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Introducing Learning Leaps: Lessons learned while creating learning products

A little over a year ago, I decided to take a huge leap in my career. After spending nearly 7 years in the learning industry, I decided to make the transition into a formal Product Management role.

The decision to move into Product Management was strategic on my part. I had spent the past 8 years designing and delivering learning experiences that were offered as a product or service for the audiences I serving. As time went on, I found myself adopting an iterative approach to learning that was rooted in learning experience design and research. I identified the overlap between the instructional design and product development processes and how they were both focused on identifying and solving problems. Over time, I desired more and found myself inching towards the world of user experience and product management.

So during August 2018, I decided to finally take the leap and switch roles. With the transition, I knew I wanted to focus on gaining the skills and expertise that wouldn’t have been afforded to me in a traditional learning role. These included:

  • deeper knowledge and experience with the inner workings of the business
  • setting the vision and strategic direction of a learning product
  • making data-informed decisions including conducting discovery research and creating hypothesis tests for experimentation
  • and inspiring and leading others

I’ve been in Product Management for 16 months now and I can say that it’s been one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve learned a ton personally and professionally and my overall approach to learning has changed.

With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves. I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews and have heard stories from organizations about their desire to create a culture of learning, how they’re preparing employees for their roles, and promoting ongoing skill development. I’ve also heard learners talk about their motivations for continuous life long learning including their need to provide for their families and their desires to move up in their careers.

All in all, these conversations have reinvigorated my passion for learning. They have also exposed to me the opportunities we have as practitioners, learning providers, and the industry as a whole.

So I’ve decided to take the leap once again and bundle some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 16 months into a series called Learning Leaps. Each week, I’ll be sharing about a topic I’ve encountered during my transition. My goal is to give back to the community that has given me this opportunity in the first place. Thank you for coming along this journey with me and I hope you find the lessons shared both inspiring and helpful.

With gratitude,

Roberta

Lessons Learned from DevLearn 2019

Last week I attended The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn conference in Las Vegas, NV. It was my second time attending the event (my previous visit was in 2016). For those who haven’t attended a DevLearn conference before, it is a 3 day event where practitioners in the industry gather to discuss industry trends, best practices, and tips and tricks. On top of all of that, the guild also offers 2 days of pre-conference workshops for those looking to expand their skills even more.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the guild events. They’re actually my favorite in the industry to attend. It’s a great opportunity to connect with others, see what their working on, and share stories. I always come back with key nuggets that I cant wait to share with my team. This trip was no exception, below are a few highlights from the trip:

I LOVE my learning network!

First and foremost it must be said. I love my learning network! At this years DevLearn, I was able to meet some amazing people that I’ve been chatting with online for years now (like Tim Slade, Cara North, and Nick Floro).

Spending time with Matthew Pierce & Cara North at Demo Fest

I spent time with some of my former teammates at The Predictive Index. I also met others who are creating learning experiences for industries completely different than mine, such as emergency response and law. It is an amazing experience when you’re connect with others who share the same passion as you. You’re able to learn from their each others experiences, discuss differences, and challenges. It just goes to show how much of a common thread learning and education truly is.

Industry Trends

Overall, I attended about 15+ sessions over a span of 3 days and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

AI is coming and as learning professionals we need to adapt.

There was a-lot of talk about whether AI is going to take over the future of work or not. This was definitely highlighted by the fact that one of the main keynoters was Sophia, the Robot. The key takeaway from these discussions is that AI will absolutely transform the way we do our work. It has the potential to automate many of the manual processes we do in our work , like capturing screenshots, creating step by step instructions for job-aids, helping write assessment questions, and curating learning content. As practitioners, this will leave us with time to do more of the creative work we love – YAY!

The rise of Learning Data is here!

With the rise of xAPI over the past few years, many in the industry are beginning to think more critically of their learning data. In total, there were over 13 sessions focused solely on data and measurement! I actually attended a pre-conference workshop with Sam Rogers of SnapSynapse about How to Make Better Training Decisions with Your Learning Data.

One of the major takeaways I got from Sam’s session is that in order to truly track the impact of our learning interventions, we need to take time from the outset to identify the outcomes and behaviors were looking to change. If we don’t know this, how will we know if were successful?

