Here’s an update from the front lines of the battle to engage learners and satisfy customers.
Success is all about getting results, so as suppliers we have to keep asking ourselves if we’re really making a difference. Sometimes, you just don’t know. To find out what customers were really think, Learn. Perform. Succeed! sent out a survey to find out it was doing right—and wrong.
The good news: nearly half of the respondents said that they wouldn’t change a thing about the program, and we received such comments as, “It’s more like playing a game than going to school.”
Reviews like that make a great story, right? But the real story is in the problems Learn. Perform. Succeed! overcame to get to that point, and the lessons we learned along the way.
As an example, I’ll go over how things changed for a client, which is well-known, international manufacturer of premier passenger car and light truck tires. The actual learners using the system were independent distributors and retailers all across North America. In broad strokes, we had to address the following problems when it inherited the program:
Non-captive learners. Most developers would prefer to chain e-learners to their keyboards until they finish all courses. Because that isn’t possible, the organization used a Web-based survey to open a dialogue and learn what learners liked about the program.
For example, based on feedback, we updated the rewards system. Learners have always received positive feedback, but the system lacked long-term motivational power. Now participants receive completion certificates with every course and one to five merchandise points for selected courses. Participants see their points build up online, and can redeem them for branded merchandise. Learners even have a chance to win cash in a game called Race & Win, which they can play when they successfully complete a course.
Learners who bail early and/or skip to the assessment. Bailing early happens when there’s no perceived value or the effort is too great. Even with increasing the perceived value to learners, we found that learners were either bailing out of the course or bulling their way through the assessments—multiple times—to deduce and record the right answers. Therefore, developers made three changes to increase the integrity of our results:
made assessments more challenging by adding difficult questions
randomized the questions to keep from developing a pattern and inhibit the sharing of answers
required learners to wait one day to take an assessment if they don’t pass it the first time.
This combination prevents and deters people from learning how to work the system. Indeed, before we made these changes, many learners completed courses within two to three minutes. Currently, the average course completion time is approximately 20 minutes.
Slow course delivery and low bandwidth. Many developers find that there’s little they can do about bandwidth. Or is there? Consider incorporating Flash, as Learn. Perform. Succeed! has done with all of its courseware. By doing so, we were able to cut down course delivery time by 50 to 80 percent over slow-loading HTML courses. This change has helped ease frustration levels for learners who were having trouble simply accessing the material. Now, we deliver 800K courses with a wait time on a dial-up connection that’s about four seconds. More important, Flash courses are more engaging and interactive than plain HTML. Now we get more learner compliments than ever, and nearly no participants bail out before completing a course.
In rising to these challenges, Learn. Perform. Succeed! learned some valuable business lessons, including
Treat employees and suppliers as organization owners. As someone with a background in OD, I have developed a set of common sense rules, which I call the Natural Laws of Performance. One of these laws states that when you treat someone like an owner, they act like an owner. I believe that this creates a culture in which everyone makes decisions with the same care and concern as an owner. Because we're a virtual organization, I’m always working with true owners. I involve everyone—employees, suppliers, and clients—in decisions and strategies. Each of us can proudly say, “The buck stops here.”
Develop client relationships. For the most part, all suppliers deliver fairly good products and services. Because that can level playing field, your company needs alternative ways to distinguishing itself—some way to gain client trust and commitment. But don’t expect a client to put you first if you haven’t put them first. Put forth extra time and effort that doesn’t necessarily have a financial return; consider it an investment. I know larger companies that charge clients for every meeting and phone call. In my case, I regularly meet with clients at no extra charge, and the return is huge. The old adage is true: There’s never a traffic jam in the extra mile.
To be sure, the company has learned how important it is to bend over backwards once in a while. Case in point: For our tire manufacturer client, we have produced spontaneous reports on program effectiveness and improvements and found ways to make learning more aligned with sales and marketing strategies. In general, we’ve invested in new technologies and are always looking for new problems to solve. We demonstrate that we care, because we do. Building relationships is building success.
Be better than PowerPoint. Like most content developers, we’ve used authoring tools that promise to be “as easy to use as PowerPoint.” And they are that easy, but they also seem to create limits on what you can develop. Inevitably, the end result is a library of courses that look like PowerPoint presentation—but cost much more. When you’re developing hundreds of courses (or even fewer), an extra investment in creativity and production value doesn’t always change the overall cost of a finished course very much.
More important, you haven’t saved any money if learners are bailing out of the course, skimming over content, or not retaining information. In fact, you’ve probably wasted more dollars than you want to know. There’s a lesson to be learned from easy-to-use authoring tools, though. It’s a good idea to create a system approach to your course creation model. Also, develop a common architecture, navigation scheme, and approach to delivering information that’s based on learner preferences and needs.
Use open systems. Companies, large and small, develop proprietary software and functions in an attempt to provide a solution unlike any other on the market. Sometimes this works, and everybody wins. But when this strategy backfires, a customer can be left captive to a system that is inflexible and unable to meet its changing needs. As a supplier, I recommend building learning delivery systems that use open system architectures—broadly accepted programming standards and established technologies.
This open system approach will help build confidence in buyers because they know small tweaks to the system are possible, and they aren’t left vulnerable when suppliers merge with other companies or, worse, go out of business—both of which are common occurrences in the e-learning market. Similarly, because small tweaks are inexpensive, they will have more resources to put towards large customization projects. Ultimately, this will build loyalty between the supplier and client.
At Learn. Perform. Succeed!, we avoid herd thinking and are committed to staying out of the stampede to trendy solutions. Indeed, we strive for innovation and creativity, and we try to build strong relationships. Perhaps the biggest lesson we've learned working with clients, is that there’s no one right way to approach e-learning.
Published: June 20, 2003