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Silver Bells: Five Tips to Help You Avoid the Shiny Object Syndrome

Ring-a-ling, hear them ring, soon it will be orientation day. Bing Crosby may not have been referring to training and development in his duet with Carol Richards, but as the industry snows down on us with all the shiny new objects we could invest in, it’s important to not get distracted. Instead, listen for the innovations that will ring true for your learners.

Learning technologies. Emerging practices. New roles. We have a lot of disruption in the learning space; many of them have value, but the question is, Will they really work for your learners in your environment? So, how do you reduce the risk of selecting something that isn’t a fit for your company?

Here are five tips to keep in mind when shiny objects (new corporate training strategies) ring out this holiday season.

#1 Begin with a sustainable innovation process.

Effective companies have created innovation spaces to help navigate the path from the art of the possible to the business of the viable. These spaces allow teams to embrace and effectively process new solutions without disrupting day-to-day activities.

As new shiny objects emerge, the key is to take them away from daily execution activities while learning how effective they may be on a larger scale. Rather than trying a shiny object out on a mission-critical initiative or a high-profile global rollout, try it in a safer test environment first. The idea is to take a proactive approach and gather data on how new, shiny objects might have a real and larger-scale impact for your learners and organization.

#2 Look for the trends before they are obvious—and engage them.

A key to this process is to identify possible innovations and solutions before they arrive. Once you can identify the trends, you proactively align those solutions that are truly viable and invest in scaling them within an organization. You can structure design-thinking sessions about applications, align them to emerging business needs and challenges, gather evidence of success, or invest in continued exploration. Some of the current trends that are having impact on our conversations include appification of learning technologies, enterprise-wide content engagement process and platforms, adaptive learning platforms, and a focus on the learning experience integrated with strategic data-collection points.

#3 Open up to the new—challenge legacy views on content, experience, and the learner’s role.

A key to being successful while exploring new technologies or approaches is to be able to let go of legacy approaches to designing learning events and the associated learning experiences. Many of the emerging technologies require a new design mindset in order to really benefit from them. The role of the designer moves away from architecting highly structured, transactional, efficient learning events into the role of designing experiences that meet the needs of digital learners, wrapped in a digital learning enterprise, supported through digital learning operations. Micro-, social, learner-driven, spaced, adaptive, and multimodal are all features of the new learning experiences enabled through the many shiny objects out there.

#4 Think creatively about growing communities to dynamically meet a range of moments of need.

As learning professionals, we need to open up to the concept that we cannot meet the needs of every learner or performer at their moment of need. With the accelerating pace of disruption, a critical component of dynamically meeting emerging needs is the creation and facilitation of a performer community. Several emerging platforms are really enabling groups of learners to better collaborate on business challenges, moderate high-impact conversations, and curate relevant resources. How they are successful in your organization depends on your approach to finding what works for your learners in their environment. Keep in mind that this is not about technology integration—it is a change-management effort focused on how the human will use the technology to solve the problem.

#5 Cultivate, develop, and reinforce innovative behaviors.

It isn’t enough to draw up an innovation process or set aside time for innovation activities. Organizations need to take time to nurture and reinforce innovative behaviors, embracing the concept that innovation by its very nature is a disruptive, difficult process. Some of the behaviors that organizations should actively cultivate include:

  • Observing
  • Questioning
  • Networking
  • Experimenting
  • Associating

These behaviors are the backbone for how companies take the information, gather data on it, and then share among others so that they can benefit from it. Especially in questioning.

Companies need to consider questions such as the following: How would we use it? How does it function, and will it be secure in our environment? How will it work with our populations? Where is it a good application and where is it not a good application?

These tips help to explore, experiment, and determine if shiny objects can work within each organization’s unique needs. They will ultimately ensure your object will provide the return you desire.

About the Authors

Matt Donovan
Chief Learning & Innovation Officer
Early in life, I found that I had a natural curiosity that not only led to a passion for learning and sharing with others, but it also got me into trouble. Although not a bad kid, I often found overly structured classrooms a challenge. I could be a bit disruptive as I would explore the content and activities in a manner that made sense to me. I found that classes and teachers that nurtured a personalized approach really resonated with me, while those that did not were demotivating and affected my relationship with the content. Too often, the conversation would come to a head where the teacher would ask, “Why can’t you learn it this way?” I would push back with, “Why can’t you teach it in a variety of ways?” The only path for success was when I would deconstruct and reconstruct the lessons in a meaningful way for myself. I would say that this early experience has shaped my career. I have been blessed with a range of opportunities to work with innovative organizations that advocate for the learner, endeavor to deliver relevance, and look to bend technology to further these goals. For example, while working at Unext.com, I had the opportunity to experience over 3,000 hours of “learnability” testing on my blended learning designs. I could see for my own eyes how learners would react to my designs and how they made meaning of it. Learners asked two common questions: Is it relevant to me? Is it authentic? Through observations of and conversations with learners, I began to sharpen my skills and designed for inclusion and relevance rather than control. This lesson has served me well. In our industry, we have become overly focused on the volume and arrangement of content, instead of its value. Not surprising—content is static and easier to define. Value (relevance), on the other hand, is fluid and much harder to describe. The real insight is that you can’t really design relevance; you can only design the environment or systems that promote it. Relevance ultimately is in the eye of the learner—not the designer. So, this is why, when asked for an elevator pitch, I share my passion of being an advocate for the learner and a warrior for relevance.

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