Moving L&D programs on-line? Launch fast, improve later!

Author: Professor Robert Brinkerhoff
Published: October 20th, 2020

Like everyone else in the new Covid L&D world, you are no doubt being pressed to get new initiatives out fast. But virtual design should not be a matter of “converting” everything in your F2F programs and pushing it online, it is about creating new designs to achieve the same goals your F2F programs were intended to achieve.

Truly excellent virtual program designs take time to build – probably more time than you can afford to allocate right now. The good news is, workable designs that are “good enough” can be put together much more quickly and improved as you go.

“Over time” is key

Remember that you are creating learning journeys. Journeys start with the first steps and continue from there over time. Over time is the key word here. You can start the journey without having to have all of the latter parts of the journey elements in place.  Learning journey design does not have to be an all-or-nothing deal.

In all of the new virtual programs we have investigated these past few months, we have seen none that did not prove helpful – all had impact. On the flip side, none of them were as good out of the gate as the second-generation program that followed – all of them abounded with clear opportunities to be improved.

Efficient changes online

One of the beauties of online programming is that design changes can be made very efficiently without negative consequence. Not like old F2F world where notebooks and other hard-copy materials were used; changes implied often, implied large expenses and were frankly, a pain in the backside.

So how can you move forward and get started? Our best advice from what we are seeing is:

  • Prioritize: identify the few programs that are the most important to keeping the wheels on the business bus turning and that will be of the most help to performers struggling to adjust to the new Covid world. Start with these.
  • View your design work through the lens of performance improvement – what few things will most help people get important things done better.
  • Performance improvement is an iterative process. Until your learners start, you cannot help them adjust with more advanced practice and feedback over time. They will not become virtuoso performers overnight.
  • Apply this same performance improvement principle to your own work. You are not going to become a virtual design virtuoso overnight. You too can learn as you go and make your designs iteratively better. But you too have to start.
  • An iterative performance improvement process is impossible to nurture without evaluative feedback. Build feedback loops into your designs and pay attention to what your learners’ experience is teaching you.
  • Help your learners become aware of what is helping them and what is getting in their way. Build learning assignments into your design that get learners to report the systemic obstacles (work design, incentives, etc.) as they encounter them. Peers who have figured out a way to overcome these obstacles can help others. You as program leaders can aggregate obstacle information and get it to the people who can do something about it.
  • Where you are able, take advantage of digital learning experience tools. When you are trying to grow learning programs to scale, it is extremely difficult to mount, execute, and especially track progress without the data these learning platforms provide. The iterative design approach we promote can be greatly accelerated with such a journey platform.

Good luck – and remember the best thing you can do is start!