7 Steps to Building a Learning Initiative that Grabs the Attention of Millennials and Beyond
Have you ever had a seven-layer salad? I haven’t either. They’re too healthy. That’s why I’m going to be open about my obsession for another food with an equal amount of layers: the seven-layer bar (shout out to the best one I’ve ever had at Main Street Deli in Findlay, Ohio!).
Solidified by a sturdy base of graham cracker crumbs, all things glorious get piled up from this seemingly innocent beginning: chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, nuts, coconut…along with any number of other tasty morsels…held together by the trusty “glue” of condensed milk. Being the gourmand that I am, I enjoy masticating on all sorts of decadent foods.
As I was eating one this past week, I thought to myself – if we were going to create the seven layers of good eLearning and instructional design, what would they be? So, inspired by the crave-worthy seven-layer bar, I put together this seven-step “recipe” to create the best company training initiative ever. Test it out for yourself and you’re sure to have a hit on your hands.
The Seven-Layer Bar…of Learning Design
The next time you’re designing a training initiative, try these seven steps and watch as your people sit up, pay attention and retain the information you’re sharing with them!
Step One: Be Learner Focused
Where do most corporate training initiatives start? If there’s a gap with your people, you start with them, right? Wrong. In fact, very few instructional designers or corporate leaders focus their attention on the right thing – the user. Too often in the eLearning development process, the bridge is built before we understand who is actually going to cross it!
Ideation typically starts with the leaders of the company, content requests trickle down to subject matter experts (SMEs), a prototype is built and is then pushed back up the chain for review. After a gaggle of revisions, the course is built. But who is it for? If you’re lucky, it’ll connect back to the people. But wouldn’t it be easier just to start with the needs of the user?
So, back to step one – talk to learners. Study their behavior and habits. Understand how they learn best. What are the canyons they have in their job? How can you better equip and empower them to succeed?
When you’re positioned at the intersection where your users meet the knowledge they need to improve their capabilities, how much more effective could your learning program be? No need to respond. That was rhetorical.
Step 2: Build Your Information Architecture
The underpinning of a good course includes structured navigation, with chunked content, so learners can navigate through with ease. As instructional designers, we’re no strangers to complex “brain dumps” of information. But that doesn’t mean your user is ready to receive a truckload of information in one sitting. So before you do anything, take a look at the learner’s requirements and decide how best to mesh that with the SME’s content. Then start designing! Just make a mockup – it doesn’t have to be pretty (napkins are great).
Step 3: Use Interactive Content
On-screen material shouldn’t be a wall of text, seemingly endless, overwhelming, and without formatting. To keep folks actively participating in the course – use bits of interactivity. That means more than throwing “100 click-to-reveals” on everything. Integrate visual components and activities that evoke thought and reflection from the learner. Just to dip a toe in, try some of these next time: video, reality-based simulations, sorting and dragging.
Step 4: User Experience is Everything
An often ancillary focus of a course’s design – user experience – has never become more important than in this digital age. From my days of working in high school, through college, the eLearning UX feels like you’re going right back to the 90s. Limited viewport, instructions telling you where to click, dated interface elements…yuck, yuck, yuck.
The user experience is often a subtle driver, building momentum, to push the course forward, and keep the learner energized. On any given webpage, the user sizes up the page in less than ten seconds, stays on it less than a minute, and reads only 25% of the content. Are you cool with your audience glancing at 25% of your words (let’s even forget about how much of that they’ll retain)? Didn’t think so.
In a world where your leaners are interacting with fluid mobile and web-based apps all the time – Facebook all day, Yelp in the evenings, Uber on the weekends – why should they resort back to a clunky and confusing experience on Monday morning when it’s time to learn? I can’t underscore the user enough. Ask yourself – what are they going to do, where are they going to do it, and how are they going to do it? These questions will kick-start you into thinking about your audience.
Step 5: Test the Usability
Before Apple released the iPhone, they tirelessly selected its inaugural form over dozens, if not hundreds of prototypes. When it comes to creating something new, many ideas are thrown away, because they just don’t work the way they should. Treat your eLearning course in the same manner. If the course doesn’t function, then the time, effort and money spent developing it are for nothing. And your people will walk away without any of the new knowledge you need and want them to obtain.
Review the course’s navigation. How do the activities work in both the correct and incorrect state? Ensure the course objectives are met. Complete a usability analysis as you pick through each part of an eLearning course – from the grammar to the programming.
The best quality assurance testing often comes from an outside source. You’ve put in enough hours – let someone take a fresh look at your course and assess each element and give you feedback on how successful the course is (or isn’t!).
Step 6: Nail Your Copywriting
In fourth grade, when my teacher (Thanks, Mrs. Beier!) would instruct me on how to write an essay, she’d relate it to a topic you already know I love – food. Introduce and close your essay with a bun, and dive into the heart of your paper with thick, juicy, paddies.
It’s the same in instructional design. But, just as in the art of creating the perfect burger, the meat has to be prepared and seasoned appropriately. For your eLearning course, this means writing copy that is relatable, applicable and even (gasp) entertaining!
Your language is paramount to a course being successful. You can add a plethora of interactivity, read every ounce of Robert F. Mager’s instructional design theory and give the course the coolest visual treatment in the world – but your words drive interest, and that interest, drives completion. And, most importantly, behavior change.
Step 7: Be Curious
To create dynamic learning and drive excitement within your organization, you need to be obsessed with your people. You must intuitively understand how people learn. Practice empathy for your users and their emotions. The fun of being an instructional designer is that we get to learn something new every day. Embrace it! Get a thrill from it! No two days are the same in this field, just like no two courses are the same. Stay hungry to learn about the user, the company and the field. It’s a great place to be!
Now It’s Time for You to Create the Best Company Training Initiative Ever
While these seven steps might not satisfy your taste buds like my beloved seven-layer bar, they will help you to design an eLearning course that keeps your employees more effective and engaged. And, who doesn’t want that?
Fellow learning designers – what “layers” would you add or subtract? Learners – what do you think separates a “great” course from the “good”?
I’m hungry for your thoughts on what you think it takes to create your company’s best training initiative! And, since it’s getting to the end of the day…I think I’m a bit hungry for something else. Time to refuel. I think I’ll just reach for that seven-layer bar…
I’m a part of the millennial group and am always hungry for feedback. What did I miss about engaging millennials in learning and development? What are your experiences? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.