Scope creep – How not to work with an eLearning vendor

“Sorry, that’s not part of this project. 
 We can help you if you sign this contract variation.”

If this sounds familiar, you may have experienced what we call the dreaded scope creep.

Scope creeps come in different forms and sizes. Still, they all have this in common, particularly when it occurs when you are working with an eLearning vendor: an aftertaste of sub-optimal process and possibly even deliverables, impacting your willingness to work with the said vendor again, and vice versa.

1. Scope creep by lack of planning

Scope creep happens when the initial brief is incomplete, unclear or does not include all the expected deliverables. This then forms the basis of the vendor quote (and ultimately the contract).

Especially when engaging a new vendor, make sure you include all upfront information the vendor will need to succeed:

  • project requirements including timelines
  • expectations on review cycles, branding and style guidelines
  • technical requirements and deployment environment
  • learning design requirements
  • assessment requirements
  • stakeholder environment and sign-off process, milestone payments on the successful delivery of project parts.

Providing complete documentation will help the vendor understand your specific environment. It is up to them to read, plan for compliance, and quote accordingly. A good, experienced vendor will know when and what to ask for to obtain complete information, and automatically include ‘obvious’ requirements in their scope, e.g., certain Government standards that need to be adhered to. An experienced and reputable vendor should also be aware of many of your requirements based on their years of experience even if you don’t formally identify the needs for said requirements. This type of working relationship would be more suited to being referred to as a true ‘partner’ versus a ‘vendor’.

avoiding scope creep: image shows business meeting between client and eLearning vendor who asks for signing a contract variation for a small client change

2. Lack of communication – beware of the word ‘Just’…

Competent vendors will work with you to develop a learning solution that suits your specific context and budget needs. And yet, in the middle of the learning development phase (i.e. in production), one of your key stakeholders may want to add “just a couple of branching case study streams” in a learning piece that was supposed to be short, succinct and very low budget.

A request like this can have a domino effect on the entire learning piece’s integrity, so the design phase may have to start again to integrate it well and ensure the solution is sound. The stakeholder may not be aware of the impact. Now you need to spend valuable time explaining and navigating conflicting requirements for a disjointed learning solution, with potential contract variations, and blown out timelines and costs.

  • Consult with your subject matter experts (SME) and key stakeholders before going out to market for a quote, or involve the solution designer early in the process. Ask them about their requirements and expectations of what a successful learning solution looks like to them.
  • Explain the impact of increasing content or functions, such as interactivity levels, scenarios, animations, or video, on both time and budget. Your vendor can provide various solutions and talk about the quality, cost or timeline expectations for each solution, so you can have these conversations before the work begins.

3. Lack of imagination

There are many ways to skin a cat, they say, and indeed there are many, many more ways to design learning. 

Design, in general, is one of the most challenging topics to discuss in words (try describing the hue of blue or grey in front of your window to someone right now). The same is true for the look and feel of a learning project. 

  • Please do not wait for the vendor to finish an entire learning piece to determine the funky flat illustration style they chose does not suit your law practice’s corporate, traditional style.
  • Ask your vendor to show you what styles they recommend and get a few test screens done so you can picture it better via an early prototype.
  • Get sign-off on the preferred style by other stakeholders that may need to be involved, e.g. marketing/internal communications, to make sure your overall branding is on-point throughout your organisation.
  • A vendor you can trust will genuinely advocate for a great solution and not just ‘take orders’.

4. Inattention to detail and testing

Generally speaking, a well-rounded and ‘engaging’ eLearning project consists of roughly 30% instructional design/pedagogical scripting (engagement of the mind), 30% goes towards creative visual design and on-point artwork elements (engagement by the eye), and 30% function development and media production (engagement by the ear and screen). Noting, roughly 10% goes into project management.

All parts are equally important to get right, 100% of the time, as they build on each other. The treacherous belief that “We signed off on that script so the copy in the learning screens should be correct” has tripped over many a deadline. 

  • Ensure your vendor has robust QA processes in place. You should expect to receive error-free, complete proofs for your review. Still, human error is real, so it is the instructional designers’ responsibility to check every proof in detail for its correctness and completeness before you can be signing it off to go to the next phase.
  • Test and ensure the solution works in your technical environment and according to all specifications (e.g. WCAG accessibility, various browsers and SCORM compatibility just to name a few). If your vendor says, ‘it works fine in our test environment’, ask them for validation in the form of a test certificate, and still test it yourself given you’re ultimately responsible for final sign-off. An easy way to do that is to upload the SCORM package to a free SCORM platform.
  • Sometimes, a learning piece takes two weeks to make it through all the internal technical mills and get uploaded to your LMS. That’s a long wait to see if all works correctly. If you work with a vendor you have built a trusted relationship with, you can share access to your LMS and they can do the testing directly in your environment for you.

5. Scope creep as vendor business model

Our least favourite scope creeps happened to some of our clients in previous vendor relationships they’ve had. These are veritable scope traps, set by vendors on purpose. Some vendors will win projects by underquoting and try to make their margins back by forcing contract variations at any opportunity (including project administration fees each time) for every single client request of alteration, no matter how small. That is undoubtedly not a sustainable way to work with clients long-term, yet they exist from what we hear.

