In Real Life: How to Make Smarter Learning Tech Decisions

How does your LMS make you feel?

Depending on which report you read, anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of organizations are looking to make significant changes in their learning technology stack. But if the current tool(s) isn’t getting the job done, where should L&D go next? LMS? LXP? LRS? CMS? ML? VR? AR? AI? All possible letter combinations seem to be an option. In fact, there are more than 800 “learning technologies” in the marketplace today with new market segments emerging all the time. Eight hundred! And now, thanks in part to misguided ideas like “workplace learning should be more like Netflix,” a lot of this technology is starting to look and sound extremely similar to potential buyers. If you’re exploring new learning tech options, what can you do to make smarter learning tech decisions?

Good tech isn’t cheap. And, because you’re likely to be stuck with your chosen platform for at least a few years, your decision could impact the credibility of L&D across the organization. How can you be sure that you’re doing what’s right for you, your team, your business, and your people?

The task of improving workplace learning technology doesn’t start with vendors. After all, vendors build what organizations want to buy. It starts with L&D. L&D needs technology to provide timely, scalable, consistent support to employees. But that technology must also create a simple, familiar, value-add experience for the employee every time. In real life, this is an exception rather than the norm. To make the shift, L&D pros must rethink the way they support people in the modern workplace and subsequently the role technology can play within their ecosystems.

Rethinking learning tech starts with letting go of pervasive myths that often drive pros to make bad decisions. These myths include...

  • Every solution must include a course. If L&D continues to look to default to courses, technology options will remain extremely limited.
  • Everything must be tracked. Data is an extremely important part of modern L&D practices, but not everything has to be tracked—especially if it inhibits the ability of the employee to easily access necessary information. The right things must be tracked in the right ways to inform the overall learning and support experience.
  • One platform can do it all. No, it can’t. That’s why you have more than one app on your smartphone. Right-fit, purposeful tech should be introduced as part of an overall experience.
  • You need “learning technology” to support learning. A platform doesn’t need to be built for L&D to support workplace performance. The definition of “learning technology” must be expanded to include an array of functional tools.
  • You are buying tech for you. Some tools, such as authoring platforms, are almost exclusively for L&D use. However, regardless of what the tech does, it ultimately should be acquired for the value it can provide to employees and the organization, not L&D.

By removing these roadblocks and shifting their mindset regarding the use of technology in their work, L&D pros can then apply an improved set of principles for making tech decisions.

Identify the problem

Why do people buy cars? Is it to drive around … or to get where they need to go? The same idea should apply to L&D tech. Learning is not the objective. Enabling people to solve problems is the desired outcome. Therefore, L&D must have clarity regarding business priorities and resulting employee needs before making tech decisions.

Start with what you have

Escaping the myths above opens the door to an array of new learning tech options. Many of these options are already in place within your organization. Before buying something new, consider how the tools employees use to do their job could be repurposed to provide training and support. Stretching the capabilities of existing operational tech through small experiments can also help you build the case for adding new tools.

Ditch RFPs for experience designs

RFPs are the worst Excel spreadsheets in L&D. They artificially narrow technology options based on typically extensive and arbitrary lists of desired features. And, because they tend to be rather vague, they allow vendors to make less-than-accurate claims regarding functionality just to get past the procurement process. A modern tech ecosystem is a meaningful combination of right-fit tools that solve specific problems. Therefore, tech exploration should be guided by an experience design, not a feature list. L&D pros can then use their designs to challenge vendors to showcase how they can uniquely enable the desired elements of the user experience.

Build a business case with stakeholders

L&D budgets tend to be … limited. “Cheap and free” are the official mantra, especially when L&D is perceived as a cost center, not a revenue-generating function. While these options can certainly help you solve problems, they may also unnecessarily limit L&D potential. To overcome budget challenges, L&D should partner with operational stakeholders. After all, they are on the frontlines of the problems L&D is working to overcome. By building a business case with these partners, L&D can open the door to additional resources based on the clear value to be provided to the organization.

Stay up-to-date

Technology is a moving target. How many times have you agonized over the purchase of a laptop or smartphone only to see a newer, improved model hit the market a few weeks later? To make the best possible decision when the time comes, L&D pros must stay up-to-date on the progress of both learning and general workplace technology. Building a professional network of tech-savvy L&D pros and industry analysts is critical given the breakneck pace of tech evolution. This ongoing effort will streamline future acquisition processes and reduce the chances for surprises or mistakes.

Making smarter tech decisions can help L&D close the gap between home and workplace learning experiences. It can also foster agility and help employees keep pace with ever-changing business priorities. No, tech will never be perfect. Yes, it will require ongoing evaluation. But this shift will lessen the negative impact of L&D’s historical love/hate relationship with technology and keep everyone focused on what really matters: improving business outcomes through people.

For more L&D tech principles, check out How to Make Good Technology Buying Decisions on SlideShare.

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