I left my dream job 9 months ago and I’m still healing

After a long and winding career journey (from eLearning designer, PM, to UXer), during March 2020, I landed myself my dream role. I was leading research at one of the longest running edtech companies in the world during one of the most transformational periods of education. A company that set me out on my very own career path years earlier. It felt like my entire career had led me to that moment.

I onboarded into my role at the end of March 2020 (back when COVID was still in its infancy). From the moment I stepped foot into my role, I hit the ground running. I spent my time building partnerships with team members, talking to customers, evangelizing what I was learning, and training my teammates on the value of being customer-centric. It was during one of the most tumultuous times in online education and I was fully aware of it. I wanted to do anything and everything I could to advocate for learners and their experiences. 

The trouble started during Summer 2020 when I was approached by a university to become a potential adjunct professor.  It was such a transformational time in education. I wanted to give all that I could to the mission and put my skills to use; not only inside my organization, but outside as well. I reached out to HR at the company to see if I could pursue the option of being an adjunct. After weeks of talks and synching with legal, I was informed that employees were strictly prohibited from doing any outside knowledge sharing with others.

My heart was completely shattered. How could a learning company that talked about democratizing education have an archaic policy that said it’s employees couldn’t teach? It truly didn’t make sense to me. 

After that moment, I knew the ball was in my court. I took a step back and tried to shift perspectives and think of alternatives as much as possible. I consulted with a selected group of friends and I only saw one path forward. I made the abrupt decision to step down from my role and the request of management, I never shared the real reason why I left with many of my team members or wider friend group. 

Why leave?

For over ten years, teaching and learning has become the foundation of who I am.  To be an educator is to be of service. It is one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have in life. Teaching is also a beautiful way to continue deepening your own personal practice.

When I was told that continuing to work at a company I loved would mean not teaching, it felt like going against who I was as a person. It felt like I would be repressing a piece of my soul and no job is worth that.

The Fallout 

After leaving, I spent a few months dancing through some consulting gigs trying to figure out my next steps. When I had began in 2020, I went into the role thinking I’d be there for at least a few years and in the blink of an eye it had ended. 

My experience at the employer always felt unfinished. I felt shame and frustration that I never got to stay and realize the full vision that I set forth. At the same time, I felt betrayed by a company I had given so much to. I kept asking myself whether it was a mistake to leave or not. It became difficult to trust myself and my own decisions. 

After leaving, even though I had left the role, I saw my passion of teaching start to fade.  I stopped writing on my personal blog and stopped creating content. I questioned whether I was even worthy enough to share things with others. 

Why share now?

Last weekend I watched the documentary The Wisdom of Trauma and the Dr. Gabor Mate described trauma not as the bad things that happen to you, but rather what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you. In other words, trauma means disconnecting from our authentic selves. 

In that moment it hit me. I had been through a workplace trauma. I was still responding like the threat was still there even though it was removed. 

The truth is our capitalistic societies put profit and growth over everything, including the employees who get the organizations to where they are. As someone with a background in organizational development, I’ve had some hard realizations over the past few months. For instance, despite all of our good intentions that departments like HR and legal are there for one simple thing: to protect the business. 

At the same time, I’ve also been spent the last few months reading countless articles about the experiences of women of color In the workplace. From Timnit Gebru, Vivianne Castillo, and most recently Naomi Osaka. Their experiences have showed me that I am not alone. That no job is worth giving up a piece of your soul.

The unfortunate reality is that is not the first workplace trauma that I’ve been through and it likely wont be the last. Above all, it has taught me about the value of sticking to your instincts even in times of difficulty. It has taught me the importance of gauging company values before joining a team – not only what is said, but the actions that are carried out on a daily basis.

The truth is, I’m still healing from my experience. I’m 4 weeks into adjuncting a summer course for the OPWL program at BSU and I’m learning to share, coach, and guide others again. I am truly grateful for the students. Each time after I speak with a student from the program, I always make sure to pause and find myself thinking “This is what it’s all about”.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones way”

Vikor e. frankl

Hitting the ground running as a research team of one

When I’ve joined previous companies, research was done in fits and starts by designers and sometimes product managers. I was often brought in to help the team and wider organization take a more strategic approach to the research they were conducting.

If you’re a researcher whose tasked with building the research function from the ground up, your first few weeks are a great opportunity to understand what the research landscape looks like on your new team.

