The Best Lessons Learned in Instructional Design

I’ve worked in government my whole career and learned long ago that if I was to do anything, it would always be on a tight budget. Based on my work experiences, in 2003 I wrote my master’s thesis about, and then in 2005 published a book titled, eLearning Solutions on a Shoestring. As we all moved from products like Authorware to PowerPoint and other slide-based tools, I wrote Better Than Bullet Points, now in its second edition. (Editor’s note: If you buy this book used, be sure that what you are buying is the second edition. We have heard that some vendors are selling and shipping the first edition. The link above will take you to the correct listing on Amazon.)

So, when The eLearning Guild approached me about presenting at a recent Spotlight session citing the breadth of my work over the years, it gave me a nice chance to revisit some of the things from way back. And I found that, while tools have come and gone, with possibilities beyond what I could even imagine, some things really haven’t changed.

Don’t overdesign

One of the reasons we ever got interested in eLearning was its promise of just-in-time training. Alas, over the years for many of us, development of even simple products has become anything but that. I have seen people struggle with design elements like decorative art, interactions like complicated games that are really just tarted-up multiple-choice questions, and creating and running video when a still photo would do. Be careful of working too long to create a perfect, elegant product instead of a quicker working solution. And keep your eye on the job-performance ball: The punchline to one of my favorite “eLearning on a shoestring” stories is that Duke Medical School, upon finding that physicians had become so dependent on technology that they could no longer just use stethoscopes, did some retraining via simple audio files deployed on iPods.

Remember: For most things, good eLearning is about design, not software

What makes eLearning boring? The same things that make classroom training boring: Someone reading content. Too much extraneous content. Content not relevant to the worker. No opportunities to think and engage with content.

One way to make it less boring: Show that you are attending to the learner’s reality. My husband, who is sometimes pulled to help at the front sales counter at his job, tells the story of a mandatory customer service video. It was clearly an expensive, polished product with high-end production value—that offered completely unrealistic scenarios. It was obvious the designer knew nothing about the worker’s daily experience. (Big tip-off: The customers in the video always had exact change.) A lower-end product with more credible content could have provided a better learning experience.

Always ask: Is there another way?

I’ve written before about the problem of trainers who complain that learners want to be spoon-fed but won’t let them hold the spoon. Look at how you can design to get learners thinking rather than letting content just wash over them. And realize this may not take complex interactions. See “Let the Learners Hold the Spoon” to see how simple changes to a single slide can move the learning experience from content-pushing to knowledge-pulling.

Remember: Content is abundant

This is a quote from our friend Thiagi, who reminds us that every time we set out to work on new “content,” the odds are it already exists. Learn to use what’s out there. Online quiz? Ask for permission to adapt and use it. YouTube video? Assign people to watch it and comment either on the video itself, or back on your discussion board, or on your SharePoint blog. Lots of text-based material? Turn it into a learning game. Spend some time looking around for inspiration. Google things related to the topic you’re working on. Try “Mine safety eLearning” or “Online course mine safety” or “mine safety training preview.” Odds are someone has found an unusually interesting take on that. Keep up with the weekly Articulate eLearning Heroes Challenges. If you can get to some live conferences, The eLearning Guild’s events set aside an evening for attendees to present examples of their work. Next up is DemoFest at Learning Solutions in March. And once you’ve seen something you like, ask: “How’d they do that? Can I do that? Can I do it with next-to-no money?”

Those of you who’ve been around a while, think back to what we wanted eLearning to be

Quick, easy to access, just-in-time, just-for-me, in bites both palatable and useful for workers. Get back to those roots, and you’ll find working on a shoestring doesn’t have to mean creating inferior products.



The 3 Mistakes Every First-Timer Makes with Gamification Design

I see a lot of confusion about what it means to gamify a learning program. Gamification is NOT about designing a game. Nor is it simply handing out points or badges to your learners. It’s about finding the right motivators for your audience to promote actions that achieve the desired outcomes.

As you start your gamification strategy design, avoid these common mistakes:

Mistake #1 : Failing to identify who the game is for. Why do some people engage in a gamified process, while others disengage in frustration? Why do some game elements appeal to some people, but have no effect on others?

The problem is based in our personal motivation profile, which is core to how we make decisions. The breakdown happens because we have trouble understanding the perspective of those whose profile is significantly different from ours. Dr. Reiss, of The Reiss Profile, identifies this problem as “self-hugging.” He says not only do we believe everyone should be like us, but that they are like us.

