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Going Mainstream

By Reuben Tozman / February 2012

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  • Mon, 13 Feb 2012
    Post by Reuben

    Great comments all. @Mike - I totally appreciate that I've called out eLearning Professionals and that in itself may be calling out a small segment of who needs to be called out and that the use of 'eLearning Professional' already points to an 'elearning' solution. That being said the article was for eLearn Mag :) One of my favorite stories of late was a Loews case study where a 'training' problem was solved through marketing. The solution for Loews wasn't to have better trained employees but more knowledgeable consumers. I'm not saying that 'training' isn't necessary. I'm only saying that it must be a fluid part of operations and thought of in the context of making the system go. @Kevin - I don't think all hope is lost of you wrap content in a story. And I'm with you on the difference between effective use of stories and simply adding stories because someone heard stories were 'engaging'. As for busting the chops of leaders, most training leaders did not get where they are because they have any experience in 'training'. Most of them are there by chance and are using their position as a stepping stone. This of course ain't gonna sit well with people, but from my experience its true. Its the instructional designer however that owes it to our audience to rethink what we can provide. @Christiana - Thanks for sharing and I love it!! @Holly - I think part of the problem is trying to be all things to all people. A well trained instructional designer IS a systems thinker. They know how do to a task analysis, break things down and match solution to part. This is all about moving that thinking to the next level and providing value to our organizations.

  • Sun, 12 Feb 2012
    Post by Mike Petersell

    Great, thought provoking article. As I read it there were some things I agreed with and others I took exception to. The overall feeling it left me with is that my department is on the right track. There are some things we recognized long ago that we have put into practice such as: not creating learning artifacts when we can just point to existing tools and content that are already being used by the business, and that performance, not learning is the end game.

    That being said, the article speaks to us as "elearning professionals," which is limiting the definition of what we do very narrowly. I define myself as a workplace learning professional. Maybe that too is limiting. Perhaps I should be in Workplace Performance or Enablement. When my team members are wearing the hat of an "elearning professional", it means we have already determined that formal learning is required to support the business need. When that is the case (usually something new is introduced or a major change has ocurred), we do often write stories to give context to learning. Isn't it better to put content about a the capabilities of piece of office equipment that a salesperson needs to sell in the context of a customer profile so they can relate it to need rather than just having them learn what it can do on its own?

    I do agree with your point about the need to move work to business analysts. Last year we restructured our learning department into Centers of Expertise (COEs) and a Shared Services pool for design and delivery. I lead the Instructional Designers in the Shared Services group. The COEs are staffed with Learning Consultants who own the relationship with the business so they can be analyzing the needs on an ongoing basis. This has been a tough change for my instructional designers. They do come to the table early on when a project is emerging, but they are struggling with there being another person playing such an important role; one that they previously played. But this has worked well and they are beginning to see the value in this approach.

  • Sat, 11 Feb 2012
    Post by Christiana

    Where I work, one of our curriculum developers left in November. The same day her resignation became official, I emailed our director and pitched him an idea. It was to not replace her with an instructional designer but with a business analyst from another area of the company. He took me and the department manager to lunch that day for us to discuss. I advocated for the switch and we hired her!

    As the training department, we had been on the receiving end of her knowledge transfers, technical writing, scope statements, process maps, and products her studio delivered based on her analysis work with our customers. We knew she had mad skills for organizing, presenting, communicating. I said that I could teach her our software and, what I felt were slight differences between business analysis to develop a product for the customer and instructional design analysis to build training on that same product. I also felt that she could bring a different viewpoint of usability and what the customer wants to our team.

    It's been about a month now and she's already bringing changes in the way we operate and approach work. After reading Reuben's article, I'm even more proud that I advocated to change the role.

  • Sat, 11 Feb 2012
    Post by David Glow

    @Kevin perfectly states it:

    "My contention is you can wrap a story around ANY learning."

