MAY 2014 UPDATE: As I’ve received so many great comments about this post, I’ve now created a podcast version of it, which you can listen to at the bottom of this post. And I’ve also created an instructional video of it, which you can launch and download from my eLearning Samples page!
In the fall of 2013, the folks at Allen Interactions graciously offered a free webinar for the ASTDNY eLearning Special Interest Group (or SIG). Their topic was the dangers of content-driven learning, and one of their key points was that presenting Learning Objectives at the start of an eLearning course in the traditional bulleted list is not particularly meaningful or effective. True, a bulleted list states what your company wants the learner to walk away with at the end of the course, but it’s not a presentation style that resonates with the learner. The rest of the world doesn’t think in terms of Learning Objectives, and poorly-presented Learning Objectives at the start of the course can in fact be off-putting rather than helpful. The learner has to come first. I have been engaged in this debate for years, and sometimes when working as a subcontractor, it has even been the development shop who hired me that has flat-out said: “Don’t get creative; the client expects to see a traditional bulleted list of objectives, and the same list restated at the end–and if you don’t do it that way, you’re not a good instructional designer.” Hogwash.
After the webinar, I started thinking about SMART objectives, and how we can improve them. Now, back when I first learned about SMART objectives, the acronym was defined with the following meanings:
I did a Google Image search for “SMART Objectives” and found a number of variations, none of them as good as the list above, in my opinion. For example, some lists used “Agreed,” which to me should be a given on any project, and “Realistic,” which is already covered by “Achievable”–and losing “Achievable” would be a mistake. Others use “Aggressive” instead–but this is corporate buzz talk, and misses the very real need to establish learning objectives that can be met within the confines of the training to be presented. Be as aggressive as you want, folks. But at the end of the day, each Learning Objective has to be Achievable or it has no merit. And there are other variants as well, but many of them boil down to a question of semantics. You get the idea.
So, what would make Learning Objectives even SMARTER? Almost immediately the answer for the additional “E” and “R” letters came to me. Before I tell you what mine are, I will note that I also did a Google Image search for “SMARTER Objectives,” on the assumption that I might not be the first person to point out that SMART Objectives need improving. Sure enough, I found a couple of versions. But frankly, I didn’t like them. One added “Ethical” and “Reachable” to the above list. Well, again, as far as I’m concerned, ethical should be a given, or you shouldn’t be doing business. And “Reachable” is redundant; we already have “Achievable.” Others proposed “Reviewed frequently” (a good idea, but again a given in my book) and “Recorded”–which is just a bit lame.
So, what are my “E” and “R” values? Like the other five letters, they should only be added if they add real meaning. For my money, the “E” should stand for “Engaging” and the “R” should stand for “Rewarding.” Why? Because we need to create Learning Objectives that actually speak to the learner!
We should be creating Learning Objectives that Engage our target audience members, so that they have some “skin” in the game. We have to frame our Objectives in such a way that the they are not just the company’s objectives–they become the learners‘ as well. If we present our Learning Objectives in a more Engaging way, and show how they will be Rewarding to the learners themselves (not just to the company), then we will have truly taken a step toward making our SMART Objectives even SMARTER:
And when it comes to sharing your Learning Objectives at the start of your eLearning: be creative! Use a story or scenario, make an exploratory interaction–let your imagination run free and think about what will engage your learners, and how they feel rewarded for investing their time in your course. Challenge them, intrigue them, open with a situation that raises a question with real-world relevance. Consider subtly employing some Gamification tactics (see my other blog posts on this topic). Whether your course is high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech, help your learners see themselves in the challenge or question you pose. Then, instead of just glazing over or skipping a Learning Objectives slide, they’ll embrace those objectives through the engagement, and take those objectives as their own. Give that some thought the next time you’re defining your Learning Objectives. I’m betting it will make a real, positive difference for your learners.
That way, the course is more thoroughly and effectively vetted before it is built, saving everyone time and potential headaches. I would also add that for companies who keep their learning teams small, it’s that much more important to have a well-thought-out archival system in place, to keep a record of what has been created (and agreed to in writing with clients), and ensure that all source files area readily available should the chief eLearning team member be out or leave the company.