Here is how you can protect yourself:

  • Set boundaries and list upfront what will warrant a contract variation and what will not, agree on this with the vendor and make sure the contract reflects this agreement.
  • A well-established learning provider will be interested in building a longer-term business partnership (as opposed to selling to you), so may more likely be willing to help you with small change requests, even after the project has been signed-off and deployed. Over time, give and take will even things out, and often it is better to get the project out the door than to squabble about minutiae. 

We hope this article will help you avoid some of the pitfalls we have seen over the past 10 years. If you’d like to explore what it is like to work with learning experts that are interested in building long, trusted working relationships with their clients, that’s us!

Contact our Managing Director Rodney Beach if you are interested to learn more.

Designing quality eLearning that works

Over the past few months, many people have had their first encounter with ‘learning online’, as opposed to attending face-to-face sessions. Social media feeds are full of mixed views around online learning, from both the people suddenly tasked to develop online content in short time frames and the learners on the receiving end. 

The danger is that the extraordinary times we live in right now – and the necessary stop-gap learning measures – will shape the perceived quality of eLearning design overall. Therefore, we believe it is vital to take a step back and look at what constitutes quality, workplace-related eLearning – and what does not quite measure up.

Overall, designing relevant and engaging eLearning encompasses the disciplines of both the instructional designer (educational design) and the eLearning developer (technical UX and/or UI design). These disciplines need to complement each other for a learning piece to work well.

illustration of eLearning designer thinking about success factors of good eLearning design

Establish context

Can you imagine a less inspiring learning experience than clicking ‘next’ to read through a series of regurgitated snippets of a new policy, with a multiple-choice quiz at the end to see what you have ‘remembered?’ We can’t, and yet, it is not uncommon; we have seen it a lot over the years. Unsurprisingly, ‘eLearning’ designed like this is of low value to the learners and to the organisations who invested time and resources to create it. We would not call this type of content ‘eLearning’; we would call it ‘information dissemination’, which has nothing to do with the actual art of facilitating the learning process.

For eLearning content to work well, it needs to tap into what people believe they want or why they need to learn something. Context goes a long way in that, together with intrinsic incentives – and extrinsic motivations – to make the learner think. 

Effective quality eLearning content is more engaging and relevant when it:

  • uses stories and authentic case studies that the learners can relate to because they use familiar workplace scenes, behaviours and tacit language
  • includes typical workplace problems to discover and solve along the way
  • progresses the learner from unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent through scaffolding and learner progression with feedback and practise points
  • supports the practical application of new knowledge and skills in the workplace.

Create real engagement

In face-to-face learning, a facilitator can engage in direct, person-to-person, peer-to-peer, group discussions and activities, and share stories to energise the room. In contrast, content creation in eLearning needs to plan for these elements or simulate it in order to achieve the same effect.

Going back to the aforementioned policy learning content, let’s imagine an eLearning piece that invites the learner to witness two different interactive workplace scenarios, with relatable problems, different behaviours, and two or more different outcomes. In both situations, all involved claim they followed the policy, and yet, one or more scenario paths have directly resulted – or indirectly influenced – non-compliant behaviour and outcomes. 

With this scenario approach, dependent on the desired learning outcome and cohort, you can spin off a range of activities that allow learners to discover:

  • how to interpret right from wrong workplace behaviour in the context of the policy and organisation
  • how to manage a situation like this from the viewpoint of different roles in the organisation
  • how to lead self and others through any grey area situations
  • how and where to access support tools when needed after the eLearning piece is complete.

Now that we have looked at how smart instructional design can influence the quality of an eLearning piece, let’s look at what we can do with the learning space itself: the learning interface.

Get the visuals, audio and interactivity right

‘An image is worth a thousand words’ is an often-quoted cliché, to which we would add …’if it is not just a visual object on the screen and if it is directly helping to tell your eLearning story.’

What do we mean by that? 

A quality learning developer will be able to take the content and instructional design blueprint and create a learning experience interface with just the right balance.

In other words, it is not enough to place a stock image next to five lines of copy in a box to ‘make the screen look interesting’. A quality learning designer makes the learner wonder, imagine and think, building in smart and interactive feedback loops to signal learner progression along the way. They do it with an awareness of the entire bandwidth of audio-visual elements (colours, text, buttons, video, audio narration, animation), paying special attention to haptic and spacial design elements in the case of VR or supportive and assistance design elements in the case of accessibility.

The level of sophistication is, as with any other project, dependent on the context of the learning project, desired quality, its time or technical constraints, and available budget. And yet, a good learning designer will only use what is truly necessary. Instead of overloading the learner with input and interactions of the finger, not the mind, they will give a learner functionality choices to cater for individual preferences (e.g. selecting a persona, pathways, and choices such as switch audio/captions on or off).

“Workplace learning is finally moving away from facilitated one-way delivery and static learning.”

