Stop Blaming the LMS

There is a fast growing movement in the learning and development industry that has me troubled. Across all channels, I see L&D Professionals, especially those that are not experts in their field, espousing “the LMS (learning management system) is DEAD.” A quick Google search yields hundreds of articles focusing on this “emerging trend in learning.” There are also numerous twist on this same topic such as:

  • the traditional LMS is dead
  • the LMS is dead but what the article says is replacing it is actually an LMS
  • the stand alone LMS is dead
  • Moving to Learning Engagement Platforms
  • and more…

As far back as 2015, the Twitter-verse was proclaiming the LMS’ demise and how the best companies were moving on. Yesterday, I was in a LinkedIn discussion started by a guy who was writing an essay on how the LMS is dead and looking for sources he could cite. He’d clearly taken a position without even researching it. Frankly, if the LMS had an AI, I’m sure it would quote Mark Twain right now: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

There is no doubt that the older versions of LMS’s are dying off. Like any software, when something doesn’t keep up with technology trends and modern programming, it tends to go away quickly. This early form of the LMS is often where horror stories exist of forced compliance, long boring trainings, and extremely poor user experience. This is also the type of LMS that big companies are finally moving away from, and why there is suddenly so much press about it “dying.”

Yet even with this traditional form of the LMS, the sad reality is that it’s not the tool that was the issue (though it certainly did have its problems.) The real failure lies in the way training departments were using the LMS. My favorite quote in all of Learning and Development is by Marc Rosenberg – “Bad training + technology = more efficient bad training.”

Of course learners will rebel when forced to sit through voice-over PowerPoint compliance training that goes for 65 minutes, with the “instructor” simply reading what is on the screen. It doesn’t matter what tool is used; even in a Learning Engagement Platform that behavior is revolution-worthy.

Call it whatever you like – learning engagement platform, content curation platform, eLMS, LMS 3.0, etc., if the training is bad, it still won’t help people learn any better. I’ve seen “traditional” LMS’s used incredibly well, with high learner engagement, when they were loaded with effective content.

Stop blaming the LMS. That’s like going on a bad date and then saying all dating is dead. Get off the Fad wagon and work on developing effective, engaging content for whatever tool you have.

Yes, there are newer versions of LMS’s that run better, smarter, smoother, with more user choice, improved functionality, and focus on multiple media types. But guess what, they are still LMS’s (whether they are called that officially or not.) I don’t doubt that a company running original versions of Moodle wants to shoot the server and declare an end to all LMS’s (I would too in that case,) but be realistic about the real source of the problem and takes steps to fix that first, before investing a new “cutting edge” platform where you repeat the same mistakes.

The LMS is not dead. It’s not even dying. It’s just morphing, like all software does, into a better version of itself. The rest is just hype, marketing, or ignorance.

Sp

Posted in Authoring, Technology, User Experience | Leave a comment

Reflecting on the Frustrations of Learning and Development

Working in Learning and Development (L&D) can be a very rewarding career. Few jobs allow you to impact so many people on a daily basis without an emergency involved. As I develop and implement training, what I do has a measurable effect on my co-workers.

L&D can also be very frustrating and mind jarring. Any full-time L&D professional I’ve spoken with over the years shared a similar story of joy and woe. Common frustrations often include:

  • too many people in the company wanting training and all of it is high priority
  • not enough people in the company supporting training
  • not enough support from the top
  • not enough support from the bottom
  • technology problems
  • software failures
  • overloaded schedules
  • resources pulled without warning
  • failures of others that affect your own output
  • lack of recognition
  • recognition of others for work you did alone
  • budget cuts
  • lack of professional development

All of these and more I’ve faced in my career as an L&D professional working across several companies. I’ve faced days, weeks, months, and even years where I wanted to throw in the towel, tap out, and walk away.

But then, I have a moment.

A moment where someone unexpectedly thanks me for helping them finally accomplish that thing they’ve been trying to do; a moment where genuine recognition comes after a really hard job; a moment where the light suddenly goes on for a group of people I’m training and they leave to have a huge impact on the company. I first learned of moments like that when I taught Jr. High and High School history classes. There is something really special about watching the light turn on for someone.

In between moments, when the road seems dark, I think of something Rory Vaden said. Rory Vaden is an author, trainer, and inspirational speaker that focuses largely on sales training in his consulting firm. He wrote a blog post called the Myth of the Lifestyle Entrepreneur and in it, he said something the resonated with me as an L&D professional. Here is a partial quote of that article:

Quit buying into the lies. 