This is the second half of my write-up on Josh Bersin’s recent fascinating talk about Continous Learning at an ASTDNY meeting. Before reading this post, you may want to read the first half here.
Need for a Learning Architecture: As part of his recommendations, John emphasized that success requires implementing a Learning Architecture, a structure of Constraints and Tools that work consistently for a specific company. Again, the specifics may well differ from one organization to another. He noted that the companies who leverage a Learning Architecture have greatly increased effectiveness in knowledge retention and behavioral change.
Josh cited Accenture as an example: they developed a five-level proficiency model, culminating in recognition at a cultural level of expertise. Key learning components include Formal Learning, Job Experience, and Collaboration, with Deliberate Practice tying them all together. He notes that many companies don’t consider “Job Experience” a legitimate category of learning, but that in fact it’s a core element not to be taken for granted.
Audience Analysis: Josh reiterated that the more you know your audience, the better you can tailor your learning content to resonate with and motivate them. Bersin surveys showed that companies know the obvious data like demographics, but very little about social and cultural personae. He pointed to a couple of success stories: a Netapp learning resource custom iPad app that offers targeted, prescriptive learning based on the employee’s role, and an employee site at The Cheesecake Factory, that incorporates video sharing and gamified elements, to target their primarily young audience of employees.
Learning Culture: Having touched on the concept of Continuous Learning, Josh posed the question: ‘”What drives real learning?” He stated something that most of us have learned from our own painful experience: the majority of what we put out there into an LMS or other similar repository isn’t being leveraged. Josh believes that High-Impact Learning Organizations (HILOs) achieve their success in part because they genuinely value learning at all levels in the company. He also pointed out a key “ah-ha” moment from HILO survey responses: their Management is open to hearing bad news. That flexible and pragmatic approach trickles down into the learning sphere, and it certainly ties in with Josh’s theme of the need for Continuous Learning in this ever-changing market. Every challenge is an opportunity, and leaders who close their ears to bad news are missing that opportunity. He also offered what he called his Six Keys to an Enduring Learning Culture, which included a number of expected items, and two that perhaps need more attention: Reflection, and Trust.
Talent Management: For this discussion, Josh divided learning experiences into two basic categories:
He finds the Kirkpatrick model limiting because it doesn’t give enough weight to engagement as a component of success. He considers Talent Management to be essential as a foundation on which to build a strong learning culture, and that neither is possible without strong engagement. And of course, managing Talent mobility is always about finding that overlap between Company needs and the Individual’s needs and desires. Their research has confirmed what many of us already believe: that the highest return is to create continuous development planning for employees, so that employees know what they should be taking, and why, at each phase of their growth. Without that, employees are easily lost, overwhelmed, and become disengaged. But blending Continuous Learning with robust and flexible Talent Management addresses the engagement gap, and leads the way to world-class career management. And that, in turn, leads the way to business success.
Measurement: It goes without saying that Josh is a big proponent of measurement. He acknowledged that it’s a very complex topic, bigger than training itself. He considers measurement another ongoing journey, and that it must be integrated with the rest of a company’s talent measurement efforts, so that the company can make meaningful, data-driven decisions. This is the path to joining the ranks of HILOs. He summed up his measurement recommendations neatly: “Broaden your perspectives beyond the ROI of your training.”
By way of an illustrative recommendation, Josh shared the Bersin Impact Measurement Framework. He noted that his team felt that the Kirkpatrick model needed to be expanded to a more practical list of targets:
He foresees a time in the near future when learning measurement will become part of something like “Talent Analytics.”
Josh brought his thought-provoking talk to a close with this mantra: “Remember that learning is a continuous process and is always talent-driven.” Josh noted that he would be more than happy to return to another ASTDNY meeting, and we should certainly take him up on that generous offer as soon as possible. Thanks again to our gracious hosts at Marsh and McLennan (who provided elegant snacks as well as a beautiful meeting space), and to Josh for his comprehensive and invigorating talk.
