• When technology gets in the way

    by  • May 9, 2014 • Learning Technologies • 0 Comments

    Making the move to learning online? Great. Be sure your technologies help and not hinder your learners.

    Making the move to learning online? Great. Be sure your learning technologies help and not hinder your learners.

    Are you going through making your learning technologized? Fantastic. It’s great. Things become simpler to manage, version control and governance become easier. Learners can access things at any time. Repeatability with minor tweaking makes everything cost less. I am all for it.

    I’m all for it so long as it makes good sense. So long as the technologies you are using make the learner experience better, or – at minimum – do not detract from it. In other words – the learner needs to be able to gain the same knowledge before and after the technologizing process.

    Common sense? Possibly. Common practice? unfortunately not.

    Not too long ago I worked with a client who was so keen to move their classroom learning to e-learning modules, that the learning outcomes got lost and the e-learning was almost useless.

    Another client, who recently implemented a new HR system, put together some training materials for educating others on the system and its use. The chose PowerPoint because they were delivering workshops, and were so keen to make these a good example of Good Slide Guides. Although beautiful to look at, they didn’t help to embed the practices the HR team needed from their peers.

    Another example was a conference I recently attended that offered a hashtag, but no one seemed to do anything with it (bar two attendees who used it, and it took us the whole of an hour to stop).

    What do these three stories have in common? The fact that technologies were misused to the point using them made absolutely no contribution to (and even hindered) learner experience and overall understanding.

    It all comes down to Magic

    No it doesn’t, I just think someone will smack me if I used the word “context” one more time…  When it comes to using any form of technology (and let’s assume for a minute that printing is a technology too), you have got to have a very clear idea of what the learner will do with the content. That understanding is meant to drive what the content will actually look like, what it will feel like, what technology will convey it.

    Here are some straight forward lessons learnt:

    System Manuals are not Learning Materials

    They are big, thick, cumbersome and hard to go through. Unless they are very well indexed and clearly written for the most non-technical person in the world, this type of written documentation is useless as a learning aid. Yet, so many people use it as material to build slides for technical training. You may be able to save yourself a lot of time on this one, because slides for technical training is often a distraction. Technical training is at its most effective when people try, and try again.

    Separate your technical documentation from your learning aids. Create one-paged cheat sheets or step-by-step guides that make “getting from A to B” really simple for your learners. If you want to use slides, use them to illustrate the process as a whole and fit the step-by-step guides in.

    Your learning material, on the other hand, should be that “magic”, preferably in the means of scenarios or stories that are taken straight from the learner’s life and work. They need to be able to see how their daily processes come to life with your system.


    Best uses of hashtags in events that I’ve seen involved the twitter feed of the hashtag projected somewhere. It involved promotions – getting people to tweet about it before, publicising when the event is on. It also included the organisers doing something with it — responding, retweeting, favoriting. Give people kudos (in real life and virtual) for interacting. Having a hashtag just so people tweet with it is somewhat pointless.

    In some cases organisers do the hashtag follow-up after the event: they go through what was tweeted, create a storified version of the event’s progress and people’s ideas and impressions. I’ve seen event hashtags used to collect feedback.

    And if you have one, for heaven’s sake, make it short. It’s hard enough to tweet meaningful things with 144 characters (minus your own handler). 20-lettered hashtags make it hard to tweet and harder to type on a device.

    Regressing slightly

    I can write about non-magical e-learning, but I am guessing you, dear readers, know better than that and don’t need me to ley the details for you.

    Instead, I will ask you to think twice before publishing a workbook for your workshops. By definition, a workbook is an interactive aid, so don’t make it a textbook. Make sure that the questions you ask are pertinent to the learning and go beyond ticking boxes of your learning outcomes.

    Challenge your learners to link the theory and learning to their work environment – that’s a sprinkle of Magic to your learning. Help your learners make sense of the knowledge and how it should (or shouldn’t) be applied.

    Use creative images rather than stick figures to make the content work the extra mile.

    If – in the process of doing these things – you feel all this hard work is circumventing something really simple, I would urge to consider whether you need a workbook at all. Perhaps a reference guide or a handout are a better solution.


    When have you seen technologies get in the way of learning? Let us know! comment below.

    If you would like guidance about using technologies for learning in your organisation, please feel free to get in touch.


    Picture credit to budgetstoc via sxc.hu.

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