Functionality brings us to the third element that makes a significant difference to a learner’s experience with eLearning and, therefore, its potential to be remembered for the right reasons. 

Using the right tools and learning platforms

We believe if you’re going to do something, do it well. In the eLearning industry, there is so much room for improvement in the way we can make our content meet the learner where they are, when they need it, in a way they prefer. That is the power of our 21st-century technology. 

However, the current mindset around what eLearning technical limits are seems to be:

  • teach on Zoom and upload videos and presentation files
  • chunk policy into paragraphs with a supporting image
  • paste text on the left of the screen and add a stock image on the right.

However, in our daily lives, ‘eLearning’ at micro-level happens everywhere, at our fingertips. For example, every time we ask Google ‘where is the next petrol station?’ because we just noticed the blinking symbol on our car dashboard. Where is that same intuitive level of information accessibility when, say, a retail client is about to buy a model C of brand A in a hardware store? What would happen if the retail assistant, upon hearing why the client opted for that model, could look up their user requirements on a smart device and recommend a better-suited alternative? 

Take the eLearning plunge

Workplace learning is finally moving away from facilitated one-way delivery and static learning platforms with eLearning courses on a desktop, to a more organic learning ecosystem approach; however, for many organisations, this kind of ‘learning’ still sounds futuristic, expensive or complicated. We believe this is because many people in learning and development are unaware that the technology needed to create this kind of learning is already here – and is neither expensive nor difficult to use. Yes, this kind of quality eLearning takes more thought from a pedagogical point of view, but the potential to deliver effective outcomes is far greater, too.

This article was published in the Australian Institute of Training and Development’s Training and Development Magazine, September 2020.

Managing a Career Learning Portfolio

In the past, a career was considered to be a profession, occupation, trade or vocation along a permanent and non-diverse path over a long period. A career could mean working as a banker, teacher, builder, beautician, real estate agent, financial advisor, software developer or any other job that might come to mind for one’s entire life. However, in 2020 and beyond the word is taking on another connotation—the progress and actions taken by a person during their working lifetime regardless of their profession or trade at any particular point in their life. Enter the need to manage a career learning portfolio.

We are being told that the era of frequent job changes is upon us. The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that over 1 million Australians changed their job or their business during 2017. Over half of these people entered a new industry. The Australian Institute of Business writes “on average, today’s Australian employee changes jobs 12 times throughout their life, with an average tenure of 3.3 years. For workers over 45, the average job tenure is six years and eight months, while for under 25s, it’s just one year and eight months.” With the disruption to the world’s workforce due to the Covid19 pandemic environment, the rise of the gig economy, and an increasing casualised workforce, the frequency of job changes is likely to get even higher. 

Similarly, the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) argues that youth will have ‘portfolio careers’ potentially having 17 different jobs involving five different vocations. Will they need to be qualified for each of these jobs, before entering employment as we do now? Professionals and technicians are reported as those most likely to change their job, which includes educators and L&D professionals. Will they need to engage in three, four or five years of study at an accredited institution before they can seek employment in the field? Given the fast pace of change, by the time they finish under the current educational system, the skill and knowledge required to perform the job are likely to be different from what they studied. In short, the skills of high performance keep changing as technology assumes many of the functions we thought would never change. For example, a classroom teacher’s role changed almost overnight as the pandemic spread with many of the teachers ill-prepared for online delivery.

The FYA 2017 report, The New Work Smarts highlights that by 2030, we will be spending 30 per cent more time learning skills on-the-job. These will relate to solving work problems using critical thinking and judgement, verbal communication, and interpersonal skills supported by an entrepreneurial mindset. More so than ever before, learning will be lifelong critical practice. To support the trend towards frequent change leading to portfolio careers, we need a timelier system of documenting learning and career progression. 

Illustration shows people climbing a career ladder between different professions, with a career learning portfolio in their hand.

Software developers are building intelligent systems to aid HR and L&D departments and large organisations when recommending career paths to employees, conducting job matching, or what Josh Bersin calls “intelligent talent mobility”.

Tertiary institutions are archaic and out of touch with the digital revolution. It is time they take a whole-of-life approach to support learners through their “career learning portfolio”.

Rather than courses that are defined by a list of acceptable subjects, learners need opportunities to create their own programs based on their on-the-job skill requirements, or their portfolio career goals. Direct links, fuelled by intelligent agents and xAPI big data, between what work needs to be done and the institutions where individuals gain their skills and knowledge could just be the life-saver that tertiary institutions need to survive and enter the digital world. 

Read more about how Universities can help shape learning in the future.

Making eLearning accessible—with technology and pedagogy

Let’s talk about making eLearning accessible to everyone. Thankfully, it is a request we often receive or an action we routinely recommend when it is not. Sometimes such a request comes without the necessary appreciation of what making eLearning accessible means for learning design, or the project itself.

Before beginning any custom eLearning project, eLearning designers need to clarify with you what level of accessibility you require for the intended learning cohort. The answer will have a significant impact on the nature of what content we can develop, will influence the interaction types to be used, and may even determine the choice of an authoring tool for content development.

illustration shows eLearning designer thinking about accessibility

Generally speaking, the higher the level of accessibility you aim to achieve, the more considerate we need to be about the interactive functionalities, i.e. what we will be able to use in your custom eLearning piece.

