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.

56 Comments

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  10. A couple more:
    –You don’t want to produce a course without evidence that there’s a genuine lack of skill and knowledge. (In other words, you look to see if people can do this stuff now.)
    –You don’t want to produce a course if you have another way to help people accomplish the desired result (like job aids, software wizards, smarter systems, better feedback, more effective procedures).

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  21. Hi, I just wanted to add reason number 11. Don’t waste time and money on training courses when loads of material already exists and it can be viewed on neutrain.net A few generous and confident trainers have shared their work (slides and trainers notes) on line for free (no irritating registration forms). If you do decide you do need a classroom based course then for pity sake do something more productive with your time and money than reading the same books/websites as everyone else and recreating the same old wheels.

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  23. Jane,
    Great post! I was just mulling this concept this morning with response to a project I have looming, and obviously it’s a common concern.

    My recommendation for the global project is to create a detailed handout that is adaptable to regional needs and provides the option to take it home, to share and to reuse later. The response is that it was a great idea, and we should do both a course and a handout.

    It just seems extremely redundant to me. Do you have recommendations for this?

    1. Jane Hart

      Agreed – both wouldn’t be necessary. I would go with the handout – and if they want to “test” understanding or whatever, define a relevant test – as in my example (1)

    2. Jane Hart

      More on this … “a course” is a knee-jerk reaction. Need to understand what extra a course would give them – as it is unlikely, in itself, to ensure that the stuff has been “learned” let alone “understood” or can be applied.

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  30. Both articles are great. The issue I often face is the managers or organizations often require the training when performance analysis shows that there are alternatives. in addition compliance training often times has mandated seats hours. I think the trick is to convert the 10 reasons why not and 10 alternative into the manager’s language. ” “I know you don’t want to lose productivity…”
    I have often been on the losing end of this discussion as others here have experienced. I would love to hear success stories in convincing the client/manager that training is not the answer.

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  32. I am an online graduate student at Roosevelt University in the Training and Development program and I also work in the corporate environment. The idea of using Chatter was recently mentioned in work meeting. Most of the employees haven’t even heard of it. It’s a social network for businesses to connect coworkers and get them working together to brainstorm, collaborate, share idea and files, and manage projects. Has anyone used Chatter?

    rutraining.wordpress.com

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  36. Mick Kampff

    Interesting article. Another reason is lazy management. Often on Performance Management training the standard reply from managers on any development need (improve strengths or address weaknesses or develop a new skill) is ‘send them on a course’. Many managers simply do not know how to develop people. One of the best ways for people to develop is to be given a delegated challenging opportunity (some organisations are great at doing this). Then within this the employee is encouraged to identify and take charge of their own learning process. Ownership fo the learning process is a big issue.

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