Additionally, one major area is the collection of data but what happens next? This is where the beauty of storytelling comes in. As practitioners, we need to think about the what our stakeholders care about, what decisions are we trying to influence with our data, and what is the best way to convey this to them?

There is a difference between learning strategy and product strategy

By far, the biggest takeaway for me came during Frank Nguyen’s guided panel discussion on Transforming from Learning Professional to Learning Leader. Frank and the panel highlighted the importance that as learning leaders we need to force others to think about the instructional strategy rather than immediately jumping to solutioning. This means identifying the true performance problems taking place, advocating for the learners and their needs, and determining an instructional strategy and experiences that support that. Learning is not simply defined by one up learning events but rather an entire ecosystem and all of their parts working together.

Overall, DevLearn was such a great experience. I’m so grateful to meet many of my friends in person. I can also say, i’m really happy to be home in my introvert cave with my cats. I look forward to seeing everyone at Learning Solutions in March 2020!

Master level, unlocked

I am so excited to share that after 4 years, I have completed my Masters of Science in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning  (OPWL) from Boise State University!

Over the past weekend, I was fortunate enough to give myself the graduation gift of traveling to Boise to mark the milestone. The trip allowed me to meet some of my professors and classmates in person after working with them for the past 4 years. 

While winding down my time in the program, I took some time to reflect on my journey in learning over the past 10 years (yes you read that right, 10 YEARS!).

 

A Look Back

When I was growing up, my father always told me how much he regretted not going to college. He always said that his greatest wish for me and my sister was for us to follow through on our potential and continue our education. In his eyes, education equals opportunity and it is something that no one could ever take away from you.  I always remember how much I enjoyed our conversations how they’ve stayed with me through the years.

Looking back, I never was a good student in school. I struggled through math along with a ton of other subjects. Throughout my K-12 education, I actually failed classes along the way  (math and spanish). Studying for me was so hard! I always thought something was wrong with me that made learning more difficult for me than others. I often had to lock myself away in my room growing up. I would sit in complete silence with flash cards, repeating things out loud in order to get the information in my head. It wasn’t until my first year of college that I learned that I was undiagnosed with ADHD throughout my entire childhood. The diagnosis was a huge sigh of relief as it made me realize that all of the techniques I’ve been teaching myself over the years to get myself to focus had actually helped me without me even realizing it.

 

Finding her passion

If i’m being honest, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I arrived at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) for undergrad. I just knew that I wanted to give it all that I could. During my second year, Wendy Gilmore gave me a life changing opportunity when she hired me as Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader for freshman photography students during my sophomore year. The experience allowed me to share some of the study techniques that I’ve been teaching myself over the years to a group of students. During that same time, I was spending my time working as a student employee at RIT’s Disability Services Office, in addition to being a Resident Advisor (RA) to freshman students.

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The  Supplemental Instruction (SI) Advisory Board at RIT in 2010

These experiences, allowed me to see first hand how education and technology can have such a tremendous impact on peoples lives. At that time (now 9.5 years ago), a switch went off in my brain, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to making education more accessible to others.

When I finished my undergraduate degree, I started in the industry as an Instructional Design Production Assistant where I designed print training materials for instructor led training classes. At the time, it was a good fit for me because of my undergraduate degree in publishing and print media, but in the back of my head, I knew that I wanted to do more. With some major encouragement from my second mom and manager at the time, Dottie LaMark, I decided to apply for my masters and certificate program at Boise State University.

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Showing off training materials with Karen for The Predictive Index’s Instructor Led Training Classes (2016)

It took me 4 years to complete my masters program along with my graduate certificate. I worked full time throughout the length of the program, taking only one class per semester. Over my time in the program, I’ve missed countless nights with friends and family, I spent weekends and evenings doing homework and on calls with classmates. During my most difficult time in the program, I juggled school on top of starting a new job at Pluralsight and recovering from a fractured ankle.  This sometimes meant spending 12 hours a day in front of a computer doing work (At that time, I felt like my soul was going directly into the computer screen). Despite all of the difficulties along the way, I kept pushing through because I believed in the higher mission of making education more accessible.

