The eLearning Access/UX Shell Game

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/02/09

One of the most overlooked necessities of success for an eLearning system is easy self-service access (and navigation).

Ever since the cut-to-the-chase design of Google’s interface beat the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink design of MSN and others, clear and simple “Don’t Make Me Think” system design has become the expected norm of nominal users everywhere.

And, when it comes to eLearning systems, this consideration will often make the difference between whether your $100k+ investment in this stuff is going to return results that are more of a bang and less of a whimper.

A great case study of this reality can be found in a recent edition of Elliot Masie’s Learning Trends Newsletter.

In it, Graham Higgins, the Chief Learning Officer of Cathay Pacific Airlines, talks about how engineering their entire organization around employee’s easy access to self-service activities was the hedgehog concept that would lead to the eventual great success of their eLearning initiatives —

We started in the mid 90s with self help flexible benefits, you choose how to spend your benefit dollar value. From those who preferred to be looked after we had open hostility, we had taken away our care for them. 2 years later it was just the way we did things and it was smart, convenient, and gave people some control that they valued.

I love the fact that Higgins then goes into detail on how ‘putting something online’ is not the cure-all that many frame it to be. The hard lesson of many eLearning projects is that anteing up the cost to put training online is no guarantee of success.

Like its many capital expenditure cousins, eLearning has as good a chance as any of leaving organizations feeling like they’ve just paid big bucks to play a board walk shell game — all those promised benefits are under which one?

And yet, as Higgins points out with a couple of tipping points toward success, it doesn’t have to be that way.

First example he notes is that these projects require careful attention to user experience (UX) design — ie. Is this thing easy to use? Is it intuitive? Do I have to think how to do what I’m trying to do?

Self-serve, however, if it is on line needs to be designed with the same insight and investment as a commercial website. I have been in conversations with software vendors where they reassured me that the interface is not that intuitive but they will provide user training to make it work. No No No. That really is abandonment, if your customers feel that your site is hard to use they wont use it, why make it difficult for employees to self help. If customers feel that your site is there to push your choice of product they will go elsewhere, why should we design employee processes that don’t give choice, control and ease of access.

The important nugget to remember here is “ease of access” (and, if you know anything about me by now, you know that Steve Krug’sDon’t Make Me Think” approach to this stuff is the Bees Knees).

As Web Yada.Whatever.You.Wanna.Call.It has shown us, it’s doesn’t matter how much it costs if it’s not easy to access and use.

Another great point Higgins makes is that Cathay Pacific did not force folks into getting knowledge a certain way — instead, they focused on the knowledge itself. If you had it, you could test out, if you didn’t, you had easy access to get it in a way that suited you.

The step forward was to agree that if someone could take an assessment and demonstrate the capability to apply the new knowledge to his or her job, then it was not necessary to show that they had attended a seminar or completed the package. How they got that knowledge didn’t matter, we provided access to self teach tailored on line learning options for different work streams, copies of the policy, descriptions of cases, links to external websites, and email access to the in-house experts.

Combined, these guiding principles created a Buildup-Breakthrough Flywheel momentum that resulted in great success —

10,000 employees, and we hit 96% success within a couple of months. The main failure points? Some people could not remember their login in Ids and used their friend’s, no track or trace for them. Back to the design of easy access.

Good stuff to note on this eLearning journey.

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