Audience, content, and context matter for accessibility

In determining the ‘right’ level of accessibility, the critical factors to consider are:

  • Your learner audience
  • Specific project requirements, and 
  • Your overall organisational compliance context. 

This exercise requires you, and later the learning designer, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and to evaluate the learning piece from different ability angles. Rod, Liberate’s Managing Director, recalls an example when we were engaged in creating a suite of custom eLearning modules to help medical diagnoses, which required learners to identify the severity of different types of wounds, such as pressure ulcers: 

“I was in the process of writing the alt tags (which are the narrated words associated with an image that is read by a screen reader), and I realised that the audience needs to have relatively sharp eyesight in order to visually identify the wound, infections, colouring and inflammation of the skin, degree of healing and more. It made me wonder—does this course need to cater for accessibility using screen readers given the audience obviously needs to be sighted?”

Can you use Web Accessibility design techniques?

“Do you use web accessibility techniques?” is another question we often get asked, understandably, as the web accessibility guidelines underpin eLearning accessibility.

In reality, designing for web accessibility is different from designing for eLearning accessibility because the purpose/user experience of a website is to make information as accessible as possible for every user. In contrast, for a learner, it is not just a matter of making the information accessible; it’s crucial to provide the ‘learning experience’ as an equally meaningful endeavour for all learners. Therefore, we cannot just rely on technology, or on ticking WCAG guideline checklists alone to achieve this.

Designing for an ‘equal learning experience’ often needs to go beyond the notion of allowing learners to access the same piece of learning via an assistive technology or through a different mode.

The role of the eLearning designer

Our eLearning designers will always be upfront with our clients about what can and what cannot be done for certain levels of accessibility. If we get asked: “Let’s attach a transcript, so the video is accessible now”, well, that’s not good enough in many instances. Take, for example, a branching scenario with different decision-making points for the learner. That kind of learning experience cannot be replicated in a long-form transcript for the learner to read through, for the experience isn’t an equal learning experience

Take another example, where you present a complex pie chart or diagram and expect someone to learn by having a screen reader read the chart or diagram from the top left to bottom right. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to identify the relation between the X and Y axis while listening to it in a linear order? A case like this would not be a meaningful learning experience

For the reasons above, in navigating accessibility considerations, competent eLearning designers will work with you and rely on their vast experience in finding the sweet spot between 

  • using technical solutions (e.g. short/long descriptive alternatives, colour contrasting, keyboard tabbing, among others), and 
  • applying sound pedagogy practices (e.g. creation of learning activities that are equally meaningful and engaging for all users). 
illustration shows balance between accessibility and equal experience

Authoring tools can help achieve your eLearning design goals

With the common adoption of authoring tools in the eLearning profession, eLearning designers may need to work with a range of authoring and testing tools that give the best flexibility when it comes to accessibility. It is good to be aware that some eLearning development platforms are more ‘technically’ suited to achieving higher WCAG levels than others. For example, our sister company App-eLearn.com offers the ability to accommodate for WCAG2.1 AA accessibility. Do you know what is possible with your in-house systems?

Understand how to test for accessibility

Many organisations request for their eLearning designers and developers to meet WCAG accessibility guidelines; however, it is essential that you know how to test your eLearning for its effectiveness. How can you determine whether accessibility is not only functionally achieved, but that the learning experience is equal, and the accessible alternatives are meaningful? It is critical that you are aware and well-informed so that you are signing off on quality learning solutions that provide everyone with a valuable learning experiences.

Would you like to learn more?

Would you like to explore more ways to make your learning accessible? Call the Liberate team and let’s start the conversation: Call Rod on 0413 982 712 or connect with him on LinkedIn.

How we grow (and keep) the best eLearning development team in Australia

At Liberate Learning, we humbly believe we operate as the best eLearning development team we possibly can be. We dare to say this because it is what our clients across the board tell us after they start working with us, and because our industry peers voted us to be Australian Education and Training Provider of the Year (2019 MyBusiness), and Learning Provider of the Year (2019 AILP), among others. The work we do would not be possible without our team, all of them experts in their respective crafts.

So, we recently sat down and looked deeper into how we usually attract, grow, and develop our people to give us that edge, that X-Factor, which makes such a positive difference to our clients. We want to make sure we know what works well in finding the right people for us, so we can continue on this path and adjust when necessary.

Here are what we identified as our secrets to becoming the best eLearning Development team in Australia:

Liberate Learning is a complete provider of workplace learning solutions

For our clients, the reality is that our eLearning development team are a complete learning solutions partner, as we offer the entire bandwidth of training and workforce development:

  • Custom e-learning solutions
  • Instructor-led training design 
  • Blended learning consulting 
  • mLearning
  • Microlearning
  • Performance support tools
  • Video and animation.
Illustration showing different people interacting on a laptop

This breadth of service means our team covers a wide spectrum of professional skills at the highest level, from strategic learning consultants, project managers, educators, to graphic designers, multimedia developers, instructional designers, videographers, motion graphics designers, and animators.

