Wednesday, October 21, 2015

eLearning for external stakeholders? You need product development.

This is enormous.

The 2015 Virtual Learning Trends study from eLearning! Media Group includes this remarkable statistic: Up to 83% of respondents report using virtual methodologies to train external audiences. This is a tectonic shift. There was little to no warning in their 2014 report. eLearning Industry cited their Top Ten stats from last year without mentioned it. This seems like an earthquake already happened, with the tsunami yet to hit.

Okay, that analogy may be over the top, because with a tsunami you just grab the kids and the laptop and run. Here, there are actually new opportunities. This wave can be surfed. But if you're training externals, and you're building your training the way you've always done it, consider this post a friendly alarm. Surf's up!

Here are five consequences of this little statistic, and all of them require action:

1. eLearning has become digital product development

Treating an external audience like an internal one is anathema to product developers. Once you've got people outside the organization--channel partners, dealers, and (gasp!) customers--as an audience, your eLearning is product. It doesn't matter whether they are paying for the learning directly or not, or whether it's bundled in with other fees or services. These audiences have an entirely different definition of success: Their own. And that means...

2. User experience matters

From Utility to Engagement – Beyond Usability (Accenture) 
UX design is a critical component of any product, and has its own world of expertise. Take a look at this article by Alexandra Quevedo, and ask yourself how your training product stacks up. Or doesn't. It's important because...

3. eLearning must now reflect brand promise

If you've got a bit of compliance training to do for an internal audience, you can buy something of reasonable quality off the shelf and tick the box. But if your external stakeholders are logging on to anything whatever, then this is you, your organization, your mission, your values, your promises, out there for the world to judge. Training has become an extension of your brand, and it sends its own messages. The flip side for internal audiences is this: they need the same thing. There are very few topics that don't have an inside/outside component, and so what you train employees to do needs to align with what you're saying externally. All your training therefore needs to be steeped in, to come from, and to clearly reflect, your mission, vision, values, and brand. Then there's this...

4. Legal liability issues now change 

Of course you already have a set of legal do's and don'ts when you're training employees or contractors, but when externals--particularly customers--are involved, you are making product promises. These promises have a different legal weight. And if your training goes to an international audience, the issues become even bigger. Every country has laws that protect customers from false claims or misleading promises. And how many times does your training say or suggest that "if you do this, this good thing will happen"? There are legal protections on education and training, of course, but do you know what they are, and how they apply, where? Your legal costs are going to go up. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, because...

5. Training now needs a measurable Return On Investment. 

Once you've ventured into the realm of learning product, you are firmly in ROI territory. And this is true even if you're "throwing in the training for free." Because in reality, your training just became a part of your organization's COGS, or at least its COS. This in turn means that you should have a seat at the cost/benefit table. You can and should make a case for this investment, and set up both ROI and RAI (Reach And Impact) targets. You're in business. Your eLearning just hit the big time.

These are some of the consequences. There are others, of course. But those five are a very good starting point. And here is one (admittedly catch-all) action required:

Develop a digital product development discipline. 

Add PD expertise. Now. Product development means market research, product planning, UX design, branding, prototyping, legal protection, a business case, ongoing user data, customer service, continuous improvement. Add it now or add it later, but later means you're behind the curve, waiting out the tsunami. Add it now, and catch that wave of opportunity.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Every minute of every day

Presented without comment...
From, with sources listed:,,,,,

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Digital product development in the learning space

So, what do you do for a living?

It's the simplest, safest of questions, but every time someone asks it, I nod and smile and buy a little time. It's not that I don't have a nice, concise answer... it's just that the answer doesn't answer, not like "I'm an accountant." I do sometimes go with, "I'm a consultant," but that just postpones the inevitable. The tightest answer is this: "I do digital product development in the learning space." But to most people that's meaningless, like saying I'm a creativity analyst for nonlinear investment properties. Huh? And so I pause a moment in order to assess... just how interested are you, really?

Assuming they are in fact interested, I elaborate a little: See, I create web sites and courses and videos, all kinds of products and services for clients in higher education, schools, continuing ed, publishing, corporate training. For teachers, students, nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants, car salesmen... you name it. The audiences differ, the clients differ, the content differs, and the products differ, but what I do is always the same... I build digital learning experiences that the target audience needs and wants, while meeting the requirements of educators, technologists, and business people. Oh, right. Polite nod. So... you write software?

