ABC: 10 reasons NOT to create a course and 10 other options

Alphabet BlocksMy colleague, Clark Quinn, recently wrote a blog post, Yes, you do have to change, in which he explained how he felt that “the elearning industry, and the broader learning industry, is severely underperforming the potential”.

He also went on to say:

“While the industry congratulates itself on how they make use of the latest technology, the lack of impact is leading a drive to irrelevancy. Learners tolerate the courses, at best. Operations groups and others are beginning to focus on the performance solutions available. Executives are beginning to hear a message that the old approach is a waste of resources.”

Readers of this blog know that I have similar feelings, and only recently wrote a recent post about how many packaged instructional solutions (e.g. online courses) are clearly not working. So here are 10 reasons I’ve put together from my and Clark’s posts why you should not produce a course:

  1. You don’t want to take your people out of the workflow unnecessarily.
  2. You don’t want to bore your people to tears with page-turner/click-next solutions.
  3. You don’t want to treat your people like idiots making them click on every link or action button in a course – because their manager thinks that’s proof they’ve read something and hence learned it!
  4. You don’t want to dumb down the learning process and make your people have to  work through trivial interactions – in a desperate attempt to engage them.
  5. You don’t want to force your people to stay on a course for a prescribed amount of time – just to prove they’ve had the required length of training.
  6. You don’t want to require your people to communicate with one another in a course – because that’s what others think “social learning” is all about.
    RATHER
  7. You want your people to have as much autonomy as possible in the process – and be there to support them rather than dictate to them.
  8. You want any content that is provided to be in the most relevant and useful format for your people.
  9. You want your people to have genuine and meaningful interactions with their colleagues.
  10. You want success to be demonstrated by improved job or business performance rather than course completion or “bums on seats” or activity metrics.

Clark says  “The best way to change is to take that first step.”  So what are the alternatives?  My colleague, Harold Jarche calls this, ABC Learning – Anything But Courses.

The main reason we have spent so much time and money designing and developing online courses is weirdly enough for cost- and time-saving reasons and believing that “one size fits all”. It doesn’t!  So the right solution will need to match the individuals involved and their learning or performance  needs. But it’s also about helping people to help themselves – not trying to spoonfeed them.

To start the ball running here are 10 suggestions as alternatives to courses (with some examples). Some are fairly cheap to set up, others more costly – but by replacing unnecessary courses with simpler and cheaper alternatives, you can release the budget for the more expensive options, where there is a real need for a sophisticated solution, and for one that will have a greater impact.

  1. You want to help people to know something – provide the information in the simplest and most appropriate form possible – a document or presentation (knowledge) or video (skills/behaviour) for the right device (desktop or mobile). If you absolutely need to know they have understood it or can do something as a result of it, focus on devising an activity that will demonstrate this. Individuals should also have the option to work on the activity first, in order to identify the aspects they don’t already know or understand, so that they can focus on improving these, rather than wasting time on reading stuff they do know. (e.g. PhishMe)
  2. You want to help people find out about something on a continuous basis – help to set up a drip-feed (using email, RSS, Twitter or your  ESN) of tips, terminology, techniques, facts or figures – daily or regularly (e.g. TinyTraining)
  3. You want to help people explore a scenario and find out the different options (often in a safe environment) – offer immersive solutions and simulations where individuals can investigate a scenario for themselves (e.g. Toolwire Learnscapes)
  4. You want to help people acquire or improve a skill -  this comes through practice, and as we know repetitive practice can be very boring, so help individuals develop a skill  using a game-based approach to view skill improvements (e.g. ThinkingWorlds Serious Games Development Tool)
  5. You want to help people acquire informal and tacit knowledge from experts in the business – help to facilitate coaching or mentoring in your organisation, ideally using reverse-mentoring options – where there is an exchange of knowledge between younger users with new, social skills and older workers with experience in the business. (e.g. 5 methods of reverse mentoring)
  6. You want to help people carry out recurring tasks, e.g. how to work through a process or use software – create a job aid  – in whatever format (eg (info)graphic, screencast) is most appropriate for them, and which can be viewed on the appropriate device –  desktop or mobile (e.g. Dave’s Ensampler: Types of Job aids)
  7. You want to help people deal with new tasks and problems – help them to create and share their own resources with one another (e.g. BT’s Dare2Share project)
  8. You want to help people benefit from the experiences of other  team members – e.g. dealings with clients (successful and otherwise), so help them to set up a group space on an ESN (like Yammer) so that they can share their stories with one another, or help them set up a dedicated team platform (e.g. QA’s Sales465 platform)
  9. You want to help people easily find answers to their own organisation problems  – set up a group or organizational space where they can ask and answer questions on an ESN (like Yammer),  or help to introduce an enterprise platform (e.g. AnswerHub), or help them to use Google web search effectively and validate the resources they find.
  10. You want to help people keep up to date with what’s happening in their industry – provide advice on becoming a Connected Worker and help to support new personal knowledge management and social workplace skills (e.g. ConnectedWorker skills)

Please help me to build this list by leaving your own suggestions in the comments below.

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Jane Hart

Founder at C4LPT
Jane Hart is an independent Workplace Learning Advisor, Writer and International Speaker. Every year she compiles the Top 100 Tools for Learning activity. She also offer a number of online workshops on modernising workplace learning. Find out more about Jane and her work.

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