In gamification design, it is important to realize that you have different motivations for playing than most of the people you encounter. Don’t assume your players want things your way. Talk with potential players to find out what makes them tick.

Mistake #2 : Attempting to fix a broken product or service with gamification. It’s like the time my youngest son baked a cake for us. The icing looked deliciously creamy and sweet. But with the first bite, we were puzzled, because although the icing tasted as good as it looked, it was apparent something was wrong with the cake. With a second bite, our fear was confirmed, and we said, ‘The icing is great, but what’s wrong with the cake?” My son laughed and confessed he misread the recipe and put in three tablespoons instead of three teaspoons of baking powder, which caused the cake to be flat and bitter.

He was hoping the sweetness of the icing would compensate for the bitterness of the cake. Instead, it left me wondering, “Why would you take the time and energy to put this delicious icing on such a terrible cake?”

The same is true for your gamification design. If done right, it will draw in your users, and they’ll want to see if it tastes as good as it looks. When they find out your customer service department should be called the Customer Torture Department, they will wonder why you bothered gamifying the process. You have to solve the problem of a bad product or service before you can leverage the power of gamification.

Mistake #3 : Believing that PBLs are gamification. When asked about choosing a gamification platform, I advise, “If the salesperson starts by describing how his or her gamification platform provides points, badges, and leaderboards (PBLs), run from the room as fast as you can.” Surprised, people often respond, ‘What do you mean? I thought that is what gamification is!” Of course, they did, because most (but not all) gamification platforms on the market begin and end with oversimplified, non-engaging mechanics.

PBLs are part of gamification, but if all you focus on are those mechanics, then say hello to your colleagues as you join them in the 80 percent of gamification projects that will fail this year.

Leaderboards actually can drive users away if used inappropriately. Imagine that you oversee a help desk, and in an attempt to improve efficiency, you add a leaderboard, award points, and issue cash rewards to employees with the fastest times in resolving Tier 1 issues. Chances are good that you instead will see wait times increase and a spike in employee turnover. Why? Because the help desk employees won’t view your gamification efforts as positive feedback, but rather as management watching over them.

You cannot simply add a cookie-cutter gamification overlay to a system and expect success. Take a closer look.

Designed properly, gamification will provide learners with a sense of accomplishment, skill building, achievement, and purpose. Now it’s your turn.


AUTHOR:  A gamification speaker and designer, Monica Cornetti is rated as a No. 1 Gamification Guru in the World by UK-based Leaderboarded. She is the founder and CEO of the Sententia Gamification Consortium and the author of the book, “Totally Awesome Training Activity Guide: Put Gamification to Work for You.” For more information, visit or

Reprinted from Training magazine

Agile Learner Personas for Instructional Design

Meet Trixie. She’s 25 years old and started her first professional job about a year ago. She uses a smartphone for texting and tweeting, but also for shopping, banking, and dating (by the way, she’s single). Trixie holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from a liberal arts college and she’ll probably go back to get her master’s, maybe an MBA, but right now she’s focusing on her position as a market analyst (her mentor speaks highly of her work ethic but mentioned that her understanding of marketing is fairly rudimentary at this point) and on the non-profit she and a college friend started to provide creative spaces to under-resourced communities.

Oh, one more thing: Trixie’s not a real person.

What’s a “persona”?

Or rather, Trixie is many, many people. She’s a combination of their educational backgrounds, position in the organization, and worldviews. Trixie is the primary learner persona for a series of marketing modules for a manufacturer with a global presence. They made the decision to start their marketing training in North America and will expand and adapt the training for marketers worldwide later. At that time, Trixie will fade into the background and Jens will get all the attention.

Jens isn’t real either, but the instructional designer on the project could describe him so well you would be convinced Jens and the ID were friends. That’s because the ID and the project sponsors spent almost half a day discussing typical learners for the upcoming marketing modules. They assigned ages, genders, career goals, technology comfort-levels, educational backgrounds, and attitudes toward eLearning. They even attributed outside interests and family and social relationships. So now the ID knows Trixie and Jens (and Bill and Sonal) well enough to suggest their favorite restaurants and order for them.

Why create personas?

