Now as a learning technology company, perhaps you might have expected us to lead with this, but effective technology is an enabler and as such, should never be the main show. Understanding how to make the right choices in software and hardware, as well as being curious about new technology are the foundation skillset for learning professionals today. For many this is a shift and not something that perhaps was expected when they joined the profession, however for newer entrants into the field, the context in which they will have completed formal education means this is much more familiar territory. If you are not from a technical background, this can feel quite intimidating. This is why taking a performance focused approach to evaluating tools and technology can give huge confidence in engaging suppliers and making technology investments. The suppliers that will rise to the top are those that join you in a performance focussed view of your requirement and look beyond the immediate content or system need into the environment in which it will be deployed.
Learning Technology is all about context
I reached out to one of our customers, Transitions Optical and asked the EVP of Education and Professional Development why after our initial engagement with them, they decided to partner with us. His answer gives a clue into the job suppliers need to fulfil to ensure they are truly impacting performance
“you delivered more than we asked for and added more value. You asked us not just what needed to be done in terms of content, but the role other supporting systems like our CRM could play, how to establish champions networks, how we could get them better connected and supported by technology and build ownership of performance out in the field, shared then across EMEA. You gave us insights into things we hadn’t thought of.”
Now of course this is great feedback, shamelessly shared, but it demonstrates where the bar is set. Making important decisions about technology demand real insight into the setting. Once we understand the performance drivers, we can more effectively decide when to be the early adopters and when to invest in improving use of what we already have. So let’s touch on some of the most popular solutions and some of the emerging technology and explore its relevance to different performance challenges. In this instalment, we’ll get started with the LMS.
Learning Management Systems
Probably the most significant change over the last few years, is a greater adoption of Cloud based LMS implementations, as cost of ownership, flexibility and the drive for a more pick and mix approach to creating the most appropriate technology suite grows. Change and pace of new technology releases has demanded a more agile approach and even the traditional enterprise LMS systems have need to provide cloud offerings. One area that leaners still find challenging is the user interface – still borne out of a desire to manage the learning experience, its this emphasis on the M and S of the LMS that has dominated. However, well designed LMS systems with the learner experience at the core still have an important role to play, even in a more self serve, self curated world. When we look at this through the performance lens, the scene setting core skills development can benefit from a formal learning path or scaffold. It provides the basis for self led research, collaboration and innovation because we understand the context. Take project management for example. Creating a formal learning path on project management in your LMS, comprised a combination of well researched and effectively design content provides confidence in core skills and a common ground for exploring how the project management process could continue to evolve, refine and change. It makes the process of innovation more efficient, by eliminating the blank sheet of paper syndrome. Sure, there is always the risk that having a formal learning path sets out an approach that may determine the road we take, but here is where the balance of formal and informal is so important. Setting context enables people to more quickly enter into the conversation about current and future performance, it gives us a starter for 10 from which refinements and improvements can be made. This is where an LMS can play an important role, as long as the user experience is simple, intuitive and doesn’t get in the way of learning! Another key theme we’ve seen emerge over the past few years is data – what can our systems tell us about the nature of learning behaviours and how they link to performance. This was the promise and the opportunity laid out for xAPI, the e-learning software specification to enable tracking of learning experience. There are still very limited case studies of xAPI in action (the major case study being Amazon and its adoption of xAPI on its strategic roadmap). But this as yet limited pockets of xAPI impact is not a fault in the standard but more a symptom of the lack of alignment of a performance based mind-set. xAPI itself is only a standard and only useful if we know what performance looks like and can create the links between learning behaviour and business outcome. xAPI isn’t just a standard you adopt, its not a case that being xAPI compliant is the end game. Aaron Silvers from MakingBetter and co-founder of Up to All of Us, the community that is shaping the xAPI standards, explained to Learning Solutions magazine back in 2013 how xAPI compliance is not the point; “It’s not a cure-all by itself, but the xAPI presents an opportunity to tackle the fuzzy area between what’s “learning” and what’s “performance” in a way that can provide feedback that helps you design better, as well as provide feedback to learners to help them perform better” To deliver on this promise requires the type of performance approach we’ve been exploring and xAPI is just one of the ways you can gather more insightful data about how your learning content, tools and technology are playing their part in performance. But at the end of the day, it is just data, it’s what you do with it that counts. That is why you need to do your homework, through performance consulting and using methods such as value chain so you know what you are looking at and can draw sensible conclusions and relationships to business outcome. Of course a fully rounded view of performance is not just what people take away but what they contribute and effective LMS solutions have collaboration built in. For us, this raises an interesting opportunity for what we call professional gamification. Whilst game dynamics have been used to incentive people to complete and return to content, this has a short shelf life. It could even be argued that if you have to heavily gamify your content, does that say something about its perceived relevance? Game dynamics are useful when exploring subjects that demand decision making skills and exploration of consequence (many authoring tools are very capable of developing effective and engaging scenario based content when in the hands of a talented designer). Gamification of the LMS however is an interesting topic and sometimes only applied at a surface level. Leaderboards highlighting users that have the highest completion, scores on assessments or uploaded most content to social learning platforms are common. However, when we look at this in terms of performance, the value of the interaction in terms of overall business outcome is something that really should be recognised. Therefore, with some analysis and planning, progressive L&D teams are looking at rewarding valuable contribution, recognising those learners that are contributing to the overall body of knowledge, sharing case studies, offering mentoring, are effective curators of relevant content. To do this takes a combination of effective learning design, the right LMS that supports collaboration and committed learning professionals looking to make those connects between learning behaviour and performance. In the next post, we’ll take a look at content.