In this interview you will learn about the current challenges of L&D departments and how to run an extensive learning team (such as Kineo) efficiently, both now and in the future.
We will also be discussing the lack of quality instructional designers in the industry, the glorious ubiquity of ‘multi device’ learning and the ‘ideal’ authoring tool.
I hope you enjoy!
Would you mind giving us an overview of; Where you are based, what you do, and the clients you work with?
I was managing director of Kineo for 9 years. We founded it as a start-up back in 2005 and grew it to a £20m business as City & Guilds Kineo. I have now passed over the reins to Matt Johnson and I am currently working with City and Guilds Kineo looking at new ventures in the E-Learning space.
I’ve also recently set up a company called BuzzSumo which is a social search engine designed to support people and improve their content marketing. Increasingly people are finding content not by going to a search engine but through social sharing, whether it’s a Twitter feed or a Facebook feed. What we’ve done at BuzzSumo is create a database by trawling every piece of socially shared content going back over a year. People can search, slice and dice this data as they need. So for instance you could search for the most shared content on ‘E-learning’ yesterday or last week and then look at why it’s being shared and improve your content accordingly.
You can also search for a domain, for instance you could put in ‘www.elucidat.com’ and find the most shared content in the past day, week or month. You can see also who has shared and amplified the content, some people sharing make more of a difference than others! If you’re curating content, then finding the most shared content can be of real value. You can find and curate the most shared articles on leadership on say the Harvard Business Review for example.
What excites you most about what you do / your agency does / the effect your work has?
E-Learning’s time has really come, which is very exciting! There was a long time where we were persuading people to invest in E-Learning, now people naturally turn to E-Learning. The ability to reach large numbers of people and make a difference to how they perform is vital these days; and E-Learning delivers.
It’s not many years since that we didn’t have good enough bandwidth to support online video which restricted what we could do. Now that’s completely changed. In 2014 you can deliver video easily and we can create very rich media experiences. Advances in technology are not only exciting but have made life a lot easier for us. We have internet on demand most of the time now and we can deliver learning wherever people need it.
What do you find most gratifying?
Ultimately what we do is help improve people’s performance, I love to see our work translate into results in a business. For example, it’s deeply gratifying to work with a corporate sales team on a learning project and see sales increase.
Its all about delivering real value. People buy E-Learning to make a difference to their organisation, if you don’t make a difference, why would people use you again?
When clients approach you, generally what are their highest priorities? In particular, how important is responsive design now?
We tend to deal with large companies. They’re all going through huge change, partly caused by the internet and technological advances, but partly caused by regulations and globalisation.
They’re under huge pressure with a lot of change taking place. Most of them are looking at ‘cost control’ as one of their competitive strategies and so there’s a lot of pressure on learning departments to deliver value for money. Every budget is under scrutiny.
Learning departments have to do more than cut costs they have to prove that they’re making a difference in performance. They need to deliver what I call ‘Applied’ learning or ‘Workbased’ learning, and often that means different learning approaches. Before it was “Let’s build a course”, now it’s “let’s design a series of performance resources rather than courses so that people can take and embed it in the workplace”. Now people want to see that people are not only learning, they are applying it in their job and it is improving performance.
I think in terms of responsive design it’s just the norm now, you’d find it a bit bizarre if you read a newspaper on your laptop but you couldn’t read it on a phone or tablet. I personally dislike the term ‘Mobile Learning’. The term I use is ‘Multi-Device’ learning, how do you define something as mobile? Is a tablet mobile? Is a laptop mobile? I was on the train for a long time yesterday and I worked on my laptop the whole time, is that mobile?
HTML5 technology has developed at just the right time to allow us to build responsive content which works on all devices. It is the norm to expect a website to be responsive and it is the same for learning. The content is also sophisticated it is adaptive as well as responsive, so it displays different content for different devices.
There are assumptions made about phones such as people don’t use their phone for reading. However, I read a whole novel recently on my phone. People also do ‘Sequential screening’ where they started a task on their iPhone, they may look up a film and then get further details browsing on the iPad, then they might book it on a laptop. I think ‘Sequential screening’ is true also in learning, I could be on a train and do module 1 on my phone or tablet, get home and continue on my desktop, and I want it to track and know that I’ve finished module 1.This is difficult with native apps, hence I think a single version that works on all devices is the way to go.
What is the most important change in E-Learning that you’ve witnessed in the last couple of years?
The thing that’s changed E-Learning technical design is the adoption of the iPad. It quickly became the best selling computer ever but it didn’t support Flash. Prior to the iPad probably 90% of E-Learning content was Flash based and virtually every authoring tool produced Flash. Now it is the reverse, so in technical terms, that’s one of the biggest changes.
I think the other change is really about learning design. In the old days, people would design a three hour course, now it’s a much more sophisticated blend, it may be that you attend a webinar, you get an individual coach or mentor, you do some E-Learning, you may attend another webinar and then you may get some performance support chunks, watch a few videos or you may share some ideas with colleagues online. So the way we learn is much more fluid and embedded into the workplace. The blends are getting more sophisticated with a wider range of elements such as more responsive E-Learning, performance support tools and more gamification.