Sigh. What I often end up doing is attempting to describe orally this visual. I work in the middle. I bring together all these different tribes... experts from business, education, technology, design. They have their own cultures, language, values, and attitudes toward one another (not always friendly), and someone has to bring all this together into something that works for each of them. This someone has to know how to develop a product through a process. That's me. I don't know the depths of each color, but the product that emerges from all the colors.

The lines get drawn pretty quickly:

  • "Look, I need to have final say, because I'm the one who understands the content. And that's what this is all about." 
  • "You can't have final say over the technology. I'll tell you how it works, and you pump your content into my structure. We'll be fine." 
  • "Pump in the content? Without a good design, they won't like it, and if they don't like it, they won't care about the content or the technology. The design is everything." 
  • "Well and good, but what happens when the thing starts losing money? Then nothing else matters. I've got the bottom line, so I've got the final say." 

Without a product developer, one of those people wins that argument. And that is a very bad thing. It leads to a skewed, limping thing in the middle.

So how do you keep someone from winning the argument? The secret is to flip the model, focus it not on the production process or the inputs, but on the audience and their needs. They are the highest authority. Each tribe is ultimately responsible to make sure that their own area of expertise is applied in the service of the product's audience. And that's something they can all agree on.

Here's the same venn diagram, but with the audience at the center. The educator has to make it works for the learner. The technologist needs to be sure the end-user is happy. The designer has to think about the unique audience, whether that's working adults, college seniors, or fourth-graders. And the business person has to make it work for the customer. And in most cases, these are not different people, but different faces of the same person. An online student taking an executive education course, for example, is at the same time customer, learner, and end-user, while being a unique person within a targeted demographic.

As a digital product developer in the learning space, I don't need to know everything about the technology, or the content, or be responsible for the entire business model. But I do need to know the target audience inside and out. I need to know the needs and habits and hopes and dreams of the learner, the end-user, and the customer. My authority, my ability to get all those tribes to work together, comes directly from the audience. I need the data, the research, the proof... because at the end of the day, my work is where audience and product meet.

Not so complex, right? Not at all. Quite interesting. Knowing nod. Have you tried the crab dip? 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Three words that can make your training incredibly powerful

Before I tell you what they are, let me back up a step. Ever been in an organization that struggled with the value of training? Ever seen eyes roll at the mention of investing in media for courses? Ever dropped a bundle on video that fell flat, or had a wow factor but no other obvious impact? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, you've come to the right post.

Here's the problem at its nub: You know the value of what you do, every day, to contribute to the success of your learners, but the folks upstairs in the C-suite can't see it. And that's where the budget decisions are made. They look at all these other factors--ROI, sales, cost of sales, market share, operational efficiency, strategy, growth. Sure, you can get approval if you can show how you'll keep them from a lawsuit or a social media circus, but otherwise, good luck and make do.

But what if your training had an obvious, positive impact on all the stuff that the C-suits are most concerned about? What if you found yourself standing on the accelerator that drives organizational results? Think it's impossible? It's not. You just have to speak the language of leadership, and take their challenges as your own. You do that by imbuing every aspect of your training with the organizational mission.

Organizational mission? Whoa, you say... mission isn't ROI. Mission is as fluffy as it comes. But think a minute... in your organization, who spends the most time on mission, vision, values? The front line? Middle management? No. It's those same C-suits that cut your last budget. The same C-crew that hammers away on margin also hammers home the mission. Why? Is there some rule that every organization needs a mission statement emblazoned on a poorly-designed poster, strategically positioned to collect coffee spatter in the break room? I submit there is not. So why do they care about that cottony, feathery fluff? The answer is, it's not cottony or feathery to them. It's steel and iron and asphalt. They care about mission because they are wracked by existential terror.

The C-suits care about mission because they are wracked by existential terror.

Why do bean counters count their beans so carefully? Fear. Organizational fear of becoming irrelevant, of being overtaken by the competition, of getting creamed by new technology, of making that strategic misstep that cooks their gooses and opens their books to those bad chapters... 7, 11, and 13. Mission drives vision. Vision drives 5-year plans and strategic direction. And strategy drives budget. Mission is survival.

