Learning Technology Selection: Where to Find Your Tiny Needle in the Industry’s Very Large Haystack

A Process for Selecting the Right Technology at the Right Time

Let’s face it: It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of learning technologies out there. Especially now, with the emphasis on digital transformation and explorations into artificial intelligence and rich media, new vendors and tools are hitting the market daily making learning technologies selection a challenge for any organization. Training Industry created a graphic of the players in the space and it is simply mind-boggling.

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The fact is, the more digital we go, the more technology we need. As you try to make sense of all the different platforms, devices, content management solutions, analytics tools, learning assets, and experience boosters, consider this: The best, most admired industry-leading tool may not be the best tool for you. And ultimately, that is what makes technology selection so hard. The risks of selecting a technology that doesn’t quite work for your needs are increased costs, poor user adoption lower, engagement rates, systems integration and security issues, and missed learning goals.

Additionally, once you have the technology or set of technologies for your needs, the next challenge is bringing them together into holistic learning experiences and seamless integrations across systems. It’s easier said than done.

So how do you sort through all these tools and platforms? Which are right for your learners? And which align best with your:

  • Desired learning experience?
    • Technology constraints and existing systems?
    • Business needs?
    • Timeline?
    • Budget?

The art of the possible through a 5-step innovation process

GP Strategies’ Innovation Kitchen is a digital laboratory, of sorts, where practitioners and stakeholders can explore the art of the possible through strategic testing and piloting, allowing them to identify viable innovative platforms, methodologies, and partners. To vet a technology or approach, we employ a five-step process:

  1. Discover. In this phase, you learn about the available technologies for what you are trying to accomplish.
  2. Refine. Use your stated objectives or business needs to vet the technologies against your needs, thereby refining your list of prospective solutions.
  3. Experiment. Test your solution and see if it is viable for your needs.
  4. Reflect and share. Review what you have learned and share your results across your organization.
  5. Integrate. Choose the solution best suited to your needs and incorporate it.

We admit it’s not as easy as it sounds. So let’s take a look at the process in action.

How one company got their game on in just a few short weeks

To illustrate the process further, one of our clients is planning a major product launch and they will soon be planning their pre-, during and post-launch training. They are looking to expand their gamification capabilities beyond what their current solution allows. So they came to us asking which technologies they should look at. They wanted an answer fast. We handed over their options in three weeks.

Learning technologies selection: First things first

The first thing we did was ask them a question: What does gamification mean to you? This is a critical first step, because its meaning and value are different for everyone. It can mean game-based learning, in which the game itself is the content. It can mean gamifying the content or learning, adding in game elements. It can mean both. Or perhaps neither approach matters as much as the benefits you want to achieve, such as:

  • Increasing learner engagement
  • Assessing complex activities
  • Changing behaviors
  • Incentivizing and motivating learners
  • Capitalizing on the addictive nature of games
  • Demonstrating ROI

Our client wanted an approach that allowed for both push and pull engagement approaches, that leveraged the competitive nature of their sales force, encouraged continued access, and included a feedback mechanism for continual improvement of the program. Looking deeper, we established seven need-to-have criteria against which all options would be measured.

Selection criteria:

Sorting through the options

The next step was drawing up a list of options. For this, we consulted the experts in our own Innovation Kitchen who have vetted and experimented with hundreds of platforms and solutions. Beyond that, we undertook some web-based research, consulted the Association for Talent Development (ATD), searched learning industry sites, and more. The result was a list of 20 prospective solutions.

Our team then assessed those solutions based on the seven criteria established with the client and ranked each platform according to whether the team recommended it—yes, no or maybe. Only eight solutions made the cut. Then we reviewed those eight and chose the top four candidates.

Drilling down even further

Our team now had four solutions, any one of which we would be happy to recommend to the client, but we wanted to assess them further. We did a strengths and weaknesses comparison of each platform. Here is an example (the strengths and weaknesses may be different for each company):

We compared features. (Platform Seven was the client’s existing gamification solution.)

We created a heat map using client criteria and the Likert scale for measurement.

We also created a radar chart that allowed us to visualize where each option was strong or unique.

Finally, we compared prices–always a challenge with different pricing structures.

After we amassed all the data and made all the comparisons, we were able to present the client with four options, two that could double as primary learning platforms and two that were interstitial tools.

Things to keep in mind for your own assessments

Just as it’s important to view every vendor and solution through the lens of the business need you’re trying to fulfill, it’s also important to be consistent in how you conduct your review and collect data. Keep these tips in mind as you assemble your team:

  • Informed opinion. The opinions, votes, and rankings provided by your team members should reflect informed opinion, supported by research, experience and knowledge.
  • Consistent reviewers. Use the same team members throughout the process.
  • Consistent criteria. Establish a fixed set of criteria you will use and assess based on that criteria throughout.
  • Strengths/weaknesses. Measure the strengths and weaknesses of the solution in the context of the client’s criteria. A solution that may not have been originally made for your intended purpose may actually do a better job than an industry leading solution. You are not looking for the best solution. You are looking for the best solution for you.
  • Likert scale. Use the 5-point Likert scale to measure the capability of each solution:
    1. Does not have/support this feature
    2. Has feature, with noted limitations
    3. Has and can support the feature
    4. Has feature & intent/ability for improvements, but requires additional work
    5. Strongly supports feature, easy to use, easy to implement/build

Ultimately your goal is to improve the overall learner experience with whatever solution you choose. Doing a thorough assessment will help you avoid shiny objects, focus on business impact and provide a tool that meets the shifting needs of the modern learner.

For more on learning technologies

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About the Authors

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Tom Pizer

Director of Learning Technologies for GP Strategies’ Learning Solutions Group, has over 20 years of experience in the technical digital media field. He has an extensive background in a variety of creative and technical media, including digital media specification, production, testing, and implementation. During his career, Tom has created, specified, directed, and/or managed hundreds of hours of educational, instructional, and entertainment-based media and has served clients in a wide variety of markets including the federal government, trade associations, commercial organizations, and educational institutions. A key aspect of Tom’s responsibilities includes staying abreast of emerging technologies and in-tune with the latest development methodologies, standards, and practices. To this end, he takes part in monthly advisory meetings for several of GP Strategies’ clients to ensure that their courseware is of the highest caliber and meets rigorous development requirements. Tom is also the technical lead for several proprietary GP Strategies technologies that are designed to reduce overall development time while increasing the creativity and diversity of GP Strategies’ body of work.
Cara Halter

Cara Halter

Cara Halter is the Director of Innovation Research & Development for GP Strategies, where she consults with clients on digital learning transformation, creation of innovative digital learning experiences, and learner-centric design principles to maximize business impact through learning. Cara has 20+ years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies and a masters degree in instructional design & technology (UGA). She has split her professional experience between an internal L&D team at a financial services company and as a consultant with top learning companies, giving her a true customer-focused approach in designing, developing and delivering learning solutions. She has worked with clients in finance, pharmaceutical, insurance, technology, and retail to transform their learning operations, optimize their learning systems, and create award-winning programs. Her deep knowledge and experience in digital learning technologies and instructional design continue to drive her passion for finding creative ways to address the needs of the modern leaner.