Josh Bersin, Principal & Founder of Bersin by Deloitte (formerly Bersin & Associates) recently spoke at an ASTD NY meeting. You can read the one-page summary of my write-up on the ASTDNY blog here. But Josh had so many interesting things to say that I felt it well worth posting my complete write-up here on my own blog, in two parts. Part Two (which touches on Learning Architecture, Audience Analysis, Learning Culture, Talent Management, and Measurement) will follow next week. Enjoy!
When Josh Bersin talks, smart people in the Learning field listen. Josh noted that while his company is now part of Deloitte, they are still an independent evaluating entity. Bersin’s firm is known industry-wide for the depth and breadth of their research, analysis, and forecasting in the Learning field. Josh is an engaging, straightforward presenter. He freely acknowledged that some of his slides were perhaps a bit too jam-packed with information, and that font sizes and colors were perhaps not ideal for a large audience like ours. But perhaps it’s part of his modesty that he didn’t expect such a huge turnout; there wasn’t a single empty seat in the lecture room. Despite his acknowledged place in the Learning field, Josh eschews the titles of “guru” and “thought leader” and instead considers himself “just a really good learner.” This modesty has served him, and all of us, well.
Josh noted that Learning is and will always be a rapidly-changing space and marketplace—which can be a good thing for those of us in the Learning field. He reinforced that his team takes their topics of study from us, as Learning industry professionals; our evolving priorities become their priorities. Key areas of study for his team: Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition, and Human Resources. Every few years, they perform reassessments on key topics to identify what’s changing. Josh’s talk was lengthy, detailed, and far-ranging, and he has graciously agreed to make his slides available to ASTD members. I encourage you to seek them out and take the time to review them.
Continuous Learning: Josh believes that high-impact learning for the 21st century will come from creating a culture of what he terms “Continuous Learning.” Their research has shown that the #1 issue facing companies globally is locating and landing the right Talent. And the #2 issue is deploying that Talent effectively. He pointed out a grim paradox in today’s business climate: companies are struggling with intense competition to identify top talent, desperate to hire. But even as they do so, we’re still facing high unemployment. He feels that this is partly due to the difficulty of aligning the existing Talent in the market to ever-more-specific business needs. Josh pointed to a disconnect between what people are learning in school vs. what’s needed in today’s workforce, and to the difficulty all companies are having as they struggle to wrap their arms around the now-essential mobile learning. There is a young, mobile, social workforce out there now with different expectations and skills with regard to virtual learning and collaboration. He warned that this segment of the population doesn’t hesitate to express dissatisfaction with a company on public forums if they don’t feel sufficiently engaged. But Josh also cited the fact that all-virtual isn’t necessarily the answer, either. He cited the example of Deloitte creating Deloitte University in Texas: the company realized that in addition to their virtual structure, there was still a need for a physical face-to-face gathering place to occasionally “ground” their learning and development initiatives with in-person events. Bersin’s survey of Top Talent Priorities for 2013 across organizations includes management capabilities, leadership skills, building high-impact performance, and more. It’s a daunting and all-too-familiar list.
Given all of that, how does a 21st century company become a High Impact Learning Organization (HILO)? Josh believes Continuous Learning is the key. He also believes it’s necessary at all levels of business for a number of reasons. In addition to increasing specialization, people are exposed to more learning channels and are simply learning faster, and the old HIPO (High Potential) Talent Management model only focused on leadership levels, missing the growth of Talent at all other segments of the workforce.
Bersin’s High Impact Learning Organization (HILO) survey process examines a series of factors, asking companies to self-evaluate their performance with regard to different outcomes. He finds that when hundreds of companies are surveyed, there are clear themes: Effectiveness, Efficiency, Alignment. So what exactly are HILOs doing so well that gives them the business advantage? Josh offered this list:
He noted that HILOs tend to be strong with knowledge management, business intelligence, and more savvy with rich media, audio, social media, and performance consulting. They also demonstrate a more organic blending of Learning and Talent Management functions; Josh pointed out that not long ago, these were viewed as separate disciplines. Bersin research has also shown that the more effectively companies work at evaluation and measurement of learning effectiveness, the more successful the learning outcomes. He says most companies simply feel overwhelmed by the challenge of managing all their learning and talent management content in all its various forms. But for HILOs who have a better handle on it all, the impact is enormous: According to Josh, between 2008 and 2011, high-impact learning organization profits grew 3x faster than the rest of the organizations studied. Clearly, learning agility is a key business strategy for success.