 

Master Level, Unlocked

To say that i’m most proud of this degree is an understatement. I am now the first person in my family to receive my masters degree. To top it off, I have no additional student debt because of how I took one class per semester and work at such amazing companies.

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Pure joy on graduation day

Overall, my time spent in the program was invaluable. I found something that I never expected to gain, my voice. I’ve come such a long way over the past 4 years. I went from designing print based training materials to now owning a product line at a learning company. I started my blog, spoken at countless conferences and web events, won a 30 under 30 award in learning, and even mentor others in the industry.

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2019 Spring OPWL Graduates with our professors

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My teammate Sabrina & I at graduation (I’ve spent countless hours with her working on projects over the years)

To this day, the words of my father this still echo in my head, that education equals opportunity. To my very core, I believe that education is a fundamental human right and that every person should have access to education and learning opportunities. You should not be bound by mental or physical ability, income level, social status or anything else.

Moving forward, I hope to continue my mission in my current role at Pluralsight. I also hope to spend some much needed down time with friends and family! I’ve made learning my life’s mission and I truly cannot wait to see where I go from here.

 

Authors Note: I owe all of this to my parents, Andrea and Robert Dombrowski who snagged me off the mean streets of Bogota during ’91. My grandparents, Andy, Linda, Marjorie, and Robert. My sister Nicole and my life partner, Scott Edwards.

I also have to thank the countless mentors who have helped me over the past 10 years. They took time out of busy schedules to have mentoring and coaching sessions that have impacted me to my very core. Specifically, Wendy Gilmore, Dottie LaMark, Matt Poepsel, Brian Madge, Maribel Olvera, Lisa Giacumo, Cheryl Lockett Zubak, Krishna Kannan, Sarah Bedrick Neverly, and Michael Riordan.

The Introvert’s Guide to Creating Learning Products: The First 60 days

I say it all the time, but I cannot believe how fast time flies! I started my new role as Product Manager of Pluralsight’s newest product, Role IQ, over 60 days ago!

The move to product management was a very meticulous decision on my part. It took over 6 months of research, networking, interviewing, and a lot of introspection before finally deciding to take the leap to an official PM role. Now with 60 days in the bag, I’m so happy that I decided to make the move. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, but then I remember that things always happen in the time they’re meant to.

 

Off to a rough start

The transition to Product Manager didn’t happen as smoothly as I would’ve liked. A week before my start date, I was scheduled to head into the office to meet some of my new team members. On the way out of the house, I ended up falling down 6 stairs. After falling, I lifted up my leg and noticed my ankle facing the opposite direction. OUCH! A trip to the ER and a dozen X-rays later, I found out my prognosis: a fractured ankle and  3 torn ligaments.

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Left: Immediately after the fall, Right: 2 weeks post-op cast removal

 

The first 60 days in a new role would be a challenge for almost anyone. But throw a broken ankle into the mix and things get taken to a whole other level. To say that I’ve grown personally and professionally while working and recovering over the past 60 days is an understatement. I wanted to take some time to share some lessons I’ve learned while starting my journey creating learning products:

 

Get your hands on the product!

One of the things I did within my first week, was complete a product teardown for Role IQ. A product teardown is when you investigate and reverse engineer the thinking and experience behind a product. This activity gave me a first hand look into the existing functionality of my product before I got too familiar with it’s ins and outs. It also allowed me to open up a more productive dialogue about the product with my team from the very beginning.

 

Start building relationships with all of your stakeholders

I am the absolute epitome of an introvert, so I knew going into my new role that I would have to make an extra effort to meet everyone. Over the first month, I ended up have 30+ virtual 1:1 sessions. I did them based on order of priority starting with my immediate team including developers and UX designer. I then starting meeting with other key stakeholders including other PMs, product marketing, support, and customer success. Once all the initial meet and greets we’re done, I made sure to put reoccurring meetings with stakeholders on my calendar so I’d never have to think twice about who to talk to and when. Due to the size of Pluralsight, I’m still discovering people that would be great connect with about my product. Thats why forming relationships early with folks is so important; whoever you meet with will likely refer you to others.

