Sunday, August 25, 2013

Contemplating Learning Content Reuse

In the last few weeks of July, our department worked on pulling together information to prepare our submission for the 2013 ASTD State of the Industry Survey.  Each year through this survey, the ASTD research team captures and compiles information on industry trends and prepares a report that gets published in November.   The report includes information in categories such as learning costs, hours, staffing ratios, content distribution and delivery methods.    All of this information is valuable, but there is one section of the report that has been occupying my mind quite a bit lately.   It is the section on the Reuse Ratio.
The Reuse Ratio is defined as the ratio of learning hours used to learning hours available, or if you prefer, learning hours consumed to learning hours provided.  Either way, this is an efficiency measure that has direct impact on learning costs.   In the 2012 State of the Industry Report, the Reuse Ratio for all respondents was reported as 53:1.  The trend has shown that the reuse ratio has fallen over the last four years while the cost per learning hours used has increased.   In preparing our data for the survey submission this year, we calculated our reuse ratio to be a little more than 8:1, which is alarmingly below the Industry benchmarks.
So what does it mean?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of the work that our Learning & Development team does and the state of affairs in my company.   We have gone through a tremendous amount of change over the last few years necessitating the creation of a lot of new, targeted learning.  So far in 2013, my instructional design team has already outpaced the number of new courses and learning objects created in all of 2012 – and 2012 was a very busy year!  We expect the level of change to continue for quite some time in the foreseeable future.   It will be important for us to increase our content reuse ratio as I see this as an indication that we are using our budget and human resources as efficiently as possible.
So what do we do?
There are three key actions that we are undertaking:
Retire unused learning objects in our learning management system – We have a lot of old, outdated content in our learning management system that has not sustained its relevance.   Getting rid of these items will reduce the “hours provided” part of the equation to give us a more realistic picture of our ratio based on content that is actually important to our business needs.   Granted, this doesn’t save us on cost or development time, but it will add clarity to the picture.
Increase reuse of key learning content – Rather than approach every learning need as a new instructional design project, we have a team of Curriculum Managers who are curating content.  They have created curriculum maps for key subject areas that are important to supporting successful employee and business performance.   The maps outline a general progression through the content areas to help employees take accountability for their own development.
Increase reuse of learning assets – Because the high rate of change is expected to continue in our business, we recognize that the curriculum maps won’t be able to address every learning need.   We will still have an active pipeline of learning projects that will require some form of instructional design.  To that end, we have instituted a Digital Asset Management Library so we can capture and share assets such as activities and scenarios that go into the creation of learning solutions.   This won’t directly impact our content reuse ratio, but it will help us to be more efficient and cost effective in design.  And if we reuse our best assets to create learning objects that are relevant and useful, they will get used.  This will increase the “hours used” part of the equation, which will improve our overall ratio.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Service Recovery: It Shouldn't Be This Hard

Over the years, I have had many opportunities to design, deliver, and measure the impact of customer service training. Whether the audience was frontline service associates, client relationship managers, call center employees, or any other group, there were two universal messages I always tried to get across through training:

1.  It is important to deliver a client experience that reflects appropriately on your brand.

2.  Despite your best efforts, when dealing with people, there will inevitably be times when your service delivery fails to meet expectations, making it necessary to have a planned approach for service recovery.

The key to the first point is consistency. When clients do business with you, they should know what to expect and their experiences should not vary by large degrees.

The key to the second point is to recognize that when service delivery fails, both the relationship and the service being provided need to be repaired.

I had the opportunity to reflect on this through my experiences with an airline while traveling to mLearnCon this week. (The airline shall remain nameless, but let’s just say the letter A is prominent in their name…twice!). I was flying from Hartford to San Jose with a scheduled connection through Chicago. Due to weather my first flight was delayed, jeopardizing my chances of making my connection. I scrambled to get on an earlier flight to Chicago that would give me a bigger window of opportunity to make my connection. Fortunately, I was able to do so, but as with many cross-country flights, I arrived late at night at my destination. Unfortunately, my bags did not arrive with me. This leads me to the description of the treatment I received from the airline as they were trying to handle my service recovery issue. In short, through five separate interactions with airline employees, here is how each one impacted me:

I was disappointed – after being promised by the gate agent in Hartford that he would hand carry my checked bag over to my changed flight, it ended up that my bag never left the airport that day.