Josh’s team recommends this maturity model to help organizations take action:
Josh also noted this snapshot of a timeline for evolution of Learning Solutions from 2001-2011:
He feels we’re in a transition to a new era of “Continuous Learning”: nothing has gone away, but we need to bring it together with the current socialized learning trends: “The only way to stay relevant is to stay current.” In the Continuous Learning Model, a company has to identify which elements of training are most effective for their target audience, and work to maximize effectiveness of those elements. He gave words to what everyone in the room knows: it’s not possible to keep on top of every type of learning. He pointed out that you need to know more about your target audience ahead of time these days, to ensure that the Learning Events you offer are really aimed at them, to maximize retention.
Stay tuned for Part Two of Josh’s talk! It’s equally filled with great nuggets of wisdom. I will post it next Sunday.
On Tuesday, May 14th, I gave my talk Giving Voice to Your eLearning at a Manhattan meeting of ASTDNY’s eLearning Special Interest Group, for a fun and appreciative audience. My thanks to SIG co-chairs Enid Crystal and John Galto for inviting me, and to attendees for their participation and enthusiasm.
For those of you who attended, as promised, I am posting the Appendix slides for a limited time here as they include a number of helpful links on the topic. If you enjoyed the session and find these slides useful, please leave a comment on this post to let me know!
For those who missed my talk, I give an overview of how quality voiceovers, used appropriately, can significantly enhance the quality of self-paced eLearning modules. I provide my “Three Golden Rules” for success, along with specific tips and tricks for getting the most out of both amateur and professional voiceover talent. I also share some basic tech guidance to help first-timers get up and running.
If you know of an organization that would benefit from my talk, please contact me. You can see a description of that talk and my other offerings on my Courses page.
On the evening of February 1st, I attended an ASTD-NY eLearning Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting kindly hosted by Visiting Nurse Service of NY, and SIG co-chairs Enid Crystal and John Galto. The guest speaker was Ross Squire, the man behind the well-respected eLearning staffing and consulting agency, Knowledgestaff. I heard Ross speak at an ASTD event a couple of years ago and found him to be great at “reading the waters” of the eLearning business. I like Ross because he’s clear-headed, thoughtful, and tells it like it is. This session was no exception.
Ross’s evaluation of the current climate matches what I’m seeing, point for point. Companies who cut staff as a result of the 2008 Wall Street fiasco and subsequent deep recession are not restaffing in the patterns we’ve seen in prior recessions. Instead, in many cases, they are content making their fewer remaining staff members do more work. After all, it enhances their bottom line. Only if they really can’t get the work done in house are they looking outside–and then, frequently offshore. When companies do go looking for new workers today, according to Ross, they are seeking renaissance workers more than ever, people who have a strong skillset across a variety of disciplines, rather than specializing in just one area. Yet, interestingly, the promising spurt of client inquiries his firm has had in the last month is mostly for full-time staff positions, rather than freelance consultants. We’ll see if that trend continues!
According to a survey conducted by Ross’s company, the emerging trends in eLearning are:
None of these is likely to be a surprise to you. The writing is on the virtual wall. Ross also reports that New York area learning executives have unanimously identified the following emerging roles as essential going forward:
Ross’s talk also included his “annual tune-up” tips: a lot of sound advice about how those of us in eLearning should manage our careers in the face of the the current economy. I was very glad to hear him include a segment on investing in yourself. More than ever, it’s essential to stay on top of trends, and also just to give yourself time and opportunity to grow and learn. After all, regardless of the economic climate, you’re worth it!
If you ever have the opportunity to hear Ross speak, I urge you to attend. He’s an engaging and deeply knowledgeable speaker, and he’s genuinely there to help. You’ll be glad you went. To view his materials from the session, click here. And if you live in the NY area and you’re not already a member of ASTD’s New York chapter, I urge you to join; there’s a lot of great information being shared at their events. You can click their logo on this post to visit the ASTDNY site.