How we find the best eLearning experts in Australia

Only once in ten years have we ever advertised any roles in our team on Seek or alike; we grow by attracting top talent to apply to us. Working with Australia’s largest corporate, top universities and governmental organisations, we see hundreds of work samples every day, and outstanding work always sticks out. Hence, the chances are that by the time such a top performer knocks on our door, we already know what they can do. 

We expect our team members to be highly proficient in the skills and tools of their trade, be it authoring tools or storyboarding, stakeholder liaison or instructional design, we need first-class skills for the client work we do. People come to us ready to hit the ground running. 

Our culture of client-centric excellence

Apart from the job role-related technical skills, we need people with the right cultural fit. There is no point in being a master of their tool/skill if this is not matched with an absolute commitment to collaborative project acumen and top communication skills.

Yes, we are learning nerds, but we do understand and speak our clients’ business languages fluently. We commit to delivering quality deliverables on time and budget, job-for-job, and we expect all our team members to manage their priorities to meet or exceed client expectations. 

Illustration of people climbing up cubes and ladders, to become the best eLearning development team

If this makes us sound like a team of workaholics, we know this is not true, as our team members entertain a lot of interesting hobbies and passions to make sure our minds keep fresh. In our midst, we have hobby-pilots, farmers, cartoon designers, photographers, golfers, surfers, gaming masters, to name a few of our quirks.

Liberate Learning is an Australian-based experts team

We work across industries and also with many Australian Federal and State Government departments, some with high-level security clearance requirements. Therefore, we have strict background and compliance checks in place, and we only engage people who have the right to live and work in Australia for the same reason.

While formal qualifications are welcome, and we hold many of them in our team including four with Doctorates and many with Masters degrees, our experience shows that current Australian industry experience is more critical for us to reach the level of client satisfaction we expect to provide. 

Innovation in eLearning

The digital learning industry is moving fast, and all of us at Liberate are passionate about being at the forefront of innovation, continually looking for better ways to design, develop, and deliver learning. Being at the cutting edge enables us to be nimble and react to changing environments like in the current COVID pandemic. For example, we recently produced an entire reel of virtual reality (VR360) footage to enable virtual university open day tours for remote or international students.

Does this sound like an eLearning development team for you?

We always welcome the opportunity to talk to new talent. If you consider yourself as an experienced learning innovator and would consider yourself suitable to join our team, contact rodney@liberatelearning.com.au, give him a call on 0410 082 712, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Micro-credentials and data analytics make universities as we know them obsolete

Are university study programs, where students take ‘time out from life’ to study towards a future career, becoming an outdated way of gaining qualifications? Enter technology-supported customised learning, where learners acquire the knowledge and skills they need at the time they need them, and receive and use micro-credentials when needed. 

Let’s consider the mature-age worker employed as a software developer. She attended university but left when deciding that the course was not keeping up-to-date with technological changes. She has worked in a number of businesses, demonstrating advanced levels of knowledge and skill in her profession by learning on-the-job. Now in the middle of her career, a project management position has become available for which she believes she is highly qualified, yet does not have the degrees which will attract a new employer’s notice. How can she compete in the employment market?

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is one strategy that she might use. Most universities or TAFE colleges will offer some form of RPL. However, as one university states, RPL will not be recognised until an offer of enrolment is accepted. The Australian Qualifications Framework requires any RPL process to be of the same standard of assessment as would be required at any accredited institution and performed by an academic or teaching staff with the expertise in the subject. These put restrictions on the timeliness of both learning and accreditation.

Business woman standing in front of labyrinth of RPL. Micro-credentials could help.

What a tedious process RPL has become, with the expectations that verified supporting documentation attests to what is known, understood or has been performed. Few of us look to the future and compile work samples or copious documentation of what we do from day to day, either in a professional or personal capacity. Yet, these are the experiences which accumulate to build our expertise in many areas. Learning is a never-ending process, and acknowledgement of what we know and how we use it can provide many new opportunities for employees.

What if we all had the opportunity to keep track of our learning journeys easily by using the capabilities of technology and the interoperability of learning systems? What if technology helped to collect the data associated with our chunks of learning, compiling these into usable summaries linked to professional competencies? A secure linking between private and public cloud services might play an integral role in supporting changes between the tertiary education sector and personal learning spaces.  

The benefits of big data and data analytics using modern technologies such as Learning Record Stores (LRS) and xAPI tracking make it possible to think about a completely different approach involving micro-credentials. This approach encompasses how university students acquire their knowledge and skills and how these results are tracked, recorded and credentialed.

Learning vs performance support tools – 3 questions L&D should ask

Does your Learning and Development (L&D) Team have the finger on the ‘business pulse’ when they decide whether to use a learning course or performance support tools? Do they ask the right questions before they suggest the best option for workplace outcomes?

Why do we ask?

We often receive requests to develop an eLearning course, when, in fact, performance support tools should at least be considered as an additional, if not THE solution.

