Did you know that American corporations spent 70 billion dollars on training in 2016? And that 68% of American workers rate policies connected to Learning and Development as most important? As a Learning and Development professional, you are likely unsurprised by these statistics, as L&D is directly linked to providing any business with what it needs. But are we using L&D tools that are all about the learner, or that are all about themselves?
The Learning and Development Tools Time Machine
Let’s pop into a time machine, or even look around our corporate spaces, and we will see some L&D tools that present information in a linear way.
If you were to stroll into a boardroom in, say, Goodyear’s headquarters, you’d likely see an earnest man, wearing a suit, using a slide projector with slides — that he (or someone) had spent hours preparing — on a white screen for all to see. When one slide had been reviewed, it was on to the next slide. And so on.
Goodyear and other prominent companies of the day had mostly packed up their slide projectors and put them in storage, and were now using overhead projectors and transparent sheets that could be written on with erasable markers. But the idea was exactly the same, one sheet of information would be reviewed, removed and then replaced by another.
Hallelujah. Microsoft released its presentation software named PowerPoint in 1987 and it became much easier to prepare information so that a group of people could review it together, at the same time. (Or alone.)
Today, Microsoft holds 95% of the presentation software market, and 30 million presentations are created every day.
But is PowerPoint really different from the slide projector and the overhead projector? Has it been designed to center on the learner? Not really.
Just as the trainer at Goodyear physically changed each slide in the 1950s and each transparent sheet in the 1960s, they now change electronic PowerPoint slides. Sure, PowerPoint is user-friendly, portable, and relatively inexpensive, but it is a linear tool that promotes linear learning and thinking.
Other e-learning authoring tools from Adobe, Articulate, iSpring, and many other companies offer software that builds on PowerPoint, using its method of presenting slides but adding features and (slightly) increasing its interactivity with the end-user. But the process is still linear.
“But wait! What about the training videos?”
Lest we forget: the Videocassette Recording or VCR made it possible to create training videos that could be viewed by almost everyone in an organization. But the presentation of the information remained linear, with a training facilitator, remote in hand, pausing the video occasionally to allow for some discussion. Video has evolved into a useful learning technology (see #6 below).
11 Tips for Using Learning and Development Tools That Allow Learner Interaction
So, how do we stand up, dust ourselves off, and start using authoring tools that let us tell our stories, and that open a door to greater learner interaction? Let me count the ways: there are 11.
- Accept that your time and energy is limited. Make the decision to focus on your story, not on learning or tinkering around with finicky software.
- Keep it simple. Elaborate design features detract from your core message.
- The clean and practical design is everything. Know that a cleanly designed, simple, and practical course delivered on time and on budget is more valuable than a clunky, expensive course that relies heavily on visual design to keep learner interested.
- Go for ready to go tools. You are not an artist or a graphic designer. Use templates and tools that are ready to go. Use tools that do not require design or development skills.
- Remember that your main development tool is not your only one. Use supplementary tools to boost interactivity.
- Learn what user-friendly resources are available and use them. For making videos try GoAnimate, nawmal, Plotagon, VideoScribe, or xPlain2Me.
- You don’t have to create an online course based on your PowerPoint presentation. You could simply share the deck of slides.
- Take advantage of your learning management system. Use the assessment tools that your LMS provides, instead of building a quick in your authoring tool. Not only this is usually faster, but it is also more secure.
- Keep your learner in mind. Add lots of practical exercises that involve the learner.
- Use branching scenarios. Branching scenarios have been shown to improve retention by presenting information in a context.
- Avoid linear tools. Linear tools were build for linear learning, not for branching scenarios. So use tools that were built for building scenarios, like Twine or BranchTrack.
So Why Are Linear Authoring Tools So Popular?
Linear authoring tools are familiar. Sure, they invite us to spend too much time on design and too little time imagining stories that involve learners, but we are used to them. We are like the grade-school teacher who uses the same materials year after year to save time, while students are nodding off in their uncomfortable desks.
Let’s dive deeper into branching scenarios. As stated above, conventional training tools are used because so many of us are familiar with them but if we want to encourage lateral thinking and to spark creativity in our learners, we need to use tools that do what we need them to.
4 Reasons Why Branching Scenarios Are Effective for The Learner
Branching scenarios require learners to make decisions based on information as they move through the scenario. Passive reading or listening is replaced with engagement, which results in greater retention and deeper understanding of the material.
Science Magazine reported on a study that compared lecturing to more active teaching techniques and found that students who are lectured to, exclusively, are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students who were taught using more active teaching techniques.
Failure is OK
Learners are able to relax when making decisions in a risk-free learning scenario as opposed to being exposed to a situation on-the-job, where anxieties about failing in the real world can cause them to act in a very conservative way or even to avoid making a decision.
That was fun!
Learning should be fun. Learners like to be at the center of learning experiences and show a high degree of interest in having their own decisions analyzed as part of a series of events, without judgment. It’s fun to make decisions that affect a branching scenarios. It is not so much fun to sit and listen to someone reading PowerPoint slides out loud.
“I didn’t know I knew that”
Learners have accumulated knowledge that they do not get to regularly apply in actual situations. Accessing their cache of knowledge in branching scenarios increases learner’s confidence for decision-making and acts as a review of the knowledge.
4 Ways in Which Developers Benefit From Branching Scenarios
“I don’t have time to…”
Branching scenarios are easy to modify if created with proper tools. If a developer needs to focus on a specific area of knowledge, it is easy to extract that portion of the scenario. Remember, simple is best.
“Why does everyone look so bored?”
Working with a disinterested group of learners leaves everyone demotivated at the end of a session: branching scenarios have been shown to engage a greater number of diverse learners than more linear approaches, leaving everyone feeling positive — and with new knowledge.
Authenticity is where it is at
Most learners lean into real-world scenarios and shrink away from abstract ones that seem irrelevant to their work and lives. If you present learners with scenarios that are authentic, that ring true from their experiences, you will inspire them to participate in a real way.
Let your creativity shine
You are a creative being, and you want to bring your imagination to work every day. Creativity and branching scenarios are best friends: check out this excellent branching scenario developed for the Scotland Yard and meant to tackle street violence and knife crime.
And one more thing…
Global companies are competing for Millennials as they are flowing into workforces as Baby Boomers are retiring. And what is important to this much-studied age group? Learning and Development.
Research tells us that coveted Millennials are more likely to stay with a company that offers them “professional growth and career development” — says Matthew Harrington from New Directions Consulting. Stakeholders in the realm of L&D must refocus on building interactive programs that engage Millennials and the influx of this age group deeper into the corporate culture changes how we work, and how we learn.
Now, let’s return to the idea of the absent learner. If your organization is offering L&D programs that are focused on the dissemination of information and not on learners, it is time to rethink your programs.
And as you rethink your L&D programs, think about the technology you use to support them: ask yourself if your technology and software encourages linear thinking or authentic conversation and creative solutions.
If you review how your organization is presenting information to learners, grounded in the knowledge that the learner should not be absent from the learning process but at the center of it, you should reap long-term rewards.
Remember, L&D tools that are all about themselves have no place in a progressive organization that is going places.