I was misinformed – when I landed in San Jose I was told that my bag would be placed on the next available flight and that it would be rushed to my hotel so I would have it by lunch time tomorrow. Since I was only wearing a pair of cargo shorts and a black tee-shirt, I decided to skip the first morning of the conference to wait until I had suitable clothes to wear.

I was lied to – after my bag failed to arrive as promised, I was informed by a call center agent that it would now arrive at 10.55 PM and that once it arrived, it would be scanned in at the airport. She went on to say that the scan would automatically generate a robocall letting me know it arrived. I was told that I would have my bag by midnight. By the time I got this information I had already missed most of the first day of the conference so I decided to write it off and join the conference on day two.

I was hung up on – no robocall ever came and I fell asleep without my bag having been delivered to me. I woke up at 4 AM and called the airline again to get an update. Another call center agent informed me that my bag would not arrive in San Jose until 7:30 AM and that after it arrived, it would be delivered to me within six hours. I told him this was not acceptable. He offered me several alternatives, none of which would meet my need of not missing any more of the conference. This had been my fifth business trip within the last seven weeks (no others with this airline). It was late, I was tired, and of course naked, and so at this point I lost my temper. I was upset that I might have to miss even more of the conference. I raised my voice and probably even dropped and f-bomb which caused the agent to hang up on me.

I was shocked by their lack of their concern – I tried to calm down and go back to sleep, but I really couldn’t. I called back about an hour later and calmly asked for an update. I got the same information from yet another agent, and the same set of unacceptable alternatives from which I was asked to choose one. I told the agent this was more than an inconvenience. It was costing time and money to attend this conference and I was missing a large part of it, thereby missing the value I expected to get. I asked him, “Does that matter to anyone at your airline?” To my surprise he responded by saying, “we can’t be sympathetic because this happens all the time.”

My bag arrived at 9 AM the next day, nearly 36 hours after I landed in San Jose, and I was finally able to join the conference. Later, I examined my experience against the customer service training that I have provided throughout my career. Here is how I would score the airline against the key customer service elements:

On client experience – they certainly were consistent in the way they represented their brand. Each employee that I encountered reacted coolly. It was as if they had been inoculated against being impacted by their customers’ emotions. Nothing I said or did garnered anything more than a “sorry for the inconvenience.” They never once indicated genuine concern for my situation or recognized the need to escalate my problem to a higher level.

On service recovery – to succeed here they would have needed to deal with my feelings and solve my problem. No one ever acknowledged my right to be upset with this situation. They never treated this as anything more than a minor inconvenience. They did offer me alternatives, but these came too late and none of them were acceptable to me because all would have caused me to lose more time at the conference. Rationally, I know that the alternatives they offered were really all they could do, but they presented them to me with a “pick your poison” attitude. If any one of them had displayed any empathy for me, it would have made it easier for me to choose one of their options.

I recognize the challenges the airlines are up against, many of us travel from city to city these days as if we were commuting from the suburbs to the city for work. My admiration for the flight crews’ ability to get me from point A to point B safely is second to none (that includes my experience on this trip). As a frequent traveler, I’ve experienced every possible delay imaginable. And yes, my bags have been lost once or twice before. But in my previous experiences with other airlines I always felt like we were all in this together. This time I felt like I was being written off, and worse, that what I experienced happens routinely.

The ultimate irony in this is that no one even offered to waive my $25 baggage fee.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Five Themes Heard Loudly and Clearly at #ASTD2013

