Learning Technologies 2020: the pursuit of the user and new forms of e-learning

February 25, 2020 Aneta Stokes

If I were to pick just one word that was the leitmotiv of Learning Technologies 2020 in London, it would be: personalization. L&D is actively pursuing users who hang around on Google, YouTube, and social media with smartphones in their hands. It tracks their activities, analyses their behavior and choices, and it dreams of designing a type of experience that would make those users visit and revisit the target platform as if it was a natural and automatic habit, just as they do with Facebook. Can this dream come true?

Less school, more marketing

The rules of the game have changed. Platforms are not prestigious universities, and training courses are not mandatory lectures that people attend because they have to. The contemporary e-learning student is more like a customer who needs to be interested in the e-learning product and impressed by its qualities. Since there are so many fish in this sea, this customer can afford to be picky. Moreover, as has been reported for many years now, people are increasingly distracted by ubiquitous digital content, and find it difficult to focus for extended periods. Some say these are traits of millennials, but the truth is that have all changed under the influence of the digital world, whether we are generation X, Y, or Z. If a YouTube video is longer than 5 minutes, although it might be really interesting, only 50% of viewers will watch it to the end.

Training course and platform designers are learning from marketing specialists. If the users are customers, then let’s find out who they are, what they seek and need, and how they interact with our product. There are Learning Experience Platforms which analyze these preferences (through personalized profiles and content adapted to specified interests or previous choices). A great deal of attention is devoted to the thorough analysis of data, both before the training (the target group, its needs and problems) and afterwards (feedback from the users, the time spent on the course, the moment they leave the course, and their level of achievement). It is recommended that e-learning use elements of retargeting, multi-channel marketing, and personas (i.e. detailed profiles of users that the product is designed for).

What about the content? It should be funny, attractive, useful, or inspiring. It should stand out in the incessant streams of content surrounding the user so that they don’t switch to Instagram after just five minutes. It is a huge challenge to all traditionalists who still use slide after slide of dense information and definitions.

How about your skills?

The contemporary labor market constantly demands reskilling and upskilling. There are no longer jobs “for life” and the market is constantly creating new positions, while brutally discarding others. In this situation, people have to be extremely flexible and open to change, while training departments have to be up-to-date and provide support. Homogeneous courses made of big blocks of “hard knowledge” fail to harmonize with these changes. A wider perspective needs to be adopted and old training habits forgotten. It is simple in theory, but what about practice?

The end of the “one for all and all for one” era

Let’s go back to personalization. An ideal e-learning tool should be designed with personalization in all areas and at all levels. A specific product can have its content, form, speed of learning, support, duration, and tests personalized. Today, companies do not boast about solutions that make users click though all the slides, but about solutions that give the user maximum freedom and that quickly identify courses or sections which the user can skip. There is firm emphasis on the key filter in training personalization being skills rather than roles. Let’s be honest, “all managers” is just as arbitrary a group in terms of training needs as “everyone with dark hair.”

Make it quick, diverse, and original

The key words these days are VR, gamification, and microlearning – the more diverse, the better. A special element in this case could be an interactive video that uses role playing, or something inspired by Netflix’s Bandersnatch. No one is getting rid of formal and obligatory training, but it is evidently giving way to shorter forms that can be easily integrated „in the flow of work”. In line with the 70:20:10 model, as much as 70% of what people know about their work is learned informally by simply doing the job. So this is where they should get the greatest support. Formal training accounts for only 10% of knowledge. In this context, the focus is also on building the culture of a learning organization based on facilitated collaboration and knowledge exchange (how about platform users being able to create groups they want to belong to instead of being assigned to predefined groups?).

All of this requires a new approach by providers. L&D businesses and departments are creating new roles: storyteller, experience designer, performance consultant, data analyst. A training course should no longer be evaluated on the basis of its duration or the number of slides, as this wrongly suggests that long and complex courses are better by definition. However, a course is better when it is based on thorough analysis and well-designed personalized content. Even if it takes the form of a seven-minute video, it can prove more useful than a two-hour, one-size-fits-all course. And we can be sure that most users will watch at least a half of it! ?

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