17 November 2008

What I Learned On My Vacation Away from the Office (DevLearn 2008 #3)

I left DevLearn 2008 on Friday and managed to take the weekend to spend with friends and family instead of working, which I usually do. The advantage to removing myself from work and work focussed topics is that I had time to reflect on the workshop and sessions I attended, as well as reflect on my experiences at DemoFest, which provided an enormous amount of food for thought. DemoFest was an incredible experience. I have not participated in anything like it before. The hall contained easily 20 tables maybe more, I'm not certain. On each table were computers with various kinds of online training samples that were created by elearning professionals, many of whom were employed by companies that wanted the content for compliance or skill development or technical training purposes.

One of the most sophisticated uses of elearning that I observed was designed to train salespeople in the pharma industry about compliance issues. The simulation had the learner "travel through" a week in the life of a pharmaceutical sales representative. It included typical received e-mails, conversations with physicians, managers, and co-workers. The level of detail and complexity of this training was impressive. It was very easy to gain a sense of the subtle and complicated ethical challenges that occur daily in this field of work. In addition, the learner was given the opportunity to experience the consequences of good and poor decision making.
What became apparent to me as I watched this and other demonstrations and training samples at DemoFest was that enterprise software training as it is currently delivered through online channels IS BORING and nearly mind numbing.

I thought back to the classroom training I had observed over the years with enterprise software. One trainer, I recall, staged "Family Feud" contests to help students remember what they had learned during the sessions. Another trainer sang Mr. Rogers' "Welcome to the Neighborhood" with special lyrics talking about the enterprise software. I remember still another trainer letting her students make "wrong" decisions and choices with exercises and lab sessions in the classroom and use the consequences to teach them how to fix errors in the software system. Bottom line these gifted trainers had the ability to make learning about enterprise software - FUN!

Aside from one very savvy client, I haven't heard anyone in the enterprise software arena use the words "training" and "fun" together. The expectation is that a company's users are supposed to understand that this mission critical software is vital to the organization's existence, and that should be motivation enough to get them online or in the classroom to learn the new business processes and application mechanics. This is serious business and we are supposed to be serious about it, right?

The challenge is to find a means for creating online asynchronous training sessions that engage learners in a similar fashion as those gifted trainers without "breaking the project budget" for the implementation or upgrade.

If a plant manager could "take a walk through his day" with the new business processes and applications to get a better understanding of what he will be doing when the new enterprise software is "live," how well would he appreciate the changes? How well would he retain the information? How motivated might he be to change his behavior?