Generally speaking, we as design professionals tend to settle. We’re not lazy, nor do we lack ambition; rather, as these scholars argue, we tend to seek to stabilize the world around us and react to the best of our abilities. This stability allows us to be productive and effective, especially when dealing with significant time constraints. But it also comes with a cost: less innovation. Too often, our design is driven by the need to replicate and live within the lowest common denominator or constraint that we work under. So, are we complacent or just being realistic?
Since we are all susceptible to this status quo mentality, at Allen we have begun taking specific steps to push ourselves and our clients. First, we recently completed a review of our 100+ projects in 2013. This analysis revealed something we had suspected for some time: constraints on technology, budget, and resources have become a more important influence on our client’s training expectations than ever before. But if we design training to meet a budget figure, we are letting the tail wag the proverbial dog! Effective corporate training relies on creative solutions that meet specific needs, not standard solutions that fit a certain price point. We can and should expect more from our design, our teams, and our external vendors.
Our review also revealed three principles that we believe will change the way we design training and the way our clients benefit from it. As we move forward, our design teams will focus on three ways to push our own expectations:
Not only do we expect more from ourselves, we want our partners to expect more from us. We believe in a systematic approach to projects and that we can push boundaries by innovating, emulating and reviewing assumptions. Consider this, our audiences expect more than stale, same as before projects so instead of settling, we should expect more and focus on improvements that directly impact our learners and the behaviors we are trying to influence.
To help, the following principles can offer a low risk, incremental solution that remixes safe principles with new elements that can refresh our projects.
Review – Are your vendors helping you think differently? Are your strategies working?
In order to expect more from your training you also have to expect more from your training partners and staff. Take a close look: Are they early adopters of new technologies? Are they full of fresh ideas? Are they providing you with recommendations for how to improve results with new strategies? With vendors it can be easy.
- Vendors have a variety of different projects from various industries going on at any given time, so they are in a prime position to practice and polish new techniques. Specifically, ask them how they can use your existing technology to drive innovation.
- Challenge them to innovate on design. Let them develop and polish ideas on their own dime to earn (or re-earn) your business. Make them work hard by showing them what you want to see for a given budget.
By leveraging your partner’s strengths and expecting more from them, you may take advantage of their experience in the areas that you don’t have the time or resources to explore yourself. You should expect your vendors to push the envelope and deliver results.
Emulate – Look at what others are doing and pick small things to follow.
Another driving force for change is recognizing the good ideas of others. You can emulate other processes from within your company, industry, or supply chain; and others in the business world. Too often training organizations are siloed, which can lead to a very narrow approach to problem solving. We don’t always think to borrow material from the marketing department or look to the technical team for cues on training courses. Yet, we know collaboration is invaluable, and borrowing ideas can lead to some of the most engaging courses. For example:
- Marketing groups are a great source of ideas beyond just some photo assets or a product video. Product guides and promotional pieces done for consumers can be the core of product and sales training when integrated with knowledge checks and marketing data from client interviews or focus groups can lead to much more directly relevant scenario building.
- In many cases the LMS is the wrong place for your training content. Look to other portals in your organizations to push your content to the point of need.
Refreshing you design strategies with influences from others can lead you to new innovations and allow you to reach your demanding audiences.
Innovate – Within your constraints, small innovations can make a big impact.
Innovating is about finding new methods, ideas, or products to achieve our ultimate objectives. That can sound like a lofty goal for training practitioners who are used to and comfortable with tried and approaches. Following “the way it has been done it the past” but, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. But innovation doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of your training program. You can start your innovation in relatively small ways:
- Take a big idea and instead of immediately integrating the whole thing, take a piece and put it into motion. For example, if you want to create a game for your training but your technology budget doesn’t allow for it, take the competition aspect from games and create a fun way to engage your employees through existing portals, social networks, etc. You can create a game without building a game.
- Be innovative with the tone of a training project. By simply changing language, wording, and emphasis, you can bring new life to a stale project.
Remixing your training with small innovations can not only increase engagement but get you better performance results.
At Allen, we have integrated all of the above into our own thinking on innovation. Not all change has to be a disruptive process. We are pushing our portal technology to become heavily integrated into the courses we create, bringing social methodology into our courses. Our designers are exploring the capabilities inherent in HTML 5, Flash, and tools such as Articulate and Lectora to find ways to stretch them in new directions.
We have developed strong internal partnerships between our marketing, sales and instructional design teams to efficiently use all of our resources. We incorporate more educational design with our prospects early on and create pitches to make training more engaging when creating our design documents and scripts.
Not every training project has to be groundbreaking but by aiming to do more—by reviewing, emulating, and innovating—we can expect more! And deliver more to our customers!