This week was the learning industry’s premiere event:  The ASTD International Conference and Exposition (aka ICE) in Dallas.   Estimated attendance was upwards of 9000 learning geeks from over 70 countries.  I was proud to be among them.
At an event this large, it is impossible to experience it all.  It is like visiting the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is just too much to see and do.  The best way to approach it is to focus on a theme or a track, and create your own personal conference experience.  Two colleagues from my company attended the conference this year along with me.  One of them followed the Sales Enablement track and the other followed the Measurement, Evaluation and ROI track.  My approach was different.  Our company is a member of the ASTD Forum (a benchmarking group of about 50 companies that help each other out on workplace learning issues and share best practices).   The Forum members put on a series of workshops at ICE each year.  This year we offered four sessions.  I volunteered to co-facilitate one of them and I decided to attend the other three to support my colleagues during their facilitation.   It made for a great experience but it limited the number of sessions outside of the Forum offerings that I could attend.
Despite not getting around as much as I have at previous conferences, several themes reached me through the sessions I did attend, through the twitterverse, and through casual conversations with other conference goers in the expo, at lunch, and during my favorite event: the ice cream social!
Here are five themes I heard repeatedly during my conference experience:
PassionSir Ken Robinson kicked of the passion craze during his keynote address on Monday morning.  In discussing his new book, Finding Your Element, he reminded us all that we are happiest and most successful in our careers when we are able to perform work that marries up our aptitudes with our passions.   This seemingly simple point, made quite an impact.  It was cited during several other sessions during the week and was often part of the conversation in between sessions.
Millennials – It was fascinating to me to see how many times the millennial generation was discussed during this conference.  But what truly surprised me was the way it was discussed: “Millenials are coming!”  “They are going to be in leadership positions!”   “We must prepare!”  It was as if a plague or a hostile army was descending on us.   In my humble opinion, we were going a little overboard on this one.  Yes, every generation has different life experiences that shape their expectations, but isn’t that just part of diversity?  Embrace it and let it enrich us.   Let’s focus more on what we can learn from them and less about how they might react to “old school training approaches” that we should be retiring anyway.
Brain Science – I haven’t heard this much talk about the brain since the educational psychology courses I attended in graduate school.   But it is a welcome line of conversation.   Brain research is about memory and recall.  It confirms all of the things we know we should be doing to enable effective learning:  get people’s attention, stimulate their thinking, appeal to their emotions, and give them time to digest and reflect on what they have learned.   The latest research is being presented in easily digestible formats.   That is good news.  It gives us something to work with when we are trying to convince our business partners why we are advocating short bursts of learning spaced out over time instead of cramming everything into a three-day event.
Mobile as Performance Support - As it was with last year’s conference, Mobile Learning was a very hot topic.  But whereas last year’s discussion centered on how to get mobile learning off the ground, this year’s theme was how to do it right: getting mobile learning into the workflow and using it for just-in-time performance support.  Shame on anyone who still thinks they might be able to take an existing e-learning course and reconfigure it for a mobile device.   That is not the way to go.
Curation – As the learning industry embraces mobile, social, and self-managed learning as opportunities, we find ourselves needing to play a new role in relation to our learners: content curator.  With the overwhelming amount of information our learners have at their disposal, and the wide variety of sources from which to get that information, we can help them by sorting it out in ways that makes it easier for them to get their hands on content that will be most useful to them.  This year the ASTD published a conference backchannel resource page.   And of course, David Kelly, who has become one of the most influential leaders on this topic, posts his own curated resources from the conference.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Creating WOW Learning Experiences

Last week I held a meeting with my full team of Instructional Designers and Curriculum Managers. Since we are a virtual team that is scattered to all corners of the country, we rarely have the opportunity to all be in the same place at the same time. I have such a talented team of learning professionals.  It was wonderful to take advantage of our collective thinking to discuss how we can improve the way we work, and the actions we could be taking to ensure we deliver on our objectives for this year.

As part of these discussions, we tackled the topic of creating WOW learning experiences. This is something that is important to us as we want to continuously improve what we do while helping our learners to grow, develop and perform better at work. We did some creative exercises to get our juices flowing, and then worked to define what we meant by WOW learning and what the elements of WOW learning would look like. So here is what we came up with:
WOW Learning Definition: Learning experiences that are self-directed, engaging, and hands-on. They provide methods, ways or platforms for learners to modify, enhance, or change behaviors in ways that successfully transfer to the work that they do and lead to improved performance.
Okay, this probably sounds like a definition that was created by committee. Well it was. But it has all the important elements that we talked about and it recognizes the importance of the learner in the experience.