Quit allowing yourself to be deceived. 

And instead, put your head down and go back to work. 

When you get tired, suck it up and go back to work. 

Then, when you’re ready to quit, go back to work. 

After you’re sure you can’t take anymore go back to work. 

Once you’re completely empty, keep going back to work.

While he was speaking to entrepreneurs, it was a really good reminder to me that the work I choose to do isn’t always, or even often, glamorous, or fun, or exciting. Sometimes it is drudgery, pain, and anguish. When those times come, and they will, I find myself thinking of Rory’s statement above, putting my head down, and getting back to work. When it gets really bad I channel a little Jimmy V and my mantra becomes “survive and advance.” I hold out for that next ‘moment’ that reminds me why I do what I do, and why, in spite of it all, I love it.

Sp

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Training Fails Epically

Tonight, Greg Gianforte, the Montana candidate for the House of Representatives seat that was opened due to political appointment, allegedly body slammed a reporter for asking him tough questions. Tomorrow is the election. True or not, this can’t go well for him.

Greg Gianforte (Getty)

I’m going to skip an overall account of what is being reported (read more about the incident here.)  I want to focus on something Alicia Acuna, the Fox News reporter that is an eyewitness, said: “At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” Grabbing someone by the neck and slamming them to the ground speaks of either great fear or great rage. That’s an extreme action taken under extreme emotion.

I feel fairly confident in saying Gianforte’s advisers coached him during the campaign to avoid doing something extreme that would grab media attention. That is Politics 101. I also feel confident in assuming that Gianforte understood that coaching and worked hard throughout his campaign to properly implement it. Now, whether the allegations are proven true or not, this happens on the eve of the election. Uber.Epic.Fail.

Right about now I imagine political advisers all over the country, from both sides of the aisle, are placing themselves in Gianforte’s advisers’ shoes and thinking about what they would have done differently to prevent this. Their thoughts aren’t all that different than what trainers feel after coaching a team and then having something go badly awry.

So what is the trainer’s next step when something goes so badly wrong? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Perform a frank analysis of the training that was originally presented. It’s important to deeply understand what was attempted in the past that failed to prevent the current situation. The last thing that should be done for better results is what was tried before. That’s the definition of insanity. Look at all aspects of the original training: communication, learning environment, curriculum, evaluations, engagement levels, interruptions that occurred, discussions or lack thereof, etc. and then search for improvements.
  2. Discuss the findings of your analysis with someone impartial, if possible. Fresh eyes and minds on a problem can yield incredible results. There is wisdom in the counsel of many. Get expert opinions from others that can see things you might have missed.
  3. Formulate a plan for retraining. Unlike with politics, most situations are recoverable long-term and people will need to be retrained to prevent further disasters. The plan for this retraining needs to address repairing the initial training gaps, as well as properly training new learners.
  4. Schedule retraining as close to the incident as possible. You want to prevent further mishaps. If the incident calls for it, put the breaks on further activities that could lead to the current disaster. Be decisive in your actions at this point. For initial retraining, I strongly recommend keeping new learners separate from those that are being retrained. The conversations will be very different between the two groups. Don’t fall into the trap of adding a few new people to the group for cost savings.
  5. Discuss the incident openly and frankly in the retraining session(s), if at all possible. There may be a lot of questions, heated emotions, or maybe even hurt feelings. Be prepared and ensure those delivering the training are properly armed with answers.
  6. Follow-up with extra performance support materials after the training ends. Re-enforce the new training stronger than you would otherwise, because you need to rewire the brains of the learners to stop thinking of the original training (which has had more time to settle in) and think or act in a new direction.

While Gianforte’s political career may be over at this point, most training failures aren’t  permanent. Quick action can prevent further failures and begin to repair the damage.

Sp

 

Posted in Analysis, Assessment, Training | Leave a comment

7 Tips on Training Software

In my experience, training someone to use software is one of the more difficult types of training to create effectively. It is so easy to be boring, use technical jargon, extend the training too long, or fall into the dreaded “trying to be funny but come across as terribly cheesy” trap.

Throughout my career I’ve trained, or been trained, on software scores of times. While learning software I’ve fallen asleep, walked away with a commitment to figure it out on my own later, and been wow’ed by an 8-hour training session. As an instructor I’ve lost classes in the first five minutes, fallen asleep (yes, I put myself to sleep once,) and made significant impacts on the work lives of my class.

