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.

Top tips for eLearning instructional design (2020)

Our instructional design team recently put their heads together to reflect on what has worked well over the years when it comes to designing great digital learning content for our client partners, so today, we want to share our top 5 tips for eLearning instructional design with you.

Considering a diverse learner demographic, and often geographically dispersed workforce, we reflected upon our instructional design approach for our digital learning content, and boiled it down to what we believe to be the top 5 tips (not an exclusive list).

Top tips for eLearning instructional design

1. The power of stories

Storytelling is a powerful way to engage the learner and make the content more authentic, sticky and meaningful. Learners may find it hard to remember a string of important, but seemingly disconnected facts, but if you include the same facts or policy in a relevant story with a peppering of empathy, we find it will stick more easily. 

Storytelling is important for top tips for eLearning instructional design

Do: Include a relatable narrative throughout the learning.

Don’t: Get too carried away with an over detailed backstory as a way to connect with the learner.

2. Know your learner

The better you understand, and more importantly, empathise with the learner, the more likely you will hit the right notes when designing their learning experiences. Put yourself in the learners’ shoes, and always consider their context and experience when designing the learning. For example, consider how a shift-working nurse or a retail assistant with sporadic access to a computer (and likely frequent interruptions) could influence the learning experience in a blended or online session.

Do: Ensure your stories and learning experiences directly relate with the learner cohort and think about ways to support their unique or personalised learning situation.

Don’t: Make wrong assumptions about your learners’ demographics or use terms and descriptions that limit the audience’s relevance.

3. Keep it simple and less is more

On-screen texts in eLearning can be tiring if used too much. Remember, a picture can tell a thousand words and timed learning sequences or animations can encapsulate a complex process or concept in simple and easily digestible learning chunks.  

Keep it simple is one of our top tips for eLearning instructional design

Do: Break things up into chunks and use visuals wherever you can – it’s about the right learning at the right time. 

Don’t: Avoid cramming too much information into a program, course, or a given page/screen and avoid paraphrasing policy (training isn’t designed to replace policy).

4. Start with the end in mind

Take the time to complete a thorough analysis upfront – of the learner, organisation and learning objectives/outcomes. Clearly define the outcomes and use them to identify content to include/exclude. In preparation for a Learning Record Store (or big data platform), consider how you would meaningfully measure the outcomes and individual/business success. 

Do: Have a clear vision of what learning success looks like in terms of measurable behaviour changes by the learner, and design from there.

Don’t: Take the easy path and simply create content based on what is handed to you from the stakeholder – as an instructional designer/L&D advisor, you need to advocate for meaningful learning solutions.

5. Make it relevant AND entertaining

Learning experiences should be enjoyable and intrinsically motivating, so the content itself is not considered boring or a corporate obligation. As an instructional designer/L&D advisor, it is our job to design for both engagement of the mind (not just an interaction) and context-relevant information entertainment (that is still meaningful and educational). This does not mean placing non-topic related mini-games into a course to wake people up; what we mean is creating learning content and workplace relevant challenges that stretch the learners’ mind in an entertaining way, immersing them in the learning experience. 

Do: Design learning pieces that make learners go “Wow, I’m really glad I learnt that!”

Don’t: Trivialise the content using gimmicks or create games that don’t bear direct relevance to the learning.

Want to learn more about Liberate Learning?

Read about how we started and what we are passionate about here.

Let us tell you our why

Sometimes, big milestones make us stop in our tracks and look back. Liberate has just turned ten, so let us tell you our why, and what makes us excited about waking up in the morning.

Liberate started in an era of economic turmoil during the Global Financial Crisis, and when many organisations were very mature in their blended and online learning offering.

eLearning was different ten years ago

Ten years ago, digital learning was a tool to deliver training pieces to large cohorts; SCORM packages reported completions, it ticked compliance boxes, it facilitated costs savings, all involved were happy.

Or were they?

The design, development, and deployment of traditional eLearning content was often seen as a technical black box. Some eLearning vendors created platforms and tools that were configured to tie eLearning buyers to one vendor, for the purpose of getting hooks into clients and being able to charge a premium for maintenance updates and make it very difficult or expensive to separate from a given vendor.

Much like a wedding photographer withholding the photo negatives or digital copies – and if you want them, you had to pay a premium price. Additionally, a lot of early eLearning was standard “click next” information based on digital summaries of policies rather than content that was designed to engage and intrinsically motivate the learner to undergo a meaningful learning journey.

Our why – A need to challenge the status quo

Rod Beach, then working as an eLearning instructional designer, became frustrated about the lack of professional pride to deliver a solution that wasn’t self-serving, one that would stand the test of time, and a need to ensure the best outcome for the learner and respective organisation.

Rod was disenfranchised by the thought of producing solutions and quoting, and the reputational fall-out that occurs when digital learning solutions only delivered on one part of the promise – with the ‘learning’ being less of a focus to the technology mode of delivery. As a former teacher and professional educator, Rod knew there was a critical need in the L&D industry for high-quality blended learning providers, who would operate with integrity, transparency and who could fill the need for solutions that are fit for purpose. 

When Rod shared his desire to set up an eLearning company, he was asked what its differentiator would be, and his reply was to ‘liberate eLearning’ – liberate it from being boring, complicated, to unshackle organisations from lock-in contracts, and stop eLearning from getting a bad reputation through the creation of ineffective’ click next’ solutions. Hence, he started the company with exactly that name.

We start with you, the client and learner

At Liberate, we believe that we should treat everyone as an equal partner in business, we don’t “Tinder-date” clients so to speak, for we form long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships, where everyone is in the partnership for the right reasons.

Not all learning can, or should be, eLearning, and our ability to create unique and engaging blended learning solutions attest to that. We want to elevate the regard placed on learning designers and help organisations understand the critical role the L&D profession plays in achieving measured business success. As a result of our genuine desire to provide end-to-end learning solutions, Liberate eLearning was renamed Liberate Learning, given it embraces all facets of learning design and development.

Here is what happened

As a result of our global reputation, transparent business model and genuine desire to create meaningful learning solutions, we don’t need to hunt for new client relationships, for we currently have approximately 150 loyal client partners who see us as an organic part of their teams.

Living and breathing pedagogical best practice and our desire to provide long-term, fit-for-purpose learning solutions, not short term gains, has seen Liberate being awarded the Global Stevie Awards for Business Growth, named ‘Learning Provider of the Year 2019 (ILP 2019), ‘Education and Training Business of the Year (Australian MyBusiness Awards 2019)‘ and ‘Business of the Decade’ finalist (MyBusiness Awards 2018). Our strong industry reputation has also enabled us to attract and retain Australia’s best talent in the learning development sector and allowed us to keep the momentum over the past decade.

Liberate Learning CEO Melany Blackwell accepting the Global Stevie Business Growth Award in 2019

Our steadfast desire to create meaningful learning solutions, and genuine interest to put the learner and organisation’s needs above all else, is in our DNA, it remains Our Why. What’s our secret to success? It’s simple, and Rod sums it up when he is regularly quoted in saying “we’ve built our reputation by helping others build theirs”, and for Rod and his team, they take their industry reputation seriously, regardless if the project is big or small.