WOW Learning Elements: Leading up to the creation of this definition, we discussed what WOW learning would look like. From our point-of-view, it would include the following:
  •  Engages learners
  • Leaves them wanting more; or to repeat the experience
  • Addresses needs and provides value
  • Enables them to change behavior, do something new, or do something better than they did before the experience
  • Grabs their attention
  • Allows them to control the path of the experience 
  • Invests them emotionally (which we saw being accomplished through stories - that create human interest - and/or games – that challenge our competitive natures)
One of the models that came to mind and was discussed as we were creating this list was John Keller’s ARCS model (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction) which describes how to create and sustain motivation through the learning process.
I was proud of my team for arriving where we did through this discussion. Now our challenge is to put this into practice in the learning experiences we design and deliver.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mobile Pilot Scorecard

As described in my March 9 blog entry, Yes, You Can Deliver Mobile Learning, we recently completed our first mobile learning pilot with the gracious assistance of our vendor partner OnPoint Digital, using their CellCast platform.   The results are in:   as is typical of pilots we had some successes (hooray!) and we learned a few things (which always reminds us why we do pilots in the first place).

In terms of our success criteria, we fully achieved three out of four goals. Not too bad for a pilot.  We were even partially successful with our fourth goal.   So here is a look at our mlearning pilot scorecard:
  1. Producing and converting content for mobile delivery: Success! - we were able to successfully deploy audio, video, .pdf documents, tests and surveys, and an interactive product placement map to our pilot audience.  Producing the learning content was the easy part.  After all, that is what my team is already good at.  For the pilot, we relied on OnPoint to convert the content to the format required mlearning.
  2. Deploying content using a mobile platform - Success! - as previously stated, we used the CellCast app from OnPoint Digital.   It worked very well for us.  We had a few technical glitches that required some troubleshooting in the first few days of the pilot.  But doesn't that happen with all roll-outs that involve technology?   Once we got those glitches ironed out, it was pretty smooth sailing for the rest of the way.
  3. Deploying content to a variety of mobile devices - Partial Success - We were able to successfully deploy to Android and iOS devices.  However, the majority of our pilot audience was equipped with older model Blackberries.  We knew going into the pilot that we were likely to hear grumblings from this group about the user experience. We were prepared to get that feedback, but there were two communication issues that made this a bigger challenge than I would have liked:  (1) Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) software - this had to be unlocked so our users could download the app to their devices.  Nothing like this was required for either the Android or iOS devices.  (2) Lack of SD Cards - many of the users had never installed SD cards in their devices, so there was no place for their downloads to land.  This effectively put a good chunk of the pilot audience out of the game.   Many of the users without the SD cards, used personal devices to complete their training.  A handful of people went out and bought new SD cards and installed them so they could participate, but most just missed the opportunity.
  4. Testing and recording participant completion results - Success! - one of the advantages of mobile devices that should not be overlooked is that they can be used for two-way communication.  Since this was our first pass at mlearning, we didn't go beyond receiving test scores and survey data back from our participants through their mobile devices, but it was encouraging to see the amount and type of data we could capture.   For example,  the image accompanying this blog entry is of a data processing unit.  It is a still capture from one of our videos that was viewed on average over six times by the pilot participants.  Most of the other videos averaged slightly less than three views each.  I'm interpreting that as telling us we need to beef up the DPU segment of our initial classroom training.  Great information, don't you think?
All in all, I would call our pilot a success.  We learned a few things about how to present our content, how to make downloading easier, and about what will work and what won't in terms of mobile learning.   And as far as our Blackberry device issue, well that has now been solved.  Reporting the results of our pilot to senior leaders gave them the last piece of information they needed to justify a device upgrade for our users.   How is that for a nice unintended outcome?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Creating WOW Learning Experiences in Compliance Training

One of the goals I share with my instructional design team this year is "to create WOW learning experiences." It is part of our 2013 continuous improvement effort.  Last year was our first year operating as an Enterprise Learning and Development group.   We spent most of the year building the team, introducing tools, and developing the processes we need to support the lines of business with learning services.  This year, we want to make the most of the capability we have created.  

