4 ways to think more like Google and less like an LMS

Take a deep breath and picture the scene: You are seated in a chair. Electrodes are placed on your fingers and pulse points, while the machine hums to life beside you. The examiner asks you to relax so you try and unclench your fists. Here is it, the moment of truth as the questioning begins:

“Where do you go first: your LMS or Google?”

If you answered “LMS”, then that lie detector needle is probably jumping around like an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale. If that needle is not moving, then the lesson here is that you are either very good at Poker, or you’re an LMS whisperer. The sad fact is, no matter how robust and fantastic your learning content is, the LMS is generally a last resort destination when it comes to searching for content, visited only when required to complete some mandatory compliance training.


Finding content on an LMS requires a heroic effort

There are a few reasons why people avoid approaching the LMS. Not surprisingly, the major dissatisfaction with most LMSs is the user experience. Ever seen the TV show Wipeout? Basically, contestants battle through a series of messy, vertigo-inducing obstacle courses in an effort to win a $50,000 prize. Seeking out content on an LMS can be a similar experience. By the time you have leapt over the chasm of the clunky login, grabbed onto the spinning wheel of the archaic search engine, and bungee jumped past the awkward course launch, you are exhausted.

In digital marketing, there is a rule of three: if it takes more than three clicks to get to a piece of content, the chances of anyone reading it are exponentially diminished. What is the number of clicks to actually launch content in an LMS? My latest non-scientific survey of peers put it around 9, sometimes as high as twelve. A Google search takes one or two clicks. I get the resistance that learning is not marketing, but that is still a big difference and it is high time as an industry to look to other best practices when it comes to UX.

Locating workplace content should be as easy as searching Google

But it is not just the LMS platform that discourages learners from considering it as a viable resource. In Wipeout, the contestants still persevere for the prize. If content is excellent, then the ROI on enduring the poor user experience is mitigated (sometimes, not always). So how does an L&D department improve content to compete with a web search engine? Here are 4 tips:

  1. Curate effectively. A Google search will yield thousands of hits, often influenced by search engine optimization. It can take a lot of searching and sifting, which takes time. Fun example, try Googling “buns”. Hits will be everything from small bread rolls, to a hairstyle, to well, derrieres. An astute L&D team vets and refines content to take away much of the guesswork, ensuring the content served is aligned with the company direction. Consider the following: a search on project management yields 230 million results. Curate this down to 15-20 pieces of content aligned to the firm’s preferred methodology means teams are speaking the same project management language. Better synergy; better results.
  2. Stop writing like instructional designers. This is a hard habit to break. The addiction is very real and until we have a telethon to raise much-needed funds, it is up to each of us to make a personal change. The traditional way of writing learning content creates distance between the content and the audience. Rather than starting with “In this module you will learn”, think better headlines or storytelling to gain engagement. Think back to your latest Google search or experience on Netflix or YouTube. The summaries are written to intrigue and foster interest. Compare these to how content is described on your LMS. It is probably a list of learning objectives. There is nothing engaging about those. Spend some time surfing the net and observe the different tones used to make content attractive. Then adopt those techniques for writing learning content.
  3. Link to related articles. This digital technique is often overlooked by L&D, but the lowly article is a very simple, yet quick and effective way to get knowledge-type content out to an audience. Too often we reach for the eLearning module solution, complete with interactivities and a quiz. However, the ROI on a well-written article can be massive. It is the fastest way to obtain content. Not sold? You are reading an article right now and learning something (hopefully). Quick hits of information at a learner’s fingertips are often what is needed, rather than a bloated eLearning module.
  4. Make it quick and easy to locate job information people don’t need to know every day. The attraction of Google is that information is instant and therefore less time is spent on memorization. Think about your mobile. Can you recall, without looking, the phone number for your doctor, or nephew, or BFF? Probably not. That’s because you do not need to dial that number every single time you want to call them. That information does not need to be recalled. An L&D team would be very smart to design according to what needs to be known versus located. Does the audience need to memorize a list or steps, or know how to locate the job aid? Likely the latter, especially if it is an infrequent task. FYI: don’t forget your mother’s phone number. She misses you.

Google will always be a factor in the quest for knowledge. And it should. Videos of kittens and laughing babies make the world go around. But a smart L&D team should be insightful and embrace what is happening online instead of defaulting to the standard LMS way of doing things. So know your audience. Curate and write to engage. Give them what they need in the fastest way possible. Your people and your metrics will thank you.

For more ways to rethink the LMS, check out all of our #rethinktheLMS resources.

Lori is a Senior Learning Strategist, positive disruptor and author of Data-Driven Learning Design. Instead of settling for page-turner learning, Lori designs strategies that combine the formal and informal, social and collaborative, that impact and transform people and organizations. Follow Lori at www.lori.ca or on Twitter @loriniles.

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