Keep Experience Rot from Taking Root in Your Elearning

When I was 17, I went to Art College to study Graphic Design. Art was the passion that I hoped would ultimately lead to my dream job. Six months later, I left the course, and went into full-time work, but NOT in the Graphic Design field. Why?! Was I nuts? No. Although there was definitely a ‘problem’ with me.


The search for perfection can lead to experience rot

I couldn’t get my head around the concept that what I was producing was perfectly good enough for the course I was on. It was good enough for the lecturer, and dare I say, it was probably good enough for the exam board too, had I hung around long enough to find out.

I always thought that whatever I was working on could be even better. I wanted to tweak things, to ‘just make one more change’, to make the piece of work ‘perfect’. This led to things being overworked, over engineered, and handed in late – ultimately, a complete waste of my time and energy, with no additional reward.

What I failed to understand is that 80% is usually good enough. Eighty percent is good enough to do the job well, and most importantly, it is enough to get on with doing other jobs well.

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you could be looking at a case of experience rot.

Experience what?!

Jared M Spool, an expert in website and UI design explains it like this:

Chances are all those features you’ve been adding to your design are hurting your user experience. Every feature that’s squeezed in, in the name of giving your design a competitive edge, has been making your design less competitive.

What if we apply the same theory to designing a piece of learning content? Are those extra bits and pieces that you are putting in really beneficial to your learner? What is your motivation to keep tweaking? If you need to throw a kitchen sink’s worth of bells and whistles at a course to make it engaging, perhaps you need to go back and take another look at the course content you are working from.

Experience rot says that adding in unnecessary content is actually counterproductive. You are not just adding features, you’re adding complexity to the design, and therefore decreasing the quality of the overall user experience. And, much like rot, once it sets in, it’s a nightmare to get rid of. We are all great at adding in new features, the new ‘must haves’ but rarely do we take stock and see if there is anything that we don’t need anymore.

So we know what experience rot is, but how do we get rid of it – or better still, how do we avoid it taking hold in the first place?

Iterative builds and feedback stop the rot from setting in

The first step is to actually listen to your learners. You need to create a minimal visible product (MVP) and get plenty of feedback on it. If your testers are happy with what you have produced, and it meets the training need, you could already be done. Unfortunately, that is a pretty rare occurrence, but your first effort could be closer to the true need than originally thought – just think how much time you could potentially save with this method.

The second step is to take the feedback and then add in only what is being asked for. You then get feedback on v2.0. If you are tempted to add more bells and whistles at this stage, stop and ask yourself if it is genuinely adding any real value. If the answer is no  leave it out. If the answer is maybe  leave it out.

This approach means that you are giving the learner what they need, rather than being driven by that nagging doubt in your mind that you could make it even better. Who knows best what learners want or need? You, or them?

As great as this approach is in theory, L&D teams or consultants often dictate what they think the learner needs. This is where you need to have that very difficult conversation, and occasionally, say ‘no’ – and stand your ground.

The best way to fight experience rot is to say no to everything except the most essential of features. Deliberately slowing development down to only include well thought out enhancements that will keep experience rot at bay.


80% is the new benchmark

Saying no should always be in the designer’s toolkit, but in the excitement of producing something new or ‘cool’, it often gets overlooked. It takes a lot of willpower to keep a design simple. 

Maybe we need to consider that perfection is rarely the key to success. Perhaps we should accept 80% as the new benchmark to aim for, so long as it delivers a course that really does make someone’s job easier or provokes a change in behaviour. 

Rather than busting a gut trying to make the course that last 20% percent ‘better’, why not get to work on the next most pressing piece of learning on your agenda? Think of it this way: two courses at 80% or one at 100% that was probably delivered late. I know which would be more beneficial to your business.

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