In working with our client partners, there have been quite a few projects which benefitted from us spending a little extra time to get to the bottom of the business need that led to the learning request. In many instances, we were subsequently able to help develop something better geared at solving the business problem, and all it took is to ask some questions and innovative thinking.

Learning or performance support tools – or both?

The terms’ learning’ and ‘performance support tools’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but this takes away from their different, but equally important, functions in successful workplace skill development.

If there is a need to develop skills and knowledge, the first reaction is typically to address it through formal learning interventions like workshops, courses, and classes (or during this COVID period, webinars and virtual classrooms). It means time away from the job for the duration of the learning intervention, which is often a one-off event. This type of solution is related to the individual’s memory recall capacity, with the knowledge often needing to be recalled from the memory-bank months afterwards.

Learning’s often overlooked and underestimated cousins are performance support tools, which individual learners use on the job, at the time and place needed. Performance tools can stand alone or act as an additional mechanism after the formal learning is complete. They increase learning retention, as well as removing the need to rely solely on one’s memory for knowledge recall.

How can L&D find out what the business needs?

Here are three questions learning teams could work through, together with the business area:

1. What is the business problem you want to solve?

For example, let’s consider an organisation that wants to roll out a new business ethics policy for their management, with a new, anonymous way that anyone in the organisation can self-assess, and receive support.

The business problem to solve in this case is to
a) raise awareness of the policy,
b) explain the new content and what it means for every manager, and
c) facilitate access to the anonymous self-assessment and support channel.

2. How often will the learner need the new knowledge or skill in their role?

While this kind of policy may not need to be accessed often, it is essential to educate everyone in the organisation about the principles, expectations, and main topic points of the new policy and how to access the self-assessment and support system. However, there is little benefit in, say, learning it off by heart, to have every word of it retained in their head at all times. Instead, a short and sharp eLearning piece can achieve the education part – through creating a solid awareness of the key principles of the policy (and certainly not reiterating the policy online with some multi-choice questions at the end). More important in this case is that everyone can access the self-assessment and support tool when they need it – so it is a just in time, just for me, and just enough solution.

3. What is the consequence if the learner cannot access the knowledge when they need it?

Now, imagine a manager on business travel invited to a business dinner with a supplier. She subsequently needs to decide if a planned business interaction discussed over the dinner could be a break of the policy. It is unrealistic to expect the manager should be able to remember the eLearning piece from several months ago, or practical to expect them to go back into the learning artefact and find the list of criteria to make the right decision. This is the time when a performance support tool (or electronic performance support system) comes in. What if the manager had a company app on their phone or the Intranet that allows them to go through a set of self-check questions to self-identify whether certain components of the business dinner are within company policy boundaries, together with links to the policy and supporting documents for fast retrieval if needed?

It is easy to see how the consequence of not being able to access this information reliably and fast could be potentially catastrophic for the business. It is also easy to see that an approach like the above will save the business hours, and therefore money, on training the managers.

Liberate have experience in developing performance support tools

For example, here is a performance support app we have developed for Monash University.

If you would like to learn more about the power of performance support tools, contact us today: rod@liberatelearning.com.au

Learn more about Liberate Learning here.

Working with a Learning and Development vendor – What to expect

So, you just decided to outsource some of your learning services. Now, how can you go about finding a learning partner that will help you in a way YOU need it? What is it like to be working with a Learning and Development vendor?

The answer depends on what problem you aim to solve by engaging a learning ‘vendor’. For example, do you need to fill a short demand surge for time-consuming audit work such as combing through course source files, on the lookout for Flash files that will no longer work at the end of 2020? 

Or, are you in need of a learning and development specialist with the in-house capability to support a roll-out of a performance support strategy? Such a project could encompass the design and development of learning solutions with video-production, animation, all project-managed and blended seamlessly into your organisation over a longer timeframe.

What is the desired level of effort you are willing to put into the relationship with said learning provider? Are you comfortable briefing vendors on every detail of your requirements, such as the branding and eLearning guidelines or the accessibility you need for each project, or do you prefer to have a counterpart who can think ‘with you’ and ‘just knows’ and confirms with you as required?

As you can see, finding a learning provider who fits your organisation is not as straightforward as typing a question into Google and expecting the silver bullet to drop out – especially if you’re seeking a long-term strategic partner you can trust with internal network access. Over the years, our clients have shared their stories with us about their complicated journey in finding a learning organisation with whom they are comfortable to form a long-term relationship. A few key points have crystallised out of those conversations, and we’d like to share with you what we have learnt:

There seem to be two distinct kinds of learning providers; let’s call them the ‘Vendor’ and the ‘Partner’, and each is characterised by what it is like to do business with them.

The ‘Vendor’

When you are working with what we would call a ‘vendor’, your working relationship will feel like ‘us’ and ‘them’. There will be many questions about your organisation or your past learning programs to go through before you can pick up some steam with a project – such as reporting requirements, branding, digital guidelines, business culture, operational pain points, etc. 

