We like new ideas in L&D. Even organizations that have been stuck in their ways for decades can fall victim to SOS—Shiny Object Syndrome. Given the prevalence of marketing and “thought leadership” in our industry, this isn’t very surprising. A “new thing” arises every few years with the promise of solving all of our learning problems.
Remember when …
● Social learning was going to change learning?
● Stakeholders wanted to gamify everything to make it more engaging?
● Mobile devices became popular so we tried to put courses on them?
● Sessions on learning science were the most crowded rooms at industry conferences?
These topics are still around, but they aren’t nearly as heavily-discussed nowadays.
Today, we’re digging into things like …
● How virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can make learning more immersive
● If people prefer video over other content formats
Sure, these new ideas may hold great promise for your organization. But what happened to those earlier trends? Were they dismissed because they didn’t show value? Or did the conversations fade for another reason?
Boxing up new ideas
During a recent presentation I was asked, “What’s the difference between self-directed learning and adaptive learning?” This question demonstrates the problem with how L&D tends to approach a new idea. We find something “new” and immediately put the idea in a box. We create a new name for the box. And then we discuss the box in isolation, focusing on how it—and it alone—can change what we do. Gamification, VR, mobile, microlearning—they all exist in their own boxes and are therefore explored without consideration for anything outside the box.
In real life, these ideas cannot exist in isolation. Just like the natural world, the workplace is a complicated ecosystem of causes and effects. This applies equally to L&D and the tactics we apply to support the workplace. After all, the same audience experiences the end results of all of our methods. For example, if we deploy a “mobile learning” solution, it will likely influence the way we leverage the classroom down the line. To get the most out of any new idea, we must consider it as part of the larger ecosystem BEFORE we deploy it.
Let’s take microlearning as an example—given that it’s still the loudest conversation in the industry. Today, many L&D pros are debating when microlearning is an appropriate solution as opposed to other tactics. But, in reality, microlearning principles are ALWAYS applicable. They include:
● Starting with a clearly defined business goal
● Identifying desired employee behaviors
● Applying basic learning science principles
● Providing access at the right time and place
● Using the optimal content format(s)
● Collecting and analyzing the right data to determine impact
When would you NOT want to do these things? So it’s not a question of IF you should deploy microlearning. It’s just a question of HOW you blend these principles into your strategies to best support your employees. The same is true for other L&D trends. Mobile learning isn’t a separate thing. Devices are just another potential access point for support that must be considered. Social learning isn’t a necessary term, given that learning is inherently social. We can just help facilitate conversations by making it easier for people to connect and share. Regardless of topic, the real value is in the base principles, not the terminology or the technology used to execute them.
Unfortunately, it can take us years to figure this out. Five years ago, gamification was dismissed as a fad. Today, people are finally recognizing the potential of game mechanics through nuanced discussions on human motivation rather than just points, badges, and leaderboards. If we can ignore the marketing and have informed conversations on new trends, we can skip the waiting period and more quickly find ways to blend these ideas into our L&D strategies when they are a good fit.
Take learning out of the box
Work changes. Technology changes. But learning does not. Even if we have managed to ignore them for a long time, the fundamental principles of learning remain consistent. Don’t get distracted by the next big thing. Stop putting concepts in siloed boxes. No more creating new terms. And never put content or technology first. Instead, focus on applying proven principles in context to help people solve problems and drive results.