What I learned at the Annual Training Conference 2018

What I learned at the Annual Training Conference 2018

Going to the training conference this year was a lot of fun. It was the first time I showed up as an independent Instructional Designer. I really enjoyed meeting some old friends and colleagues from the industry.

Like previous years, the conference took place at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat-Gan. This year’s theme revolved around how the future of organizational learning will look like, and the prevailing trends of the industry. Although I can’t say this year’s conference was exceptional, I did take away some valuable lessons from the lectures and workshops, which I’ll share in this post. So, without further ado, here are my three main takeaways.

1. Learning Can Be Crowd-Sourced

Ari Katanick, VP Learning Strategic Programs at SAP, shared how SAP, a 100,000 employee organization, used crowd-sourcing to develop a rich content learning solution, using limited budget and resources.
Ari told the story of how SAP “suffered” from a very high demand for their products and had more users than they initially expected. Although it was a “good problem” to have, the small Training team didn’t have enough resources to answer all the questions coming in from their users, who didn’t know how to make good use of their products.

The team had some materials in place, but SAP users didn’t know where to find task-specific answers to what they were looking for. As you would expect, SAP’s support team was bombarded with basic knowledge-related questions from frustrated customers. The Training team knew they had to act quickly and address the issue.

After getting their initial training plan turned down by management due to time and budget constraints, they had to come up with a fast and lean solution. So, they decided to harness their instructors and subject-matter experts for the job, and trained them how to record the training materials themselves. The team provided them with the necessary templates and best practices for recording their explanation to frequently asked questions. They also mapped out the topics for the instructors to answer, and once they got the materials back, they made the necessary edits to make them consistent and in line with the company’s brand.

How did it go?

Not only did the experts were happy to provide their video-based answers, but they also shared explanations to questions and issues they had learned from their experience. Outsourcing the training resulted in a significant reduction of support tickets and significantly increased customer satisfaction.

Conclusion: Training departments don’t have to take the traditional top-bottom approach when designing a training program. Sometimes, it’s just enough to provide the necessary templates and basic guidelines for the experts to deliver the knowledge themselves. More often than not, they will be happy to share thier knowledge and expertise.
Training professionals do, however, need to keep the deliverables consistent and in line with the brand, as well as think about incentivizing the subject matter experts who are willing go out of their way to provide excellent content.


2. Instructional Design is Trending Towards Learning Experience Design

The hands-on workshop held by Yanay Zagoury with ExperTeam was super-interesting. In the workshop, we had some hands-on experience on how to design a learning solution using a new model that mashes up practices both from User Experience Design and Instructional Design.
Instead of using the traditional ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation), the model ExperTeam’s presented consists of eight phases:

1. Kickoff

In this stage, we will meet the key stakeholders and decisionmakers in the project. We want to define the business goals that will help us determine our learning objectives, and we want to make sure we will have the necessary resources at our disposal.

2. Research and Analysis

Here we will study our target learners, their work environment, and current skill level. We may need to refine and adjust the training needs and learning objectives according to our findings. We will also create our primary and secondary user personas (Avatars), define their needs, motivations, obstacles, and objections.

3. Conceptual Development

This stage is all about finding a practical solution to the business need while taking the budget and other constraints into account. Coming up with an organizing idea  (i.e. a Concept) around our solution, based on our findings from the previous phase.

4. Detailed Design

In this stage, we will write a comprehensive document for our training program. We will then develop our first learning module as a prototype for testing.

5. Usability Testing

In this stage, we will meet with a few selected learners and let them try the prototype we have developed. Nothing has to be perfect just yet. We are still learning as we go and gathering as much feedback as possible. We are just observing the users as they go about their learning process, not giving any guidance or advice, just trying to understand what works and what’s not. When we feel we had gathered enough feedback, it’s time to go back to the drawing board for a round of improvements.

6. Content and Experience Design

Here we will want to test the actual product in the training environment and see how everything fits into place in real time, with a small number of users. We gather feedback and once again, go back to the drawing board to work on our finalized product.

7. Development and Implementation

Now that we know how our products should look and function, we will see through the development process of the rest of the products, including the graphic design, the different media items and accompanying job aids. Putting the pieces together should create a clear and cohesive learning experience.