Working with a Learning and Development vendor – you will need to check a lot
Working with a Learning and Development ‘vendor’ – You will need to check a lot, and every time

Engagements with your vendor are transactional. You will brief every project in exact specification detail according to what you want to do and how you need it back for your systems and stakeholders, e.g. the expectations on accessibility, platform compatibility, tone of voice, audience personas, and even the version of SCORM.

During the project, you will need to be involved in checking every detail and ensuring every deliverable is achieved on time and to the expected quality. If you have a more significant project, you are likely to go through administrative delays. A small content variation, timeline change, couple of added screens may be leveraged as contract variations to recoup the vendor’s margin following underquoting in order to win a project to keep their staff employed. 

Now, let’s see what working with a strategic ‘learning partner’ entails. It is not a secret that this is Liberate Learning’s preferred way to work with our clients, it is how Liberate Learning was born:

The ‘Learning Partner’

In this kind of working relationship, you will be in it for a longer-term, and knowing that your vendor partner understands your business, you have more reliable support that does not feel like coming from ‘the outside’. They have your long-term needs at the front of their mind and are deeply entrenched with your organisation’s tacit knowledge and way of operating – formed over numerous years. 

Working with a Learning and Development partner will feel like they are part of your team
Working with a Learning and Development partner – a learning partner will feel like part of your team

The learning partner’s project managers have YOUR best interest at heart and can support you, and sometimes constructively challenge you, to find a perfect solution in your problem context. They can validate your team’s initial answer, add value, and refine it. You can trust that they know what questions to ask and what needs to be done, without bombarding your stakeholders with ‘tick the box questionnaire’ enquiries. The end stakeholders and subject matter experts should not be able to determine who is employed by the partner and who is employed by the organisation. The partner will, however, also be confident to gently push back on requests that are not practical or not recommended industry best practice, and recommend alternative solutions. The learning partner isn’t focused on short term wins and understands a successful project is going to be measured in months and years to come, not days or weeks. 

Your strategic learning partner will take pride in their work with you, and are willing to put their name against it because they value their brand as much as yours. The partner will offer unwavering warranty and support without any hesitation and follow up with you down the track to see how the solution is performing against its initial intended impact.

What are you looking for in an eLearning provider?

What do you value in working with learning and development vendors, and what do you value in working with your strategic partners? Please leave us your comments below, or find us here.

How to embed an innovation mindset in your L&D team

Do you think you have an innovation mindset? On this particular day, as you read this blog post, let us ask you to stop reading right now, so you can grab a pen and some paper. Got both? Good. 

Now, breathe in, and out, and write down what immediately comes to your mind when we ask you: 

What are your learners ‘used to’? 

Take 2 minutes and write or draw whatever you see in your mind, then come back and continue reading.

Chances are, you described formal onboarding and induction programs, paired with annual compliance refreshers, the odd multi-tiered leadership program, topped up with customer service and soft skills for everyone somewhere along their employment cycle. Some will be online, and some will be face-to-face, maybe even some blended. They all may have been designed based on a defined business need to fit a broad learner base, minimising the cost of a personalised (self-curated) learner pathway journey. Most likely, once developed, online learning programs are deployed for numerous years, in a Learning Management System (LMS), perhaps in parallel with coaching and mentoring sessions from supervisors or learning buddies.

It does not matter how many of the above are on your list, what matters is this: if you were able to imagine what your learners are ‘used to’, that may mean your learning offering has not changed in a long time. Ask yourself: are your training and education practices predictable and likely to be outdated in parts, or even no longer practised out on the floor?

They may not even be relevant to the majority of your target audience.

Another likely scenario, given the above, is that L&D in organisations with predictable learning offerings fulfil ‘organisational hygiene’ purposes of compliance or employee engagement rather than being a critical business function with a measurable performance impact.

Lastly, if your organisation falls into the above way of managing L&D, how do you cope with sudden pivots, especially during our current volatile time? The recent COVID pandemic has shown how fast and drastically an industry or global market can change.

The case for a more flexible approach to L&D

Australia has been the lucky country for a couple of decades, dodging crises that other economies had to surmount and get back up from. In any crisis lies opportunity, to unlearn what ‘was’, and to imagine what ‘will be’. It could be argued that Australia has become complacent in its ways, and the L&D sector has witnessed its vulnerabilities recently, with the lucrative export market of the international education sector ill-prepared to cater for online learning solutions.

Large proportions of today’s adult learner cohorts are digitally native. They are used to consuming rich, interactive learning activities from their peers (from gaming to group work, to video tutorials, micro-badges, to Zoom meetings), as opposed to sitting through PowerPoint slide shows.

How can L&D leaders engage their teams?

So, what is missing in L&D teams that they end up in Business As Usual mode? 

Let’s draw the circle a little wider and use a quote from the famous basketball coach Don Meyer to help:

Complacency is the forerunner of mediocrity.
You can never work too hard on attitudes, effort and technique.

Don Myer

1. Attitude

L&D, as a business entity, is often treated as a Human Resources’ appendix, with HR not being recognised as a business performance driving unit. 

