‘Time well spent’ – what does that mean for your learning content?

As treatment for social media addiction becomes available on the High Street, considering the impact of digital noise on people’s lives is in focus now more than ever. First, in this article, we explore why we have a responsibility to consider ‘time well spent’ in learning and help you weigh up whether you’re doing more good than harm. Then, we share 7 steps that will help you deliver genuine value with your learning projects.

elearning time management

The moral backdrop

Treatment for social media addiction is now available on the UK’s National Health Service, Silicon Valley executives like Justin Rosenstein have switched their smartphones to child-mode to avoid the addictive allure, and founders of Facebook have moved on to start the humanist tech movement “Time well spent”. The impact of modern technology is having on society is not something we can shy away from.

“Time well spent” throws the idea of seeing growth in user numbers, likes and shares of digital content as a ‘job well done’, into the air. Ultimately, there’s a much bigger moral debate.

At its core is the challenge to explore and identify the value technology and digital content has – on individuals, on teams, and on society as a whole. And, crucially, it’s asking whether the time you capture from an individual as they interact with whatever you’ve given them is worthwhile, and at the very least, doing no harm.

How ‘time well spent’ relates to online learning

You may think, ‘what does this have to do with me and my digital learning?’ which, let’s face it, isn’t harming anyone and comes from a place of good intent? But ask yourself this…

Is your digital learning:

  • Practically and unarguably helping people in a moment of need to solve a problem?
  • Overtly helpful and relevant to individuals and doesn’t require them to search or scan for the value?
  • An effective experience and/or building block in a coherent strategy to important, longer-term developmental goals; building useful skills for the future of its users/their place of work?
  • Helping give its end users a sense they are valued and are part of the process, not just the ‘receivers’ of instructions?
  • Justifying the accumulative ‘downtime’ of its use?
  • Focusing in and reducing the need for other resources or adding to the pile?
  • And finally, the right solution to a real problem? (are you sure it’s a ‘learning’ problem?)

The list above could go on!

The point is, we have a responsibility to add value for two core reasons:

  1. Because we are asking for people’s time and time is precious. Time today is also snaffled, way too easily.
  2. Because if you’re in workplace learning and development, you work for performance. Content development does not have an intrinsic value – it’s measure is whether it’s making a difference, in those sweet spot areas.

So, before you hit ‘publish’ and push more content and to-dos on to peoples’ plates, we believe it’s important to really question if what you’re producing is a good use of everyone’s time, or even, the best use. This is a key pillar of our people-centered elearning mantra.

7 steps to make sure your learning is a valuable use of time

Primarily, this boils down to problems and personas. If you haven’t unearthed the real problem that needs fixing using techniques like Design Thinking, then the chances are that your project could misfire. It’s easy to focus on the issue you’re ‘told’ is happening, but it’s important to get to grips with who the audience is, drill down to understand exactly when and why they struggle, and how they seek help.

1. Kick the ostrich

elearning to enhance performance

Or give it a shove at least. Producing learning content in silos, all with heads in the sand, results in lots of initiatives and content being produced, curated, spilled out and duplicated.  Ultimately this just adds to a huge volume of ‘stuff’ that your people are expected to wade through and somehow join the dots.

Instead, pull back and together, look at what you’re doing and producing, look at what’s working, what’s popular, and what else is helping enhance performance. Uniting behind a few common killer goals, each with a subset of team targets to work on, will be better than all separately adding to a pile of content that’s out there, battling for attention.  Can you also unite your designs, so they have a similar UX?

2. Cull content that isn’t cutting it

In our elearning predictions article, we called 2018 the year of the cull. Without cutting what doesn’t work, great content will land and get lost in an ocean of other “stuff.” If you truly want to focus users’ time on the genuinely useful resources and experiences that’ll make the biggest differences to them, less is going to be best. Don’t add to a pile of stuff and think it’s ok because ‘there’s a search engine’.

  • Consult your analytics to see what’s working
  • Consolidate the stuff that works well together
  • Cull anything that’s not adding value.

3. Don’t take orders

business leaders

If you’re in the situation where L&D teams are taking orders from business leaders – , ‘we need some training on X’ – the conversation needs to be flipped on its head. Those working in performance enhancement need to take a consultative approach and root out the real problem.

Observe, survey, chat with the target audience and managers and suss out what the blockers and real gaps are. What’s really going to help boost performance in that area, with the most impact? Some helpful resources to turn to in a moment of need? A change in process and habits? Is it a learning problem at all? Don’t invest until you’re sure you can get a return on your investment.

4. Don’t mistake short for ‘good’

Yes people are busy, yes people are squeezed for time, but that doesn’t mean that short content automatically wins. We are not promoting the goldfish fallacy here – people do have attention spans, for stuff that is relevant and interesting. In fact, they are more like sharks than fish – able to sniff out tasty morsels super fast.

Learning requires effort, energy, participation, practise and continuation. Make it as short as it can be to meet its goal, but don’t just fire out short bits randomly – or it’ll end up like space trash, spinning around as an overwhelming mass.  

5. Pace it, space it, support it

Like a good wine, the development of new behaviours and habits needs time to develop and is best when left to breathe. Repetition is key to making learning stick, but even more so is spaced practice. To deepen and strengthen learning, we need to practice new skills or behaviours regularly, in different contexts and with building complexity.

“New neuronal connections are fragile. Repetition strengthens them, and speeds them up.” Stella Collins.

If you’re going for a one-hit wonder, it’s unlikely you’ll have a wonderful return on investment. Create space for learning to take place and genuinely allow people to sleep on it (watch the last 2 mins of this video to find out why) . But also ensure you are enabling and supporting people with the process through encouraging performance feedback, peer and manager support and providing regular reminders, practical tools and more.

6. Tailor, like a sweet suit-making machine

tailor your elearning programs

It goes without saying, value-adding experiences must be relevant and useful to the individual users. They need to help them get better in that overarching performance area, in the ways they need to improve to make a difference. If it’s not personalized, the value-add and likeliness of that learning converting to action, will be diminished. Don’t take them to the sheep dip – take them to their solution.

Use profiling tools, diagnostics, adaptive technologies, tagging, cross linking etc to offer up what’s right for them, at that point. You can still give choices, but make them meaningful ones.

Ensure relevance is overt too. Don’t hide useful content away. You’ll probably lose your users, and waste their time.

“IDC estimated that we spend 25% of our time searching and processing for information. If we’re searching inefficiently, or looking in the wrong places – untrustworthy sites, out of date courses, flicking through social feeds looking for something and wondering where the last hour went – it’s slowing down our learning process and clogging up our capacity with the wrong stuff.”Stephen Walsh: 10 tips for continuous learning

7. Don’t jump on bandwagons

If you or your team are designing lots of performance support and content to help people learn, it’s tempting to explore shiny new methods, technologies and trends. It’s great to stay cutting edge, but always go in with purpose. Jumping on the latest gizmo, buzzword or bandwagon without a people-centered reason may be like putting lipstick on a pig…and the wrong pig at that. Save your users’ bacon and their time, with the best solutions to their problems – whatever that is.

This template can help you capture your audience profile and needs clearly upfront.

Final thoughts

So, think before you create and think again before you publish. Are you using precious time valuably, both of your production team and end users, or adding to a sea of noise?

Once you’re confident your content adds real value and deserves to be published, that’s where tracking users, likes, shares and other learning measures come into play.

Respecting people’s time is one of the six pillars of people-centered elearning. Alongside the other pillars, it underpins the most successful learning projects.

Need some more in-depth tips? Check out our webpage and guide to best practice design!

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