An area in which it is especially challenging to find ways to create WOW learning experiences is in compliance training.   This is often considered the "necessary evil" of the learning world.  It poses the instructional designer with an uphill battle in that the content is usually not core to the target audience's work, and it is not generally compelling by nature.  It is certainly not easy to make "lock out, tag out procedures" or "record retention policies" come to life in an eLearning module, but there are ways to do it.   I have challenged my team to look for more opportunities to use story-based or game-like approaches, and to take advantage of our in-house graphic designer to include images, animations, or videos that can add visual interest and make learning points clearer.

I just came across this slideshare presentation from Cammy Bean at Kineo: Cammy Bean's Learning Visions: Compliance Makeover!   In this presentation, Cammy provides 10 tips for giving compliance training a makeover.  These tips represent the kind of things I'm asking my team to do to create WOW learning experiences.  Thanks Cammy!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Yes, You Can Deliver Mobile Learning

After sitting through so many mobile learning sessions at industry events, I got tired of being among the puzzled masses who couldn't figure out how to launch a mobile learning solution. I was determined to unravel this mystery and begin offering mobile learning in my company.   I started by asking myself, "What makes this so hard to do?"  I'm a reasonably intelligent guy.  I've got an iPad and an Android Smartphone.   I download apps.  I play Words with Friends on occasion.  This shouldn't be so hard for me and my team to figure out.  Then it hit me.   My team is made up of highly talented instructional designers.   We understand how to build learning solutions, but we aren't programmers or app developers.  We could design and develop learning content for mobile delivery, but we needed some help on the technology side.   Rather than try to create our own apps, we decided to find a partner that had a ready made platform we could use to help us get started.    Now, we are just finishing up our first mobile learning pilot.   We will be summarizing the completion and evaluation data next week.    It took a lot of research, self-education, and just plain work for us to get to this point.   But if I were to simplify it down to the key things that helped us move forward, it would be these five things:
  1. Read Designing mLearning by Clark Quinn - If you do a literature search on mobile learning, all roads lead back to this book, so you might as well start here.   It covers mobile learning in a very comprehensive way.    As you read it, think about it in the context of your own situation so you can identify and plan how to overcome your own hurdles.
  2. Form a Mobile Team - This is clearly a case where more heads are better than one.  The easy part of the work for us was designing and developing the content, but there are a lot of decisions to be made regarding network protocols, mobile security, audience analysis, and interface design before you can get to that point.
  3. Partner with Your Information Technology Team -  You cannot do this without having IT support at the right level in your organization.   There are device, policy, security and protocol issues that have to be addressed.  These cannot be resolved by Learning & Development alone. 
  4. Choose a Vendor Partner - This is the real jump starter.   We will likely get to a point where we are developing our own learning app, but that day is not here yet.  We chose to start by using a mobile platform that already exists and a partner who has done this before.  OnPoint Digital helped us conduct our pilot using their Cellcast App.  We also got great support and advice from the folks at Float Learning.
  5. Choose the Right Pilot Project - Keep in mind, this is about learning, not just using a new medium.   It is important to choose a project that matters.  In our mobile learning pilot,  we delivered update training to a group of service technicians who had previously attended an installation  and repair class on a piece of equipment they must service.  There have been some hardware updates and changes to electrical specs on that equipment since the technicians completed their initial training.   Rather than bring them back into the classroom, or have them interrupt their work day to take time out for eLearning, we chose to prepare them to handle the differences they would encounter on service calls using mobile learning.  Their training consisted of twelve brief video segments focusing on the hardware differences (only the introductory video clip ran longer than one minute), three electrical diagrams for review, and an interactive map showing where the newer models had been placed.   We included a brief quiz asking a few key questions to check knowledge of the differences, but for the most part, what we really supplied them with were some brief, handy performance support tools they could use at the point of need.
This is just the beginning for us, but I feel great having done this pilot. Our goal was to test the end-to-end process.  Having done this, I feel I'm in a better position to garner stakeholder support for a longer term mobile learning strategy.   Best of all, the next time I attend a mobile session at a learning conference, and the speaker asks the audience, "How many of you are using mobile learning?"  I can raise my hand.   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Maintaining Relevance in Workplace Learning

Workplace Learning Professionals: join us today for a discussion of #relevance in an #astd_forum vSession today at 12:00 PM eastern time: