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Tools vs. Research, Think, Write, Design

Personas - courtesy

Personas - courtesy

Having been on the job market for several months now, I’ve noticed that Captivate and Articulate are required for almost every e-learning or instructional design position that I see posted. Having used Captivate, and having seen Articulate being used – I now understand why so many consider e-learning boring. These two software tools are designed to rapidly convert PowerPoint presentations into e-Learning. They also make it easy to tack a quiz onto the end of the learning. The metaphor behind the software design is “book”, is “page-turner”. The result is boring e-Learning.

Now hold on, am I just blaming the tools — especially since I haven’t really used Articulate? Am I limited by my own vision of what these tools are capable of? Possibly. Am I asking too much of e-Learning designers? Maybe. It is hard to create engaging e-Learning. Just look at my own portfolio — can’t say the learning is *that* engaging.

Research, Think, Write, Design

So here I come to my tag-line: research, write, think, design. Will this make learning more engaging? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it might make it more relevant.

  • Research the business outcome. Why are you creating this learning course/widget/thing? What business outcomes are you trying to effect? What behaviors are you trying to change? What do you want people to do?!? Not just “We want people to learn this new financial software” — but “We want people to increase their efficiency and accuracy in expense reporting (or budget planning or budget management)”. This leads the question: “Well, heck, what are they doing now? Who are THEY?”
  • Research the learners. Are they novices? experts? do they have different roles/needs? can you create personas from these needs? Is it possible to actually collect data on them? How technically savvy are they? How do they get their information? How do they interact with their LMS? Do they interact with the LMS? Examples of defining personas and how to use personas can be found on the Cooper Journal website. One can think of personas as meaningful customer segmentation made real by colorful descriptions — see the description of how Best Buy uses personas in designing their stores and interacting with their customers in my review of The Deciding Factor.
  • Think about the research – well, can we just call this analysis? Sure, analyze you data. Concept. Examine the correlations. What can we learn from these data patterns, without making correlation errors. Clearly this is one of the areas that I need to address, in addition to designing better research.
  • Write about it – does it seem redundant to write about your research and analysis? I think not. The process of writing and having to explain your research analysis is key to communication and deepening the understanding. The writing process forces the assumptions to the surface. It exposes the flaws in your argument. Writing is also key to the design process.
  • Design – for me this is where you begin to explore methodologies, tools, techniques. This is where you think about learning outcomes, the learning experience. I also strongly believe that the basis of good learning design is good writing — understanding the subject matter, finding good examples, writing good scripts. The quality of the discourse matters. The writing underlying the learning design is often where it all falls apart — maybe the writer can’t imagine the learner persona. Maybe they do not fully understand the subject matter or business outcome. Good research and analysis don’t always lead to good design, but directs the design, channels the creative energies.

Yes, then we have development, where we use whatever toolset (choosing of which is part of the design process) or perhaps organizational constraints dictate what tools to use. Then the implementation, then the evaluation. Well, the evaluation should actually be a part of the research phase — if we know the business outcome, how will we know when we got there? Define success at the beginning and figure out how to effectively measure it.

For example, “We want people to increase their efficiency and accuracy in expense reporting (or budget planning or budget management)” — well there may be measurements in time required to do X, or accuracy in X (how many times to redo), or how many people to do X, what is the cost of doing X — then see if these metrics change after/during the learning. Of course, this assumes these metrics were collected in the first place for you to measure change against.

A role that incorporates this level of thinking, research, design would be ideal. Writing this down helps.

My question – Are Training & Development departments¬† thinking this way? Are organizations thinking this way? Is it that people just “don’t have time!” to do this level of research? You know, I don’t think so. I think much of the information is there, easy to get, is we ask the right questions. User-experience designers are already doing this. Product Management is already doing this. Let’s do it internally and not just for clients/customers. This is low-hanging fruit – but a big mental adjustment.

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7 Responses

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  1. Tim Flood says

    Rani, a great and inspiring post! Your last line, “This is low-hanging fruit — but a big mental adjustment,” really hits the mark. It makes me think of Einstein’s statement about the atom, which comes to mind so frequently: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

    Hmm … “changed everything save our modes of thinking …” that’s the part I think of the most. Of course, this was uttered in an entirely different context. But it seems broadly applicable to the many surging and sometimes contentious tides of change we experience. Often times though, the change that is at hand is not difficult — is “low-hanging fruit,” as you say. And yet, it is so difficult to adjust the way of thinking to break out of the convenience and security of something we’re already familiar with.

    As I get older (I’m now 65) I find that life is more interesting to challenge myself and others around me to question the paradigm and try something new. Often what we have to lose is not very much really at all.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Rani H. Gill says

    Tim, thank you for your thoughtful response. I love that you brought in this Einstein quote – how perfect. Currently I think one of the challenges is the notion of a “course” that we hold so dear in learning circles. Perhaps this is one of the mental adjustments we have to let go of? Still exploring. cheers.

  3. Sam Bruce says

    Hey Rani, thanks for your post. As you might imagine, I agree with your thoughts. To pick up on one of your points, very recently I have started working with a very large global firm with HQ in the USA. We are developing some learning modules for their LMS. Problem is that the LMS is new and is being rolled out to the organization so the internal L&D IT people managing the LMS say they have no time to help us with how to integrate our content into their LMS and learning portal. So here we sit, ready to move forward, but making some bets about how we think things are going to turn out since we need to get moving but are having problems getting the help we need from the client. It will be a call with our primary client contact that makes things happen, but I think it illustrates the fact that enterprises can talk about learning and all the different ways that it can be delivered, but once you get past the old model of participants and a facilitator/educator together in a room much of what are deemed “new” ways of learning require considerable effort from the L&D arm of the company who have heard about different modalities but who have not wrestled with them yet.

  4. Rani H. Gill says

    Sam – great to hear from you! And what an interesting dilemma you point out. An overwhelmed internal L&D IT group, not fully prepared to engage with this new way of learning, maybe even resistant to the change. It might be worth bypassing the internal IT and consulting with an external vendor familiar with the LMS and suggest some solutions to your client. Not within the contract, but perhaps the external vendor might be willing to accept barter vs. pay. Or, if you’re able to frame the problem in a detailed enough fashion, there are many communities of practice out there who might have the answer. Let me know if I can help. cheers.

  5. Lane Parker says

    Rani, Robert Mager would be proud to read your post. I learned a lot about instructional systems design way back in the 70s following his methodology. When I got out of the pure training business I applied what I learned from him in the management of my organizations. Thanks to the book “Make Success Measurable” I was able to connect Mager’s teachings to people & teams I managed using SMART (Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound) goals. SMART is a great acronym but my focus has always been on the M and T where M supports your “outcome” analysis above and in a job situation, time is always critical to success.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your true storytelling.

  6. Rani H. Gill says

    Lane – thanks for your comments and feedback. I actually have a couple Robert Mager books sitting on my bookshelf. I should pull them out again and have another look. On measurement and SMART goals – I agree, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there. cheers.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Tools vs. Research, Write, Think, Design | wander@will | Conceptguy linked to this post on January 17, 2010

    […] Original post:¬† Tools vs. Research, Write, Think, Design | wander@will […]

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