Below are some questions that I have found extremely powerful when getting up to speed in new research roles!

What does the organization currently know about its customers?

The first thing you want to do on your new team is figure out where the bodies are buried. In other words, what existing knowledge does your team have around it’s customer base? This could mean digging through old research reports, product specs, or reviewing survey data. You may stumble across everything from competitive analysis reports, metrics dashboards, sales personas, and more. Remember that previous research may not have been led by designers. Be sure to connect with your cross-functional teammates from product, customer success, marketing and even sales. Information will likely be scattered across many folders and google drives so come with a shovel and alot of patience.

As you come across findings, reflect on the themes that start to emerge. Were the insights gathered as 1-up requests? Are they more tactical vs. strategic? What decisions did the insights help inform? Are the insights still being used?

During one of my most recent consulting projects, I actually created a lean canvas artifact to help visualize what the company already knew about its core customers and product lines. This allowed me to have better conversations with my stakeholders while I was onboarding.

Who are your partners?

Whenever you join a new team, you’ll want to get a sense of how the team is structured and how decisions are made. If you’re lucky, your new team might have an org chart where you can browse titles and names of your teammates. If not, you might have to do some digging. Start by carving out time during your first week to meet with the people you’ll work with most frequently. If you’re working in an embedded team, that would mean starting with the PM, UX Designer, or engineers. If you’re servicing multiple teams, start with your design peers and move out to PMs and any other stakeholders from there.

Talk to as many people from as many different functions as you can to understand what their role is and how research can help make their lives easier. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised with how many cross-functional partnerships, I’ve been able to have flourish within my first few days and weeks on a new team.

Ask questions like:

  • What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?
  • What are some key initiatives you’re currently working on?
  • How have you worked with individuals and teams in the past?
  • Have you ever worked with a UX Researcher before?
  • How would you describe the companies feelings about the state of UX research?
  • Based on your personal experiences, what are your feelings around UX research?
  • What are the hopes and dreams for research moving forward?
  • How do you envision working with UX research?
  • Whats your level of comfort and experience with research?

At the end of your conversations, be sure to ask your new teammates if theres anyone else you should connect with. I’ve been given introductions to many team experts through word of mouth over the years.

What value can research drive?

Once you have a better understanding of the makeup of your team and perceptions of research, you can start to dig into the overall value and impact that research can drive. At this stage, I’ll usually take some time to understand what matters most to my new team members, what keeps them up at night, and how research can help to lighten the load.

Considering asking things like:

  • What are the biggest opportunities for the business? Gaps?
  • What are some of the biggest questions you have about our customers?
  • How would having answers to these questions influence the work you’re trying to do?
  • What skills are individuals and teams looking to have around research?
  • Where can research help to streamline how we connect with customers?

Putting it all together

Building a new research team from the ground up isn’t for the faint of heart. Use all of the information you gathered to help inform a preliminary working model inside of your new team. Remember that cultural shifts and forming new ways of working takes time. With your new found insights, you’ll be well on your way with creating a culture of customer centricity on your team!

Learning Leaps Part 5: Incorporating learning strategy while building products

Welcome to another edition of Learning Leaps, where I’ll be sharing lessons learned from my first 16 months as a product manager at Pluralsight. 

Since transitioning into Product Management, one of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn was about the difference between learning strategy and product strategy. Thats why for this final edition of Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look into the need for learning strategy to be incorporated in technology products.

Whats in a strategy anyway?

Many organizations, especially those in the technology space, focus on the importance of product strategies to help drive their decision making. For those unfamiliar, a product strategy can be defined as a set of decisions and priorities that a company focuses on in order to achieve a shared vision that wins with the users of its products (thanks to my good friend Jess Kadar for this concise definition!).

During my time in the industry, I’ve sat through my fair share of product strategy sessions. These meetings would usually include some sort of discussion about the company mission and vision, OKRs, and even product roadmaps. These sessions were great exercises for the company to illustrate why they were focusing on specific areas of investment. The outcome of the meetings would often empower product teams to drive the specific areas that they oversaw. Despite this, the more I sat in on these discussions, the more I noticed learning strategy not being considered during the creation of technology products (even when creating learning products).