    And, I hope that my comments weren't mistaken to mean that hope is lost when wrapping learning with a story. I don't believe that at all. In fact, to make things "sing" you have to develop a compelling story (in most cases) that resonates with the users.

    My challenge is this: so often we so deeply embed stories with a lot of learning assets, that we constrain it's use in different contexts. I think with a little intelligent forethought, you can have both cases. You have some generic content that can be easily added to, appended with or embedded in a larger story for unique contexts to make it really work.

    My favorite examples of power of stories vs great learnings or raw data come from Presidential speeches. Have you ever noticed that no matter how powerful the baseline information (e.g. impact of the current economy) and the sheer power behind the numbers and statements that can be made, that it is almost always the personal accounts/stories used to drive the point? Good example of good data that can be used across a lot of contexts, then particular stories used to resonate strongly for unique groups. I think "just the data" would make it too generic for it to hit home with most folks, or if the general data was too embedded in a personal account, folks not in that same context may feel "so how's this apply to me?" I call knowing how to find that balance and split that difference some design acumen. ;)

  • Sat, 11 Feb 2012
    Post by Holly MacDonald

    Good article and debate.

    I *really* like the concept of performance support as the overarching framework, and it's often how I approach things. I don't build "courses" for clients, I build solutions, and have at times told them they didn't need training at all, to spend their money on other things instead of training.

    There is a lot of consulting required to shift thinking to performance solutions instead of prescribed training (gamed-up, storyified or whatever).

    I wonder if this is just hard to do at an industry level? The role of an instructional designer may be really different for each organization. We may be versatile, but I am not sure that we can be all things to all people. Or, maybe we need to define specializations at an industry level?

    Not sure, but some interesting things to ponder.


  • Sat, 11 Feb 2012
    Post by Kevin Thorn

    Wrapping a story around learning confines it to an individual and not learning for the sake of organizational performance. I agree with that.

    You also pointed out in your comment that people can learn 30% of what they need to know on their own. Some probably more. Not disagreeing, but you're suggesting once you introduce a story all hope is lost. Existing content gets retooled all the time in organizations without regard to benefiting the system and in most cases does not involve a story. That's an org strategy debate. One has to be cautious (instructional designers), though as 'storytelling' and 'learning design' are two separate disciplines and not an easy thing to blend effectively.

    As David mentioned, designing learning for the system doesn't fall on the shoulders of the individual IDs rather the leaders who design organization's training strategy.

    My contention is you can wrap a story around ANY learning. Yet, the problems I see are those who attempt to 'storyize' learning content similar to how some think they're 'gamifying' it by adding a Jeapordy game. That's a problem instructional design and for yet another conversation.

    Just like the fight we're all in that elearning is not the answer to all training gaps, nor will a story fit all situations (less actually).

    In an offline conversation we had, you mentioned the "decision to create a story has to be overall beneficial to the system and not the individual. In business our goal isnt to have learned employees its to have productive employees and the most efficient profitable system possible."

    Totally agree with you and this is a much needed conversation and thank you for kicking it off. I'll stand next to you spreading the word as long as we put it at the feet of the organization's leaders and not bust the chops of the IDs just doing what they're told. THAT is an entirely different conversation!

  • Fri, 10 Feb 2012
    Post by David Glow

    @Reuben- agree 100% But I think we can probably all agree quickly that courses and putting it in LMS lockbox paradigm isn't the best for how folks learn and orgs need to support performance.

    Yet, how are IDs being developed and what level of effort, and even the conversations about development go to these elements vs the real needs to help the organization perform?

    Thanks for kicking off a much-needed discussion.

  • Fri, 10 Feb 2012
    Post by Reuben

    @David I totally agree in what you've said. I just want to say this isn't a push for reusability as much as its a push to start thinking and acting in sync with how organizations perform. Games, stories, etc are all good things, and might be good for 'learning' but ultimately may or may not help an organization achieve its goals. Learned employees don't automatically translate to employees who help the organization achieve its goals. Designing for the system is completely different than designing learning for an individual

  • Thu, 09 Feb 2012
    Post by David Glow

    I agree with Rueben that too often we feel we are the experts in how something should be trained and too often trap it in a context that doesn't transfer to other uses across the org.

