The consumerisation of learning technology

March 19, 2019

How different are time poor, busy employees to time-poor, busy consumers? It’s a trick question: the answer is that they aren’t different. But they are when it comes to technology. Consumer technology is designed and built with the user at the centre of the design process. This focus on the user experience (UX) helps explain why consumer technology works so well for us – it is easy to use even when we are busy and time poor. Think Amazon, Facebook, Google, Spotify and Youtube, for example. All are so much easier to use than the corporate technology most employees have to use for work.

As user experience experts, the Nielsen Norman Group, says, “The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother. Next comes simplicity and elegance that produce products that are a joy to own, a joy to use.”

User experience design has only relatively recently been talked about in learning technology. But that is now changing as technology providers start to talk about the ‘Netflix effect’ and its easy to use visual interface.

But is this expectation for great UX design in learning technologies masking some more thorny issues? Simply having great UX might not be enough. Here’s why:

The context for corporate learning technologies is complex. There is a tension between what the business needs technology to do (compliance, for example) versus what individuals expect (a personalised Amazon-like experience). When technologies are required to perform multiple functions it can be hard to deliver a simple user experience.

So why not develop an ecosystem of tools and services that perform one function really well? That doesn’t get rid of the UX challenge. How can you create a simple, easy to use user interface for multiple technology solutions?

Add in to the mix that L&D teams want technology to put learning seamlessly into the flow of work. Depending on the type of work and type of learning, the act of delivering the right information at the right time becomes a huge challenge in itself. Integrating new and old technologies makes this harder still. And that’s without the great UX.

And finally, there is the end user – the learner. As organisations look to enable more self-directed learning, so employees will reasonably expect more from learning technologies. That’s fine except that we are back to the challenge of juggling the multiple needs and priorities of the business and employees. These are complex and competing needs that consumer technologies do not have to deal with.

So what’s the answer here? Clearly employees expect a better experience from workplace technologies. Consumer technologies have changed those expectations for ever and organisations must make a great user experience a part of their offerings. The focus on the interface will have to be balanced with ensuring that technology provides what employees need, when they need it. That means at the point of need and in the flow of work. Will employees need a Netflix experience for that? Possibly, possibly not.

The consumerisation of technology has raised employees’ expectations for workplace technology. Those expectations provide a double edged sword for learning technologies: provide a great user experience and deliver the right information at the right time, across a range of communication channels and devices. That’s a difficult balance to maintain but it’s not impossible.

To get a better sense of how L&D can strike the right balance, take a look at the marketing function. Marketing faces similar challenges around delivering a consumer-grade experience across multiple channels. Marketing teams succeed by focusing on delivering the right experience via the right channel. How do they do that? By focusing on the data. Engagement is key to marketing success, which is why marketing teams measure so many user interactions.

Using data to understand what works will help learning teams understand where employees stop engaging with the technology. The solution might be better UX but it might not. The key is to have faith in what your data is telling you and design based on those insights.

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