 

Get aquatinted with your OKRs and performance metrics

My second week on the job was the first week of Q4 and I was lucky enough to have perfectly crafted OKRs (objectives and key results) all ready to go. After reviewing the OKRs with my manager and getting my mind wrapped around them, I set up some time with my team. I held a deep dive session with the Role IQ team to discuss what we planned on accomplishing for the quarter and brainstorm some possible approaches to problems. The time spent discussing the OKRs was invaluable. It made each of us aware of how the product would be measured and what success would look like.

 

Talk to the customer ASAP

Almost all companies these days tout about the importance of “voice of the customer”, but not all practice it. At the end of the day product management is all about solving problems for your customers. How can anyone solve their customer’s problems if they’re not talking to them? Thats why I made it a point to kick off customer calls as soon as possible. Since my product encompasses B2B and B2C markets, that meant hopping on calls with learning and tech leaders inside of enterprise organizations, as well as connecting with the learners themselves.

I followed Pluralsight’s Directed Discovery process which included doing voice of the customer (VOC) exploration calls. I also did some customer confirmation testing (CCT) which included looking at qualitative and quantitative feedback from customers who were already interacting with the product.

In addition to conducting my own research, I listened to customer recordings that took place before I inherited the product. I also sat in on client calls that others we’re conducting. I can honestly say, there really is nothing like hearing feedback directly from the customer. Some of the best insights I’ve heard, have come straight from these sessions and they’ve immediately impacted the future of the product.

 

Have your first win

I knew going into my new role that I wanted to have my first win as soon as possible to prove that I was bringing value to the team. One of my favorite moments was leading my product into an Open Beta where managers and admins could opt into our experience via a banner in the UI. It took a ton of wrangling for it to go live – including our team  finishing up some amazing work on analytics features, working collaboratively with another product team, and leading demos for our product marketing, sales, and presales team. It was the moment that really proved to me that I could be a Product Manager, I was doing it, remotely, and with a broken ankle to-boot!

 

Ask Questions

One of the most powerful things a product manager can do is ask questions. If you hear someone talking about a process or procedure that you’ve never heard of – ask a question. If someone says why they built or do something a certain way – ask a question. You will learn so much about whats going on, how things work, and how someone thinks the way they do about something. Ask anyone and everything – it’s important to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

 

Be patient and take care of yourself

One of the most important things I’ve learned since getting injured is the power of patience. For the past few years, I’ve ran as fast as humanly possible to every goal that I set out for myself. I’ve had mentors and friends tell me to slow down, have more fun, and make time for myself but I never listened. The injury forced me to slow down and be patient with myself and my body. I’ve learned to listen to the signs that I need rest and not feel guilty about sitting on the couch and sleeping on the weekends. At the end of the day, it’s completely impacted my working style and made me a well rounded product manager.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned from Learning 2018

This week, I attended Elliott Masie’s Learning 2018 in Orlando, FL. It was my first time attending the event and to top it off I was apart of the 30 under 30 group. Overall, it was a great experience. For those that haven’t attended Elliott Masie’s Learning conference before, it is 2.5 days long and jammed packed with all things learning. I was definitely nervous to travel over 1,200 miles with my knee scooter (I’m still recovering from my fractured ankle!). Looking back, i’m so happy I decided to get over my fear and make the trek to Florida. It was a great opportunity to connect with others in the industry and hear about some of their experiences. Below are some highlights from the trip:

30 under 30 

The day before the official start to the conference was an entire day dedicated to professional development for the 30 under 30 group. We heard insights from some industry greats including: Elliott Masie, Bob Mosher, Richard Culatta, Bruce Wilkinson, Nigel Eyre, and Jayzen Patria. We even had a CLO panel including Tara Deakin (TD Bank), Rob Lauber (McDonalds), and Martha Soehren (Comcast).

Two things really resonated with me during these sessions, focused on career transitions and continuous learning. At one point Elliott actually said, “Really good people leave Learning and Development for sales or other departments because they’re so good at what they do”. Meanwhile, during the CLO Panel, each learning executive mentioned the importance of continuously challenging yourself when you meet your goals. It is not enough to set a goal and then settle, you much keep stretching yourself outside the box to see how far you can push yourself. Each of them also detailed a major change they made in their career by jumping either industries, roles, or locations.

