Designing Learning Campaigns
What’s the point of learning?
It might seem like a trick question, but seriously - what’s the point? Specifically, what’s the point of the learning materials that we in L&D spend all our time creating?
Is the point to get people to pass an exam?
Honestly, sometimes, yes. It’s a tick-in-the-box compliance exercise.
But more often, the purpose of learning is more than passing an exam. It’s actually behaviour change.
Requests for new learning engagements usually materialise because someone has identified a gap between what people need to be doing, and what they’re actually doing. The training needs to address that gap, whether that’s by challenging existing assumptions or supplying new knowledge.
Now, the problem is that we’re only human. We forget things(1), or we take a while to assimilate new behaviours. And so providing a one-off learning event might actually have little to no effect. If you want people to pass an exam, cramming facts right before the test could indeed be the way forward; but if you want people to learn, to change the way they do things, then you need repeated exposure over a period of time. You need to keep reminding people of ideas or ways of working.
And so, instead of learning events - one-off, snapshot pieces of training - you might need to be designing learning campaigns.
It’s a similar idea to a marketing campaign - and indeed, the two have a lot in common. Repeated exposure, frequent reminders, designed to elicit certain behaviours. Think for a second about how effective marketing campaigns can be, and you’ll start to get an idea of the power your learning campaign could have.
What does a learning campaign look like?
This list is not aiming to be exhaustive, but to help you to start thinking about the kind of learning campaigns you could be producing.
Spaced out & repeated
You might have heard this talked about as ‘spaced repetition’ or ‘retrieval practice’. Hear something once, and it’s easy to forget it. But hear something again, and you strengthen the neural connections in your brain, making it easier to remember. Hear it a third time, and that connection is strengthened yet again. This is the basic idea behind Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve(2). The more you repeat something or ‘retrieve’ it from your memory, the easier it is for you to remember it.
This repetition has to be spaced out to be effective. If you’ve just learned something, it’s still front of mind - there’s no ‘retrieval’ involved. And this is where learning campaigns come in so handy, offering these repeated reminders at spaced intervals. Learning campaigns are effective because they work with the way that the human brain is actually built.
It might seem obvious but it is worth saying - the content of your learning campaigns should be good quality learning material that engages, interests, even excites the learner.
Don’t be deceived - this is not achieved by adding a swathe of interactions with no learning value. Interactivity and engagement are not the same thing(3). Adding activities or practice questions or that hallowed gamification does not automatically make something engaging - it just means your learners have more to click on.
The most important thing is the content itself. Is it well-written, valuable, clear, succinct? Does it avoid jargon, stay relevant, maybe even dare to employ humour?
Could be micro
‘Microlearning’ is the elearning industry's term for easily digestible chunks of learning. The debate about what the exact size and content of these chunks should be has been raging for years, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Just do something that makes sense for the content you have and the learners you’re reaching. Keep it to a single topic, and something your learners could realistically complete in a single session.
One of the great things about microlearning is that it’s very versatile. It works for when you have a series of disconnected ideas, or for when the ideas need to be connected or build on each other. You can use them as the main learning moments, or you could have the obligatory day-long course and then follow it with a microlearning campaign as a refresher - keeping the learning spaced out and repeated, of course.
Could be adaptive
No one likes to be patronised by their elearning module, or have to spend time wading through the basics they already know to get to the bit they actually need.
So make your learning campaigns adaptive. Perhaps include quick quizzes to assess people’s current level of knowledge or what their interests are. If they demonstrate that they know a subject well, they get to see less of it. Or if they’re struggling with something, they get more content about it. That way, people can spend their time on things they need to, rather than wasting it on things they already know.
But my stakeholders want a one-off, two hour elearning module
It’s all very well spinning these glorious visions of the learning campaign - but in reality, something like that might not get the approval it needs to fly. What then?
Educate your stakeholders
It may be that they don’t understand how or why the learning campaign method would work. So tell them! Don’t stop at this article - keep reading, keep learning for yourself, and then get yourself into a situation where you can share all your knowledge and wisdom with your stakeholders and decision-makers.
Find the business case
What are your organisation’s needs and goals? How would a learning campaign serve them better than a one-off, two hour module? For example, it might be that you need to update your content regularly - in which case microlearning makes that so much easier. Or you might need to be saying very similar things in different contexts - think of a learning campaign as a curated resource library, where you can pull out the bits you need and repurpose them. Far cheaper than building a hefty module for every single situation.
Having a trusting relationship with your stakeholder or client is crucial when it comes to trying something new. And it takes time for that trust to develop. So if they’re set on the two hour module, then do it well. Build that trust. The more they trust you, the more room you’ll have to try new things next time, push their boundaries, get them to think differently and accept new ideas. With some of our clients, we’ve spent years shelving our ideas in order to produce exactly what they’re asking for - and now, with trust built and our reputation for quality and excellence established, we are being involved in the conversations where mediums and methods are decided - and we’re being given more freedom to make suggestions, or push back when we don’t agree with a direction. It can take time to get there, but it’s worth it.
So there you have it. The learning campaign! What will your first one be about?
(1) For more on exactly how much we forget: https://www.worklearning.com/2010/12/14/how-much-do-people-forget/
(2) A simple introduction to Ebbinghaus’ work: https://qz.com/1213768/the-forgetting-curve-explains-why-humans-struggle-to-memorize/
(3) A great article contemplating the similarities between people playing a video game and taking an elearning course: https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1483/marc-my-words-from-interactivity-to-engagement