And that’s the value of learner personas—they are people. The mantra of all IDs is “design for the learner,” not “design for the demographic statistics.” Putting a name and face (well, almost) to the stats makes it much easier to understand what the learners will really need. At every decision point, the instructional designer can ask herself, “What does Trixie need?” or “What does Trixie want?” and the answer will probably be pretty obvious.

Developing learner personas can be time-consuming but everyone involved usually enjoys the process. There will likely be some debate and questioning but most project sponsors get a kick out of inventing people. It’s helpful to start the process with some explanations and caveats.

Three important details

One, clear up the issue of stereotypes and generalizations. Some feel uncomfortable with the process because it can feel like stereotyping, that is assuming all members of a group will have the same traits. Comments like “Not all millennials show up to work late” or “I know many retail clerks who are ambitious” indicate that some in the group might misunderstand the process. Acknowledge that this process relies on generalizations. In fact, this process does not work without generalizations. And explain that generalizations are inferences based on careful observation and personal experiences. Where stereotypes are a list of traits assigned to all members of a group, generalizations are descriptions of a group based on its members.

At this point, some may argue that generalizations can quickly turn into stereotypes (which they can) and that oversimplified generalizations won’t lead to learner personas that are useful for instructional design. But these aren’t oversimplified generalizations, which leads to . . .

Two, you can have more than one learner persona. You should have more than one persona. So, when someone says that a particular description doesn’t apply to everyone, you can say “Great! We’ll make a learner persona for the others next.” We all recognize that just because people might have the same job description doesn’t mean they all fit the same learner persona. You might end up creating two, three, or four personas. As you develop the personas, determine how many learners each one represents. If a persona typifies less than 10 percent of the learners, it’s probably not necessary to devote time fleshing that persona out, because …

Three, in the end, the group will have to come to a consensus about who the primary learner is. Choosing isn’t based strictly on numbers, but it’s unlikely that a small percentage of outliers will become the primary learner. For example, Trixie represents about 80 percent of the company’s North American learners. The remaining 20 percent are typically a little older, have been with the company longer than Trixie, and are shifting from non-marketing to marketing roles. The project sponsors decided to choose Trixie as their primary learner persona partly because she represented such a large number. But they also decided that in meeting Trixie’s needs for marketing fundamentals, the courses would also meet the most important needs of the other 20 percent. And some of the other content that Trixie needs—developing customer relationships, cross-functional communications—might be a little redundant for more experienced learners but won’t detract from their learning experiences. Who knows? It might even be a valuable refresher.

In other instances, the numbers have very little to do with choosing the primary persona. This was the case with Jens. He represents only about a third of the company’s European workers, but they selected him anyway. Jens exemplifies the population that the organization inherited when it acquired several smaller companies about a decade ago. Jens is loyal to his products and has a valuable customer network but he’s somewhat resistant to the marketing ideas the company has adopted in the last couple years. Jens is serving as the primary learner for the next phase of training development because he’s likely to be a difficult learner to reach. If the training is designed to appeal to even the most reluctant learners, the courses will almost certainly appeal to enthusiastic learners, so the ID can focus on Jens knowing that the other learners will be just fine.

All the stakeholders benefit from personas

Learner personas aren’t just valuable for instructional designers, though. They’re useful touchstones for all stakeholders, even (or maybe especially) the project sponsors. If a project’s scope begins to creep, you can bring it back by asking whether the additions will help Trixie. Or, midway through the project, you might be struck by an inspiration and you can propose changes based on Trixie’s needs. Best of all, millions of learners benefit from the well-designed training that learner personas make possible.


Reprinted from LEARNING SOLUTIONS magazine






Instructional Design: Career Tips for Thinking Beyond the Storyboard

What’s the difference between an instructional designer (ID) and a lead or senior instructional designer? It’s more than simply having more knowledge of design principles and learning theory.

In reviewing job listings for senior IDs, I observed that some of the additional skills that hiring managers require are the operational and business aspects of instructional design including:

  • Working collaboratively with the team and across the business
  • Working on complex, multi-deliverable projects
  • Providing consultative services and leadership
  • Contributing to an environment of innovation and overall excellence

These skills aren’t typically part of an instructional design graduate program but are critical to progressing to the top of the field. In this article, I’d like to offer some tips on developing these business skills, specifically as they pertain to instructional design.