8. Launch and Evaluation

In this stage, we will make the final testing and tweaks to our learning products, launching the training program and announcing it to the learners. As the training progresses, we will continue to monitor the process, gather feedback and measure the impact of this process on the business objectives over time. Evaluation checkpoints should be scheduled in advance at different time periods to see how well we are doing and what adjustments should we make to the learning experience.

At the workshop, we got to experience just a taste of the whole process mentioned above. We practiced on a case study of an imaginary car leasing company that launches a new carpool service that is planned to launch soon. The training solution for this service should address all levels of the company, from sales reps to logistics, including new and existing customers. We were divided into groups, and each group got a different target audience to design the training solution. We practiced in characterizing the primary learner persona down its motivations, frustrations, and objections for the new organizational change.
The next step was to think abstractly of how the training solution should look and feel like on a macro level and come up with a concept around the training program. Finally, we presented it to the plenum and got feedback from the other groups.

Conclusion: It was very interesting to see how each group thought of an entirely different solution to what seemingly looked like the same problem. This short experience has motivated me to dig deeper into LXD development methodologies.
Looking forward, I can see how this approach is getting more and more traction, especially as learning solutions are becoming more digitized, more personalized and are expected to work seamlessly across devices.


3. If You Want to Stay Relevant, Become a Learning Advisor

In the second workshop, we got to experience how to think of organizational learning solutions using a Learner-centric Approach. The workshop was led by two dear and talented former colleagues of mine, Irit Luft-Madar with Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Tali Gazit El-Bahar with Mimun Yashir. Both organizations Irit and Tali are coming from count thousands of employees with different skill levels and backgrounds.
Research shows that in many organizations of this scale, L&D professionals often report that they are so busy in their day-to-day work, that they do not have the time to study their target audience. Their view of the underlying reasons for their knowledge, skill, and behavior gaps is very limited. This situation results in spending big budgets on training programs, that gets only half the problems solved, at best.

The learner-centric approach encourages L&D professionals to become primarily learning advisors for higher management, rather than the ones executing on a predetermined policy. Before jumping into building training programs based on business goals alone, L&D professionals should spend time studying their target audience, so much so that they could “get inside their heads,” know their work environment, their set of pressures and constraints, their belief system, motivations and more. In doing so, learning professional can identify the “wicked problems” – problems that solving them may raise other, deeper problems which need to be catered.

How Can It Be Done?

By doing a root-cause analysis, until we get to the root cause. Getting to the root of problems may very well redefine the training needs dictated by higher management, and consequently, adjust the training solutions or change them altogether.

Another big lesson to take away from this approach is the lean development process. This lesson actually connects very well to the iterative LXD model. Nothing has to be perfect first time around. Sometimes, we just need to find the quickest solution with the highest impact (aka low-hanging fruits) and just get it out there. Then we can test what works, what’s not and tweak accordingly. The worst thing we can do is to spend too much time and money developing fancy training programs that nobody uses.

Putting It to Practice

To practice this approach, we were asked to think of a training need we were facing in our organization and make a root-cause analysis to it using a technique called “The 5 Whys”.
The example I took was from a bank chain in Israel I once consulted to. The organization was struggling to train and retain their new hires once they started their role.
The obvious solution to this problem after looking at their current onboarding plan was to design a fancy New Employee Onboarding (NEO) training kit that would welcome the newcomers and get them up to speed while giving them a sense of pride of their role and organization, right?
Well, as it turns out, when I was talking to new employees and doing the root-cause analysis, it became apparent that we needed to address a much broader problem. In addition to the NEO program, we found that there was no structured support and initiation in the different branches. No training was given to the team leaders and veteran peers, which resulted in frustrated new hires who needed their support to ease their way in the new role. Consequently, we had to make some adjustments both to the learning solution we have provided, as well as to the work environment that had to support the process.

Although this was just a short example, it comes to show how important it is for L&D professionals to ask the hard questions, get to the root of problems and become learning advisors for higher management.

These were my three takeaways from this year’s training conference. I hope that you have found it helpful.

Want to share your own big takeaway from the conference?

Leave it in the comments below!

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