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Choosing Technology Strategically
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
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During my many conversations about the way our industry uses technology for training, a particular problem keeps surfacing: learning technology is chosen (or not chosen) for all the wrong reasons.

You’ve likely seen this “all-or-nothing” approach in your own workplace. Consider the executive who suddenly insists all courses need to be iPhone apps, or the co-worker whose excitement about podcasting means they want to use it for everything, or the manager whose previous bad experiences with online courses influence her to avoid e-learning entirely. These scenarios lead to the frustration of trying to make a single tool that will be all things or avoiding a certain tool even when it’s the best solution.

When this happens, it reminds me of one of my favorite children’s stories: The Great Blueness by Arnold Lobel.

The Great Blueness

In The Great Blueness, the world originally has no color at all. The main character, a wizard, finds this dull and, while experimenting in his cellar, accidently creates the color blue. He shares his discovery with others and the next thing you know, the color becomes such a fad that everything—I mean everything—in the world is painted blue.

All this blue eventually makes everyone depressed, so the wizard starts experimenting again and invents the color yellow. Of course, no one learned anything from the last experience, so they set off and paint everything with the new hue. The onslaught of yellow leads to headaches and eyestrain, so the wizard invents red.

Once again, people become obsessed and in no time, the whole world is been painted red. To the surprise of no one who’s reading this summary, this color doesn’t go over so well either, and eventually all this red makes everyone angry and irritable.

In the end, the wizard saves the day by mixing all the blue, yellow, and red into a myriad of colors and then insisting that people use all of the colors in different places.

What does this have to do with learning technology?

The message we should take from The Great Blueness isn’t just that red, yellow, and blue are primary colors; it’s that it is important to choose things strategically. In the story, using blue everywhere just made people feel sad, but using it here and there where appropriate allowed people to appreciate the color.

It’s the same with the technology we use for learning. Making all your training, for instance, e-learning means that at least some of your learning is going to be ineffectual because not all topics are best suited for e-learning courseware. Being strategic, though, and using a specific learning technology only when you’ve looked at the situation and determined what is the best option for the project and audience will lead to more effective training results and happier learners.

The situation doesn’t even have to be this severe. Any time we let our preferences (or someone else’s preferences) for a technology solution outweigh what actually makes the most sense, we’re weakening the work we do.

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Of course, it’s not like anyone is purposely trying to sabotage the learning they create by attaching it to the wrong technology. Instead, underlying habits unintentionally influence us to make less effective choices.  So, how do we address this issue?

Pushing back in the right way

The most frustrating cases stem from decisions that are made by people who don’t have a strong understanding of both learning and technology.  We’re not the only ones on our teams; we work with a broad range of managers, subject matter experts, executives, stakeholders, and even other instructional designers. It also means that there are a lot of voices in the decision-making process that don’t belong to learning technology experts—and sometimes these voices champion tech solutions that aren’t actually the best options.

When this happens, it’s important to push back effectively. However, pushing back can be tricky. You’re essentially telling someone that they’re going down the wrong path, and not everyone takes that sort of news very well. (And, let’s be fair, it is a message that not all of us deliver diplomatically either.)

We need to get better at being brave enough to push back, insightful enough to understand where the other person is coming from, and clever enough to sell why our solution is going to be even more effective. More important, we need to push back while being respectful and supportive to the people we work with.

Stepping back from our own instincts

We can’t just pin this problem on people who aren’t as immersed in learning technology as we are, though. Sometimes our own unconscious interests and dislikes get in the way as well.

We can’t just pin this problem on people who aren’t as immersed in learning technology as we are, though. Sometimes our own unconscious interests and dislikes get in the way as well.

Look, it happens. Sometimes there’s a part of us that has just a bit more interest in one kind of technology than another, and this can cause us to ever so slightly gravitate toward our favorites and away from options we like the least. That’s okay.

It’s only human to have things we like and dislike. What we have to remember, though, is to step back any time we’re making a technology decision and ask ourselves if the decision we’re making is absolutely best for our learners—or if it’s just best for us.

Keep in mind

Technology is an astounding learning tool, but there is no one piece of software or hardware that’s a magic bullet for all our training needs. That’s why it’s so important to learn about the pros and cons of all options, so we can advocate for the right tool for each job and not just the tools we (and the people we work with) like the best.

photo from Pixabay

About the Author

Bianca Woods is an instructional designer with BMO Financial Group, where she designs course content and media, test drives new learning technology, and passionately argues for the abolishment of Comic Sans. With degrees in both art education and education media design & technology, she has a substantial amount of interest in demystifying design and technology for others.

When she’s not creating learning you can often find Bianca obsessing about new tech, live tweeting industry events, and searching for the perfect cupcake. If these things sound interesting to you, you should probably follow her Twitter feed @eGeeking.

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