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Erica Farmer

Quantum Rise Talent Group Ltd

Co- Founder & Business Director, Digital Learning & Apprenticeship Expert, Speaker & Facilitator -

Read more from Erica Farmer

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Replace your boring eLearning with adaptive learning

Learning specialist Erica Farmer discusses some of the reasons behind this, and actions you can take to increase interest and engagement.

We tend to have a perception when it comes to eLearning.

It tends to be several pages long, with a huge amount of text, which you must read before undertaking a transaction assessment. It’s usually the modality of ‘self-serve’ or ‘distance learning’, with no tutor support, very little interaction, and it’s often aligned with mandatory or compliance topics.

If you’ve joined an organisation in the last 15 years, I bet eLearning has been part of your induction, with an annual follow up, so your company can run a report which says everyone has completed the necessary learning, and the box can be ticked.

Somebody recently shared with me a piece of eLearning which had been authored on Articulate Rise. Now I have no issue with any Articulate product, in fact we use it a lot at Quantum Rise. What I struggled with was the owner of the commissioned product being so proud of the hundreds of pages of words, little imagery, and 14 chapters – each with various sub chapters.

If you’ve joined an organisation in the last 15 years, I bet eLearning has been part of your induction.

Because it was written on the topic of ‘sustainability’, there was an assumption that the crafting of the learning could take a back seat. No thought had gone into the learner experience, including cognitive overload, relevance to individuals, and what the task was post learning event.

So let me ask you, who is going to truly be able to engage in that much concept, data, and information, without switching off?

I remember the worst piece of eLearning I ever completed. Being a governor for various apprenticeship training providers I must be up-to-date on topics such as safeguarding. This particular piece of learning asked me to study over 20 scenarios of potential safeguarding issues in schools and make an informed decision about what was happening.

Now, I’m not a governor in any school and don’t work with children, so straight away I struggled to engage. There was very little relevance, as well as what felt like reading ‘War and Peace’.

My default response was to get through the learning, pass the quiz and tick it off my to do list. And this is coming from a 20+ years seasoned learning practitioner! I don’t think I am alone.

This is not good enough – there is a different way

Bite size learning, personalised learning, hyflex learning, adaptive learning this is the new eLearning landscape and key principles for building or buying. Getting this right will drive productivity in digital skills, workplaces, and organisations.

We know engagement in quality learning experiences is inspirational, motivational and helps individuals and teams to grow. Digital learning design is the foundational skill to make this happen. It’s made leaps and bounds and we are now more comfortable seeing it as its own discipline, and not just as a second cousin to delivery.

It’s easy to fall down rabbit holes due to the sheer volume of content.

But it’s not easy. We can fall down rabbit holes due to the volume of content and making sure all stakeholders have their parts ‘covered’ so they can run their reports and confirm they are compliant.

We’re at risk of barely transferring any learning into the workplace with these challenges, especially if we are using traditional thinking and typical verbs linked to the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

So next time you are thinking of building or procuring an eLearning solution, I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the pain point, and how on earth can traditional eLearning be the solution?
  2. What is the outcome you are truly looking for? If it's compliance around a mandatory topic, does your workforce really need another read and click, boring learning intervention?
  3. How are you going to ensure that the learning is transferred into the workplace and learners? How will you know?
  4. What are you going to do to make learners want to engage in this module and how are you going to build it to feel truly different? How will it ‘talk’ to each learner who undertakes it?

Now these aren’t easy questions to ask yourself, and you might need to do a bit of self-reflection and soul searching, as you probably know deep down that these routes can be tricky. But by considering your potential answers, you will be getting yourself into the right place to build a more adaptive solution which could change the game.

Post-pandemic personalisation = adaptive learning experiences

Post-pandemic we are seeing and hearing HR thought leaders prioritise the needs of the individual, which must be met by the workplace, employer, and career route. Just look at anything from influencers such as Perry Timms and Dave Ulrich – it’s become quite the northern star.

So, this is telling us that individual needs are just as important in learning strategy, and I would argue more so than any of the other HR disciplines. We are here to drive performance through the development of skills, knowledge, and behaviours, so let’s use this as our mantra when it comes to our learning build.

The hook must be there, otherwise you’re facing a brick wall with a bunch of wasted cash.

The hook, or burning platform, must be there for the learner, or you are facing a brick wall with a bunch of wasted cash and time at the other side of it.

Aim for adaption and empowerment

Here are our disruptive and provocative tips and hints to help you consider things in a different way when it comes to your eLearning:

  1. If you are starting with content, rip it up and start again. Then read the rest of these points.
  2. Before you go anywhere near an authoring tool, map out your learner’s journey, and don’t be tempted to dump in a load of content which ‘must’ be covered. You’ll thank yourself for doing a lot of the thinking upfront and being clear on what your output prior to starting any eLearning build is. And when I say ‘map out’, I don’t mean just one journey.
  3. Move away from a linear journey and think about choices and branching. Give scenarios which have an impact on decision-making and challenge learners to really think about what they would do in a certain situation. Remember those amazing ‘choose your own adventure’ books where you were facing the dragon at the end of the cave and you chose to either go to battle, or run away? These types of decision-making intentions engage our prefrontal cortex as we just can’t help but make the choice. Take inspiration from Netflix’s Black Mirror ‘Bandersnatch’ episode, which prompts you to make those choices to be able to move on with the journey. The build can be more complex, but this is where point 1 really comes into play.
  4. Build personalisation into the journey. This can start by a simply entering a name at the beginning of the module, and move through with the options on how to learn – which could include providing a link to the following:
  • A blog for those who would prefer to read
  • A podcast for those who love this format, and might fancy a stroll in the sunshine whilst listening and learning
  • A 2-minute video you can sit and watch on a phone or tablet
  • A practical toolkit which involves worksheets, infographics and exercises which could be taken away and used in the team.

Straight away you’ve put the choice in the learners’ hands which is fun, empowering and personalised.

  1. Develop your creative skills and choose higher order learning objectives such as critique, collaborate, invent and podcast (yes, podcast is a higher order verb in the digital world). This is all doable in building next level adaptive eLearning. Move away from trying to impart volume knowledge through verbs such as describe, explain and tell, as you won’t stretch your build to support that well-required transfer – plus it’s just boring.
  2. Push the envelope when it comes to authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline. More ‘on the market’ tools can provide different options than the typical read and scroll, and you might need a bit of coding knowledge too. But don’t panic, you can find plenty of support on YouTube and the forums. Don’t be one of the 80% who creates eLearning with a step-by-step, command and control ethos. We don’t live our lives like this, so why do we think we should build learning like this?

We’ve asked you to push the boundaries when it comes to virtual, remote, hybrid and blended learning, and we’re now doing the same for adaptive eLearning. We can no longer kid ourselves that learners are engaged.

Learners are savvy to where and when they invest their precious time, both in and out of the workplace. If we want to compete, we must be great.

This applies to everything we do in learning and development, and we continue to be in the best place to make this better. It's time to call out poor eLearning, and revolutionise this experience for everyone.

Author Profile Picture
Erica Farmer

Co- Founder & Business Director, Digital Learning & Apprenticeship Expert, Speaker & Facilitator -

Read more from Erica Farmer

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