These are EXACTLY the things that have been ruminating over in my mind when deciding to make the leap to Product Management. Hearing about the importance of challenge and career transitions really made me more confident and happy about all of the changes I’ve been making over the past few months.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpyNeJSnYIL/

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Learning 2018 – 30 under 30 

Industry Trends

I was able to attend over 8 sessions during the conference and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:

Frustration about being order takers

This is definitely nothing new but a common theme I noticed was the frustration among L+D Practitioners had about being order takers from stakeholders within their businesses. Many described hearing things such as “We need a 5 day course in X”, “We need 3 e-learning modules in Y”. I think this really emphasizes the importance of needs assessment by practitioners. It is our duty to partner not only with our stakeholders but learners and really dig down and identify the problems that are taking place so that we can create the best solutions possible to truly impact performance. We need to educate our partners and let them know that training is only one piece of the puzzle and there are many different tools at our disposal. At the end of the day, as learning practitioners we are responsible for helping our learners and ensuring that they’re performing.

 

Analytics aren’t whats coming soon – they’re already here

I attended 2 sessions on learning analytics, metrics, and measurement. I found these sessions particularly interesting because I just released a beta feature for my product which included an analytics dashboard for companies to track metrics on their employees skills assessments. It seemed that many at the conference had no idea where to start with data or were completely overwhelmed with the amount of data they had to shift through.

It really emphasized the importance of being thoughtful about the type of data that we’re collecting to improve performance improvement. Through identifying the KPIs and metrics from the outset of a project, we can make ensure that were continuously tracking progress and determining whether were meeting the goals of our learners and organization. I mean, how else are we going to be able to prove we’re having an impact? I really encourage all practitioners to add metrics as another tool in their toolbox.

 

The Importance of Adopting a Business Mindset

What truly terrified me was the lack of alignment among practitioners whether they consider their learning solutions to be an actual product. I might be biased because of my recent move to product management. However, during the CLO panel I actually posed the question to the executives if they considered the solutions their organizations are creating as being learning products. Each one of them, one by one said no. I couldn’t believe it!  Just sessions earlier, Elliott Masie mentioned the importance of adopting a business mindset within the learning industry.

A product can be considered something that helps a user fulfill a need. As Practitioners, we’re creating learning products whether it’s in the form of elearning, instructor led training, performance support, or something else. We’re trying to help our learners perform better or have some type of performance improvement outcome. I truly cannot stress enough the importance of adopting this mindset. As practitioners, if we consider ourselves as delivering products I think we will think more holistically about the solutions we’re providing. It will also change the way that were creating solutions at a very foundational level.

Overall, Learning 2018 was such a wonderful experience. As always the best part was being able to connect with like minds in the industry. I am so grateful for the connections and conversations that I made over the past few days and I look forward for continuing them for years to come!

Moving from Instructional Design to Learning Experience Design

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the Transitioning from ID to Learning Experience Design session that was part of the Training, Learning, and Development Community Playlist. Matt Sustatia and I spoke about the growing use of the term Learning Experience Design and how Instructional Designers can make the jump to LXD.

The session was absolutely amazing and I couldn’t wait to share some of the insights learned throughout the session!

 

What is Learning Experience Design?

I would define Learning Experience Design as the practice of creating learning experiences that enables learners to achieve a desired performance outcome. Learning Experience Design uses an iterative approach that focuses on understanding the users challenges and experiences to design iterative solutions to help solve their needs.

This doesn’t mean limiting learning experiences to formal learning that take place in a school or classroom. Quite the opposite, learning experiences can take place anywhere; at home, while working, or on the go.

Learning Experience Designers focus on the holistic learning experience and what the learner is going through. This means that rather than simply focusing on designing curriculum or instruction, the learning experience designer will consider the learner and everything they’re experiencing. They’ll then use that information to create solutions such as:

  • content (what does the learner need to do in order to perform a task)
  • the look and feel of the learning experience
  • materials
  • communication about the content
  • how the learner interacts with the content

 

What skills can IDers grow to move into LXD?

