By Rory Christian
Information is everywhere, and accessible anywhere, spilling out of the circuitry of every tablet and smartphone in your company. People are looking at more information at work and at home more often than ever before.
Companies are finding new ways of using mobile and cloud technologies to create flexible working environments to empower employees, increase productivity, and reduce the costs that come with the need for office space.
Think about engineers using mobile devices to view and record component data while they carry out remote asset maintenance; the virtual meetings happening in airports, hotels, coffee shops, conference centers, and restaurants; and the final rehearsal for a sales pitch that takes place in a parking lot just before you “go on stage.”
Barriers to Mobile Learning
The effects on the eLearning and wider sales enablement industry are huge, this is because it’s not just the delivery mechanism that’s been disrupted.
The creation of a new segment of learners—the mobile, client-facing, sales and service staff by which your customer relationships depend—demands a fundamental shift in the way training should be designed and delivered to these kinds of employees.
Recent research from Towards Maturity, In-Focus: The Consumer Learner at Work, supports this view. While 80 percent of respondents view online learning in a positive light, 53 percent cited location or IT as a barrier, and 42 percent think that their company provides relevant online learning for their job.
Whether you’re deskbound or out on the road visiting clients, companies have adopted a flexible IT infrastructure that’s able to fit the needs of different users, and the onus falls on training content providers to embrace the way learners are using the Internet and to package content accordingly.
How MicroLearning Can Help
This new approach centers on content that is mobile friendly, “bite-sized,” and highly focused.
The first point is mobility. The ultimate aim is to empower employees and increase productivity through “anyplace/anytime” access to content. Of course, there’s research suggesting that content is as much as 25 percent more taxing to read on a screen than in a book—something that definitely rings true in my experience, which is where the next two characteristics fit in.
Second, bite-sized. Getting a week-long course down to a day, or even an hour, is often too long for client-facing staff who prefer to access training during a specific ‘moment of need’—in the parking lot ten minutes before a big pitch—to use our prior example. MicroLearning breaks subjects down into sessions of five to ten minutes—sometimes even shorter, nicely side-stepping the inherent limitations of our ever-shortening attention spans.
Finally, highly focused content is essential to MicroLearning. In every session, the depth of the “knowledge dive” is dictated by the learner. Giving employees the freedom to customize their own learning experience gives traditional learning a much-needed shot in the arm.
Typically, content is delivered in video format, podcasts, interactive mobile applications, and other formats that align with the goal of “just-in-time” support and allow workers to quickly apply new knowledge and skills to real life situations.
There are Limitations
I recently found myself nodding in agreement with an article by the Association for Talent Development, Is Microlearning a Myth?, by Sharon Boller, that points out a series of possible weaknesses in the MicroLearning model—that the approach doesn’t necessarily allow learners to become fluent in wider scope topics.
Microsoft Excel tutorials, TEDTalk videos, and language lessons are one thing. But, how could MicroLearning fit in when we’re helping staff learn about subjects as broad and complex as, say, aerospace and defense, or oil and gas?
Is there an approach to MicroLearning that will get a sales rep up to speed quickly and embed the depth of knowledge they need to be able to understand their clients’ industry issues, and role-specific responsibilities, and be able to ‘swing from branch to branch’ as the sales conversation develops?
The problem is not how to break the content up—that’s the easy part. The issue is finding a way to retain the subject ecosystems salespeople need to know before they engage in business conversations with senior executives.
The value of industry training lies in helping companies move their sales force away from talking to clients in terms of their own products and services, and towards talking about business outcomes and solutions.
2015 Forrester research, Why Buyers Don’t Want To Meet Your Salespeople And What To Do About It, by Mark Lindwall, demonstrates perfectly how content can fit into sales enablement efforts—and it’s not the only evidence of the worrying reality.
Supporting it is IDC research on sales enablement, which indicates that less than half of the buyers they interviewed considered their own sales representatives to be very prepared for an initial meeting.
There are plenty of salespeople constrained not by sales skills, but by lack of knowledge of their prospects’ industries. They range from new hires that need to hit the ground running to experienced representatives assigned to a new account in an industry they’ve never worked in before.
Traditional chapter-driven, linear courses don’t fit the bill for the learner who’s traveling between client sites all day.
Conversely, simply calling each two minute MicroLearning section a lecture, and giving it a name doesn’t seem to retain the value of the content. What’s needed is a MicroLearning concept that provides real value.
The Role of Industry Knowledge
Let’s step back and try to understand the underlying needs. Imagine a sales representative from an IT vendor has an initial meeting with an oil and gas client. He might have watched a short video about big data. He might even have watched an overview of upstream operations. But when you’re sitting in front of the buyer, understanding concepts without knowing how they fit together won’t give you the confidence and credibility you need to hold your own in a sales discussion.
As we can see from the Forrester and IDC research, effective selling comes, in part, from becoming fluent in a new language of industry-specific terms, using these terms to position your offer in the context of real world business problems, anticipating the direction the discussion is headed, and guiding the discussion towards areas in which your offering has a proven record of delivering benefits.
Therefore, there was no way that traditional MicroLearning could help sales representatives form the mental maps they needed to keep pace if the conversation shifted to the digital oilfield, low oil prices, rising production costs, falling EROEI, the cost of complying with regulations—and so on. A stronger structure is needed.
The Birth of the Industry Wiki
And so ideas for videos, games, applications, podcasts, and all the other flashy delivery technologies went by the wayside.
In the end, the solution to this tricky problem was as simple as it is effective. A suite of industry-specific Wikis provides bite-sized, memorable information to meet sales goals.
It ultimately offers eLearning that presents content in a familiar and interactive learning tool. It retains the mobile-responsive, bite-sized, and non-linear learning dynamic that make MicroLearning so effective; solves the context problem by creating subject ecosystems—intuitively linking related topics rather than displaying them in isolation; handles continuous, real-time updates more easily than traditional material delivered under the control of a Learning Management System.; acts as effective content structures, so that the connected sales rep with just 15 minutes before a meeting can find a set of industry-relevant bullet points to use; and ultimately, has the potential to be customized and connected to a seller company’s own product information.
In combining on demand learning with higher level context, Wikis are a great learning resource, offering new ways to help mobile, connected sellers meet and exceed the expectations of increasingly demanding buyers. SW
Rory Christian is a senior consultant for the market research, industry analysis, and consulting firm Cambashi. He manages their industry training business. He has several years of experience designing and delivering ERP training workshops in the public sector, as well as working in an ERP implementation and business process analysis role.
Jul2016, Software Magazine