For those unfamiliar, learning strategy can be defined as a set of decisions, techniques, procedures, and processes that learning creators can use to promote desired learning outcomes. As a learning strategist, I’m often thinking about the learning outcomes I’m looking to drive and the best way to deliver them. In other words, I consider things like learner goals and objectives so that I can determine the types of content or activities to help influence a learners knowledge, skills, and behavior.

Learning and product strategy are different yet intertwined

Over the years, the general theme I noticed in the industry is that product strategy and design are often driven by market and customer needs while learning strategy is driven by theory and research (Note: this is an oversimplification and I’m happy to dive deeper with anyone who may be discussing more of the intricacies).

Theres a few problems with this approach. First, as Clark Quinn mentions in Where is the Learning Science in Technology Products?, there is a documented disconnect between what learners think is good for their learning and what actually works. This is the same way that customers will ask for things that they think they want but it still may not get to the root cause of what they actually need.

Second, this approach leads me to think about the ancient qualitative vs. quantitative research debate that happens in product and UX communities. It should not be one or the other but rather a blending of the two or a mixed-methods approach.

What i’m recommending is that learning strategy should be considered an equally as important apart of a business as product strategy. If you look into the market, the best learning and educational products have a solid foundation of learning strategy. To put it succinctly, if you’re building a product to help people learn, you have to know how they learn.

Balancing customer needs with learning science

So whats the best way to balance your customer needs with learning strategy? Heres a few tips to get you started:

Connect with people who have learning expertise

If you don’t have a background in learning, thats okay! You can connect with folks who already have some inside of your organization. These individuals might be sitting on your learning and development, UX, or even product teams. They’ll be familiar with learning theories and models that could help to influence the success of your learning product. Use them!

Incorporate learning research while making product decisions

As a PM with a background in learning, I often lead and conduct my own learning research alongside the product discovery process. This often means leading mixed method research which include surveys, conducting user interviews, or prototype testing. At the same time if I have a specific research question in mind, I’ll look at existing learning research to see what it was says. I’ll incorporate this research into any synthesis and consider it when making any product decisions with my team.

Build out a center of learning research

Depending upon the size of your learning product and organization, it might be worth investing in a center of learning research. Many of the larger learning companies in the industry such as Pearson, edX, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have done just this. These centers often focus on staying up to date with the latest learning research and techniques in addition to conducting efficacy studies among customers to prove that learning outcomes are indeed happening.

Do you have any tips on how technology platforms can incorporate more learning science into the experiences they’re building? Post them in the comments below!

Learning Leaps Part 1: Tips for creating a culture of learning in the workplace

16 months ago, I made the decision to make a huge leap in my learning career and move into Product Management. 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 over the past year and one of the major themes I’ve heard from tech and learning leaders is about their desire to create a culture of learning inside of their organization. This should come as no surprise to many practitioners in the field as the phrase culture of learning has become synonymous with increased employee retention and engagement inside of today’s organizations.

That’s why for this weeks Learning Leaps, I’ll be taking a deeper look to identify what exactly a culture of learning is and provide some tips you can take to get started creating one inside of your organization.

A Culture of Learning: Defined

It’s no secret that technology has had a major impact on today’s workforce. It has changed everything from the way we work, how we work, and where we work; inevitability impacting how we learn and perform on the job. Gone are the days that learning takes place in the form of a single training event. The paradigm has shifted to supporting employees during the flow of work. Thats why it’s more important than ever that organizations support a culture of learning for their employees. A culture of learning is one where employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve their individual and organizational performance. Ideally, an organization should have values, practices, and processes that supports this for their employees.

A culture of learning can look different depending upon the type of organization. Despite this, I’ve noticed some reoccurring trends that have come up in my conversations with customers during my time at Pluralsight. Below are a few tips to help get you started creating a culture of learning inside of your organization.

Tips for Creating a Culture of Learning

Build a foundation of trust

The foundation to any great culture depends on the basis of trust. If you don’t have trust, all other efforts are fruitless. That’s why if you’re building a culture of learning inside of your organization, the first step is to ensure that it’s safe for all your employees (regardless of rank) to make mistakes.

