Why elearning still has the power to transform

Pawn casting a shadow of a king

Over the past few years, many people have been questioning the value of elearning courses – including people within the industry itself. With so many ways in which organisations can now deliver learning, what use is there in an overlong ‘click-next’ SCORM package?

A recent data privacy course we designed is a prime demonstration of the vital role elearning still has to play; one that can’t be replicated by other means. The true power of elearning is to creating powerful, behaviour-changing moments of insight on a wide scale that deliver realisations and transformations.  This is exactly what was required with the introduction of GDPR legislation.

Momentous learning

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments, they define tripping over the truth as an “insight that packs an emotional wallop,” and say that “When you have a sudden realisation, one that you know viscerally is right, you’ve tripped over the truth.”

I’m sure you’ve all experienced these serendipitous moments throughout your lives, where your perspective has changed in an instant. But moments of insight aren’t always serendipitous. They can be engineered in ordinary organisational situations.

An example of this comes from this unassuming figure, Scott Guthrie:

Scott Guthrie

This is Scott Guthrie and in 2011, he was tasked with leading Microsoft’s fast-growing cloud computing service, called Azure.

He went out into the field to get customer’s feedback, and one thing became very clear. The Azure technology was good, but it was hard to use. Guthrie knew Azure wouldn’t be able to meet its growth targets until it was much more customer-friendly. So what did he do to change things?

He called an off-site meeting with senior managers and gave them the challenge of building an application in Azure, just as one of their customers might.

This challenge wasn’t meant to be difficult, but the team struggled. Some execs couldn’t use certain features, and others couldn’t even work out how to sign up.

As a result, the team, slightly embarrassed by the revelations resolved to fix the problems, and by the second day, they built a plan to rebuild Azure.

The interesting thing about Guthrie’s approach is that he didn’t share his findings from his meetings with customers. Instead, he created a situation where his audience could replicate his discovery, making it their own insight. The “aha” moment happened in the minds of the audience. And once the problems became vivid in their minds, their thoughts immediately turned to solutions.

The convenient truth

In The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath lay out a three part blueprint for when we want people to confront an uncomfortable truth:

  1. Clear insight: you know the truth you want to share
  2. Compressed in time: The realisation happens fast, taking minutes or hours, not weeks or months
  3. Discovered by the audience itself: The audience discovers the truth for themselves and are motivated to find solutions

And this is exactly what we did in our elearning solution.

We used this recipe to create an overarching narrative that dramatised the problem of poor data handling to help people trip over the truth and subsequently alter their behaviour.

The truth we wanted to share: Causing a data breach isn’t a remote possibility. It’s an ever-present danger that only personal accountability can counter.

In this overarching story we needed to compel people to trip over the truth and overturn their natural bias towards optimism in relation to data privacy.

We used two behavioural science tactics:

  • The availability heuristic: make past events more easily retrievable to one’s memory
  • Loss aversion: highlight losses that are likely to occur based on bad events

We created an overarching narrative that employed these two behavioural techniques and placed the learner at the centre of the action to immediately hook them.

Similar to the experience Guthrie created for the Azure team, we gave learners a first-hand experience of the consequences of data misuse from a consumer perspective to elicit a strong emotional reaction. This leads learners to reflect on how they, as representatives of the organisation, should handle people’s data.

By creating an experience that was disruptive, it led people to reconsider their entire outlook, and emerge from the other side of that disruption with an enhanced perspective on the problem, and a motivation to find solutions.

To find out how to build this kind of transformative learning into your learning strategy, check out our essential Digital disruption survival kit here.

About the author

James Tyas - Instructional designer
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