Collaboration is critical to creating a stellar learning program. A design culture of spontaneous brainstorming, quick stand-up meetings, and cross-pollination of ideas is ideal for innovation. Organizations like Citrix, Proctor & Gamble, McKinney Advertising Agency, and others have dedicated valuable office real estate to creating open work spaces for teams to brainstorm.

These unconventional, flex spaces may contain movable seating and whiteboards, markers, flipcharts, post-its, pipe cleaners for fidgety hands, construction paper, crayons, and more. Fun virtual environments like Google Hangouts work effectively as well.

Learning-project teams are creative and are eager to contribute to a project as early as possible in the life cycle. A lead ID is in a good position to set the stage for this kind of collaboration and to cultivate it.

Complex Projects

The most extensive eLearning projects have a high value to the organization and a high number of learners. Managers often task lead instructional designers with these top-tier projects. Complex projects require a big-picture focus on outcomes as well as the ability to zoom in on project details, so effective communication skills are vital.

Consider creating a formal pitch communicating your proposed learning solutions (after team brainstorming of course) to your supervisor, stakeholders, and subject matter experts (SMEs). Include data to support your ideas, as well as visuals, maps, and prototypes that help explain the creative concepts.

Provide a road map that shows how the solution will enhance motivation and how you will measure effectiveness (e.g., usability testing, pilots, observations). Post-pitch, collect feedback and revise. Collaboration with and agreement from multiple parties at key milestones is the best way for the entire team to feel ownership and to set the project up for success.

Consultative Leadership

What is a consultative

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leader? Jim Hornikel, director of training and development for Bold New Directions, states:

“There are two main sides to this practice: incoming and outgoing. To be consultative invites the incoming. You are aware your team members have lots of experience and knowledge that, if you garner it, you get lots more information to work with in making your critical decisions. A consultative leader also consults. That is, you have important information to give to your team members, and they will be more effective if they have your information to work with.”

Instructional designers who exhibit consultative leadership:

  • Maintain a focus on the greater good—on the learner, and on how well the learning program will help achieve the organization’s business goals
  • Develop relationships with stakeholders as well as internal project teams
  • Embody a can-do attitude and practice creative problem-solving
  • Share what they have learned with others through formal or informal mentoring
  • Ask important questions that no one else does
  • Set expectations and provide role clarity


At Weejee Learning, we like to spark our internal brainstorming meetings by asking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…?” Wouldn’t it be awesome if this initiative was driven by user-generated content? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could build an entire campaign around this program including movie-trailer videos and incentives? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could produce an interactive video? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we created an augmented-reality game using transmedia storytelling?

Today’s technologies enable unlimited possibilities for innovation and fun. Seek out ways you can make learning engaging. Look not only within the training industry but also to other fields such as film making, music, and

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advertising. Stay curious!

About the Author:

Tracy Bissette is teaching a six-week Guild Academy course beginning February 26, The Business of Instructional Design. To learn more or to register, visit

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

Infuse Instructional Design with Practical Project Management Principles

I was fooling myself. I truly believed my training and development projects were successful. However, “successful” meant something different for me than it did for my sponsors. I missed a few deadlines or went over budget, but as long as I met my learning objectives I didn’t concern myself.

It wasn’t working.

Later, I discovered project management concepts and slowly started weaving them into my daily work. I quickly found that while I still met my learning objectives, I also met my deadlines and budgets.

Instructional design processes

We all have our favorite instructional design methods. Most of us use ADDIE in some form or another. However, I pose that ADDIE, or any instructional system design (ISD) model by itself, is inherently incomplete.

As workplace learning professionals, we are expected to create more than just a learning experience. If we are focused only on our learners, we are shortsighted.

We must manage our training initiatives the same way our other business partners manage their initiatives. We must learn to incorporate more project management into our daily work.

Project management

Project management refers to the skill sets of managing a team of individuals and resources to create a specific deliverable. Projects have a defined start and end point. They have budgets, teams, and managers. Creating a specific learning solution and delivering it to an audience fits the definition of a project.

We all want a seat at the table, and to achieve that we must speak their language. We must talk in terms of timelines, budgets, and resources and not just learning objectives. We must achieve our learning objectives, but we also must complete projects on time and on budget.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) breaks down project management into five process groups and 10 knowledge areas.

The five process groups are initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Some may be larger or smaller, but each should always occur on every project. This ensures that projects are set up and planned correctly, managed along the way, and then completely closed.

