5 Crucial Mistakes When Implementing The "Next Best Technology" For Learning

Technology For Learning 5 Crucial Mistakes
Summary: Don't fall into the tech trap!

Technology Is Never A Solution

I have recently attended the ATD 21 conference, where I spoke in person after over 18 months. Seeing fellow learning humans face-to-face, even with masks on, is an experience I definitely missed. I talked to many of them about the struggles they went through with the pandemic, depending on where their organization was on the online delivery maturity scale. I've also visited the Expo with the learning tech vendors to learn more about their point of view (roadmaps, strategies, products, trends, etc.) Based on my conversations, this article covers 5 potential mistakes when it comes to learning technology selection and implementation.

Mistake #1: Technology As A Solution

This may sound obvious but never assume that buying or implementing any technology will solve the problems you have. Technology is rarely the solution. It is just a vehicle to get to the solution. Without knowing exactly where you're going, a plane might be fast but overkill.

Why is this happening? Decision-makers are often not the same people who would be using the technology. On paper, it sounds like this new thing will take care of engagement, performance, compliance, collaboration, etc. For example, buying collaboration software without understanding how collaboration works today in the organization (and if it's not working, what are the barriers) is wishful thinking.

Mistake #2: Technology Beyond What It Was Designed For

Your organization has identified and researched a problem to be solved. Through an impartial process, they landed on a vendor and purchased the technology. All is good. However, this was a big investment. Therefore, the strategy is to use this technology for everything because it ate up the budget. Sounds familiar?

There are many potential issues with this approach. On the surface, you will be able to justify the purchase if you show the cost per user data. However, there's nothing more demotivating than fixing your workforce's challenges by introducing another layer of complexity that may even exacerbate the problem.

For example, you invest in a new LMS that has better admin capabilities to scale your virtual learning. Admins now can schedule virtual, instructor-led training (vILTs), maintain roster, etc. It is clearly a much better system. However, the front end is still problematic for end users: It's hard to find things, too many clicks, and who really has time to binge learn?

Mistake #3: Technology That Solves A Problem You Never Had

Nobody reads your emails. The opening rate is low, the click-through (links inside the email) is dismal. What now? Newsletter emails!! Imagine how cool it would be if you could create colorful, nice-looking, magazine-like newsletter emails??

I bet the opening rate would skyrocket compared to the current plain, old, text emails. Well, it may or may not. If the only thing that was holding back the masses from opening the 5,000 emails they get every month is the format, you have the right solution. Otherwise, you solve a problem you never had. In fact, you've created more problems because the emails are bigger and, even those who were interested in the content, now find themselves digging for information.

Mistake #4: Technology That Doesn't Play Well In The Sandbox

Do you know your company's technology strategy? Roadmap? Some call this the "tech stack" approach: making sure technology implemented within the organization fits in the overall strategy and does not get implemented in isolation. Before you get excited about the new microlearning video VR nugget widget, consult your technology strategy. From the code-based through cloud-security requirements, there are many potential issues you can introduce to the "sandbox."

Generally, when people think of learning technology, they might have their course content lifecycle in mind:

  • Intake and project management software suite
  • Communications software
  • File sharing and versioning software
  • Authoring tools and environment
  • Learning standards compatibility (SCORM, xAPI, cmi5)
  • Design tools
  • Approval process tools: feedback, reviewing, versioning
  • Learning management tools: LMS/LXP/LRS
  • Other online delivery tools (vILT)
  • Assessment tools (built-in or external)
  • Reporting tools (built-in or external)
  • Sea of dashboards for data visualization
  • Data extracting and BI (business intelligence) tools

This list is just the beginning of all the potentially different technology in the stack you're using to get course content designed and delivered. Now, if you think outside of the traditional definition of learning technology as in "technology used for learning and performance purposes," then you may extend this list even further.

Start with the end in mind! Define what business problem you're solving (collect and show data) along with the success criteria of how you're going to measure the impact. Then work backward from there to identify stakeholders, existing technology, and requirements. Otherwise, you'll end up with an ad-hoc selection of tools and tech with a horrible user experience: multiple logins, low digital adoption, and wasted resources.

Mistake #5: Technology To Find, Deliver, And Recommend More Course Content, Course Content, Course Content

In real estate, we all know the most important three factors: location, location, location. In learning design, some people argue that the equivalent is course content, course content, course content. We even create measurements such as:

  • Hours of training delivered over a year
  • Total and average time spent in training
  • Number of total course completions
  • (This is my favorite) Total time spent in training per number of full-time employees in the learning department

Now, imagine you just moved to a new city and you're looking for a hairstylist. Maybe there's a site where you can check out their performances with the following factors:

  • Hours of cutting delivered over a year
  • Total and average time spent in the chair
  • Number of completed haircuts
  • Total chair seat time per number of hairstylists in the studio

Which stylist would you choose? These numbers are better than nothing. At the same time, they have little to do with the impact they create. In fact, you may argue that the less time you spent sitting in a chair (or in training) with the same results, is even better!

When you create a pretty slide with these numbers to show your value, the business might see this from a different angle. Time spent in training is a resource investment. So, you're saying you made the workforce invest X hours total over the year. What's the obvious business question here?

So what? What's the result?

When you start with content, you'll end up with content. What gets measured, gets done. Don't start with content, start with the right measurement. Start with the business and performance goals and work backward from there.

Counting Band-Aids

In a recent webinar about data strategy, I used the following analogy: Imagine that you're a doctor. Patients show up with their problems. Not only that! They're busy, so they already diagnosed their own symptoms. They're asking for different band-aids. You give the band-aids as fast as you can to serve them well. You count your band-aids and create slides about the total number of band-aids delivered...

Let's not stop at counting band aids, rather continue to chase the cure. If the patient dies, would you feel accountable for your band-aid solution?

If you know your solution stakeholders asked for is just a band-aid, then let's speak up. Your role is not to deliver what they want. Customer obsession is about delivering what they need and beyond. And so, technology should not be used to find and recommend more content based on content... Finding the band-aids faster won't solve your underlying health issues.

Bonus Mistake: Ignoring The HR Technology Space

Josh Bersin predicts huge changes are coming (or going on) in HR tech. In his HR tech conference keynote, he highlighted the following areas:

  1. Employee experience takes over.
  2. ERP still strong, redefined.
  3. Skills taxonomies and intelligence platforms are the "next big thing."
  4. Recruiting and internal mobility collide.
  5. Learning in the flow of work has arrived.
  6. Talent marketplace has become a category.
  7. Employee listening explodes with growth.
  8. Performance, talent, and learning converge.
  9. Microsoft changes HR tech forever.
  10. Watch out for the creator economy.

For me personally, the biggest opportunities are coming from the four highlighted areas. Skills assessment, driven, personalized, and adaptive learning based on skills gaps can provide a better employee experience. However, we need to shift our traditional learning approach as course content creators and administrators to the learning management system. Learning in the flow often means saying "no" to a course and providing real-time, on-the-job support. And that's why I'm excited about #8. L&D itself, siloed in an organization, cannot solve the "learning" problem. Combining performance, talent, and learning together can better support the workforce without segmenting the same employee into performer, talent, and learner.