I once took over a learning simulation project, where the interface was so complex that the learners had to spend two hours learning how to navigate the simulation before they could actually learn anything about the subject matter! To make matters worse, the simulation experience lasted for only four hours and the learners would never use it again as the objective was to introduce them to the topic. This meant many hours invested with not much to show for it.
Instead of a quick introductory session to engage them and get them excited about the topic, it was a stress-filled experience and the cognitive load was too high to retain much of the lessons. Between the stress of learning a new interface and the cognitive load, the learners weren’t able to focus and learn about the topic – This was a case where the solution design did NOT align with the learner's needs.
Within corporate learning, it may not always be as obvious as this one, but the misalignment happens more often than it should. Companies often over invest on solutions that miss the mark and don’t result in great engagement and/or retention and they also under invest on solutions that are enterprise-wide and aren’t aligned with the varying needs of the different audiences or their moments of learning need. The ultimate objective of any learning solution is to deliver learning solutions that are engaging, efficient, effective & relevant. To do this, you have to take the time to ensure that your design is fit for use.
What needs are you designing for?
The level of learning needed should be the driver of design complexity. As one increases so should the other. In the 2X2 below, Performance Support/Reinforcement are in the bottom left square because they are a good fit when the level of learning needed is low and they are simple to design. Engagement/Awareness in the bottom right square, Enhancing existing skills in the top left and finally Acquisition/Application of new skills at the top right because the level of learning needed is high and therefore we can spend more time and effort on designing for the top right. Thinking about designing learning solutions in this way will help you determine the right solutions for the learning needs.
In some cases you will have audiences with needs in more than one area so you may need to design a blended solution instead of designing a “one size fits none” solution. An added benefit of designing for more than one area is that you can deliver the lower complexity solutions quickly to some audiences and collect learner data while working on the more complex solutions.
In the simulation I wrote about above, it could have been a great solution for learners that wanted to learn how to apply the topic and had a few weeks or even months to complete it. But because the learner's need was a 2-4 hour introductory awareness activity, a simple simulation with low cognitive load would have been much more appropriate and would have resulted in greater learning impact, and could have been delivered much sooner.
Additional Insights for ensuring your design meets your learner needs:
1 - Gather data and convert it into insights
- Learners do not have time nor patience for “one-size fits all”
approaches and you don’t have time to design something that is not going
to fit the need. Everything in our
lives is personalized using data about us as individuals. Training should not be different.
- We have to dig into the desired performance, our learners and
we need to identify their different “moments of learning need." Collect as much data as you can on:
-The desired performance
-Barriers and enablers
-Your different audiences and build personas (if you can)
-Moments of learning need
2 - Focus on the experience and not the content
- Content is important, but here we are
going to assume we are all using sound instructional design
practices. The best designed
content won’t matter if you don’t get the rest of these elements right
because learners won’t be using it.
- In order to ensure people make it TO and THROUGH your content, the focus has to be on the experience around the content being taught. Beginning with the simple yet effective interfaces, to mid-level semi-complex interfaces, to high-level complex user interfaces for deep and continuous learning needs - This is one of the big differences between Instructional Design and Learning Experience Design
3 - Align the complexity of the learning solution to the depth learning needs
- Simple engagement, awareness, support, reinforcement do not need to be complex.
(Any complexity here should be in figuring out how and when to deliver these simple solutions to your various audiences to maximize impact and efficiency.)
- Save the design complexity for enhancement or
application of new skills. This is
where simulated practice and feedback can be powerful, BUT even then try
to limit the cognitive load.
(Don’t make the learners fill their brain with anything they can’t use on the job! This is where you can look to use existing technologies and tools they are accustomed to as opposed to introducing some new tool they will only use for this learning experience.)
4 - Practice & Feedback is KEY
- The best learning solutions offer practice of the skills and behaviors being taught and provide feedback on that practice so the learner can improve quickly