PMI’s 10 knowledge areas are integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, procurement, and stakeholders. These areas are designed to categorize the various tasks typically performed during a project.

Not all projects warrant all of the knowledge areas. For example, if the project requires no procurement, there will be few or no tasks required, so that knowledge area may not be used.

Although we should incorporate more project management techniques into our daily work, we can’t rely on project management techniques alone to create a successful learning solution. The use of SPADES blends together the concepts from ADDIE along with the best practices from project management to create a winning combination.

Putting project management into ISD

SPADES stands for start, plan, administer, develop, engage, and stop. Each of these stages incorporates tasks typically completed with ADDIE, but adds project management techniques to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

Since every training solution is different, you may not need all of the various tasks in each stage. However, every project should go through each stage to some degree.


Lay the foundation of your project and complete critical tasks. One of the first steps is to get a clear understanding of who has a stake in your project’s outcome. This will obviously include the training team and the learners, but think beyond the standard audience.

Does your boss have an interest? How about the learners’ bosses? Do the learners interact with another customer or could this training initiative change something in how the learners interact with another group? Will your project use someone else’s resources (for example, subject matter experts)?

Each of these people is a stakeholder. They all have an interest, or stake, in how your project moves forward and the result it creates.

The start phase also includes a needs analysis in which you determine what kind of gaps you are attempting to solve and how it will be measured. These results become a part of the project’s measurements of success.


During the critical planning phase, take stock of the tasks your team will need to accomplish and the resources required to complete them. For the right projects, project managers will create detailed plans for tasks, communications, budgets, risks, procurements, and resources.

Task plans help you to build your schedule and determine how long it will take. Knowing this is important because you may have a requirement to complete a project in three months but your plan tells you it will take four.

If you have a good plan, you know in advance that you need more time and this helps to maintain a relationship with a stakeholder so you aren’t missing a deadline later. Task plans consider not only the amount of time, but also the resources you will need.

Training solutions often rely on SMEs to provide content and direction. Task plans help you understand when you are going to need time from the SMEs so they are better able to plan their involvement. Having a clear plan helps you know what needs to happen and allows you to adapt if something doesn’t go according to plan.


Administration involves tasks that can occur at any point in the training project. A prime example would be communicating.

Project managers spend a majority of their time communicating with the project team, as well as stakeholders, users, suppliers, and resources. Project managers should take time to understand what kind of communication expectations each person has. This helps to understand if you need to create a weekly status report or if a less formal verbal update is appropriate.

This also is where the project manager controls much of the work. The project manager should make sure the tasks are on schedule and on budget. Delays and cost overruns early in a project could cause the entire project to miss a deadline or go over budget if not caught early and addressed.


Develop is one of the stages unique to the ADDIE process. This includes the design and development stages with which you may be more familiar.

The design process includes the work to create the overall design of the training solution, including determining the evaluation methods needed and training methods used, mapping the course topics to the various behavioral objectives, and making sure the curriculum meets the learning needs.

Development takes the design and creates the training materials needed to achieve it. This would be when the developers create the online learning modules, or when the instructional designers create the classroom training materials.


Engagement aligns closely to the implementation stage of ADDIE. It also includes many of the tasks involved with evaluation, including analysis. If the solution is online, this may be when the online course is published and learners begin to take the course. For classroom solutions, this may be when the first classroom course is facilitated.

When you establish your project, mark where the project should end. Some training solutions may involve a training program that is constantly repeating and ongoing.

For example, you may develop a new-hire program delivered each week without an end in sight. This doesn’t mean the project continues on indefinitely. Otherwise it isn’t a project.

The end can be the conclusion of a pilot session or it could be when the course begins facilitation. From there, the work transitions to operational or maintenance.


Stopping a project is a necessary step, but it is often overlooked by project managers. When closing a project, project managers should take time with the stakeholders to determine if each of the project’s requirements and objectives was met.

If they all were, then you can consider the project a success. If they were not, it provides an opportunity to determine where something went wrong. This helps to create best practices to ensure success with future projects.

Project managers also should make sure final paperwork is completed, suppliers are paid, and resources are released. In addition, they should ensure that the deliverables are transferred to the people who become responsible for them.

Tying it all together

ADDIE and other similar models allow us to meet learning objectives, but fall short when considering timelines or budgets. To work well with our business partners, we must act and manage our projects with a broader perspective.

