When we sit down to design a piece of learning, we usually start with the end in mind: what is it that we want people to leave the interaction(s) with?
This helps us dictate the content and the interactions that will cement the new knowledge or behaviour for the learners, or – at the very least – acknowledge those as viable substitutions to what the learners already do.
But what if the knowledge base keeps growing? And what if the behaviours keep changing?
What if the body of reference information that forms the learning interactions is so vast – it’s hard to keep track of? That it’s hard to simplify? That it’s hard to condense?
Learning design as information management
Seemingly, it’s a really simple suggestion to make: make readily available, logically structured, properly tagged information to form a critical part of the learning.
It’s not a new thing – that’s what libraries and on-demand and right-on-time learning are all about.
We can, however, refresh what the on-demand stuff actually looks and feels like and reaffirm its importance, usability, purpose and availability to the learners.
Cheat sheets and technical documentation (out)
The way we used to do things in the learning world is have some e-learning modules with some face-to-face sessions, often with some form of knowledge assessment and technical information on-demand. Sometimes with a bit of on-the-job or coaching on top.
That model works well, and by all means, keep it.
I have absolutely no qualms with it, bar the technical documentation and cheat sheets: they are dichotomous ends of the usefulness scale, and people (being people, I’m not blaming the people!) opt for the thing that will mean least time spent reading.
Personally, I found that cheat sheets method of over-simplifying costs the meaning of the technical information, which results in cheat sheets that are as long as the technical documentation (eek!) or flawed processes (double eek!).
Top Trumps and informality (in)
Here’s an idea for the enhancement: make it informal, possibly fun, possibly not very wordy.
Top Trumps is a concept I’ve recently adopted to create fact sheets for a client is working with.
There is so much information about each element (25-35 pages of technical info per item), that we may wind up with different Top Trumps “decks” for their different uses and purposes.
Most importantly, these virtual cards signpost to specific places in the technical document where learners can read more.
Informality and findability is key
The whole point of this exercise is creating a valid, viable, easily searchable and user-friendly source of knowledge. So when a learner needs to verify a quick fact on the fly, this will be their first port of call.
Much like having Wikis, there is a power in having consumable information in simple language people understand.
So even if you don’t want to go left of centre with a deck of virtual cards, go through your existing information and make them findable, searchable and readable.
A word about infographics
I love them. They are awesome.
They look amazing, they have a load of info on them. But that’s kind of their purpose. They are a fantastic way to convey titbits and general information, but very little of it sticks.
If you want to use an infographic as a way of managing and transferring meaningful information, you need to be very clear and concise with your info and very simple with your design.
(sometimes that’s a tall order – spoken from experience.)
What does this mean for L&D?
I believe that this is a key skill of the L&D professional of the future. L&D professionals will need to be able to understand information: how it is consumed by humans, how it is stored in machines. How it is searched, how it is managed, how it is crowd-sourced and crowd-verified.
L&D professionals will need to learn to manage volumes of information and make those volumes simple to understand and retain, simple to search and find and interlink them to other sources of knowledge.
Information management and analytics
As a side note, I also think that there is also a key opportunity to understanding the reach (and possibly impact) of well managed information.
This is akin to understanding online memes and website analytics: tracking the exposure to information, the recurring exposure to information by the same individuals, understanding information dispersal, understanding organisational preferences and – in true Big Data style – overlaying that with KPIs that may suggest a link to a change in skill or behaviour.
What do you think? Is information management key part of effective learning? Is it part of your blend?
Image credit to Pawe³ Sobociñski via freeimages.com.