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No Bolt-Ons Required: The Case Against Experience Learning

April 3, 2018

Oh boy. Here we go again. Have you encountered the phrase "learning experience platform" yet? We've written before about how susceptible the learning industry is to fads and believe this is a direct result of the massive amount of noise in the very crowded learning space. With more than 700 companies providing some variation of learning software, it can be extremely difficult to differentiate. As a result, many technology providers and industry analysts capitalize on "the next big thing" rather than serve as the trusted advisor their clients really need. The result is rapid, sometimes ill-advised, adoption of fad-driven solutions, spurring clients to move from one solution to another every two to three years.

   

Don’t confuse a fad with a trend. Trends are tied closely to real-world utilization, are backed by data, and lead to successful feature additions and product evolution. Fads are very different. Gartner has lots of data and insight on this subject and defines technology fads as “short-lived bouts of excitement about a subject, where the excitement is seldom rooted in the intrinsic nature or quality of the subject of the fad.”

We think "learning experience platforms" fall into the fad bucket and see a wide range of solution providers jumping on the term to get the attention of companies who have learning delivery problems - and almost every company currently has a learning delivery problem.  

So what’s wrong with learning experience platforms? The term - which seems to cover everything from content providers like Degreed to niche solution providers like Edcast - is predicated on the assumption that learning management solutions cannot deliver modern learning experiences and that learning professionals need to supplement their learning strategies with additional tools that sit on top of their LMS.

We disagree.

Successful learning only requires two things - a solution that people want to engage with and content that they find meaningful. But it turns out, this is very difficult to achieve. The traditional, "usual suspect" learning technology providers still struggle with delivering a modern user experience and are losing the attention of their customers to the many startups in the space that offer a more engaging look and feel. Upon further investigation, however, many learning leaders find that these "learning lite" solutions don't have the functionality and scope to manage all learning initiatives across the entire organization. That's problem number one.

Problem number two is that every company, big or small, enterprise or start-up, has a content problem. Maybe they’re stuck with old school canned courses that don’t actually resonate with their learners any more. Maybe budgetary and resource constraints make it impossible to author enough content to keep up with the internal demand. Either way, learners expect an evolving and improving learning experience and learning leaders are struggling to figure out where the truly engaging content and/or experience will come from.

What learning professionals really need is an LMS that that provides a modern, engaging learning experience while simultaneously addressing  the pervasive content question..

What Makes A Learner Experience Engaging

There is currently a convergence of formal and informal content, traditional and non-traditional experiences AND the professional and personal learning journeys of the user. Learning professionals must be able to mix, match, track and report on traditional content like SCORM courses and more modern experiences like TED Talks and blog posts (sometimes referred to as micro-learning initiatives). Learners must be directed to the critical required content, but should be encouraged to discover new content that they actually find interesting and useful (89% of employees now believe they are responsible for managing their own learning and development. )

There is a lot of talk  about delivering this wide variety of content through a "Netflix-like" learning experience, where learning assets and experiences are grouped in horizontal scrolling rows that make it easier for learners to identify and engage with what they feel is important, and we couldn't agree more.

In fact, we believe that the learning professional should have complete control over these rows (including the ability to name them and determine the logic behind what content is populated within them) and be empowered to create highly targeted, customized homepages for every learner. The system should further determine what content is visible to an individual learner based on a wide range of attributes like group membership, geographic location, recommendations, previous activity and assessment scores.

The goal is to deliver a learning experience that is engaging, and the key to engagement is personalization. When an individual learner logs into a solution that appears tailored just for her, that learner feels more connected and engaged with the content, the learning environment and the brand behind it.

Having delivered this type of personalized learning experience for some time now, we can prove this approach works. Between July and September of this year, one Intellum client achieved a 71% improvement in engagement (measured in completions) by introducing language localization, highly-personalized homepage experiences at login and an improved social collaboration experience, all through the Intellum platform. No bolt-ons required.

Where Will The Content Come From?

As is true in so many areas of work and life, there is no silver bullet to the content question. People now expect a more personalized, discoverable learning environment that mimics the experiences they have on their own time and with other brands.

This means learning professionals are now responsible for managing the combination of modern and traditional, informal and formal, discoverable and directed learning content in a way that engages and supports their audiences. While there are fantastic content resources out there (Degreed, Lynda.com, OpenSesame, etc.), most learning professionals have realized that their diverse learning audience (multiple learning styles, generational preferences, etc.) requires a diversity of content, including informal and micro-learning initiatives.

At Intellum, we've developed a unique approach to learning delivery called Open Asset that is designed to help learning professionals overcome this challenge. In our solution, administrators can easily add any asset to their learning environment including documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDF files, traditional e-learning assets like SCORM or AICC-compliant courseware, and informal resources like links to videos, blog posts or articles - without the problematic xAPI or cumbersome Learning Record Stores. Each of these activities becomes a trackable, reportable initiative in the learning environment.

There is no question that learners respond well to informal and micro-learning initiatives. As of Q1 2017, our top 20 clients have loaded more informal assets (like links to videos, blogs, and articles) than formal SCORM or AICC courses into our learning solution and an overwhelming majority of these bite-sized assets are freely available on the Web. While the Internet is the ultimate repository of free content, we recognize that sifting through it looking for valuable assets can be incredibly time consuming - and while paid content providers may offer your learners access to millions of assets, we do not believe asking employees to search through a vast ocean of content is an effective solution either.

So we've even launched a learning content curation service to identify the most effective freely available assets. To date, our curation experts (working to address specific client needs) have sourced, reviewed, approved, tested and implemented thousands and thousands of individual videos, blog posts, articles, books and podcasts on behalf of our clients. Once a path or collection of assets on a specific topic has proven successful, we make that collection available to all of our clients. Individual, discoverable assets are great, but when a variety of activities are given context by sequencing them into a more meaningful path, we find that learners engage more. When learning professionals turn this curation functionality over to the SME's within your organization, allow learners to curate content and share their knowledge, and then surface content to other learners based on popularity and ratings or reviews, they're achieving a level of user engagement most organizations haven't come close to yet.

What's a "learning experience platform" again?

We work with a wide range of companies (like Google, Facebook, AT&T, Randstad, etc.) that are utilizing all of the functionality described above to push the boundaries of what is possible with internal and external learning initiatives. Most of what we have seen lumped together under "learning experience platforms" to date only cover bits and pieces of what we describe above. As for the larger, more traditional players who claim to be moving in this direction . . . well, they still haven't gotten there. Learning professionals need complete solutions that empower them to deliver the type of comprehensive, modern learning experiences their users expect and are already encountering in other places. What they don't need are more buzzwords and hype.

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