But let's flip it around to the positive. Mission is also hope, dreams, growth, a united front, all of us singing from the same song sheet, pulling together on the oars, marching to the same drum, a force to be reckoned with. Mission is us, it's our identity. It's who we are as an organization. It's who we are as leaders, managers, and individual contributors. With few exceptions, CEOs live in an either-or world, with screaming success rising up on one side, and crashing failure falling away on the other.

Starting to get the picture? I hope so, because that picture is what I'm talking about... a moving, talking picture that's painting a full-color portrait of screaming success, if writ small. It's being painted in every training, every learning opportunity. It's driving mission. Or at least, it's driving mission if your your training includes "identity-level" objectives. Who we are individually, and who we are together, and what we are becoming... make these a part of every training, woven into the how-to, no matter how rote or menial the training task may seem, and you're making the best possible case for budget. Take this to the bank, or at least to the budget meeting: If you can speak powerfully to mission, you will get funded.

Take this to the bank, or at least the budget meeting: if you can speak powerfully to mission, you will get your funding.

But how do you speak powerfully to mission? How do you move the mission needle in all your training? Now it's time for those three little words. They are: Social Learning Theory. Don't let that word "theory" distract you... everything in learning, no matter how proven or practical, is called a theory. Just the nature of the beast. But the fact is, it has been shown that even one single, powerful example, a role model, will change behaviors. That kind of change doesn't even require reinforcement. One good exposure will do it. You can look it up.

But you won't need a lot of scholarly convincing if you think about moments in your own life when you said, "I want to be like that." If you're like most people, you were watching someone when you said those words. It was a parent, an uncle, a character in a movie or a TV show, or a teacher in front of a classroom. It may even have been a commercial (don't worry, you don't have to admit it), because TV commercials are often designed with a full understanding of Social Learning Theory. "The Most Interesting Man in the World" is an obvious, if tongue-in-cheek example. Marketers do it because it works.

You don't have to be a marketer. You don't have to devise cute and creative videos. You just need to capture good people doing good work in ways that are real, that matter, that tell you they are competent and they care. Role models. People doing the work, captured in ways that let others say, "I want that." These ways can be simple interviews with b-roll. It's not complex. It just has to be authentic. And it must be planned and executed, incorporated as part of your training every day.

Pitch the power of video to demonstrate a thousand mission-moving behaviors.

And it has to be part of your training budget. Next time you pitch your budget, pitch identity. Pitch mission. Pitch the power of video to demonstrate mission-moving behaviors. If every training effort is an opportunity to hammer home who we are, what we are becoming, the kind of company we are... how is this abstract? What is the ROI on the flywheel effect? This is not only mission, vision, and values. It's also passion. And that's the flip side of fear... this is the very passion that drives those C-level execs.

Social Learning Theory

This is number 3 on my list of Learning Theories That Actually Work

The following is authored by Mary Miller at the University of Georgia, and can be found verbatim here (italics added by me):

  • This theory suggests that an individual learns attitudes by observing the behaviors of others and modeling or imitating them (McDonald and Kielsmeier, 1970). 
  • An observed behavior does not have to be reinforced to be learned (Zimbardo and Leippe, 1991)
  • The model "can be presented on film or by television, in a novel, or by other vicarious means" (Martin and Briggs, 1986, p. 28). 
  • The model must be credible to the target audience (Bednar and Levie, 1993). Credibility is largely a function of expertise and trustworthiness. 
  • Observational learning is greater when models are perceived as powerful and/or warm and supportive, and "imitative behavior is more likely when there are multiple models doing the same thing" (Zimbardo and Leippe, 1991, p. 51). 
  • While "attitudes formed through direct experience with the attitude object or issue are more predictive of behavior than those formed more indirectly" (Zimbardo and Leippe, 1991, p. 193), "media can be substitutes for many live experiences" (Wetzel et al., 1994, p. 26). Thus, observing a model via video is a viable method of learning a new attitude
  • For passive learners, instruction delivered by media may facilitate the rapid acquisition of complex affective behaviors more effectively than live demonstrations (McDonald and Kielsmeier, 1970). 
  • However, receivers may attend mediated messages less closely than those presented directly, thereby diminishing their effectiveness (Bednar and Levie, 1993).

