custom learning solutions

Empathetic learning design enables relevant and maximally effective training

Individuals want to feel heard and understood, at home, at work, and when learning new skills. When designing training, it is vital to understand learner pain points, past experiences, and motivations. By taking an empathetic approach from the beginning of the instructional design process, you can generate higher adoption rates, encourage thoughtful conversations, and facilitate open communication. 

While it may sound simple in theory, in practice, empathetic learning design isn’t always a straightforward process. It involves meeting all of the needs of your learners—even needs learners have not openly expressed or personally acknowledged. 

Empathetic learning considers the needs of a specific group of learners; the organization’s culture and diversity; and recent challenges. Empathetic designs often take an immersive approach that use stories/scenarios to create opportunities for problem solving with a nuanced treatment of content that demands inclusive discussions.

When dealing with sensitive content, it’s rare to get any learning program completely right without input from your target audience. Ask your learners for their honest thoughts and feedback, and show you value their input by responding accordingly. 

What tools can help with empathetic learning design?

Using an empathy map provides a helpful framework for going beyond learning objectives and delving into the learner’s point of view. Empathy maps have long been in use by user experience designers and can be a powerful tool for helping to understand your learners’ needs. 

The empathy mapping process uses a series of questions to put you in the position of the learner as you are designing training. You begin by identifying who you’re empathizing with and what he or she needs to do. While this part is straightforward for instructional designers because we’re used to defining our audience and stating learning objectives, we don’t often delve into next-level questions that are typically included on an empathy map: 

1. What does the learner see…

  • In the work environment?
  • In the learning experience?
  • When he or she is looking for information or otherwise consuming content?

Take a step back and try to see things as they would.

2. What does the learner say…

  • In work-related interactions with peers and leaders?
  • When communicating with customers?
  • Outside of work?

And perhaps even more enlightening: what doesn’t the learner say? Is there tension in what’s left unsaid? 

3. What does the learner hear…

  • From colleagues and leaders?
  • From customers?
  • In a learning environment?
  • Outside of work?

Are you truly listening to what the individual is saying? If so, are you responding in an empathetic manner? Are you strictly sticking to business regardless of what may be going on?

4. What does the learner do…

  • Within a learning simulation?
  • On the job when faced with a situation like the one you’re simulating?
  • When approaching a difficult decision?

What may be the root cause of the gaps between the learner’s current actions and the desired behavior? Are there reasons for that behavior that may not be immediately obvious?

5. What does the learner think and feel?

This is probably the most difficult component of the empathy map to get right, and simultaneously the easiest to get very wrong. While we may think we understand what our learners are thinking and feeling, the exercise of working through the questions above may reveal otherwise. 

  • Does each individual feel included and valued? 
  • Do they feel something should be changed? 
  • What do they worry about?
  • What do they wish could happen? 

In some cultures, you may not even be able to get learners’ true thoughts by asking outright. Anonymous surveys and opportunities for feedback can offer an opportunity to get to the bottom of hidden thoughts and feelings.

Empathy in the workplace is becoming a top priority for organizations that are looking for ways to retain current employees and attract new talent. When employees feel as though they are seen, understood, and valued, they perform at their best. Demonstrating that you understand them through an immersive learning experience can be transformative. 

Struggling with the foundational work required to create empathetic learning designs?

Our time-tested Voice of the Business process is a proven alternative to traditional needs assessment (and a client favorite). It involves employees in a way that secures their buy-in while getting to the root of what people really need to be successful. You gain insights to help you create an authentic learning experience while integrating empathetic learning design. Contact us to schedule a consultation and learn how we can support you.

Going Mobile: Learning’s New Holy Grail?

In a short time, our world has changed. We now have the ability to create interactive elearning content and publish it on mobile devices, including iPhones, using HTML5.  Within a few months I am absolutely confident that Blueline’s designers will be able to distribute our award-winning computer based elearning and esimulations via every mobile device imaginable.

But just because we can, does that mean we should? (That’s a great question that one of the characters posed in the movie Jurassic Park. You may remember what happened to them.)

Before I go any further, let’s define our terms. Learning delivered on your phone qualifies as mobile learning. Learning on your desktop computer is not mobile learning.

What about learning on your laptop or iPad? In terms of defining “mobile,” those are gray areas. Sure, I can take them all with me all the time, but I don’t.  I take my laptop on business trips.  I use my iPad when I am around the house. But not always.

However, I never – literally NEVER – am more than a few feet away from my iPhone. Any content that comes to me on my iPhone is, in the purest sense, mobile.