One of the main company values at The Predictive Index, is errors of action are better than errors of inaction. During my 3.5 years there, hearing this phrase empowered employees like myself to dive steadfast into challenges no matter how large the size. If mistakes we’re made along the way, we celebrated them and shared lessons learned with others. I frequently witnessed executive level employees get in front of the entire company and share stories about how projects went awry and how they might approach things differently moving forward. This cultural value of trust and vulnerability is one key element to building a culture of learning and should be embodied at every level of the organization.

Empower learners to take control of their professional development journey.

I’m a big advocate of the belief that career ladders are becoming somewhat obsolete. Employees are no longer staying in traditional career paths for 20-30 years. Rather, it’s more common to see employees do career pivots. Take me for example, after 8 years as a learning experience designer, I decided to take a leap and move into a Product Management role. I was able to bring skills from my previous role and apply them to my new position. I also had many skills I’ve had to pick up along the way.

During my time at Pluralsight, I’ve spoken to many learners looking to expand their technology skills in hope of transitioning into a new career. Thats why it’s important for organizations to empower their employees to take control of their personal learning paths. The employees themselves are the ones who know what skills they’re looking to expand and grow. As learning practitioners and managers, we can learn these by simply speaking directly with learners, either through 1:1 conversations or surveys.

Arm managers with coaching skills

Managers are often on the front lines helping their employees learn the skills they need in order to perform on the job. In organizations where there is a culture of learning, managers have the opportunity to adopt a coaching approach to managing. A coaching approach means enabling employees to identify problems, brainstorming solutions, and empowering them to success. This means that as learning practitioners, we need to equip managers with techniques on how to provide feedback. This could be in the form of discussion guides or reflective questions to help guide their conversations with employees.

Encourage expertise and mentorship

One of the biggest challenges organizations experience related to learning experiences is creating actual content and materials. One of the biggest untapped resources are subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs are often passionate about a skill or topic area and enjoy sharing their experiences with others. Pull these individuals into your initiatives and empower them to share their knowledge with others. At Pluralsight, we actually rely on our network of Authors to create content for learners looking to expand their technology skills. I’ve also talked to many organizations that have even created mentorship programs where experts are paired with beginners as they begin developing skills in a particular subject area.

Set aside time to learn

One of the biggest struggles I’ve heard from many of Pluralsight’s customers is their inability to find time to learn. With an increase on their demand for time and growing responsibilities on the job, who can really blame them? If you’re a part of an organization, developing a learning culture, you must be an advocate for learning time. Your employees should feel empowered and encouraged to take time out of their day to brush up on their skills. My team at Pluralsight blocks off 4 hours of learning time at the same time each week to do just this. This ensures that everyone knows they have the time they need to continue skilling up in areas that matter to them.

Make learning accessible

Modern workplace learning means recognizing that learning is a continuous process that happens in the flow of work. As learning practitioners, this means that we need to make learning content as accessible as possible to meet learners where they are, rather than making them to come to us. This might mean adopting an on-demand learning platform that allows employees to engage in learning experiences when they want to.

If you have a learning technology platform, it might mean choosing a solution that optimizes the learner experience like mobile access and single sign on. This could also mean supporting informal learning methods like learners sharing articles or chatting about new topics or skills. Overall, the learning experience should be intuitive, not arduous.

Support social learning

By our very nature, humans are social creatures. We naturally love to chat about our ideas, share resources, and hear other perspectives. As learning practitioners, we should nurture these qualities inside of our organizations. One of my favorite examples of social learning is being carried out by my favorite supermarket chain, Wegmans. During Pluralsight Live 2019, Scott Root shared insights about how Wegmans hosts monthly challenges, hackathons, and coffee hours with employees who engage in their Developer Fitness program. These social learning experiences led to increased employee satisfaction and skills acquisition across those involved in the program.

Encourage stretch opportunities for employees

One great practice that organizations with a culture of learning often do is provide stretch opportunities for employees. This means providing employees with a safe environment to fail or test out their new skills. In many of the organizations I’ve worked at, I’ve often been placed on a tiger team where I’m able to attack a large business problem for the organization. These projects have always provided me the opportunity to stretch myself and become more confident in my new found skills. This approach could also be formalized in the form of supporting career transitions and allowing internal mobility for employees inside of your organization.

Do you have any tips for others on how to encourage a culture of learning inside of their organization? Post them in the comments below!

Be sure to check out next week’s Learning Leaps where we’ll be diving into what collaboration looks like when creating learning products.

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!

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!

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.

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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!