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Designing online training that focuses on experiences, not events

In my last piece, I have talked about the need for corporate training and learning to become more user-centric and less business-oriented. People learn better when there is a powerful emotion (ideally a positive one) associated with the educational module.

Since emotions are very personal, the instructional designer will have to know the end-user very well and develop the appropriate structure, materials, and presentation methods to create a genuine experience.

In this context, the ID specialist should take a page out of the app designers’ book – highly appreciated and used apps are the ultimate UX success stories.

Read more: From UX to LX, the new role of instructional designers

Learning is a journey

I’m not taking the poetic route to talk about lifelong learning, although that is true. I'm stating a known fact that's commonly ignored: learning doesn't begin the moment a user clicks “Start” on an e-learning module, and it doesn't end once they see the “Congratulations!” message.

There are at least six steps on any learning journey:

  1. Acknowledging that there is a need for learning – the moment a person realizes that they need more information, a new skill, or to refresh an existing one.
  2. Committing to learning – this is a very important step, as it brings the learner to an intentional decision of following through on a certain program.
  3. The learning itself – logging in and going through the material.
  4. Repeating and elaborating – this is important and often overlooked. Just because somebody once watched an in-depth and informative video of how to make Beef Wellington does not mean they will know how to do it – either immediately after watching or a couple of weeks after that; it will take practice.
  5. Reflecting and experimenting – this is the fifth step. Going on with my culinary example, the first few times, the recipe will probably be followed to a T, all the ingredients precisely weighed, and the oven time minutely calculated. Afterward, experimentation will become an option, and creativity will be freely manifested.
  6. Sustainability over time – this is one of the hardest things to measure when it comes to learning. There have to be enough occasions to make Beef Wellington, and some events purposefully created to celebrate the dish wouldn’t go amiss.

Read more: A resolution for 2020: meaningful learning journeys that stick!

Start with the business

Since we are talking about corporate L&D, organizational requirements have to be taken into consideration from the very start. That’s why upon embarking on an instructional design mission, there should be a clear understanding of the desired outcomes.

Because teaching people how to make Beef Wellington while the company is undergoing a massive transformational process leading towards a vegan approach is counterproductive.

Learning requests generally come from stakeholders within the organization, so they are the internal customers of the L&D team. Taking the time to find the accurate blueprint of where they want the learning programs to lead and why is essential in ensuring the client will be satisfied with the finished product.

Read more: Upping the online training game in 2021

Do an empathy map and build a persona

Once more, I know this might sound rather poetic and not business-like but let me assure you it’s a highly effective HR tool that provides a helpful visual of relevant knowledge about employees. When you are doing an empathy map for L&D purposes, you need to be focused on the learning process, the subject matter, and how the learners feel about it.

A common mistake at this point is to map by asking managers and HR specialists instead of a representative group of individuals from the teams that will be going through the training. While stakeholders may indeed have precious input, when you seek to learn about people’s thoughts and feelings, you ask them directly.

The empathy map is simple enough to be easily used yet sufficiently complex to offer invaluable insights about what learners expect at every step of the learning process.

There are several good graphic representations of what an empathy map should look like. I think this one from HR Bartender is a great example because I like a little whimsy in business, and I enjoyed the brand name and the colors (whoever designed this had somebody like me in mind – is the point I’m making here). This is a customer empathy map, but it can be easily applied to future learners.

Design intentionally for best user experience

Instructional designers often focus on the content and then try to adapt it to fit learner preferences and expectations. However, to achieve better learning outcomes, the opposite should happen – build directly on what was found during empathy mapping, being mindful of every step of the learning process.

Think about your favorite app. Why do you like it? Mine is the Goodreads app, and it's at the top of my list because it’s easy for me to track my reading, it's mobile-friendly, so I can see the conversations in the threads I follow without having to log on a laptop, and it's linked to my e-reading device. It’s exactly what I need and runs smoothly. It also recommends other books based on my readings, not on something that a publisher is trying to push, which makes for nice surprises every once in a while.

And that’s what e-learning should achieve – be exactly what the learner needs for smooth navigation with a few positive a-ha moments along the way to make the journey memorable.

Read more: 5 Types of memorable moments in corporate learning

Closing thoughts

With time apparently shrinking on us, each learning intervention should be precisely on point. There is no better way of achieving that than making it learner-centric. Designing for better outcomes requires a good knowledge of the objectives and the most suitable methods of achieving them.