Mobile Data… or Mobile Learning

And here’s where I make my point: It’s easy to get caught up in the belief that all learning should now be developed for mobile.  That everything we create from now on should be developed in HTML5 or one of the myriad of publishing tools that promises to deliver everything that we create to our iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys and Android devices.

But it’s just not true.  There, I said it.

But sift through the hype, and you’ll discover some important opportunities. Mobile Learning IS transformational.  It has already reshaped what and how we learn.  Gone are the days of memorizing vast amounts of information for instant recall.  I now have instant access to vast libraries of information, far more than I could have ever hoped to memorize in my lifetime.  The skills needed to effectively consume and apply that information are the real Holy Grail.

Mobile Learning makes it possible for us to access just about any knowledge we desire wherever we are, just when we need it.   In this way, it represents a tremendous breakthrough for reference and performance support. Which is where “true” mobile learning shines.

So what does that mean for designers and developers of training?  Your job just got harder on multiple levels. First, you have to tell the business leaders banging on your door that mobile learning doesn’t effectively eliminate ALL time away from the job dedicated to learning and development.  And second, you need to think through a multi-dimensional blended learning strategy that balances classroom, virtual classroom, online and mobile strategies to maximize impact on the business.

Well actually, that last part is really good news.  Because never before did you have so many awesome tools at your disposal to deliver value to your business partners.

And, if you have questions or want to brainstorm potential strategies for putting these exciting new platforms to work in your organization, Blueline is here to help!

Data You Can Touch

How Blueline is using new “digital textbook” technology to engage learners and increase retention.

Whenever we build custom learning solutions for our client partners, most of them request some kind of pre-work or pre-read document. This usually leads to a conversation during the design process that goes like this:

“We need to create an exercise that establishes the foundational ideas and definitions.”

“But we already put that information in the prework document!”

“Yes, but we have to assume that some percentage of people won’t read the prework, so we need to get them caught up.”

Then why even give them prework?!” Hand wringing commences.

Okay, so maybe this kind of behind-the-scenes confessions of a harried learning designer isn’t so relevant to you and your world.

But what is relevant, I bet, is the need to create and deliver your key messages in a way that your people will consume, engage… and even integrate into their paradigms and behaviors.

At Blueline Simulations, we are constantly experimenting with new approaches, new technologies, and new ways of creating enrollment within organizations like yours. Sometimes we come across a new media that gets us excited. That happened just recently, and I wanted to tell you about it because I think there are some opportunities here for you.

This Is Not Your Father’s Data Dump

A big part of organizational learning is assimilating data. You know: those reams of charts and data that you need to somehow transfer to your audience’s brains. As much as we love experience at Blueline Simulations, sometimes there is a need for a “tell” approach. (Often we use the term – somewhat derisively – of “data dump.” This is where the dreaded pre-work document often makes an appearance.)

In a recent program, we dramatically increased engagement and retention of this data dump by using new technology provided by Apple’s iPad.

As you may have heard, Apple has made a significant entry into the world of textbooks. With their iBooks platform, Apple intends to revolutionize how students consume information. Apple has also released the free iBooks Author content creation tool to allow designers like us at Blueline to repurpose and design content in a highly engaging, multi-media, iPad-ready platform.

For our recent program, we created a pre-work document that rivaled the actual learning program in terms of generating participant enrollment. We delivered the client’s key content in an iBook format that included:

  • Embedded videos – from YouTube, and also TED Talks – that deliver a more penetrating look at related content.
  • Embedded graphics and charts that could be scrutinized with the iPad’s now-familiar “pinch and zoom” gesture.
  • Links that take learners to related websites, the company’s intranet, or other content located elsewhere in the document.
  • Short quizzes that allow learners to demonstrate that they have indeed internalized the material.

The game-changer here was the kinesthetic nature of the document, thanks to the iPad interface. The ability to touch, swipe, click, watch, and listen to content proved to be highly immersive. Learners, and the client, were unanimous: More of this, please.

Whenever we have an opportunity to add to our toolbox of approaches, we get excited. But the bigger opportunity here is for you. What is the key content that you need to transfer to your team in a change context? Rather than distribute another 60-page PDF document over email, what if you could deliver it in a novel medium that allows your audience to touch, move, and manipulate the content – thereby practically guaranteeing that they engage?

We’d love to show you a demo.

And if that’s not what you’re looking for, that’s okay. We have a few other tricks in our toolbox as well.

Give us a call. And let’s make some change happen in your organization.