With any job, the actual responsibilities that someone carries out can truly vary from company to company. Learning Experience Design is no different!

I made the jump to Learning Experience Design roughly a year ago after moving to the User Experience team within my organization. The move made me responsible for designing in-product learning experiences for users of our software platform. With the transition, I’ve been able to work on some pretty exciting projects like designing in-software user onboarding for our beta software, designing wireframes, and user flows for new features, low fidelity prototypes of product features, and UX Content.

I’ve talked to many other learning experience designers who design all different types of learning experiences including elearning and instructor led training. Regardless of your background, I’ve noticed a few skills that can come in handy with making the transition to learning experience.

 

Practice Design Thinking

Most instructional Designers are very familiar with using the traditional ADDIE model to create learning experiences. Design Thinking is actually an almost identical process – you can see this by simply comparing the ADDIE and Design Thinking graphics below.

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Instructional Design ADDIE Model

 

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Traditional UX Model: Design Thinking (Source)

 

Popularized by Tim Brown, David M Kelly, and Roger Martin; design thinking focuses on using a human-centered approach to solving problems. It’s helpful to take the holistic view of a problem to truly understand all the different aspects that a learner is going through and then determine a solution. Since moving I’ve started using design thinking to craft learning experiences, I’ve been able to iterate quicker and have started developing things like user personas, empathy maps, and journey maps.

 

Brush up on those design skills

I definitely see e-learning design as a huge jumping point into learning experience design. Brushing up on graphic design skills like how to incorporate color, typography, layout into designs will make a huge impact on your work. Interaction design will also have a huge impact on your work. I challenge those looking to make the transition to LXD to begin by thinking about the types of elearning interactions you want to provide your learners with. You may want to consider questions such as:

  • Whats the overall goal of this learning interaction?
  • How is the learner going to move through these screens in my lesson?
  • What happens if they click this button?
  • How will they see the results of this interaction?
  • What types of graphics should I include in this interaction?

 

Change is hard

Everyone knows that change is hard! I can tell you first hand that my transition to our UX team did not come easy. My way of thinking and working completely shifted. It taught me how to incorporate design thinking, user centered design, prototyping and iteration to my approach. I was forced to think more strategically about getting to the root of a users problem and identify their pain points. But with the change also came tons of insecurities, battling perfectionism, and cognitive load. I was fortunate enough to reach out to others in the industry, have supportive coworkers, and read tons of books that helped ease the transition. If you’re feeling hesitant about making the move to learning experience design, don’t be! Feel free to reach out for any tips and tricks as you embark on your journey.

 

Sources

Design Thinking 101. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/design-thinking/

Dombrowski, R. (2018, April 15). Using Design Thinking to Craft Learning Experiences. Retrieved from https://robertamedia.com/2018/04/14/using-design-thinking-to-craft-learning-experiences/

The Training Learning and Development Community (2018, August). Instructional Design Playlist. Retrieved from https://www.crowdcast.io/e/id-playlist/4

Uncovering the power of the journey map

The farther I get into my masters program, the more I realize how quickly 10 weeks can go by. This past semester was an absolute whirlwind – now that I’m more than two weeks out of it, I feel like I finally have some time to share all the cool tidbits that I learned.

This past semester, I took an Advanced Instructional Design course that specifically focused on how to incorporate design thinking into the instructional design process. As expected, it was an absolute dream come true! It made me so much more confident in the skills that I’ve been learning in my LXD role over the past year. It also allowed me to connect with Learning Practitioners who were new to design thinking (queue flash backs to me 9 months ago).

One of my favorite parts of the class was learning more about journey maps. I was pretty much a novice to journey maps before the course. I had assisted our UX Researcher, Zoya, at times when she was constructing an epic journey map for The Predictive Index. Despite that, I had never built a journey map from scratch. The course changed all that and they’re now my go to at work when thinking about designing new user flows or even thinking about client journeys with our product.

 

What is a journey map?

Nielsen Norman Group describes a journey map as a “visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. It’s used for understanding and addressing customer needs and pain points”. My favorite part about a journey map is that it truly combines storytelling with visualization.

