Learning On the Go

In the last 40 years, the Learning and Development (L&D) industry has seen a significant paradigm shift in platforms and delivery, from course manuals and classrooms in the ’70s to floppy disks and computer-based training in the ’80s and ’90s.

Now smartphones and tablets are presenting challenges and opportunities we could not have imagined at the beginning of the new millennium. What do these new forms of media mean for learners and learning leaders?

Where To Start

Tom Kuhlmann, vice president of community with Articulate, an eLearning software company, recommends that L&D professionals utilize rapid eLearning software when developing a new program.

“When you built eLearning courses a few years ago,” he says, “you needed programmers, content designers, and experts. Then, these rapid authoring tools came on the market, and essentially, they allowed non-programmers to build courses. It sped up the process.”

Even though knowing how to program the media may no longer be necessary, Kuhlmann believes that organizations with small L&D shops still need to have broad skills.

Five-minute chunks of learning work best, based on the content and how interactive it is. The more interactivity, the longer the program can be.

“To effectively build eLearning depends on the type of shop, most organizations have one or two staff people working on projects,” Kuhlmann says. “In that sense, they’re doing everything. So, have some broad skills, understand instructional design, project management, and how to manage the relationship with the clients.”

Having recently completed an mLearning pilot program with Alere Health, Vice President of L&D Todd VanLeuven is optimistic about launching the company’s first mobile learning project with one of the sales teams.

To him, preparation and organization have been the key to their success. “We are spending a lot of time organizing the information,” he says. “You definitely don’t take your traditional learning and just shrink the font size. You’re designing in a whole different environment with short bursts of video, audio, and podcasts."

“Do your research on best practices for design,” VanLeuven suggests. “Five-minute chunks of learning work best, based on the content and how interactive it is. The more interactivity, the longer the program can be.”

Interact with your Audience

According to Co-founder and CEO of Weejee Learning Ian Huckabee, media providers compete for our attention across increasing numbers of devices and media channels by offering content that is more visual, more interactive, shorter, and with a quicker payoff to the user.

In his article, “eLearning Will Never Be the Same. Hallelujah!,” Huckabee explains that technological expectations and the new attention span of the learner must be taken into consideration when designing eLearning content.

As a social strategist and technologist who specializes in training and social strategy, Huckabee believes that interactive videos may be a solution, offering learning through storytelling.

Learners can make decisions during the video, in a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ format, with each choice leading to a different outcome. “Because interactive videos tend to be shorter in length,” he explains, “they are mobile-friendly and appeal to time-restricted learners.”

Huckabee expects to see more demands on learning services to provide adaptable, personalized experiences, with content based on the learner’s interactions and performance level. This approach determines the learning path for the individual based on interactions and assessments in the initial stages of development. It also focuses more on the relationship with the learner and delivers only the content he or she needs.

“As learning and performance professionals, we can leverage the flexibility inherent in the responsive design of content, imagery, and interactivity to drive learning and performance improvements,” shares Matt Donovan, executive director of client services, and Chuck Stewart, senior instructional designer, both at GP Strategies. “This can be done with a change in our philosophy toward online content and interactive design.”

In their Training Industry article, “Responsive Design and Learning Solutions,” Donovan and Stewart suggest that L&D professionals move away from designing a fixed layout mobile version along with a desktop version of learning content and create one version that responds to the exact size and platform of all devices.

However, they caution that responsive design may require a more “hybrid approach” as best practices continue to develop, taking into consideration various technological challenges.

Goodbye, Classroom?

As a community manager with Articulate, David Anderson encourages professionals who are accustomed to traditional, stand-up training to focus on the activities that they are doing in the classroom and the ways the processes are being explained to the learner. The focus should not be solely on the medium.

“It’s not that the tools are difficult,” he explains. “It’s actually knowing what’s possible and how that real-world activity that you’re doing in the class can be translated into the medium.”

The techniques garnered in the classroom setting are not absent in eLearning. “The hardest part,” Anderson says, “is understanding that when you move to a different medium, you’re still leveraging that teaching expertise. But, the presentation model is different. We help people understand that what you’ve been doing for the last 20 years is still relevant.”

Mike Enders, also community manager with Articulate, works as an eLearning course designer to leverage experience and expertise to help programs improve. As technology evolves, suddenly what used to be key skills in L&D are less and less relevant.

“If you wanted to create an eLearning course 10 years ago, your skill set had to have some pretty in-depth technology knowledge,” he states. “Now the tools have evolved so rapidly that you don’t have to have that level of expertise.”

Enders reminds staff he works with to consider the desired outcome and behavioral change when designing coursework for eLearning or mLearning, just as one would with the traditional classroom. A good instructional designer will help translate that to the medium.

One of the biggest fears that Anderson has heard in his work has been that professional trainers are concerned that eLearning and mLearning will replace them. “It’s just an extension,” he clarifies. “The classroom is still as important, but you’re using the mediums differently.”

What the Future Holds

According to Huckabee, there are significant trends and technologies that will change eLearning as the industry knows it over the course of the next few years.

“In 2014, we’ll see improvements in device-specific design for mobile learning,” Huckabee continues. Mobile learning delivery platforms, whether HTML5 or device-specific apps, will offer richer sets of collaborative and social media features.”

Mike Enders reminds L&D professionals that the biggest benefits to launching any mLearning or eLearning project are the new opportunities that both provide for learning, assessment, and reinforcement.

He also reassures us that trainers and technology aren’t rivals, but partners, and that an L&D professional is not just a trainer anymore, but a trainer in a new medium. “Good training is good training. The principles are going to be the same. Just because the medium has changed, doesn’t mean the technique has changed.”

Thanks to contributors who shared their insight and expertise for this article by participating in TrainingPros’ Learning Leaders Interviews. TrainingPros will be in booth 536 at ASTD ICE 2014 May 4 – 7 interviewing learning leaders. For more information about Learning Leaders interviews, contact TrainingPros.
David Anderson, Community Manager, Articulate
Mike Enders, Community Manager, Articulate
Tom Kuhlmann, Vice President of Community, Articulate
Todd VanLeuven, Vice President of Learning and Development, Alere Health

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