2. Effort

Planning cycles are long, add to that a waterfall approach to design and development, and organisations find it challenging to rectify frequent changes to learning content, practices and systems.

3. Technique

Learning teams come with a significant foundation of adult learning theory, with strong ideas of how people ‘should’ learn, based on pre-determined scaffolded prototypes and fixed design methodologies.

Now, if we accept that the above is the given environment and state L&D teams are in, it will take nothing less than new habits to break down this status quo slowly and build an innovation mindset.

A case for pushing the comfort zones to build new habits

If we, in L&D, want to meet future learners and organisational leaders at eye-level, there are a few things we would be well advised to tweak to stay future-relevant. 

Can L&D shift …

  • their attitude from learning provider to a business enabler, 
  • their effort from structured programs to just-in-time learning,
  • their technique from theoretical, stacked units to organic, evolving ecosystems?
team leader discussing analysis charts as a first step for developing an innovation mindset through reflection

It will take a whole team approach to get there, and the change starts from within the learning teams – through self-reflection and awareness of blind spots, you could even call it metacognition.

Implement an innovation mindset with the Quarterly Pivot

Still pushing the basketball metaphor, what if each quarter, every team member in the L&D team were to come up with one idea on how an aspect of L&D could be done differently? The ideas can include big or small ideas, and some of them will not be usable. Still, a few of them may prove to be gold nuggets that could make a positive impact on the approach to L&D, the learners’ journey, and eventually, the organisation as a whole. The habit of taking a step back will, over time, establish an innovation mindset in the team.

a learning and development team discussing new ideas in an effort to develop an innovation mindset through regular meetings

Our Invitation to YOU

Here is an invitation to regularly think about better and smarter ways to enable skills and knowledge development, and ultimately re-invent a profession that deserves a more prominent role in organisations of the future.

Read more about how we started with an innovation mindset here, or why we think that L&D should change.

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to learn more.

Change Learning and Development to come out stronger

Sometimes, it takes a massive event with enough velocity and force to shift otherwise rock-solid truths. For us, the Australian Learning and Development industry has been steadfast in its purpose and practices over the past twenty plus years. Now may be the time to change Learning and Development to come out stronger.

“We have always done it this way…”

Many in our industry have been consistent in their approach to embracing the status quo of “This is how we design learning, and this is how we deliver learning. This is how we up-skill people, and this is how we manage training requests.” Often, Learning and Development position themselves as a governance role, where learning artefacts need to be vetted and ‘product-ised’ based on a point-in-time understanding of an existing need. In a traditional sense, Learning and Development operates in a linear organisational context with long-term planning cycles that sees learning events or artefacts being rolled out to the masses, usually in generalised cohorts; and therefore, often designed and delivered as a one-size-fits-all solution to an often non-systematic problem.

Why change Learning and Development?

Strip away longevity of what we believe is true and is the norm and we see that the above model, although dated, still works reasonably well in a routine Business As Usual environment – targeting the masses based on content that is generalised in its nature and often driven primarily from a compliance perspective. Yet this model is extremely flawed due to its rigid nature during times of crisis, or due to changing needs of the customers/learners, evolving systems and organically evolving skills gaps of the people involved. Learning isn’t designed to be controlled by a team that governs the design of it, nor is the delivery of it meant to be based on generalisations around those that are encouraged or forced to consume it.

We believe that organic and user-generated digital content has earned a place in learning and performance management in just about the same scale as it has in people’s personal lives by now.

The case for user-generated learning content

Imagine, for example, Joe the forklift driver recognises the need to correct an unsafe practice he has been observing lately, so he records a short video about his experience and outlines the need to change a behaviour or practice. In this instance, you will have an authentic, real-life learning artefact that learners can relate to. Given the nature of this piece of learning is safety and compliance-related, the role of Learning and Development is to validate the accuracy, and determine the best method of tagging the asset, so it’s able to be quickly found and easily consumed by those who need it. Staging the learning event, following a controlled design and development process poses a far greater cost to the business – a cost which consists of time and effort.

Change Learning and Development from one-size-fits-all to user-generated content

Now imagine you can observe that this particular video is replayed 2-3 times at the minute mark 2:55, by 60% of all video viewers. When you check the video sequence, you see that it is about a stock recording task where a few mistakes were made in the past few weeks that have led to order shortfalls in the supply chain. What would you do with that sort of information?

Enter the era of democratised learning ecosystems

This is what we believe is the real power of “just in time, just enough and just for me” digital learning solutions and the ability to meaningfully analyse learning data. In this smart, job-relevant, immediate, inexpensive, integrated view of organisational learning, if we democratise learning design and development, learners can become the creators of truly authentic learning, based on workplace relevant learning artefacts. Moreover, learning and development teams can become learning analysts and learning curators of performance-critical information, and we can build a new learning ecosystem with practices that democratised learning. This system can be far more fluid and flexible, responsive, truly agile, and therefore, more resistant against adverse impacts of change.

How technology supports the change in Learning and Development

Watch Rodney, Beach, Liberate Learning’s Group Managing Director, explain how modern learning technology aids the changed roles of Learning and Development and learners.