There is no perfect training solution, so mix and match learning modalities until you get it right.
When many people think of large-scale in-person training events led by giant technology companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook, words like ‘grandiose’, ‘engaging’ and ‘awe-inspiring’ pop up as common phrases. While in-person training events from tech companies, many times, can be an engaging half or full day out of the office, the actionable takeaways are almost entirely lost when no follow-up retention exercises are associated with training solution. Additionally, the cost of scaling in-person training can be significant and nearly impossible to reach mass audiences in some markets.
To address the scaling issues associated with in-person training, many companies have fully embraced e-learning (100% online asynchronous learning) as a strategy to teach their audience at scale anytime. From a business perspective, designing e-learning content is much more cost-effective and doesn’t need to require a large workforce to implement. While scalability is reached at a lower cost, engagement is usually reduced as learners need to be disciplined and intrinsically motivated.
As a happy middle-ground, some companies have crafted virtual in-person trainingprograms that use online conferencing software tools like Zoom, Go To Training and WebEx to incorporate the benefits of human interaction with a live trainer and the convenience of being able to attend trainings remote from anywhere with an internet connection. This modality can be a nice solution for scaling learning while still providing a more personalized and engaging experience for learners. Virtual classrooms, however, can be a bit clunky as the feedback between trainer and learners is usually delayed by up 2 seconds in some instances and external distractions to learning tend to happen more frequently when attendees are participating from familiar locations.
So, what’s the solution? If there are problems with each modality, how do you know which one to use in your training program?
Until we have a device that effortlessly programs knowledge and skills into learners brain, like the theorized invention from the artist Jean-Marc Côté (JMC) depicted in his futuristic view of learning back in 1899, we are left to the tried and true techniques available now. See the header image to peek at what JMC hypothesized during the Paris World Fair of 1899.
What’s the best solution?
Instead of looking at training solutions as only one of these modalities, a better solution is to take the best elements of each modality to create a blended learning experience.How do you know which modality to use for each training need and audience? You first need to know:
- the audience’s learning profile
- the level of cognitive load of the skills
- clarification of performance objectives by defining the audience, behavior condition and degree.
A word to the wise: determining a blended learning solution is an art not a science. This means that rarely is one modality the perfect fit while the others are not. From analyzing these three factors below, you will have a clearer idea of an appropriate modality for the need.
This perspective is looking at training more from an audience rather than business perspective. The business requirements and constraints will most likely play a factor is the modality you choose. The point of looking at the modalities from an audience perspective is to provide your organization an unbiased view into what learning interventions would be most suitable without the standard hierarchical business requests.
Analyzing The Audience’s Learning Profile
One of the biggest reasons for training initiatives to fail is a lack of empathy for the learners. Without audience empathy when designing the framework for a training program, you can easily miss the mark in scaling and reaching your audience. Here are some situations where the audience empathy piece was missing:
- Company: A large for-profit American college
- Context: The college enrolled a large number of Chinese students with limited English proficiency to increase international student presence and increase revenue.
- Business Need: As these new Chinese students arrived to the United States, they needed an orientation to university and city life. The standard support given to incoming students wasn’t sufficient for this population as their language skills differed greatly from the typical incoming student population.
- Training solution: The business identified the need to translate the online new student orientation into Mandarin to address this audience’s needs. Within a few weeks, the translations were completed and deployed on the college’s Learning Management System.
- Outcome: As this was the first time many of the Chinese students had been outside of their country, much of the content in the training was insufficient for them to be successful getting started at an American university and culture. Additionally, many learners struggled to complete the online training as they had never taken a course in an online format before.
Many of the problems that took place during the implementation could have been mitigated if the learner’s specific needs were analyzed and taken into account before determining what solution should take place. In particular, this audience would have been better served by another modality like in-person training.
Common Concern: “We already know the audience’s needs”
While this may be true in certain situations, it is important to get an un-bias confirmation of your assumptions on the audience. If your colleague states strong opinions on the audience’s background, it is always smart to test these beliefs.
Common Concern: “Asking the audience what they want doesn’t work”
This is correct. People don’t know what they want, and even if they say what they want, it doesn’t mean that this is the best path forward to address their needs. A better solution is to create an minimal viable product (MVP) of a training and test it out with 5-10 learners. This will help you determine their needs and clarify any biases held about the population.
Identify Cognitive Load
What will your training ask learners to do? Something relatively simple that they already have a lot of background with already, or something completely new that requires significant mental processing. The term cognitive load refers to the amount of information that the working memory can hold at one time.
Here are two examples:
- Objective: Learners fill out an electronic application with the appropriate personal information.
As most people have experience filling out online forms, the cognitive load is not too complex. The modality you choose should be lightweight, as adult learners will most likely lose attention if they feel the training is not needed.
- Objective: For a given scenario, create a written project plan that addresses a unique solution to a stated problem.
This task is abstract and probably requires learners to use higher-level cognitive skills to complete. Because of this, the training might include more than one modality to address this performance gap.
Depending on the level of complexity of the training task, you might want a lightweight or more in-depth training solution. Of course, the learners background to be taken into account as the complexity of a task depends on the learners.
Defining what performance looks like
When your training objectives are vague, the performance expectations are unclear. Because of this, many times you don’t have enough context to determine the most appropriate modality. What does this mean? The following objective was used for a Facebook training for web developers:
By the end of the training, learners should be able to:
- Identify the most common issues associated with a poorly performing websites.
In reality, an objective like this is vague enough to be suited for any modality. How can this objective be better defined to provide clarity on determining the best training solution modality?
Four characteristics of objectives need to be defined in order to have enough background to make strong decisions in developing training content and determining the best modality. These are the characteristics and suggestions to be made to the objective mentioned above:
With clear understanding of the task at hand stated with a clearly defined behavior, condition and degree, you can create an assessment to measure learners success with this objective. Additionally, this can help you determine what will be the best modality to bring this content to life for your audience.
Many times deployment of global trainings is determined before identifying the audience’s needs/wants, defining the cognitive load of what you want them to complete, and clear objectives that states how you want them to perform. Without these three key principles of training, businesses can spend a lot of time and money on a solution that might only address the businesses needs and not the audiences + learning needs/gaps.
These three components are not the only considerations when scaling a global training program. However, these are three of the most important to take into account before planning out what solution you take.