In Real Life: Less Friction = Better Learning

I go to Disney World every year for the Fourth of July. That may sound super luxurious—until you realize that I live in Orlando. Actually, I live just half a mile behind Cinderella Castle. The Walt Disney World Resort is my literal backyard. Fireworks explode outside my window every night at 10pm. It’s really cool … until you want to go to sleep early (Figure 1). 

Photo of park visitors on a ride

Figure 1: I’m the one in the third row who is VERY excited to let it go

I spend a lot of my free time in the theme parks. Having worked there for 10 years, I tend to pay more attention to the details than most guests. Once you know how the sausage is made (or in this case the turkey legs), you can’t look at things the same way. For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated by Disney’s growing ability to blend technology and data with physical environments and guest service to create increasingly immersive experiences. The goal is clear: reduce the friction in the guest experience. Reduced friction can lead to a pile of positive business results:

  • Improved guest satisfaction
  • More time spent in the parks
  • More food and merchandise purchases
  • Positive word of mouth
  • Plenty of return visits

Here are just a few ways Disney technology improved my visit to Epcot on July 4.

  • Wished a magical day by name by the parking attendant (after tapping my magic band).
  • Walked right into the park with no wait at the front gate, where another Cast Member greeted me by name (again, the magic band).
  • Had awesome meals in Italy and Morocco (pre-booked reservations via the park app).
  • Rode Frozen Ever After, one of the most popular attractions in the park with no wait (pre-scheduled FastPass).
  • Downloaded my Frozen photo later that evening (system tracked my presence and automatically pushed the photo to my account).
  • Saved from an unnecessary walk across the park when I received an email notification that my next attraction was experiencing technical difficulties (automatically received a FastPass to ride it later in the day).

Technology all but eliminated the friction that typically occurs during a theme park visit and helped me use my time more effectively. It couldn’t stop the Florida rain (yet), but overall I had an awesome, fun-filled day.

Removing friction from the customer experience is a common discussion point in most industries, from hospitality to retail to technology. Disney happens to be VERY good at it. However, I don’t hear nearly as much conversation about a frictionless workplace experience, especially as related to L&D. We talk a lot about content and technology. But what about the underlying experience? In real life, how difficult is it for employees to get the help they need when and where they need it? In most organizations, it’s WAY too difficult. Just consider ...

  • How many emails do you have to send to get an answer to a basic question?
  • How many clicks does it take to play a video in your LMS?
  • In how many potential places could the information you need be stored?
  • How much quality information is locked inside of 30-minute, one-and-done, click-next-to-continue eLearning modules?

L&D does not control the entire employee experience. But we do play a critical, ongoing role in people’s ability to do their jobs. If the last 15 years have shown us anything, it’s that content and technology alone do not get the job done. Rather than just make more stuff, we must get closer to the day-to-day of the people we support and shape our experience around their reality. The new focus of L&D should be on connections and channels. How can we better connect the people who NEED with the people who KNOW? And how can we reduce the friction—wasted time, frustration, guessing, negative outcomes—along the way?

To reduce friction during my Epcot visit, Disney employed technology to help me find the right experience at the right time. Doing the same for employees in the workplace requires a similar focus on four factors: experience, channel, time, and person.

Right Experience

This is where the course fails. The right learning experience is not always a structured course. In fact, it’s almost never a structured course. To reduce learning friction and get people the help they need quickly, L&D must break out of the course mentality and expand its toolkit to include a variety of tactics that can be flexibly applied in the workplace. This is the basic idea behind my layered approach to learning. Solving any performance problem should start with curating on-demand, quick-access information. You then build on top of this foundation of shared knowledge—adding structured experiences only as a last resort. Yes, sometimes courses will be needed. But why build a course when a well-written article will do the trick?

Right Channel

You may have great content, but how does someone find it? You may have brilliant subject matter experts (SMEs), but how does an employee contact them when needed? This is where a considerable amount of friction arises in the workplace learning experience. While most organizations have plenty of technology, they lack in purpose and clarity around how to use these tools. For example, your employees may have access to email, the company portal, SharePoint, the LMS, shared drives, etc. What goes where and why? This is where a curator can make a huge difference in reducing friction by protecting the user experience and establishing purposeful channels. Rather than endlessly hunting for a single tool that can handle every possible need (it doesn’t exist), L&D can help define the value, and drive consistent application of the organization’s full toolset. After all, you have more than one app on your smartphone, right?

Right Time

Who knows when it’s the right time to learn something new? Who knows when a problem is afoot? The employee! Therefore, to reduce friction, L&D must make resources—whether content or SMEs—easy to find at the moment of need. However, “right time” isn’t just a pull concept. An employee won’t always see their own performance gaps or know how to best focus their effort. Sure, some may have exceptional awareness and thrive in a self-directed learning environment. But others may struggle with misdirected autonomy. This is where people-analytics will play a critical role in proactively identifying problems and pushing the right support, whether it be manager coaching or recommended content, at the right time—before bad things happen.

Right Person

This is the never-ending struggle for workplace learning professionals. With our limited resources, should we provide generic training for everyone or specific support to just a few? Scale almost always wins out over personalization. Disney has confronted this challenge too. Tens of thousands of guests visit a theme park every day. How can each person possibly have a unique experience? And yet multiple cast members called me by name at Epcot on July 4. I received a personal photo after riding Frozen. And on some attractions, the experience actually changes even more based on my presence. Solving this problem is what sets Disney apart in a crowded entertainment marketplace. It will also be what reestablishes the value of L&D in the modern workplace. And, just like at Disney World, the power comes from the meaningful combination of data, technology, and people (aka adaptive learning).

Regardless of your role or industry, every L&D professional must begin to explore ways they can reduce workplace friction and ensure the right experience is provided to the right person at the right time via the right channel.

Technology and data are now fundamental pillars of the Walt Disney World Resort experience for the average guest. When they work and the friction is eliminated, a guest doesn’t even know it happened. The same should be true for the employees we support. They don’t always need to know the details or who does what behind the scenes. But, if we do our jobs correctly, having a better learning experience at work should be easier than visiting a theme park on the Fourth of July.

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