Learning design: probably not that important

A symptom of an education system partly focused on compliance, and large organisations that expect the same, is people need permission to do things differently.

This has a knock-on effect in L&D and how we need to design programs to reinforce that it’s okay to try. Blended learning is a good idea, but no such necessity exists in the real world where a simple well constructed advert or description is enough to get people parting with their hard earned cash.

What this tells me is actually the quality of learning design may in fact be less of an influence on overall impact, than what happens in conjunction around it. Or to put it in another more provocative way, learning design may matter less than you think.

A recent example is a very successful L&D project where the client achieved a record breaking year against business relevant KPIs. They were happy, we were happy, the board (I assume) was happy. So, what was the secret sauce? Ans: 6, hour-long e-learning modules.

Anyone who has been banging the 70:20:10 drum for a bit, knows that this is not particularly modern learning design. You know that half of the users of this particular learning product would have been clicking through slides at a pace in order to ‘get back to work’. And yet, again, the impact has been astounding.

What’s going on here? My hypothesis is that what made this programme a rip roaring success was a tribe of super engaged, super proactive, internal champions. They were respected in the business and went out of their way to drum home the key messages in the modules. All kudos to them – a consultants dream team.

The champions were the ones that gave people the permission to learn and to change. Without them, even the coolest experience design or mobile learning App would have fallen on deaf ears and idle thumbs.

I’m not saying, despite my click-bait title, that learning design is not important, it’s just that it’s time to recognise its place and to get real about its relevance. Even the most haphazard, poorly constructed learning ‘intervention’ can be successful, if the organisation wants it enough. Just as a child that wants to go to McDonald’s enough, can learn to drive at the age of 8.

Change is often not a problem of learning, it’s a problem of motivation or permission (sadly). So to sum up, my suggestion is to spend less time agonising over a programme timeline and more time engaging the business, making friends and influencing people. You can’t start a revolution from behind a desk.

Much love!


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