    Content may be king, but context is the kingdom.

    We design superbly (often with stories) for one contexts, but thus, "trap" the utility of the content for this specific application.

    I think the solutions is uncoupling- design assets so a great story can put it in a context for a specific use where appropriate (and I agree strongly with Kevin- stories is one of the most powerful tools for providing context that resonates with the core user). However, assets must also be tagged and "uncontexted" for uses elsewhere in the organization where possible.

    I've worked for 8 years in a gigantic global financial organization. Any core skill- leadership, communications, time management, management development- is overdeveloped in our LMS. Over 67K assets in our LMS. But the basic principles of leadership, communications, time management, etc... doesnt' change that much for each specific business. 80% or more of the content is the EXACT same. But designers often put in very specific branding, language, examples that make the context less usable across other businesses or departments.

    With smart designs and keeping "reusability" at the top of mind, we are able to find opportunities to develop many reusable assets that can travel across all businesses and departments while we also allow areas and opportunities of "contextualization" (or business-specific cases, branding, etc...) for that 20% spin that will really make it sing for each specific group.

    I think the answer is in the middle. Lose too many stories, the training becomes too generic and vanilla for it to really resonate with users. But as I have often seen, if the story is too weaved into the core of the content, you can't transfer some of the learnings to other contexts.

    We aren't trained for this type of design. Most IDs are trained to think at a silo'd "develop course for group X" context. That needs to change.

    And, not only does that apply for context across businesses, but for different modes of use. I have seen far too many job aids that have greater value for use "on the floor" in the business locked within a course behind the moated castle of an LMS completely removed from business workflow.

    We can do better. It isn't as technical or difficult as it seems. It just takes some thoughtfulness and consideration of our users' needs.

  • Thu, 09 Feb 2012
    Post by Reuben

    @Kevin The point being made in this piece isn't about how people learn. In fact, our reluctance to give up the stance that we're experts in how people learn and therefore performance issues handled by 'us' the experts need to be reframed based on our very unique talents is the problem. As members of an organization focused on ensuring the organization performs successfully, we need to stop focusing on how individuals learn and focus on what the organization needs from its members so that it, the organization is performing. In some cases this may mean 'training' and in those cases 'storytelling' may be the answer. But before we propose storytelling, we need to make sure that in reframing content as a story that we're not introducing new problems into the system where individuals may learn but we've created secondary content management issues that ultimately remove any benefits to the system of having trained employees. Did you know that given any subject, people are able to learn 30% of everything they would need to learn on their own with no formal intervention at all? Thats somebody finding answers on their own with no direction and no information about where to get answers. This isn't a question of learning. The problem we face as a community and the reason we aren't part of the core functions of a business is because we care about whether an individual learns and the business cares about the performance of the system.

  • Mon, 06 Feb 2012
    Post by Kevin

    Disagree. Our lives 'are' stories. A lot of what we learn is from the story we experienced when we learned it.

  • Fri, 03 Feb 2012
    Post by Stephen White

    Yes - align learning with business goals. Its not that story telling/scenarios is ineffective (bad, they're good when used appropriately. The key IS being in synch with business flow to develop effective training or learning experiences/Eco-systems.

  • Fri, 03 Feb 2012
    Post by Reuben

    @Denise - Absolutely. The question we have to ask ourselves that we never did before is will what we create simply add to the digital waste that is bogging down our organizations. We need to think about contributing content that helps the system. It can't be about the individual employees anymore.

  • Thu, 02 Feb 2012
    Post by Denise Doig

    Reuben as organizations continue to streamline, those who can improve the bottom line will survive those who don't so long.

  • Thu, 02 Feb 2012
    Post by Guy W. Wallace

    Nice article/rant. I agree with at least 98% of what you wrote - maybe 100%!