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Immerse Yourself in Learning for 2014
Friday, January 3, 2014
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It's a new year. What are your training resolutions? 

Maybe you've put off making any resolutions, or, maybe you don't believe in them. Either way, I propose that the start of a new year is as good a time to re-examine your design practices.

As I was writing my first book, Immersive Learning, I thought a lot about how to grow and evolve as a learning professional. Even better than going it alone, what better way to stick to a training resolution for 2014 than to share it with a community of learning professionals? Join me in setting a training resolution for 2014!

Here are some resolutions for 2014 to get you started:

Lose some weight

How do you lose some training "weight"? It's time to examine if the training you're providing is helping people be faster, smarter, or better, or if it's just weighing them down. Do you really need a course or e-learning module, or would a performance support tool do the trick? Do you need to rely on formal subject matter experts or mentors, or can you establish a more agile peer-to-peer social knowledge base?

It's a great time to re-examine where you are investing your design energy and look for efficiencies in how you meet the learning needs of your organization. Chances are, you could lose a little weight in some areas.

Break a bad habit

You may have heard the expression: "When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Think about your design practices and whether you've become a hammer, assuming that one type of training solution works for all of your organization's learning needs.

We all start to over-extend the types of designs with which we are the most comfortable, but that can do a disservice to your learners. Each training need should be examined on its own characteristics and designed for based on context, audience and desired outcomes. This year, break the habit of applying the same "solution" to every problem.   

Define your goals

One of the dangers learning and development professionals face when they act as a service department to the organization is that we can fall into the trap of becoming order takers, focused more on reacting to the needs expressed across the organization than in having a proactive strategy for organizational performance improvement. For 2014, identify which business metrics you want to affect. Is it revenue? Customer satisfaction? Employee turnover?

Once you have identified the metric, look at what influences that metric and create a strategy for your learning initiatives to focus on performance improvement in that area. Track those metrics over time, and draw correlations between the training initiatives you are delivering and how that metric changes. While training is often seen as a cost center, 2014 can be the year that you show the impact that training is having on the business by demonstrating ROI.

Change a behavior

When you design a learning experience, are you focusing on what you want people to know, or what you want someone to do differently? While instructional designers are often taught to focus on learning objectives, our real value to an organization is improving performance. Make 2014 the year that you focus on performance objectives for your training initiatives. Talk in terms of what you will help employees do better or differently, not what you will make sure that they know. Focus your assessments on applied knowledge, not content recall.

It's not enough that someone knows how to do something if they aren't actually doing it. Changing behavior is more complicated than simply having someone click through an e-learning module. This year, embrace that complexity with an eye on how you can help individuals and the organization reach their performance goals. 

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Try something new

It's a great time to experiment in 2014. Chances are you've seen a problem in your organization and you have some ideas on how it could be improved. Try it! Want to finally go mobile? Find a quick way to test it out. Need to beef up opportunities for social learning? Plan a pilot. Don't be afraid to fail, because failure is the best way to learn! Experiment, learn, and iterate. Take a step out of your comfort zone and see what happens!

Get in touch with your feelings

Remember the smell of your grandmother's house or the song that was playing the first time you danced with your significant other? One of the ways to strengthen the power of your training is to create an emotional connection with learners. There are many ways to do this: storyline, characters, visual references, music, humor—lots of possibilities!

In 2014, think about how your training can not only address learning needs, but create an emotional response that will help learners retain and recall the information they need when they need it. 

Have more fun 

One of the reasons I began exploring games as a tool for learning is because I would watch my children playing for hours, struggling to overcome challenges, learning resilience and role-playing scenarios that helped them practice how they would react to situations with which they were unfamiliar. I'm not sure when we begin to think that play isn't serious learning, but at some point, we begin to believe that learning and play are two different activities. That's not necessarily so.

For the new year, resolve to be more playful—especially when thinking about designing for learning. When we play, we are challenged, we fail, and we try again. We practice. We do all of the things that we want our learners to do, no?

I'm not talking about game show games, where we ask our learners to recall information or trivia. I'm talking about immersive learning games, designed for practice and during which learners get constant feedback as to their performance. Play more in 2014, and see what you learn, and what you can do better.

Learn a new skill

Instructional design is an expertise that typically relies on others for subject matter expertise. We are experts in learning and design, and it is up to us to communicate our strategic value to our organizations.

For 2014, spread your wings and learn something outside of instructional design. Maybe you could benefit from learning marketing skills to promote your value to the organization. Maybe you need to learn business basics to choose the correct metrics to track. Do you need help in data visualization? Perhaps you've been interested in user experience design or game design? Do you know how to conduct the most effective user research? Do you know enough to design effective mobile solutions.

Pick something and learn it this year. But don't just learn it, apply it. Think about the process you went through to learn it. What did you like/didn't you like? Think about your own learning preferences and the challenges you faced. Then use your reflection to improve your own design practices this year. 

Make the commitment

Here's to a happy, healthy, and glorious new year for all. It's a perfect time to take a step back to reflect, then take a leap forward in both your personal and professional development. Immerse yourself in learning this year and commit to a resolution to make 2014 great year to learn. 

I'm committing to learning a new skill this year (data visualization, I think!) and to really digging in to analytics as a way of providing valuable data to organizations as to the impact and effectiveness of training initiatives. 

Will you join me? What's your resolution?

About the Author

Koreen Pagano, senior product manager at lynda.com, is passionate about helping people learn more effectively. Koreen advocates new ways of using technology for organizational learning, with an emphasis on performance improvement and behavioral change. She has strong ties to education, having received her MS in curriculum and instruction from Penn State University. She helped start Freire Charter School in 1999, and founded Tandem Learning in 2008 to demonstrate the untapped potential of immersive learning design. An internationally recognized speaker and organizational consultant, Koreen has taught graduate courses at Harrisburg University and writes the blog Learning in Tandem.

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