SPADES will enable you to get the best from the development world while incorporating the critical project management processes.

About the Author:

Allan Harris is an instructional designer, project manager, and a learning and development leader. He has a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the Project Management Institute.

The not-for-profit Project Management Institute (PMI) strives to collect the best practices of project managers everywhere and to create a common standard within which all professionals can work. It also offers well-recognized certifications in project management. Learn more at

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

From Traditional Instruction to Instructional Design 2.0

We’re working in a wonderful era of easy-to-use, readily available social media technologies ideally suited to learning and instruction. These tools—blogs, wikis, social networking sites, microblog sites, video sites, and more—provide wonderful, new opportunities to invite participation from our learners.

Anecdotal reports from learning and development (L&D) professionals indicate that trainers and instructional designers are enthusiastic about and interested in using new tools and approaches, but just don’t have a good understanding of how to do so. Industry news and technology aficionados offer frequent updates about new social media tools (such as the recently launched Google+) or updates to old ones—often without much in the way of ideas for integrating them into practice.

Advantages are many: Social media allow more participation over a span of time, encourage people to “learn out loud” for the benefit of others, and provide ways to more closely embed learning into work. So what are some strategies for workplace learning practitioners seeking to incorporate these new tools into their training design?

Defining social learning and social media

Social learning is not new, and just using social media tools doesn’t make learning “social.” Also, social learning and social media aren’t the same thing. In fact, social learning isn’t necessarily connected with social media.

Social learning is learning with and from others by moving within one’s culture, workplace, and world. It’s often unconscious and unintentional, and it often looks more like solving a problem or working together to make sense of something. Social learning is how most of us learn most things: through living in our cultures and interacting with others there. It’s how babies learn to talk and how we learn the basic rules of getting along on the playground. It’s all around us every day, from water cooler conversations to asking a co-worker for an opinion.

Social media are the tools that enable social learning to happen on a large scale, and their popularity has gone a long way in bringing increased awareness of and interest in social learning in the workplace. In seeking to be part of this, practitioners can begin by expanding their current practices and finding ways to extend their reach.

It’s important, for instance, to begin practicing what some call social instructional design: incorporating collaborative activities, particularly with new online tools. But it’s also important to start moving past our traditional notion of instruction, particularly as it is delivered in the form of discrete modules or courses.

For instance, we know learners talk during breaks, after class, and in between sessions or modules—how can we be part of those conversations? We know that workers often turn to one another for help—how can we listen better to have answers more readily available to them?

Identify the instructional goals

This seems obvious, but a focus on outcomes often gets lost in enthusiasm over new tools and products. “Doing Twitter” isn’t a goal. Do you want learners to explore, listen, share, reflect, interact with the instructor, interact with one another, or some combination of these? Does the material indicate an assignment such as: Read an article or watch a video, and comment on either; brainstorm and arrange ideas into categories; or work together to lay out the flow of a process or project?

Or do you want to find new means of continuing classroom conversations or conducting formative or summative assessment activities? These kinds of decisions will affect your choice of tools.

You should identify where performance gaps are. Where are your learners struggling, and how can you help? Most of us likely will agree with Josh Bersin Associates’ David Mallon when he says, “It’s easier for me to find a long-lost high school friend than a document I need at work.” Few of us complain that information is too easy to find, or that communication is too smooth.

What would be of most help to your learners, and most in support of your goals? Do your learners need to explore ideas and information (as with structured web searches), listen (as with RSS feeds or podcasts), share (as with bookmarking tools such as Delicious, or media sharing sites such as YouTube, Slideshare, or Flickr), reflect (as often happens with blogs), or work collaboratively in a dynamic workspace (as with a wiki)? Do your learners need help finding one another to engage in conversations of their choosing (as with social networking tools)?

While many tools will accommodate a number of approaches, try to identify the ones that make sense for your large goals in the long run. It’s also important to consider the real reasons for using social media for learning in the first place; it should in some way extend or enhance the learning experience, or make the learning more accessible to learners. Simply bolting social-media-based activities onto programs because it’s the trendy thing to do won’t serve anyone well.

Other considerations

Apart from matching goals to strategies, there are other considerations that can support your success with “ID 2.0.” Think about what your learners will use, find out what percentage of your workforce comprises Facebook users or Twitterphiles, and determine how many workers have smartphones.