So, what is it that makes software training move from the dull drudgery of cleaning grout with a toothbrush, to the exciting adrenaline rush of flying in the backseat of a fighter jet?

Nothing. It’s software training.

But you can certainly make it better than cleaning grout. Here are some tips to help you on your next project:

  1. Tell them Why. Adults want to know why this training applies to them, so be up front with that. Don’t use boiler plate statements about how this software will make their daily jobs easier either. Be specific. For example, instead of saying “by the end of this training you’ll understand how to use Microsoft Outlook more efficiently” say this: “by the end of this training you’ll be capable of creating folders and rules to help you manage your email more efficiently, and be able to use Outlook like a pro. This will give you more time in your day not dealing with the email monster.”
  2. Be Practical. Like all other training, getting adults to engage works best when they understand and see how they can apply the training to their lives immediately. Software’s ultimate purpose is to make our lives easier; to perform some task that otherwise would be significantly more difficult for us. The best way to grab a learner’s attention and keep them engaged throughout the training is to constantly solve their problems. Give a lot of practical tips that shortcut longer processes, make tasks easier, or help users understand complicated actions easier. You can even purposefully plan to space these tips out so you have built-in engagement bumps throughout the lesson.
  3. Keep it Short! Especially when giving web-based training, but also when teaching in-person, keep training segments short. How ‘short’ is defined can be rather subjective, so let’s look at the principle behind it. The average adult attention span when engaged in a learning activity they feel is important is about 12 minutes. This drops off exponentially if you haven’t performed #1-2 correctly. YouTube recommends no videos over 4 minutes in length due to the significant viewership drop-off they see when videos are longer. Those videos would fall into the ‘entertainment’ category most of the time, which is why the attention span is shorter. The social media attention span for adults is one second shorter than that of a goldfish. When you look at the length of your training, keep those things in mind. For long sessions, create natural break points and split them up.
  4. Speed-up Unimportant Boring Stuff. No one wants to see you type your user name and password into a system. People perform that action dozens of times per day. They get it. If you’re doing a web-based recording, use an editor to speed the video up in that spot. If you’re teaching live, tell them “After you log in…” They all get it. Do the same for anything else in this category. Treat the learners like understand the basics unless you have a reason to assume otherwise. It only takes a few minor ‘time wasters’ to lose engagement for the whole training.
  5. Avoid the Cheese. I’m not talking about cheddar here. Common cheese you see in software training falls into these categories: silly names of example people, unrealistic or unbelievable examples, funny graphics that aren’t, and trying to drop in an unrelated joke as an attention grabber. They don’t generally work. Keep it practical, realistic, believable, and to the point.
  6. Get a Good Voice. If you have narration in your web- or video-based training, nothing is more valuable than a good voice. An example I recently cited was Corbin Anderson in his Camtasia 9 Essentials course on Lynda.com. This guy has a great voice and he kept me engaged for all 8 hours of the training. You can find voice talent relatively cheap if you hunt around, but a good voice is usually worth the price. I’ve even found in-house talent that rocked the project I needed narration for, so start there to save yourself some money.
  7. Beta, beta, edit. Any new training should be tested, then analyzed, then edited, then tested again. Don’t make the rookie mistake of recording and releasing, never to look at it again. If you’re training clients on the use of your software, find a few trusted voices that will give you honest feedback of new material, then get new stuff in front of them first so you can make changes before the whole world sees it.

There you go – 7 quick tips to help you train software better. It’s never too late to go back and fix old projects if you’ve realized that’s necessary. Good luck!

Sp

Posted in Technology, Training, Webinars | Leave a comment

Trainer’s Guide to Camtasia 9

I recently taught myself how to record and edit in Camtasia 9. Prior to this, I haven’t personally edited video before, though I’ve managed video editors for years. Because of that, I had a basic idea of good practices, but no hands-on experience on how to actually do editing.

To start my journey, I jumped onto Lynda.com to take their training on Camtasia 9 Essentials. Corbin Anderson does the training and he was excellent – great voice to listen to, very practical in his instructions, and overall did a superb  job. His wealth of experience in video editing shines through in the way he presents and shares easy-to-apply tips. (There are also many videos available direct from Techsmith or on YouTube that teach how to use Camtasia, I just love Lynda.com so I went there.)

