"Netflixing" Your Learning Efforts

"Netflixing" Your Learning Efforts
Summary: What makes programs from streaming services so compelling and addictive? Wouldn't it be great if you could make your learning/eLearning as compelling? You can, and it begins by examining why you get addicted and engaged with your favorite TV program. The answer is part psychology and part program design.

Leave Participants Wanting To Learn More

The term "binge-watching" is one we're all familiar with. If not, allow me to share what it's about. If you ever had to watch one consecutive episode after another of your favorite program, then you've binged-watched, and probably, later regretted wasting the time after possibly spending several hours doing so. Binge-watching is simply about making something so compelling that you can't wait to find out what's next. It engages you, more so, it engages your mind and curiosity. Naturally, you're just sitting there watching the program in one go because the show is well produced. You just don't want to stop watching it.

It's common knowledge that producers can't make one long, continuous show. They have break it up into segments, or what you know as episodes. This engagement process is nothing new; if you're from a certain generation or older you recognize this as a "cliff-hanger." Show producers have to keep you watching, but one long episode isn't going to work, even though you may watch it this way (i.e., binge-watch). They find ways to design and author the series and its episodes so that you become invested in the series. The show design is meant to leave you wanting more at the end of each episode and each season.

Let's be realistic, you're not going to fully replicate "binge-watching" behavior in your eLearning efforts. You can, however, take a page out of the Netflix (or any other streaming service) playbook when designing your next course or courses. Here are some ways to make your learning more compelling to your audience.

5 Ways To Make Your Learning More Compelling

1. Produce Episodes

Many practitioners believe they must design a course continuously from start to finish, no matter how long it takes to complete it. Underlying this unreasonable belief is the belief that participants/learners can pause the course at any point and return to it when they wish. Adding to the problem is the subject-expert philosophy of including everything and the kitchen sink. Now, just imagine if streaming service companies developed programs this way. You'd probably do the same thing as your learners: pause it, never to return, or worse, get bored and avoid it at all costs.

Rather than producing one long drawn-out course per topic, break it down into its logical, relevant, and interesting sub-components and then produce the content in relation to this breakdown. Furthermore, include what's relevant to improving learners' skills and, more importantly, their performance. The course breakdown design should allow for three things, including being:

  • Time sensitive, allowing for meaningful learning to take place within a concise and brief window of time.
  • Relevant to what the learners need to know while leading them on to want to learn more (i.e., the binge-watching element).
  • Easily accessible and standalone to allow the learner to access what they need when they need it.

Time is relevant to both the learner and to the stakeholder. As mentioned in past articles, your stakeholders define the "e" in eLearning as the learning being efficient and effective. For learners, they usually need to know the knowledge now and fast. One thing I've learned through my years designing courses for LinkedIn Learning is to define time constraints. You'll notice that their courses on LinkedIn Learning are no more than an hour long (but usually less) and each sub-topic is two to five minutes in length.

For content relevance, learners don't need to know everything about the topic; they just need to learn, and more importantly apply, what's relevant to their immediate or upcoming need. For the stakeholders, they expect their people to learn quickly, and again, apply what they've learnt to ensure productivity gains.

2. Include Only What's Relevant

I alluded to (mentioned?) relevancy in the previous point but it deserves a reminder. When it comes to learning, especially for business leaders, relevance is key. Let's revisit the streaming service approach. When you're binge-watching your favorite program, be consciously aware of what producers include that compel you to watch it nonstop. They know that you don't need to know everything about the story. But they recognize what you need to know and, more importantly, when you need to know it (or not know it) to provide context and relevance to the story.

Most learning/course designers know they have to break down a course into its relevant components, but this doesn't give you license to break it down to include everything under the sun. Learners never need to know everything about the topic but, to remain engaged, they do need to have relevance in what they are learning. Context and relevance are essential for a learner to commit to their personal development, but the relevance should also (always) demonstrate practicality and benefits. Like in the show you're binge-watching, outcomes and results are essential.

3. Get Them To Want More

Relevant to what a learner needs to know is getting them to actually want to learn more. To put it simply, how do you get them to binge-watch your course? One thing is for sure, you can't leave them with a cliff-hangar, especially for those pesky compliance courses. That would prove highly inconvenient, to say the least.

Your objective is not to have them needing more, but for them to actually want to continue to learn more. Now, there isn't one way to do this; it requires close collaboration between learning designers and subject experts, and innovative thinking is central. You may want to create branching scenarios where learners can explore certain areas in more depth, specialize further, or even review examples and specific scenarios. The last thought you want them to have is "This was useful! I need to learn more!", not "how do I get a refund on the time I wasted taking this course!"

4. Give Them What They Want...Or Least Expect

We've all been through corporate training, either instructor-led or an eLearning course. And each time someone suggests you take another course, what crosses your mind is, "yup, this is going to be a waste of time." But do you realize that, by putting in a little effort, it doesn't have to be like this? What if you heard participants say something like, "wow! I didn't expect that. That was useful!"

I recall early in my career—actually my first real career job—my boss "strongly" suggested I attend a beginner Excel course. I refused (not something I'd recommend) explaining that I was already well-versed in using Excel, at least the foundational elements. Naturally, this didn't go over well, but to his credit, he had the Excel trainer come to see me.

The visit was unexpected. He spent time asking me to explain how I use Excel in daily activities. He observed how I used it and took notes. After a brief time, he explained and showed me advanced techniques that immediately improved my productivity. No, he didn't show me everything in our short time together, but it was sufficient to tease me to enroll in the more advanced courses he was offering.

My negative "this will be a waste of time" perception swung 180 degrees to a "I need to know more" opinion. Now, I get it, his visit with me was an exception. I realize you don't have the time or resources to visit every participant to "sell" them what your learning effort can offer. But you do have the time and resources to entice potential participants to be curious about what you have to offer. It's what streaming services do. They don't try to attract everyone, but the ones that are curious will certainly tune in. Doing so will force you to look at your learning effort from a fresh, external perspective, making it more robust and focused.

5. What's Your Next Step?

Every learning practitioner strives to develop and deliver compelling and results-focused learning initiatives. Your heart, intent, and expertise are all in the right place. Unfortunately, we often get too deeply involved and unintentionally lose focus of user and organizational expectations. Don't feel bad, this happens to everyone with various operational responsibilities. But successful learning practitioners do two things to avoid this occurring:

  1. They constantly remind themselves of the expected result or objective.
  2. They never see their efforts as "one and done"; they regularly revisit and audit their initiatives for relevance and to ensure it meets expectations.

Yes, streaming services do the same. Don't believe me? Next time you ask yourself: "what happened to this program? It used to be so good!"—this is a result of the producers not following the two points. What I'm saying is to please shed stakeholders' poor perception of training. It doesn't have to be this way.

Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember #alwaysbelearning!

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