Journey maps can be a really helpful tool to put things back into perspective of what the user, customer, or learner is going through. In other words, journey maps are great to use during the empathy stage of design thinking. Overall, they can be used to review the existing state of an experience or when envisioning a future state. Once a journey map is created you’ll be able to identify pain points or areas of opportunity for building better experiences for customers.

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Example Customer Journey Map for Online Travel Agency (Source)

 

Elements of a journey map

The truth is no journey map is the same however, they will include some similar elements:

  • Persona – this will provide insight about who the journey map is about. It may include elements such as a picture and goals/expectations of the person
  • Scenario – the experience you’re going to map. For example, is it an existing process or experience or are you going to be envisioning the future state of something?
  • Phases  – these are touch points that client/user interacts with your product or service.
  • Actions/Mindsets/Emotions – for each touch point, determine the action the user takes, their thoughts, emotional experience and potential opportunities.

 

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Job Applicant Journey Map (Source)

 

Basing the journey on data

Now before you run off and start creating journey maps for all the experiences your customers are going through, you’ll want to ensure that you’re basing them off of data and research. This means getting as close to your user or customer as possible through things like user interviews and surveys. This will help to ensure that the experience you’re mapping is grounded and based on the actual experience your clients are going through.

During the Advanced Instructional Design Course, my teammates and I worked on designing a learning experience for volunteers at a Cat Shelter. We parsed through nearly 200 pages of existing documentation and conducted our own user interviews. Talk about a lot of data! As part of our design solution, we created a journey map for a potential learning experience. This helped our group to envision all of the emotions, goals, motivations, and actions that the learner would potentially go through with our solution. Once we had more insight into the learner, we used all of the information to help us identify potential learning opportunities that would help them along their journey.

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Journey Map for Cat Shelter Volunteers

Overall, I ended up falling in love with journey maps throughout the course of the past semester. They’re another tool, I’m happy to add into my toolbox. I could see them being used by learning designers to gain more insight into learners.

So go on, what’re you waiting for? I hope you give journey maps a try and end up loving them as much as I do!

 

NOTE: If you’re a learning practitioner looking to incorporate design thinking into your process feel free to give me a shout 🙂

 

 

 

 

Lost without a paddle: My journey into the uncharted waters of learning experience design

Anyone looking for L&D jobs over the past few years may have noticed a growing trend – the move away from the label Instructional Designer and move towards Learning Experience Designer.

I experienced this shift first hand after being promoted to Learning Experience Designer within my organization 9 months ago. The move uprooted me from our learning team and placed me right in the middle of our small but mighty cross-functional user experience team.

To say the transition was a challenge is a complete understatement! I very quickly had to begin applying concepts I never encountered before like design thinking, prototyping, and iteration within my content creation process. Despite the initial growing pains, I have now settled firmly into my role in Learning Experience Designer and understand the need for instructional designers to shift to a learning experience design mindset.

What is learning experience design?

I would define Learning Experience Design as the practice of creating learning experiences that enables learners to achieve a desired performance outcome. Learning Experience Design uses an iterative approach that focuses on understanding the users challenges and experiences to design iterative solutions to help solve their needs.

This doesn’t mean limiting learning experiences to formal learning that take place in a school or classroom. Quite the opposite, learning experiences can take place anywhere; at home, while working, or on the go.

Learning Experience Designers focus on the holistic learning experience and what the learner is going through. This means that rather than simply focusing on designing curriculum or instruction, the learning experience designer will consider the learner and everything they’re experiencing. They’ll then use that information to create solutions such as:

  • content (what does the learner need to do in order to perform a task)
  • the look and feel of the learning experience
  • materials
  • communication about the content
  • how the learner interacts with the content

Incorporating learning experience into digital products

If you’re like me, you may not immediately think about learning experience when thinking of the design of digital products. Digital products actually offer a number of learning experiences to customers, ranging from:

  • onboarding
  • learning the interface
  • learning how to interact with the product
  • help & support

Before my jump to LXD, I spent nearly 3 years creating software support content for clients. This ranged from creating help videos, how to articles, getting started guides, and more. During this time, I was often brought in after the software was built to explain to users how to use the system.