After finishing the training, I tackled my first project: a 5-minute screencast on the Fair Labor Standards Act. Camtasia ran smoothly during the recording. I didn’t miss the hiccups, down-sampling, or clunky controls found in other screen recording software I’ve tried in the past (most notably Adobe Captivate.) Once the recording was complete, based on my settings, Camtasia opened right up into editing mode of the video. I found it very simple to follow the basics of what Corbin taught me and turn those into screen zooms, smooth transitions, content highlighting, and even some reinforcement of material.

My next project was similar, except the recording was a video I saved from a live webcast. It came from GoToMeeting and then I imported it into Camtasia for final edits and rendering. Again it went very smooth and the final output was significantly better than the original webcast, since I enhanced the audio and zoomed into text that was hard to read during the live event.

My third project was a full-fledged edit of raw video footage shot on an iPhone, with a secondary audio recording. This required me to pull in the auxiliary audio file, pull in the video file from the iPhone, split out the iPhone audio from the video (as easy as right-clicking and telling Camtasia to split it), sync the two audio tracks, and then delete the iPhone audio so I was left with the iPhone video file, and the external audio file. It was super easy. Then I went through, added effects and transitions, made necessary cuts, and rendered a completed .mp4 for use as a training video.

The only struggles I ran into were associated with learning new software. Techsmith did a great job automating certain common things and making editing effects (called Behaviors) easy. I wish there were more Behaviors available, though it’s possible to create custom ones and I may just need to understand that better.

Overall, a superb product. For anyone in training that need good, basic, easy-t0-use video editing and screen capture software, this is definitely the way to go. It may not have as many bells and whistles as Adobe Premier or other high-end video editing programs, but it also doesn’t carry the price tag. At only $200 per license, it is very easy to get started, and it doesn’t have any monthly subscriptions. It is quick to learn, easy to edit, and outputs a great video when done correctly.

For trainers, the ability to bring in multiple media types and sources, and export the video in a format that works well in eLearning software, make this program a very versatile tool.

Bottom line: highly recommended

Sp

Posted in Review | Leave a comment

How Routine Causes Speakers to Forget Their Audience

I recently sat through a sermon at church where the pastor, a great guy who also teaches at a Bible College as a Missions Professor, taught at a level that far exceeded the capabilities of the audience. His sermon was very good, but I found myself struggling to stay engaged, partly because I wasn’t mentally prepared for the level he taught at. As I realized this, I glanced around at the audience and saw a sea of glazed over eyes.

Image of an audience

I’ve been told numerous times to know my audience. It’s one of the most common pieces of advice speakers are given, and I have very little doubt this Pastor knows all about it. But because he isn’t the Senior Pastor (and thus doesn’t preach every week) it’s safe to say the majority of the teaching he does is probably in the classroom. The familiarity with his regular audience could be the reason he taught at such a high level in the sermon I heard. (As a side note, it’s usually recommended that Pastors teach at a 6th to 7th grade level.)

Trainers can face a similar issue when they train the same type of audience on a regular basis. Good trainers work on their presentations for maximum impact and efficiency. This work breeds familiarity with their audience and can lead to complacency. Not in a negative way, but in the sense that they don’t have to think about who the audience is because they know it intimately. Over time, this familiarity can lead to instances like the Pastor above, where a suddenly new audience is overlooked.

So how can you avoid this trap? This is one of those times it would be easy to say “just don’t do it.” Awareness of a potential problem can often be enough to prevent this issue. But I generally find in my life that it isn’t practical to just “be aware” of issues. I overcome this through the use of checklists. (One of my all-time favorite books, more because of its impact on my life than for how exciting it was to read, is The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.)

Reviewing a simple checklist before each training presentation serves as a great reminder of things you know but sometimes may forget. There is a reason pilots review their pre-flight checklist every time – even when they’ve flown the same aircraft for decades.

The checklist might include things like this:

  • Consider the make-up of the audience. Are they:
    • More one gender than another?
    • Predominantly one socioeconomic group?
    • What level of education will they have on average?
    • What previous experience do they have that is relevant to the subject matter?
  • Have I adjusted the curriculum/presentation to fit the time allotted for this event?
  • Have I accounted for the event dress code properly in my wardrobe?
  • Do I have all the A/V worked out correctly given the available connections?

