What are the design constraints for a learning solution?
Shaping the future of learning
As with pretty much every project, learning solutions can often have some serious design constraints you’ll need to work with. After all, very few organizations have unlimited resources and budgets, or employees with time to do their jobs and the flexibility to spend hours exploring an immersive and intensive elearning experience. That said, constraints on the design process should be looked at as challenges to overcome, rather than obstacles that stand in the way of progress.
Below, we’ll examine five of the most common design constraints for a learning solution and provide some ideas as to how to work with them, rather than against them.
TimeA deadline is a deadline and this sort of design constraint can be difficult to work around. If you’ve got a new product rolling out on a specific date, it would be unacceptable for sales training to not be ready until two weeks after launch day. One of the best ways to work within a time constraint is to be realistic and, as we say in our Learning Insights 2017 report, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” What’s better? Rolling out a learning experience that’s 100% flawless three weeks late or rolling out an experience that’s 90% flawless and on time?
BudgetBudgets are another design constraint that can be tough to work around. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees and for most organizations their yearly expenditure has been carefully allocated well in advance. If you’re positive that your budget simply won’t be enough, go to bat in advance of the project and ask for an increase, armed with supporting data and prices so that the decision makers know you’ve done your homework.
But if that doesn’t work, or the budget constraints don’t become apparent until late in the process, it’s time to get creative! Take a high-level look at the proposed project plan and see where things can be combined and modified, or whether elements can be eliminated without disrupting the flow and intent of the experience. Consider, for example, filming a video piece in house on a GoPro (or even someone’s iPhone!) and using your own employees rather than hiring a professional crew with actors. Another alternative is to discuss with your vendor whether they have existing templates that could be used or repurposed, rather than needing to create a customized and unique layout and interface from scratch.
Subject matter expert availabilityWithout content, your elearning course will just be a bunch of pretty background screens, so it’s important to make sure that your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are available to provide the details and fill in the blanks. However, one of the biggest design constraints for a learning solution is SME availability. Will those experts be available and able to create - or assist with creating - the content? Or will they be hard to pin down due to frequent schedule changes or business trips?
The best way to deal with limited access to SMEs, is to tackle the issue well in advance. As soon as you know what the topic of your course will be, get in touch with the appropriate people to carve out some time in their schedules before the project officially kicks off. If possible, create checklists and questionnaires to help them more easily compile the necessary information and streamline the process as much as possible. Additionally, if they have to set up any focus groups or conduct surveys it would be best to ask their input on how long that process will take (from conception through compiling the final results) so that it can be added into your project’s timeline.
Technology limitationsTechnology is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? With advancements happening on a near constant basis, many of us are regularly getting access to new tools and equipment that help us be more efficient. But it can be hard to keep completely current, especially in a place you’d least expect it - large organizations. Because it can be time-consuming and expensive to update hundreds of computer operating systems and devices, technology updates often happen on an as-needed basis (or sometimes on an “as we can no longer put a band-aid on this and now it’s an emergency” basis). This means, within one org, you might have different departments using different operating systems or different Internet browsers.
To combat these issues you’ll want to make sure that your elearning course is designed to function - and function well - on older technologies the company may be using, but doesn’t look clunky and dated on newer systems. In some instances, such as those where a small portion of a company is using very dated technology, it may make sense to design towards the most common systems and possibly have users share computers or use mobile devices to complete their training if the course simply won’t function on the oldest systems.
Learner motivationFinally, we come to what might be one of the most difficult design constraints for a learning solution - getting learner buy in. Some learners simply don’t have the time to complete their day job and take time out to do a couple hours of elearning courses every month. Others just aren’t enthusiastic about it and look at it as a chore (or even some sort of punishment) rather than something that will benefit them in the long run. These challenges can be tough to come up against, because it means having to - in some fashion - change the way people think.
One of the ways to do this is to try to and design experiences that fit your learners’ work lives. If employees are strapped for time, it’s unrealistic to expect them to devote an hour each day to elearning, but perhaps a series of 10-minute mini-modules will be less overwhelming and could even be seen as something to “break up the day.” Similarly incorporating some elements of “fun” into the experience may make employees less hesitant to start the process. Include social learning, gamification, or interactive video to dispel the expectation that they’ll simply be watching a long, droning video or clicking through seemingly endless slides.
Most importantly, you’ll want to be sure you’re helping people see WHY a learning program has value, and help them tap into that ever-so-critical What’s In It for Me (WIIFM) factor. Be sure the key takeaways are clear and that people understand what they’ll gain from the program and the risks of getting this skill or concept wrong. One way to motivate learners is to help them identify their own gaps in this area. We’ve set up behavior based diagnostic questions to allow people to reflect on those skills gaps before they dive into content. When people see where they need to move their own needle on performance, they’re often more motivated to improve, and thus more motivated to complete that learning program.
And there you have it! Five design constraints for a learning solution that, when handled properly and with enough time, aren’t actually that constraining at all. Looking for some more insight on how to create immersive and engaging elearning courses to motivate your audience? Check out our guide to interactive video here.