Blog Archives

Bringing context to your (e)learning

ATD2015 session TU209 is with Ethan Edwards, speaking about bringing better context into e-learning. Now, I’m not an e-learning guy and generally don’t like the approach. But I am very interested in the context problem since my TK15 session with Robert Todd earlier this year. That session was quite “abstract” for me, so I’m hoping that this one will really give the 5 practical idea it promises. A good start, as Ethan is full of joy and clearly happy to be speaking. I’m listening…

It’s all about the context

In communication training sessions, we are often interested in the difference between the words that are said, and the way they are said and “everything else” that is going on. The “words” are not the part bring the most meaning.

In many e-learning modules, instructional designers often fail by imagining that their e-learning is “just putting the PPT (words + images) into a system”. But the words (and not even the images) are still not the part that bring the most meaning. 

Most e-learning modules look like the one Ethan Edwards showed us… Some explanatory text, a few things you can click to go through some different iterations of the information presented and a quick test at the end. But most e-learning doesn’t work, because that information is not presented “in context”. And it is the context that brings the meaning. And the meaning that brings the spark for recall and potential change.

How do we bring the context?

Our speaker showed a great example of a bad e-learning module for truck safety at a railroad crossing. Truck drivers are basically told what to do and then asked what they would do in the same situation. It was SO horrible it actually made me feel anxious imagining the days I used to be forced to (admittedly click through and pretend to..) follow these things.

But then we saw this:

  
This module works on exactly the same learning objectives as the other version. But the learner is IN context. In the cab of the truck, the choices to be made are about things that are there in front of the driver (you), not presented on a screen. Truck drives don’t look at a screen. Or, as our speaker put it “I’ve been working for 30 years and my job never involved clicking A, B or C!”).

Even if you can’t make something as beautiful as this example above, or don’t have the budget and even if you are not making e-learning, the following 5 ideas can help you bring in the context:

Create a specific meaningful environment
Like the example above, whatever is being learnt has to be presented as if it is in the real environment in which the performance of behaviour is supposed to take place.

Use story
Don’t talk theorectically about what is going on, with models and theories. Use a story arc, with character, a situation, plot complications and resolution.

Insert the learner into the action
Give the learner an objective. Not a learning objective, but something to achieve in the activity. Like “Find the gangs” (for Californian police learner so). Use some element of challenge.

Embrace purpose
If you are doing compliance training, don’t tell people “we are doing this because we have to”. Show the real benefit for them in terms of their own perceived sense of purpose.

..and finally, create a sense of adventure
This could be anything. Building things up by step-but-step, showing impact of “bad behaviour” (Booom! you died!).

And that’s all folks!

Make it happen!

Solving the learning-context conundrum at LinkedIn

Robert Todd is Director of Learning Technologies at LinkedIn. His colleague Laura McBride is their Editor in Chief, responsible for content strategy and delivery. Both are here today to talk about a new model for digital learning content…

 

Robert opened the session by asking who is building digital content in their role. Many people said “yes”. But why is this?
Surely there is enough content out there? To prove his point, Robert’s team did some internet research on the topic of “giving and receiving feedback”, looking for exactly that search result. He found 65 LinkedIn posts with that exact title, 918 slideshare presentations, 3640 YouTube videos, 3606 books on Amazon, 41000 PDFs on Google … … … you get the point.

 

So, why are we building new content?
Maybe we want to own the content, or e think we know best, or that none of the existing content will be relevant to our organisational context.

Robert Todd agrees that getting the context right is important to creating effective eLearning, training or formal learning experiences. In fact it is key. And this is what leads to the need for a new digital learning strategy.

His own experience suggests that investment in contextually relevant, well-designed courses is far more likely to please the learner; they are far more likely to “dig it”. But context-specific learning has its problems..

  • Courses are expensive to make, requiring a lot of thought, design and content-building time
  • They are difficult to update
  • Functions and processes change, making courses irrelevant
  • If you are not close enough to the user, it’s difficult to make something really authentic
  • They push made-up high-high-context detailed situations, rather than helping people deal with their own questions and situations
  • They are not “ready” in-the-moment people actually need to learn something

 

So we have a conundrum based on the following dichotomy: Either its low-context, model-based job-aids, FAQs or courses that don’t engage or fit our any reality; or its overly high-context case-based simulations and courses that can’t work in practice because they are too specific to one person. There needs to be another answer… An effective blend.

 

 

Enter ?WhatIf!, the international innovation company, Todd’s first port-of-call to solve this conundrum.

They created a blend of low-context “formal” content and high-context experience-based learning consisting of fundamentals, “seeing it in the wild” and “doing it in the wild”. As the learner progresses through the experience, context was added step-by-step:

  • Walkthroughs (5 minute videos to teach basic principles) and skill-checks (online exercises to check understanding) to deliver fundamental ideas, concepts and knowledge
  • Best-practice sharing and real-world stories from the field (video format) and highly curated discussion (online) to help people see how other people applied those things in real-life
  • Field-guides (PDFs with checklists, tips and pitfalls) and mobile-based missions that learners could undertake in the field; both designed to transfer the learning to personal high-context workplace.

 

If you buy into this strategic approach to the conundrum of low vs. high context, McBride says you will have to think a little differently about your role as a learning person and the competencies you need to be successful.

To summarise her part of the speech:

  • You will need to become and expert on content. Not “things to be learnt” content, but what types of content work for which types of learning. You need to be a media expert to make good choices on how content is presented.
  • You will have to have a lot of dialogue with experts in-the-field and learners with specific questions. Successful learning comes from making relevant connections between those small fundamental concepts and real-life experiences.
  • If your people are going to share their stories, you have to make it easy for them. Whatever platform you use should be simple to navigate and add-to.
  • Invest time and effort in curating content, story and sharing from within the organisation.
  • Be consistent in the look and feel (or brand) or different platforms and media-types. And make it beautiful! (See also my blog post on how “form sells function”)
  • Make any formally delivered content mobile-friendly. This will certainly help in the “mission” phase.

 

Once again, it seems so obvious. But when I think about the training I deliver or how the majority of Belgian learning management people approach their formal learning initiatives, I think it’s worth some more consideration and effort.

 

Thanks for reading

@dan_steer