Build your own checklist based on how you train. Keep it generic enough that it will fit most of your similar events. You can always leave blanks at the bottom for customizing it as you plan an event. Most of the time, reviewing it can be a mental exercise that reminds you of key things. Checklists have saved my backside more times than I can count on two hands and two feet. What can you make a checklist on this week that will support you?

Sp

Posted in Authoring, Communication, Speaking, Training | Leave a comment

Why Learning Tracks Matter

Sam is a new management trainee that just promoted from being a Paint Department Associate. Her Store Manager recognized strong leadership skills and a solid work ethic over the last two years, and encouraged her to apply when the job was posted by the owner. Now, after earning her promotion, she sits at a fork in the road. A key factor in her success or failure in this new position lies, not in her own hands, but in the efforts her company will put forth, or fail to produce.

This is the point where companies often go wrong. A newly promoted employee, that has shown promise, is left to flounder in their new position without proper training. Often their new supervisor is expected to get them trained, but in many cases their supervisor was never properly trained either. Inconsistent messaging, knowledge gaps, and incorrect methods are learned and then perpetuated to future employees due to the lack of formal training.

In Sam’s case, she faces a fork that either leads her to success, or failure, depending on how well the company is positioned to ensure proper training for her. It’s very easy for a company to put someone in a new position, spend a few weeks “getting them trained,” and then inadvertently hang them out dry because no plan exists for further training or reinforcement of what was trained already. This is where a learning track is most powerful.

Learning tracks are planned pathways, often relevant to a specific job or role in an organization, that take the trainee from introductory knowledge to mastery of their position. This journey is often over a long period of time – even multiple years depending on the complexity of the job. Where a cashier at a hardware store might have a 3-month learning track, a new Vice President might have a track that takes 3-5 years to complete.

An important item to note: learning tracks don’t need to be completely developed (in fact they shouldn’t be) before being rolled out. If a company waits until full development before releasing, it’s highly likely some of the content would be out of date and need to be redone. This could be an unending cycle. As with all curriculum, a learning track is never truly “done.” There will be constant refreshing, adding, and deleting as business needs and role changes dictate.

How to create a learning track:

  1. Start by identifying key behaviors, expectations, abilities, and skills required to do the job properly. This should be part of a job description already, and will just need to be fleshed out more.
  2. Now go deeper. For each of the items identified in step 1, break them down further into tasks the learner will need to know. For example: if one item identified in step 1 is to sell product on a sales floor, break that down into the different ways product is handled: in-stock sales, special orders, product transfers from other stores, large orders, special discounts, sales policies, etc.
  3. Take the identified tasks and group anything that logically could be trained together, and then begin mapping out individual courses that will live in the learning track. If you have multiple tasks that have a customer service component, you group those together to form a customer service course that covers the various aspects of each of those tasks.
  4. Next, prioritize the courses for development and release. It’s obviously impossible to develop everything at once, and as mentioned earlier, you’ll want to release as individual courses are complete. I generally prioritize based on bottom-line impact to the organization, but there can be instances where something else takes precedence due to it’s long-term impact. Make those decisions and create your final priority list.
  5. Get feedback from stakeholders before you move any further. Stakeholders can be the employee in the new job, employees who recently held that job, supervisors, and executives. This is the stage where mistakes are caught and further refinement takes place, and is critical to the overall accuracy, and more importantly, buy-in for the learning track.
  6. After incorporating the relevant feedback from stakeholders, begin producing the individual courses. Build the learning track out over time as courses are produced. Ideally, publish the schedule of courses so learners in the track know when to expect new content. Courses should also give learners the opportunity to test out. If a learner genuinely has knowledge in a given area, it’s a waste of their time and company funds for them to sit through unneeded training. Also remember that courses can take many different forms: live, elearning, self-study, video-based, webcasts, etc. They can even be combinations of many forms (blended learning.) Find the most effective way for each – don’t worry about the form matching among all courses in the track.
  7. Finally, as the track develops, remember to check back on early courses to make sure they are still current and don’t need further tweaking. A good learning track is a living entity that will change and grow over time. It should never be stagnant.

If Sam’s company has an established learning track for her to follow, she’ll receive ongoing support and training all throughout her time growing into the new position. Not only will this support her in the new job, it gives the company continuous feedback on her success or failure.

I realize the process can sounds a bit overwhelming if you’ve never done it, but it’s much easier after your first time. If you are new to the process, find an easy position to start with and just take one step at a time. What can you start on this week?

Sp

Posted in Analysis, Development, Management, Training | 1 Comment