Forms sells function

“Form follows function.” Designers have said this for years. And in the learning world, it is equally true: The learning initiative or environment (form) must be shaped to achieve its goals (function).


But the most successful product developers know another truth: “Form sells function”. The product can be designed to be perfectly functional, but if it doesn’t look beautiful, no-one will buy it. Case in point: Smart watches. For a few years now, it has been possible to buy a watch that allows you to surf the internet, play media and control your smartphone. But they aren’t beautiful, so only the geeks buy them. As Apple brings out its own smart-watch, you can expect a change in this market. Because it will be beautiful.


What does this mean for the learning world? If we follow the watch analogy through we see that, yes, effective learning professionals create functional initiatives. But when it comes to something new, do they forget that form sells function? Or are they making beautiful products like Apple?


If you are working on a new approach to learning in your organisation, don’t forget that your buyer is not the learning geek who will immediately see the functionality of your new product. The buyer is someone who is used to his “perfectly functional watch” and “can’t see why I’d need a new one”. So you have to make it beautiful too.


To make things beautiful, we can learn from both the designer and the marketer. Design creates beautiful objects; marketing creates a beautiful brand or experience. Design makes sure that what is in the box is awesome; marketing gets you to the box. Design ensures that what you take out of the box is durable and effective; marketing creates the unboxing experience.


If you are starting the New Year full of functional learning resolutions, please don’t forget to put some beauty in the form.


Thanks for reading



Key learning design steps to get right, unless you don’t want any change

Day 2 of ASTD2013 seems to be taking a theme and it is this: What we are doing in the learning doesn’t work!

In session M200, speaker Francis Wade is helping us to understand why it is so difficult to create real change with learning programmes and to see what we can do about it. As an example, he is using a time management training case. Francis says that the dream of instructional designers and trainers is this: “If we figure out the behaviour and tell it to the learners, they will listen and they will do it.” But they don’t.

They don’t listen because they are über-connected and under-attentive. They don’t have the time to learn and they are not motivate for new behaviours.

And they don’t do it for several reasons:

What you wanted them to do was not clear enough

In my own definition, I say learning is the acquisition and implementation of knowledge, skills and attitude. Francoise Wade is interested in the “implementation” part of that definition that will help us to do it better, forcing us to work better with our learning design. According to Francis: “They haven’t learned anything unless you can observable, measure and coach new (correct) behaviour.” This means that before you design your learning, you need to be 100% clear on what behaviour you expect afterwards, to what standards and in which contexts. This will allow you to do a good level 3 evaluation afterwards.

It wasn’t relevant to their own reality

Most people don’t receive any formal learning on topics like time management until after the age of 20 years old. When they come to training, they come with a whole lot of baggage. Ignore that at your peril. Training that consists of shoving knowledge at participants and expecting it to be relevant will not work. You need to use the participants’ own experience as an integral part of the learning process so that they see how to integrate learning into their reality.

You gave them what they asked for

Managers have a tendency to ask for tips and some new knowledge in an attempt to solve business problems. Learning participants who complete some form of intake questionnaire will also tell you what they know or don’t know, do well and do badly, need and don’t need. But both the managers and employees are biased. And they are not learning experts. And they are impatient and unrealistic and demanding.

Before you do anything, first see what they are actually doing right now and assess how this impacts the bottom line of business performance results in terms of 5 key business drivers. Now you have a solid benchmark of what is needed, instead of a Christmas list.

You ignored them when they were most motivated to change behaviour

It is not uncommon for trainers working on things like time management to run into participants a few weeks or months later and hear that “It was good and fun, but I haven’t managed to do anything with it yet.” All the good intentions that may have been built up during training are left aside when we step out of the room.

Francis Wade says that it is important to have a post-training support system in place for participants, but that giving a set of tools to training participants for this doesn’t work. It would be better to encourage them to themselves create their own post-training support system. This will help them to tie their own needs and learning to their own context and resources and will be more motivating.

As a side-note, read my ASTD post “before all that self and social learning, one last little training for everyone.”

At the beginning of Francis’ session I thought I may have made a mistake with my choice, as it started to sound like I was hearing things I already knew about learning program design. And I did. And I still do.

But am I doing them? Are you? And if not, why not?

Thanks for reading. My trip to ASTD2013 is sponsored by Kluwer Training in Belgium. Be sure to check out their blog page for posts from my Kluwer colleagues at the conference and many other lent inning resources.