This easily meets my 4 criteria to be included a short list of "Learning Theories that Actually Work":
  • It's easy to implement
Assuming you're doing video already, it involves making the choice to show someone who is really good at something, doing exactly that something. It involves shooting the right activities, and asking the right questions in interviews. It also involves choosing a person to be on-camera whom others will want emulate: Someone who is cool, maybe, or delightful in some way, or fun, or funny, or just powerfully confident. None of this cost an extra dime.
  • It makes sense on the face of it
Role models. We get it.
  • It has a solid history in research and practice
The theory has weight and a track record. Plus, a large number of the ads you'll see on commercial television use this learning theory, trying to get someone to react in exactly this way. Here's one example. If you watch it and you say, "I want to be like that," you've just experienced it.
  • I've tried it, and it works
People love likeable experts. This has been particularly successful for me in the early courses within degree programs, when we consciously created the image of a successful graduate, and continued to reinforce that image throughout. It improved retention by double digits.

(More on this theory here.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What's so great about educational publishing?

Everything. Educational publishers--textbook publishers--are in the best place in the whole educational cycle. They're riding shotgun in the catbird's seat. Why? Because they are the link between research (new knowledge) and classroom teaching. Nobody else does that--other than a handful of brilliant individual teachers. 

So why are they complaining? 

I think many publishers have gotten themselves lost by defining themselves by their processes (Here's what we do: We find authors who know stuff and get them to write books. And now we have to do all this digital interactive development on top of that! We can't make money any more.) 

It is a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. It is an exact repeat of the error of the railroads, who defined their business by steel rails and locomotives, rather than by moving goods and people as efficiently as possible across long distances.

Publishers are in the business of finding and organizing knowledge in ways teachers and students can use for education. 

And that's a whole vast frontier full of opportunities. Why? Because almost everything about that last sentence has been transformed in the last 15 years: 
  • "Business" is now as married to education as technology is, because you can't have one without the other. Technology is a product and service and it costs money, and somebody has to pay, and that requires a new business plan--and a new business model.
  • "Finding knowledge" isn't typically about one expert any more, and certainly not about one expert who can write a book. It requires content experts and instructional designers and developmental editors and professional writers and media developers and creating a voice, a persona, a content strategy.
  • "Organizing knowledge" is different in almost every way, with data, meta-tags, search, user-generated content, on-demand lectures, free content. This requires tech savvy, but also content structure and a content architecture geared to student/user preferred pathways and learning modes. 
  • "Teachers" don't teach the same way; they don't use content the same way. They're flipping classrooms and teaching through discovery, collaboration, projects, recorded media, and of course, at a distance. 
  • "Students" don't learn the same way, running a much wider gamut, not just from the bright to the not so bright, but also the highly motivated who've already learned it online and come to class to challenge the teacher, to drudges who disengage and complain when it isn't as fun as a video game. 
  • The connection between "teachers and students" is dramatically different, mediated through the LMS, Twitter, Facetime, smart phones, every medium imaginable. Literally. Some new ones are just now being imagined.  
  • "Education" itself, if you define it as an organized approach to learning, is changing as a result. It is slowly but surely unshackling itself from boundaries built for delivering quality-assured learning through time and space: Classrooms, class schedules, semesters, grades, attendance...
If educational publishing is about "finding and organizing knowledge in ways teachers and students can use for education" --then it is an absolute bonanza of opportunities, the mother lode of opportunities, a gold rush waiting to happen.  

So why do publishers feel like their world is constricting? 

Something is wrong with this picture. Righting that wrong, a little at a time, is why I'm so interested.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Disconnect between business and academia?

Say it's not so.

The fact that businesses and higher education don't see eye to eye is nothing new, but there is one area in which they really ought to agree... the general value of a bachelor's degree. They don't. The Chronicle of Higher Education has demonstrated it in this gorgeous (and copyrighted) graphic, comparing how college presidents view a bachelor's degree to how employers view it.

The full report can be be had for free here, from the Chronicle. It's called "What Presidents Think: A 2013 Survey of Four-Year College Presidents." It was written by Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor-at-large at the Chronicle, and was underwritten by Pearson.

And I leave you with this data from PewResarch:

57% of Americans say higher education does not provide good value for the money.
75% say college is too expensive, period.
86% of actual college graduates say it's been a good investment.

So, as one headline writer put it: "Overpriced, unaffordable, and worth it."