Recently, InfoPro Learning acquired another learning company with a substantial amount of content for leadership and organizational development. Little did I know at the time that that content would involve me and ultimately change the way I look at my job. It started with a simple conversation…
“How about transforming this new content into a blended learning program?” my P&L head asked me.
“Do you want to do this project?” he inquired.
“Of course!” I immediately respond.
Very briefly we discussed the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of my new project and at the end of our brief conversation I was left with a new term; “learning experience”. For a moment I shrugged off the phrase assuming that perhaps this was just another piece of terminology coined by some intellectual and enshrined as a buzzword on Google.
But then, the bell of “learning experience” kept ringing. The burning question was what is “learning experience”? After some hasty research, I found a source which talked about changing the name of ‘instructional designers’ to ‘learning experience designers’. Learning experience design simply means creating experiences rather than just curriculum. Fairly easy to understand! But what does that really mean? What do I have to do to become a learning experience designer? How do I create “learning experiences”?
What I have found is not a complex theory, but a simple guideline. Move away from converting information to instruction. Think differently, and focus on how the learner will perceive the design. It is extremely important to focus on the learner’s question of “What’s In It For Me?” (WIFM). But when you do so, do it differently. Here are some tips.
Connect with Learners on an Emotional Level
Learning objectives and snapshot animations are an acceptable strategy for building context and propagating WIFM, but that’s what every learning designer is doing. Stretch your limits by focusing on the most perceived problem that you intend to solve through the learning intervention. We are in age of millennials and Gen Z is right around the corner. These cohorts are very clear on what they want.
Therefore, the “how” has to be very intelligently planned. The bottom line is hit the core issue in all modes of your expression and messaging throughout the learning material. By doing so, you will connect with learners on an emotional level. Look at the way advertisement and marketing campaigns are run and messages are delivered today. They are powerfully designed around the problem they are solving and compel the target audience to make a decision. This is a most pressing issue but as an instructional designer I tended to ignore it. We must acknowledge that we have lot to learn from related disciplines like marketing, advertisement, and communication.
Don’t Lose Connection During the Training
It is extremely important that the emotional connection that you establish through solving a problem is sustained throughout the course of training. This is what makes and unmakes training. This what makes and unmakes a trainer. More often than not, we hear that our training was not engaging. There were no real interactivities. Often, I used to create a standard exercise with a different look and feel. Is this the only solution?
Additionally, as instructional designers we blame poor engagement on the content. It is too technical! It is a boring compliance and legal subject. Point taken. But how about going a step farther and planning for meaningful engagement?
One of the simplest ways to sustain an emotional connect is to use stories. Not stories based on guesswork or assumptions, but stories that build upon the content with the same messaging that first connected with the learners. If your stories are different than the initial message, you will lose the connection and hence the learning experience. Let’s look at an example. Compliance training in most organizations is just seen as a tool to comply with the regulations necessary to operate in a particular industry or social environment. The general approach is develop a course, run it, check some tick boxes, and be done. The net result is incidences causing financial loss and the loss of lives. What could we do instead? We could create a learning experience that compels learners to go through the training and really learn something.
The bottom line is No matter how boring the content or the subject area looks, it doesn’t mean we can’t tell a story in an interesting way.
Pad the Stories with Media and Interactivities
When I was in school I remember reading about cave paintings. These paintings are found on cave walls and ceilings, and most of them are from pre-historic ages. These paintings have been discovered in Asia, Europe, and Africa and historians believe that in the absence of the any formal language, the cave paintings were a strong mode of communication. The beauty of these paintings is that you see them and you can write a story. Interpretation may differ depending on how you see it, but the fact is that they are expressive enough to trigger a wave of meaningful thoughts. This leads me to the conclusion that sometimes visual expressions are more important than the story telling. It is commonly accepted truth that it is easier to recall eidetic memory than any other form of memory.
The more I probe, the more I see myself shifting from an instructional designer to a learning experience designer. It is time for change, and I have a valid reason to. I have seen rotary phones become museum pieces and typewriters become a relegated past. Customer service is rechristened as customer experience and user experience is drawing people to seminar and symposiums. We have to change the way we look at instructional design and we have to do it fast. Millennials are much more informed, and Gen Z is round the corner. Traditional instructional design will soon be a reference case study. This is the right time to move from “In this Topic, you will learn about…” to something which generates emotional resonance with the learning modality. Waiting is not an option when it comes to experience design.