As elearning developers, training coordinators and instructional designers, we create great courses, programs and materials. But that's only half the battle. How can we make sure we get wide adoption and engagement in the assets and resources populating our learning management systems? On this blog, Kelly Meeker's Dec 7 article provided some sage advice on how to position your courses in the OpenSesame marketplace. With those words in mind, it’s important to remember a few similar concepts so that your in-house initiatives can get the same kind of raves as any bestseller.
Find an Executive Sponsor
First, divest yourself of the notion that successful launches and full target learner adoption will happen “automagically”. After all, myriad documents are created and stored online in your organization’s network every day but that doesn’t mean that folks will immediately scour folders or document management systems just to read what’s there.
Untold movie and TV scripts land on producers desks almost every day, but only a fraction of those will ever make it to the filming stage. Why? Because they didn’t someone to endorse and promote the project. (Think Spielberg, Hanks, Howard, Coppola, et al.) But, what does that look like internally? Effective sponsorship can - and should - come in two different forms: hierarchical and influential.
An ‘executive’ sponsor is someone highly placed in the organization who can keep the initiative on the agenda and help develop buy-in. The other sponsor isn’t necessarily someone higher up on the ladder, but someone who is considered influential and respected in the organization, someone who is a strong relationship-builder and is considered a go-to person. Political? Probably, but it’s quite often the case that the truly influential people are not necessarily those in charge. Engage these people early, keep them informed, but also pay close attention to the feedback they convey to you during the implementation and adjust as required.
Think About Your Message
Let’s also talk positioning. I’m not referring to where the learning department sits in the corporate hierarchy, I’m talking about how people perceive your “brand”. For example, we all have conceptions about various brands and what they “say” about the people who display and espouse them. Do you know what people say and feel about your offerings? Are there perceptions that will help in the marketing? Or, worse, are there no perceptions whatsoever? If that’s the case you may have a larger challenge than you originally anticipated.
The next piece is about testing. L&D has co-opted the software development model with concepts like rapid prototyping and Beta testing. Similarly, the TV/film industry uses test audiences during the post-production/editing phases to gauge audience reactions. In a new learning initiative, you’ll likely want to identify a good pool of target learners (based on the size of the org) to play active roles throughout the design process. Murphy’s Law of Education states that “no training plan survives contact with the learner”, so be prepared to make these incremental changes along the way and adjust to suit what your learners require. I’ve seen enough (painful) instances of learner input solicited far too close to a launch date where learner feedback indicated a poor solution about to hit the community at large.
Make Sure Your Initiative Matters for Your Business
Finally, let’s look at initiative-specific awareness. Think about some of the movies that have been released over the past decade, particularly those that used multiple methods to generate interest in the movie. What kinds of internal (shameless) self-promotion could you engage to help potential consumers talk about your efforts and - more importantly - their results? This effort should be integrated into the early user testing. Get people talking about what happened, and be sure you publish results and intentions. If there’s a Communications department, make use of them! What do you think you might pull together to make awareness go “viral” in the organization?
Of course, these ideas and recommendations are not a replacement for effective instructional design and other professional/industry practices. If you wind up producing a turkey, then following these steps will only mean more people will know about it, and faster. These recommendations will help get the learners to your content; solid design and planning will keep them there.
Don’t forget to keep communication and awareness channels open during and even after the launch or kick-off. Share learner successes and feedback and keep people aware of what’s happening to improve the content to meet ongoing learner demand.
Mark Sheppard is a senior Learning & Development practitioner in the Greater Toronto Area. He is currently working as an Instructional Development Officer for the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he is helping the Aerospace Technology & Engineering School harness the power of online and blended learning as they teach the next generation of Air Force technicians. Follow Mark on Twitter at @elearningguy.
Image credit: gisele13 on Flickr