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Human-Centered Design Is Critical for Digital Learning

This blog article was written prior to LEO Learning becoming part of GP Strategies. 

In its infancy, digital learning was largely seen as one learner sitting in front of a computer working through text-based learning modules. However, humans are social. We learn most effectively from other humans—when we talk to people, network, and receive coaching. Making connections with other humans is how we learn what to do, and how to be independent. One of the potential downsides of digital learning has been that this human connection often gets stripped out.

Andrew Joly and Ella Richardson share their views on the importance of human-centered learning, and offer ideas on how organizations can best incorporate the human element into their digital learning journeys.

Social Learning and Why Human-Centered Thinking Is Important in Digital Learning

“Learning is a social, human-to-human activity. It’s widely accepted—with plenty of research to back it up—that people learn mostly from other people, on the job, and when they’re dropped in the deep end.”

– Andrew Joly, LX Senior Director of Strategy

In the early days of CBT (Computer Based Training), digital learning solutions were computer-based, solitary experiences. While there are certain things people can learn on their own, embedding real behavior change requires learning—and potentially failing—in real-time, together. Other important elements of learning such as narrative, context, and emotion, are often provided by other people. Leadership skills, for example—cannot easily be learned from a computer alone. In this way, social learning is a fundamental building block of a fully effective approach.

8 Methods of Cultivating Human-Centered Design In Digital Learning

Human-Centered thinking can influence the design of your digital learning in several ways.

1. Build Your Learning Journey By Focusing on the End-User

In many sectors, training has traditionally been generated in a top-down way. The problem with top-down creation is that the learning journey is often not designed from the point of view of the person who needs the learning. For example, a manager putting together an onboarding process may prioritize topics such as the heritage of the company, whereas a new starter would rather know how to log in to the IT systems. Creating the learning journey with the end-user in mind at every point is an example of learner-centered, or human-centered design.

2. Focus on Usability

User Experience (UX) is another important aspect of learner-oriented design. It’s a critical area of expertise that LEO has covered elsewhere, but there are some key questions you can ask yourself to check that your learning is landing well with users:

  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Does any element make you feel lost or confused?
  • Was it clear where to click to get to where you needed to go?
  • Is there a logical hierarchy to the interface and typography?
  • Is the branding and color scheme consistent with the whole experience?

L&D professionals must check that the layout and overall design is clear and accessible. It’s also vital that the language used is pitched appropriately to the people doing the learning.

3. Personalize Your Learning

In the past, a lot of learning has been ‘one size fits all’. There’s a list of topics or modules and everyone has to complete all of them. However, as most of us would agree, time pressure is critical and everyone is busy. At LEO, we aspire to ‘zero waste learning’—where a learner gets the learning that they need, and no more.

There are complex solutions to this, but here are some first steps:

Diagnostic Tools

A diagnostic is a useful engagement tool. Usually in the form of a quiz or assessment, a diagnostic can be used to gauge the existing knowledge or skill level of the learner before they take the course.

The results can then be used to determine if the learner:

  • Needs to take the course at all
  • Just needs to complete various topics or modules

Role Filters

Role filters are placed at the start of the course and ask learners to select their role before advancing. This ensures that course content is tailored to a learner’s position in the business. This level of personalization ensures the learning always feels relevant and reinforces the idea that the learning has been tailored to their needs.

4. Create Engaging Virtual Classrooms and Workshops

Zoom, Teams, and other video conference platforms facilitate human-to-human interactions that are simple to set-up while—if facilitated well—being comparably effective with traditional face-to-face learning.

In fact, connecting virtually comes with unique benefits. Digital can act as a kind of protective shield for people, when compared to the conventions of a traditional organization. Many people have reported feeling much more comfortable speaking with senior members of staff via video, as they’re more casual and relaxed in their own environments. While digital can feel like it disconnects us, it can also allow us a way to connect in a way that we couldn’t before. There can be more honesty and vulnerability. Without feeling tied down by the weight of organizational expectations, ironically, digital interactions can make us feel more human.

5. Harness the Empathetic Potential of Storytelling

Storytelling is one of humanity’s most powerful learning mediums: before we even had the means to write lessons down, we found ways to share them. And by living vicariously through other people’s experiences—usually through the stories they tell—we’ve been able to learn key lessons without experiencing them for ourselves.

Using stories in learning creates emotion, takes the learner on a journey, and helps them understand what other people feel in certain situations. Take, for example, a customer service training solution for people who work in main street banks. Often, bank workers are faced with customers who are unhappy, perhaps because their bills haven’t been paid. Instead of telling bank workers how to deal with these situations, we encourage them to explore moments in their lives when they’ve been unhappy with a service. Have they ever been in a restaurant and complained about the food or service? What did that feel like?

By using storytelling to encourage people to explore how they feel emotionally, in the customer’s shoes, they’ll be better able to empathize when they’re back in their job role and are faced with a complaining customer.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Pre-Recorded Video

Human connection in learning doesn’t require people to speak to each other in real-time. Even watching a pre-recorded video can enable a learner to feel a deep human connection with the person speaking.

As humans, emotion resonates with us, and that’s what we find memorable. Understanding someone’s lived perspective and how they feel allows a learner to empathize, and they’re more likely to remember the message. One of the reasons storytelling is so powerful is that when a person listens to a story, their brain and body feel as if they’re experiencing the story for themselves, as a reality.

Using video in this way is a relatively simple but effective way to enhance your digital learning solution.

7. Take Learning Onto Social Media

“Social media is the purest form of learning” – Ella Richardson, Learning Design Director.

Most of us use social media platforms in our personal lives, but they’re also places for learning. YouTube, for example, is designed specifically for sharing information. People go to YouTube, connect digitally, and learn things. Human connection doesn’t have to be live and in real-time—reading comments on a post, or in a Facebook group, can facilitate learning without us really being aware that we are, in fact, learning.

L&D can use social media to build learning communities around programs and courses. Learners can share their experiences as they go through the learning, as well as their success stories as they apply their learning and put it into practice.

8. Understand the Importance of Feedback (and Implementing It!)

Learning delivered in a vacuum can never improve. Feedback from your learners and business on how successful their learning experience has been, as well as measuring the impact of the learning on your business, is needed when maintaining any human-centric learning solution. In order to improve your learning, it’s important to know how it’s landing—what’s working and what’s not. You need a return channel to learn all of this, and while this exists in many organizations, few use it well. Measurement data will reveal how the learning is working and how learners have completed the modules. In addition to gathering data, speaking to people who have completed the learning is the best way to improve your learning solution.

Learning is a social experience. Allowing your learners to connect with other humans will allow them to learn more naturally, effectively, and will help to inspire long-term professional improvement and change.

Need an expert hand in designing and delivering human-centric learning programs? Get in touch today to see how GP Strategies can help!

About the Authors

GP Strategies Corporation
GP Strategies is a global performance improvement solutions provider of sales and technical training, e-Learning solutions, management consulting and engineering services. GP Strategies' solutions improve the effectiveness of organizations by delivering innovative and superior training, consulting and business improvement services, customized to meet the specific needs of its clients. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing, process and energy industries, and other commercial and government customers.

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