Sometimes off-the-shelf learning isn’t going to do...
You are the chief elf in the Department of Shoemaking Elves at Fairy Tale Industries. You have so far run a pretty successful department but in the last quarter you’ve noticed profits starting to drop off. The off-the-shelf e-learning that your team has been using just doesn't seem to be working, elves are completing the training easily but you’re not seeing a difference in their selling behaviours and techniques. You decide that your department needs some custom training on Sales techniques, which, unfortunately, means visiting Mr. Troll downstairs in accounts.
As you stand trembling outside his door you remind yourself of the points you are going to make:
- You know that custom training is more expensive, but one size fits all training is not enough.
- Specific skills and knowledge related to elf shoemaking are not covered in off-the-shelf training.
- Off-the-shelf training may seem cheaper, but in the end, may not be because it doesn’t offer the best ROI.
You gulp, square your little shoulders and…tap tap tap on the door.
‘What?’ Mr. Troll is sat on a pile of money and looks immediately suspicious.
‘Ahem, Mr. Troll, could I have a moment?’
You decide the content
‘Why do you need special custom training? It’s more expensive, you know. What’s wrong with off the shelf?’ Says Mr. Troll when you’ve explained the problem.
‘Well, you see, the generic training doesn't cover a lot of the specifics of selling elf-made shoes. If we were to commission our own custom training we would be in total control of the learning content. We could use actual case studies from our organisation and customised scenarios that would really help the elves to learn.
‘We need to focus the training a bit more and if we’re in control of the content we can do that. We can make sure the elves are learning what they really need to know - no more and no less.’
Mr. Troll looks deeply unimpressed, but you haven’t finished yet.
Look and feel
‘Another consideration is the look and feel of the course. As you know, Fairy Tale Industries have been trying to instil our brand values into our employees so that they can embody them more effectively. If we were to customise our training we could make sure that our brand image and values were reflected in the look and feel of the course; for example by having customised colour schemes and our logo.’
‘I’m not sure what the colour of the training has to do with anything, but…’
You rush on before he can finish, ‘And we can use our own photography and recognisable settings that will help learners feel connected to the training and that it’s relevant to them, which will enhance the overall learning experience.’
Mr Troll raises an eyebrow. ‘That it?’
‘No, there’s more,’ you insist, climbing up onto a pile of accounts books so that you can look Mr Troll in the eye. ‘The most important factor in motivating learners is how relevant they feel the content is to them. If they can recognise and identify with the learning content this will make them more motivated to complete the learning but also make the learning more effective.
‘Custom learning puts us in charge of the creative and interactive devices used, so we decide what’s important. Do you remember how annoyed you were last month when you found out the German sub-team were giving all those shoes away to poor shoemakers for free? Well if we have a particularly important message like that we can ensure that it is highlighted in a high-impact animation or similar in a custom e-learning.’
‘Hmph,’ he grunts, ‘that was very annoying. I suppose it would be helpful to make sure we could get messages like that across.’
‘Very true, very true,’ you say, relieved, ‘and another thing I’ve noticed is that length and structure are very important. A lot of the elves complain that they have to sit through lots of stuff that’s not really relevant to them with the off-the-shelf courses. Wouldn’t it be better to have our elves doing half an hour of learning that is tailored just for them, rather than an hour of generic content?’
‘Well, you elves do have pretty short attention spans.’
‘Yes we do,’ you agree (because he’s much bigger than you), ‘you know us very well. We know our learners best, we know what they will like and what will work. With custom learning, we’re in charge.’
Assessments that actually assess
‘Alright, I see that custom training might be a better experience for the elves, but I’m not sure what that’s got to do with me.’ Mr Troll settles himself more comfortably on his pile of money, he’s not budging.
‘I know you like to see a return on your investments, Mr Troll, what would you say if I told you custom learning could actually let you measure ROI for employee training?’
‘I’d say how do you plan on doing that?’
‘Well with custom learning we can actually measure how improved employees’ skills are. With off-the-shelf learning all we can know is that employees answered a certain number of non-specific questions correctly, but with custom learning we can be sure they have actually improved in key areas. Using things like branching scenarios will really test whether learners can apply the theory. And if the learners get questions wrong we can give helpful, directional feedback so we’re making sure they get the guidance they need.
What it all means is that we can make sure it’s the key learning points that we’re testing, not just how much the elves remember.’
The future is now
‘That’s very impressive, Grumpy, but I’m not convinced.’
‘It’s actually Nigel. Grumpy’s a dwarf, I’m an elf, we’re very diff…but never mind. What I really wanted to say is that custom learning is, um, the future.’
‘The future? This is once upon a time, Grumpy, not ‘the future’.’
‘But it could be. Training is moving towards being more learner-centric. Studies have shown that adult learners find being in control of their own learning very important and new technologies allow this to happen. Custom e-learning can allow us to simulate discovery and encourage learners to find out for themselves.
There’s lots that we can do with custom learning. For example, we could develop a suite of resources and then learners would be directed towards the ones that are relevant to them. A pre-assessment could be used to find out the areas that need improvement and then learning resources would be assigned automatically based on results. And that’s just an example of how we can make our training more learner-centric.’
It may turn out cheaper
‘Well it’s been nice chatting, but I have things to be doing so if that’s everything…’ Mr Troll begins to turn to the piles of money still to be counted.
‘Wait! It could end up saving us money!’ You say desperately.
He pauses and fixes you with a yellow eye, ‘I’m listening,’ he says.
‘Well, think about it…once you’ve made the initial investment it’s much easier and quicker to update the training if it needs it. With us in charge of the content, it’ll be much easier to do the updates, we can just do them ourselves.’
‘And, most importantly of all, the ROI is going to be better. More relevant, focused training is going to mean a more skilled and prepared workforce. That, in turn, will mean more money for the company, so we can meet our targets and…and we’ll all live happily…ever…’ you trail off into silence.
‘Hmm, well you have made some good points,’ Mr Troll rubs his warty chin, ‘alright, here’s some money.’ He counts out the gold coins slowly and methodically. ‘Go and commission your custom e-learning, but I’d better see shoe sales up by 5% next quarter!’
‘Yes, Mr Troll…you’ll see a difference I promise!’ You scurry from the room clutching your bag of money.
Yes! Go Nigel!