How do you manage your clients to make sure projects stay on time and on budget – whilst remaining exciting and innovative?
It’s alway a difficult balance, I think you need good project managers. You have to have clear expectations for the project, what’s possible and how creative you can be. When designing E-Learning in particular there is a balance of budget and quality. However, creativity doesn’t always need to cost money, often creativity can save you money. There are lots of ways of getting learning across in a very creative way. When budgets are really tight is sometimes when we’re the most creative.
I still believe that setting expectations appropriately is the most important thing. When people buy a piece of E-Learning, they’re buying a promise that you can deliver, so it’s important to show examples of your previous work and set clear expectations.
What are the biggest project challenges / roadblocks your team regularly encounter?
I think the biggest challenge for E-Learning companies is resourcing if I’m honest. If you’re producing tens or hundreds of projects at any one time, you need the right people on the right project. What small companies find hard as they get bigger is scaling resources. Managing resources I believe is the real skill of any service based business, you have to be able to scale through good resource management.
I think one of the other biggest challenges for us is getting really high quality instructional designers. There are too few coming out of the education system. We’ve worked with some of the local universities to help and get people in for work experience over the summer. We also run a two year graduate training programme. It’s hard to hire good instructional designers because E-Learning’s still a relatively new industry. It’s important to understand what instructional design means in a world where we have social learning, games, peer based learning, coaching, classroom learning. You need someone who is not only technical, but who can understand the whole learning design. See our tips on how to get more results while working with Instructional Designers here.
What are your top tips for co-ordinating your team and increasing efficiency?
When you submit a price for a job it’s based on an assessment of the resources that will be required so it’s important to be clear about expectations and recognise how much time people have for their tasks.
I think there are some areas where you can be efficient (see our tips on how to be more efficient here) with technology, authoring is one area that you can be much more efficient. Some tools are much more efficient than others. I think SaaS based technologies such as Elucidat make sense. A lot of old, non SaaS E-Learning tools are very inefficient.
I also think it’s about the quality of people. A good worker’s worth ten times an average worker! If you get a great graphic artist they’ll produce a fantastic piece of work in two days which may take a less gifted graphic artist a week or two weeks. The best way to be more efficient in a services based business, where we’re selling time, is to have top-notch people.
What would the ideal e-learning authoring environment look like for your team?
I think an authoring tool that produces a single version, that is SaaS based which allows multiple authors and easy updating. What we really need of course is authoring software that writes the content, I think this may actually come in some areas with tools such as Narrative Science.
How do you think E-Learning is going to change over the next few years. How do you keep up with changing trends?
I don’t think it’ll necessarily be called E-Learning. I think the future is blended learning designs. I think they’re going to be very focussed on how we transfer behaviour change into the workplace. I think the blends will be more sophisticated, so you’ll get a bit of knowledge up front, that could be a piece of online content, or just some resources that you read, you may attend a half day master-class putting some of it into practice, you may have a coach who works with you, you may have follow up assessments. I think assessments are getting more sophisticated, people are using a lot of ‘Pre-assessments’ to see what people need to learn. Most businesses want to reduce the time that people spend learning and we don’t want to teach people things they already know. Pre-assessments and diagnostics help us to do that.
There was huge hype about apps and ‘Mobile learning’ within the industry because vendors wanted to sell shiny new things! I think it’s really about ‘Multi-device learning’, and responsive design is the way to go in my view. For most E-Learning responsive design works really well.
Who are your E-Learning agency superstars? Who do you look to for inspiration?
Lots of people really! There’s loads of good stuff out there and it’s not just taking place within E-Learning, often it’s happening with the clients and brands themselves.
Obviously I like the people who I worked with at Kineo side, so people like Cammy Bean, she always has great ideas and a passion for instructional design. I think people like Charles Jennings with his thinking around 70:20:10, more informal blended learning, more Workbased learning, he is making an important contribution to where we’re going in the future. Equally there are people like Don Taylor and Clive Shepherd who are always pushing the boundaries and reflecting on what’s working.
On the technology side, I do like the SaaS based tools such as Elucidat. I think SaaS based tools are absolutely the way to go, desktop tools increasingly don’t make any sense to me! Also I quite like some of the open source tools. I like what Richard Wyles has done with Totara, taking Moodle and tailoring it so that it works better for corporates.
I also like Josh Bersin in the US, I think he’s a very reflective thinker, I will often read his blog on Linkedin for example. He deals with the wider issues, which is not just about learning but really about talent management in a broader context.
Latest posts by Joe Burns (see all)
- Introducing the new WYSIWYG Layout Designer in Elucidat - April 16, 2018
- The 6 Most Misunderstood Myths About Mobile Learning - July 2, 2016
- How to overcome the top 5 HTML5 elearning challenges - June 30, 2016