My move into learning experience actually transplanted me to the beginning of the design process. Now i’m working on our UX team where we handle designing product concepts that could potentially go within our software platform. This means establishing empathy with our users, gaining an understanding of their problems, and designing solutions to help solve the challenge. My deliverables usually range from creating wireframes, user flows, low fidelity prototypes of product features, and UX content.

I’m very fortunate that my organization is a test bed for new ideas. Since the transition, I’ve been able to work on some pretty exciting projects like designing in-software user onboarding for our beta software, designing wireframes and user flows for new features, and creating support materials for a new beta product.

Overall, the past 9 months have been quite the learning experience. The change taught me how to incorporate design-thinking, user centered design, prototyping, and iteration to my approach. I’ve been forced to think more strategically about getting to the root of a users problem and identify their pain points. This has improved the speed of my design  and allowed me solve our users problems quicker. In a world that is moving faster at every moment, a more strategic and agile design process will be what sets learning design apart from the pack.

Interested in learning more about learning experience? Check out these helpful resources:

Using information mapping to write clearer content

Last month, I sat down with some of my coworkers to officially hand off knowledge base responsibilities. Since transitioning more fully into my LXD role, I haven’t had the bandwidth to manage them anymore. It was a little bitter sweet, but it’s so exciting to see others step up to the plate and expand their skills.

I ended up reviewing some information mapping best practices to get the team more familiar with creating learning content. The session was so energizing! It reminded me of how much I love getting in front of people to share best practices and how much information mapping has helped to craft my content creation process.

What is information mapping?

Information Mapping is a researched based method that helps enable the creation of clear, concise, and focused writing. It allows content creators to put users needs at the forfont of the creation process.

I got trained in the information mapping methodology roughly 2 years ago and it’s helped every type of content I create. Everything from emails, presentations, documentation, help content, knowledge base articles, the sky’s the limit!

Below is an example before and after it went through the information mapping process. As you can see, information mapping can help to make the content more readable and bring important details to the front of the messages you’re crafting.

beforeafterbig3
Information Mapping – Before and After Example

Getting Started with Information Mapping

You don’t have to go through an information mapping training course to start using it! Here’s some guiding principles to help get you started:

Identify audience needs 

Whenever you’re creating content of any type of content, the first thing you’ll want to do is find out as much as you can about your audience. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Are there multiple audiences?
  • What do they need to do?
  • What do they need to KNOW in order to do the task?
  • How will they access the information?

audience

Knowing this will help guide the information you present to your users and make sure that it truly resonates with them.

 

Organize information from the user’s perspective

Once you have a better idea of the content the users will need to know,  it’s time to focus on how you’ll actually present it to your audience.

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 1.25.56 PMBe sure to present the content in the order the users will need to use it. This often means introducing high level conceptual information first, then drilling down into more detailed content or steps later.Take a book for example; they’re often composed of multiple short chapters, rather than one long chapter of content. Each chunk of content should represent a new idea or topic.

 

Help users find what they need

Now that you’ve got your content down, it’s time to make some improvements to ensure that users can find the content they need.

Whenever I’m writing instructions or documents, I’ll add subheaders or descriptors to the content chunks in my document. The subheading should accurately convey what appears in it’s corresponding section. If the user is looking for something specific in your document, they’ll be able to quickly find what they’re looking for within the content.

Another best practice that i’ll do when writing directions is begin all sentences or steps with action verbs. For example, this means starting software how to’s with words such as “Click”, “Enter”, or “Select”. This puts the action that the user needs perform, front and center, ensuring theres absolutely no guess work on their end.

I’ll also emphasize words of importance by using italics, bold, or using all caps. In some cases, I’ll actually insert tips if something is really important to the user (ex: TIP: Changing this field will change all of your admin settings).

Finally, I’ll add supportive graphics throughout the document to help ensure that I get my point across. This means including pictures of software screens, machinery, or tools, you’re expecting the users to assemble or use.

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Example Instructions from The Predictive Index Knowledge Base

 

Putting it in action 

And that’s it! The next time you sit down to craft content, begin to incorporate some of these best practices to start getting your messages across to your users quicker.  So go on, and get your information mapping on!