the business needs to achieve? How can technology enhance (rather than dictate) the learning experience? How can learning professionals balance the need for innovation and creativity and still ensure learners can do their job well? By focusing on outcomes, and then allowing those outcomes to drive the solution.
Often, learning professionals join the conversation when a business partners says, “I need training.” And, if technology is involved, it might sound like, “I need training and an infographic or video would be cool.” But one might be thinking, “The performance issue is sluggish sales on the newest product. Will a video really solve those issues?” This brings us to the five ways to control the conversation around technology to focus on outcomes.
Step 1: If you see something, say something.
If you’re put into a situation in which the learning solution is dictated to you, call it out. In the case above, it would be easy to execute and create an infographic that’s visually appealing on the sales process. Be bold and take the conversation a step further. Here are some conversation starters.
- An infographic could be a great way to show the sales process, but I’m wondering what our top sellers are doing. Are they doing something else to drive sales? How can we add an application element so that salespeople are learning AND applying what top performers are doing in their own work?
- A video could be a great way to introduce the product, but producing one could be expensive and using it to train on skills may not be the way path forward. Could we use video to call out specific behaviors on the job or capture testimonials, and then craft a learning experience in which they can apply those behaviors?
Step 2: Determine if it’s a REAL gap in knowledge, skills and abilities, or something else.
If you can guide the conversation around tasks and outcomes, then allow the tasks and outcomes to do the talking. For example, let’s say during analysis you found that top performers who were selling the newest product could confidently use competitive intelligence and proactively position the newest product against the competition, whereas average and low performers were unable to defend against the competition. That’s a gap.
If during analysis, the issue is something else (e.g., product overload, low motivation/incentive for selling, ineffective systems/tools, etc.), then training is not to blame. And regardless of the technology used to deliver it, the business issue will persist.
Step 3: Engage with the technology.
You can’t recommend what you don’t know. Go to trade shows and experience these new learning technologies first hand. Many of these platforms have a free personal use account – download it and figure it out. Once you do, the benefits and drawbacks of many of these platforms become rather evident.
Step 4: Know what’s available to you.
Even if you learn about these technologies, the cost or effort may be prohibitive, especially in larger organizations. Regardless, allow the original gap and outcome to drive the technology innovation options that may be available to you.
Are there apps that individuals can use to record videos of themselves roleplaying their positioning statement, and then send out for others to rate and evaluate? Yes. But what if your organization isn’t willing to invest? Can you find an alternate way to create a similar experience? The lack of investment doesn’t impede the ability to create an experience in which a learner takes a video of himself using a smartphone or tablet practicing a positioning statement and sending it out for others to review.
Step 5: Provide options that address the task that produces the outcome.
Offer your business partners options. You might be surprised they are willing to pilot a new technology if you are able to articulate the costs, real and perceived, and the work involved to deploy it. At minimum, if your business partners aren’t ready to commit, you already have an alternate plan that is creative!
These five steps won’t prevent your business partners or peers from wanting to chase their inner-squirrel and jump on the latest and greatest technology bandwagon to drive their decision-making. But applying these steps can propel you to trusted advisor status with them because you remain focused on improving performance outcomes. It’s exhilarating when learning organizations can use technology to enable people to do their jobs and drive business results. But there’s always more than one way. Sometimes, a quirky QR code can get the job done too (even though I’d much rather use AR).
And wait ... is that a new app I saw on how to deliver training...
Britney Cole is a learning strategist with GP Strategies. Britney provides thought leadership on the concept of Learning 3.0, learning architecture, leadership and professional development, and experiential learning via technology.
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Written for TrainingIndustry.com