Don't tap tech just because it's new—identify the need and build a case for it.
When implementing new learning technology such as learning experience portals, gamification apps, microlearning platforms, artificial intelligence–driven and machine learning–driven guided support tools, inner mobility platforms, and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), you may find yourself with a learning technology but looking for a problem to solve rather than with a technology solution that's addressing a real business need.
Too often well-meaning stakeholders ask talent development professionals to modernize or implement the latest shiny object. Or, we're so certain that a learning technology is needed that we take the "If we build it, they will come" approach. In those scenarios, while we may implement the learning technology, that effort can be hit or miss in terms of the long-term value to the business and our learners.
Success with new technology
Effectively implementing new learning technology with staying power and the likelihood to create business value requires a repeatable, scalable process that starts with a well-defined business problem, use case, business case, and, ideally, stakeholder sponsorship. To avoid using technology for technology's sake or chasing the latest offering, you need to work with business partners to understand their business priorities and performance needs so that the best learning solution—which may or may not include a technology solution—is applied.
It's equally important to understand what success will look like, how it will be evaluated and measured, and what data will be available pre- and post-implementation. This may seem fundamental, but it's critical when implementing new learning technology because of the significant time, resources, and financial investments required.
Armed with that information, you can formulate use cases and associated business cases and make build-or-buy decisions. Then begins the Agile design and development of the learning technology (or trials through production).
Concurrently, you should craft a comprehensive go-to-market launch plan, including change management, communication, and end-user training and performance support. Additionally, a comprehensive post-launch management plan is critical for long-term success and should include a measurement strategy (business impact and return-on-investment analyses) and a system for governing future decision making (such as prioritization of iterative improvements).
Finally, remember that you can't go it alone. Implementing new learning technology usually requires partners from IT, finance, and sourcing.
Formulating use cases with business cases
There are myriad ways to build use cases and business cases. I've had greatest success with determining use cases and best-fit learning technology solutions by involving learners and team members from across the spectrum of talent development, such as instructional designers, performance consultants, client engagement managers, learning delivery specialists, learning effectiveness analysts, and learning technologists.
One technique for identifying and evaluating use cases is an ideation hackathon. For example, at Verizon, we hold a VR/AR for Learning ideation hackathon annually.
First, admission requires a well-articulated business problem and an understanding of what success will look like and how success will be measured. Team members gather in groups around the world and, applying design thinking methodologies, create well-defined uses cases including a preliminary business case within eight hours. These decision criteria help them create their proposed solution and initial business case:
- Impact to business. Does the idea solve a current business problem? Does it help grow our customer base? Does it help increase revenue? Does it reduce risk (such as safety, reputational, or financial risk)? Does it help reduce or avoid costs?
- Impact to employee. To what extent does the proposed learning solution enhance employees' performance beyond traditional training methods? Does it generate engagement or buy-in beyond traditional training methods? Does the solution have the potential to prevent employee injury?
- Feasibility. How well will this idea scale? What's the perceived level of effort to bring this idea to fruition? What's the estimated cost and estimated return and benefit? Note: Teams use a cost-benefit calculator to estimate fully loaded costs, tangible financial benefits, and intangible benefits. What's the anticipated maintenance required, such as maintenance schedule, level of effort, and resources needed?
Teams pitch their use cases and initial business cases to a jury of talent development leaders, business stakeholders, and partners (from IT, sourcing, and finance) through a virtual meeting platform. Using the criteria above, generally four projects are greenlighted for development.
The initial business case helps secure funding and IT prioritization. It's also a highly regarded developmental experience. Teams learn how to apply design thinking methodologies and receive real-time feedback on why their idea was selected (or not selected).
Build or buy technology
Considering whether to build or buy technology solutions and which suppliers to partner with are company-specific decisions. Determining available time to implement, available internal resources (quantity and capability), quality requirements, overall cost and budget, and leads and lags will point you to the best approach.
If you elect to buy rather than build, when possible, consider shorter contracts (six to 18 months) that provide you time to test and get the full value of your deployment efforts while you concurrently and continuously explore new learning technology entrants that may better meet your evolving needs.
Take an agile approach
When talking to talent development professionals about what's made their new technology implementations successful, common themes that I categorize as agile approaches prevail. These are four of them:
Test and learn. Many leverage trials and, when possible, control groups so that they can test the technology, involve learners in the process, make quick adjustments, test again, and analyze early measurement data to assess whether they're on track to achieve the business case and anticipated value to learners.
Go small to go big. Consistent with trialing, starting small enables talent development professionals to manage all facets of a new technology implementation to work out kinks, ensure it delivers the desired results, and readily and easily control for extraneous factors. If all goes well, scaling up should be relatively smooth. If it doesn't go well, course correction is easier and less costly than with a big-bang approach.
Go slow to go fast. Almost every near-flawless learning technology launch I've been part of has been successful when all the work with stakeholders, partnering, design and development, and learner involvement have been done up front. The up-front work may feel slow, but it always yields a faster, smoother launch with little rework required, high learner adoption, and a greater likelihood of achieving business results.
Fail fast. It's possible that a new learning technology will fail to meet the business need or business case. Using these approaches enable you to halt the implementation quickly, if necessary, to minimize losses of time, money, and effort. After-action reviews and post-mortems help you apply the key lessons learned from the failure to future new learning technologies implementations.
Go-to-market launch plan
Successful launches typically follow a comprehensive new learning technology go-to-market launch plan that includes:
- end users and advocates to help promote the value proposition of the new technology to their peers and leaders
- launch communication elements, such as hands-on demonstrations and videos
- digital or paper promotional collateral
- end-user training and performance support—for example, how-to videos, functionality webinars, and frequently asked questions
- launch support hotlines and help resources.
Plans incorporate change management principles if significant behavior change is required. Determining the mix of launch plan elements depends on what will work best in your company.
Key to new technology implementations are the multiple necessary partners. Partnership with key stakeholders and business partners is first and foremost so that the new learning technology is aligned with a real business problem.
Finance partners are integral to business case development and calculating fully loaded costs and tangible benefits. Finance can help identify like-for-like control groups from a financial perspective when using trials to evaluate the business impact and ROI of a new learning technology.
Involving IT partners early helps them understand the business problem, how the technology will be used to solve the problem, and the business case that will undoubtedly be needed for project or resource prioritization. If you are using third-party partners, engage early.
Their understanding of what you're trying to accomplish helps them source partners and contract for trials, scalability, and future growth. Aligning these key partners early is invaluable, and they often become champions of the new learning technology.
Be a curious learner
In addition to the tactics previously detailed, it's incumbent that you—and all talent development professionals—stay ahead of the curve to implement new learning technologies effectively. Be curious about what's out there and what's coming next.
Consume whitepapers and pop culture articles alike. Subscribe to tech channels. Walk conference expo floors and explore hands on what's available. Meet regularly with learning technology providers, and benchmark with peers for an outside-in perspective.
Last, spend time observing how people of different demographics, including yourself, learn through commercially available technologies. Children and teens, our future workforce, can be a constant source of inspiration for bringing what's commercially available outside into organizations for learning.
From multiplayer gaming technologies to video and gamification apps to VR and AR, we've tried it all. Some have been ahead of enterprise-ready technologies, while others have required maintenance that's been operationally prohibitive. However, companies have implemented most options successfully, yielding significant business impact and high employee engagement. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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