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Rethinking learning design? Let go of modality, and focus on business outcomes

Kelley Eskridge
Sr. Lead Experience Design
In a post-pandemic world of work, learning design is forever changed. Outcomes, not modalities, can drive your learning design toward greater impact.
April 28, 2021

When the pandemic shut down our ability to learn together in the same physical space, learning professionals responded in the spirit of navigating a short-term disruption. Onboarding and upskilling couldn't stop without real cost to the business, especially when companies were flexing to new ways of serving customers. To meet the challenge, learning teams had to move fast to repurpose established content from instructor-led formats, to virtual or self-guided learning. What did they discover? In the attempt to quickly address the clamor of “the training must go on,” the rapid conversion of facilitated modules into online learning or day-long virtual sessions led to sacrificing the experiential, activity-based components that are key to learning.

It wasn't ideal, but it was thought to be temporary. Once the pandemic was under control, teams could return to designing learning"the right way."

A year later, we at Oxygen don't think we're going back to that old baseline. We believe that there is a new way: the ability to respond to an emergent situation – whether a global lockdown or a sudden business need– and quickly provide outcome-based experiential learning across physical distance and multiple time zones. To be this agile means thinking differently about learning design, content, and modality so we can design, deliver and scale learning when and where it's needed. When the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, we'll be carrying these practices into the future.

There are still many organizations that take a "modality-first" position as the way to move faster and solve for business constraints: for example, using self-guided, on-demand eLearning to reduce the cost of classroom training. What can happen in these scenarios? The design becomes focused on "let's fit all this content into eLearning," resulting in lots of words on slides or obliging people to spend yet more time in front of their computers watching pre-recorded video presentations by company experts. On-the-job learning components are pushed to managers. And these organizations struggle with getting the intended results of the program.

When modality becomes the leading driver for learning design, then everything becomes subject to the modality, and runs the risk of decreasing learning impact.

Yet there is a viable alternative that will deliver both learning impact and speed to deployment! If you've explored Oxygen's work and our point of view, you already have part of the answer: learning architecture. The architected approach starts with business outcomes and what people need to know and do to meet them. That drives the learning content. Architecture also takes into account the reality of a person's work and the impact on seat time or in-person interaction. When we know outcomes, content, and constraints, we can then select and blend modalities to support learning, not stifle it.

Here are some of our favorite modalities to blend together for a great learning experience:

An architected approach allows you to identify what needs to be learned and then select the right combination of containers –modalities - that respect business goals without compromising learning effectiveness. Modality becomes an opportunity, not a trap. Curious to know more about how architecture and design can work together to make better, more impactful learning experiences? Watch our webinar, Creating Relevant & Engaging Blended Learning Experiences.

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