Similarly, what will the organization support? Look into whether employees encounter many problems with websites being blocked. How flexible is your IT department in working with the learning department? Also, check with the marketing department or communications office to find out what is being used elsewhere in the organization and whether you can build on that.

Beyond Twitter and Facebook

Think about how social media tools could help you get into new spaces, such as those between or after formal events, or where conversations are otherwise naturally occurring. What are some ways to help support the new learning as people work to implement it?

Some ideas include:

  • an online leadership book club to sustain learning beyond the confines of the organization’s structured leadership academy
  • a networking group for graduates of a particular course, which can be a great way to support transfer of new learning from the classroom event
  • a dynamic, evolving frequently-asked-questions webpage for new hires, created by new hires, or a webpage with tips from top sales staff
  • a wiki for group projects
  • a site for “critical incident” discussions related to training topics such as customer service or ethics
  • a microblog-based live chat for all the leaders in your organization, or all leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, or all leaders everywhere
  • a Twitter hashtag assigned to your training sessions so participants can tweet key points and takeaways to those who were unable to attend.

One area ripe for expansion is performance support. L&D is perfectly positioned to use social media tools to deliver job aids and provide real-time mentoring and coaching. Helping to establish and nurture communities for recent course graduates and new hires is an excellent way to build and reinforce ties between learners and learning.

Find ways for learners to support one another and showcase their work. For instance, Google’s Julia Bulkowski recommends that when a stellar salesperson closes a big sale, ask that employee to share her presentation by narrating key points, objections, and responses, and then ask what she considered critical to the sale. Publish this via a sharing tool or company site as a support tool for others.

Watch for opportunities that training and development may be missing. For example, do your workers have an easy way of finding one another? How long would it take someone to, say, find another person in the organization who is fluent in Portuguese? Lead the initiative to establish employee profiles that include skills inventories.

Work with others to establish blogs on topics of particular interest in the company, and recruit ambassadors or experts to help populate these and lead conversations. These can be specific to business, such as sales tactics or new product details, or information of more personal relevance to people such as wellness or work-life balance.

Host a “lifelong learning” blog or Facebook page with updates about L&D activities, as well as links to how-to sites and videos, links to free webinars or podcasts, and overviews of academic programs that might be of interest to staff. In other words, help your learners use social media to learn. Work to invite conversation, comments, and suggestions from your readers or members.

Support learners in generating help for other learners. For example, help them make videos showing successful performance or illustrating common pitfalls for new supervisors. Help them use tools such as Scribd or Slideshare to publish their projects and presentations.

Look for opportunities to help in the workflow. One of my biggest successes was intervening the day a higher-up asked for 15 people to review and return their iterations of the same document. It was a perfect moment to introduce simultaneously shared Google Docs.

New opportunities

New tools allow us to engage with learners, provide opportunities, and work in learning spaces in ways we never could before. We can offer access to experts in real time, keep course graduates in contact as they work to implement their new learning, and, essentially, have more of a place in the learners’ workflow. The opportunities to broaden the reach of the L&D department are now limitless. For instance:

  • Provide real-time access to expertise. Ask the CEO to participate in a social-media-based conversation. Encourage learners to follow experts in the field on Twitter or Google+.
  • Invite an expert or author for an online (Skype or virtual classroom-based) chat; prior to the event invite participants to post their questions using a tool such as Wallwisher.
  • Provide a wiki for learners to record course notes, providing a searchable, permanent record of their course across time and iterations. All participants then will be able to leave with a virtual course book.
  • Provide a virtual field trip to another office or other location via YouTube.
  • Draw expertise and work together on a work product via a wiki or document-sharing site.
  • Provide real-time updates that go directly into networking or micro-
    blog streams.

Move into the workflow

A frequent refrain heard from L&D professionals is “I set up a community and they don’t participate” or “I set up a blog for the training department but hardly anyone visits it.” This is where the real shift is coming.

New awareness of social learning, and new tools to facilitate it, are changing L&D’s role as content-pusher. We need to participate and partner, and help find and support the conversations. Workers are learning from one another all the time, although they may think of it instead as solving a problem.

We are finally uniquely positioned to help move workplace learning from scheduled event to meaningful process.

About the Author:

Jane Bozarth is a career-long trainer, training manager, and instructional designer, presently working as the state of North Carolina’s e-learning coordinator.

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

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