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Confessions of a newfound LXer – episode 1

Perrin Rowland LX Practice 0 Comments

This is a guest blog post by Perrin Rowland. Perrin is the elearning project director for the Intueri Education Group, previously she was the Learning Technologies Team Leader for the Waitemata District Health Board in Auckland, NZ. Despite having the loudest laugh in any room, Perrin also makes a mean Carnitas. You can find her on twitter as @perrinia.

I’m going to admit something right off the bat. I do not have a background in education.  Instead, I ended up in Learning Technologies because of a seat I took on a bus.

I was in Auckland doing my Masters (I’m originally from NY, USA), and I happened to sit down next to a fellow American. We started talking. I was looking for a job and she worked on the LMS used by my university. The next thing I knew, I was training to work in the help centre to support staff in developing online course solutions. That was 10 years ago and, oddly, I am still helping educators develop online learning.

Odd because my  background is in User Experience design, commonly shortened to UX. Before I came to NZ, I helped build a lot of websites for a lot of different companies. As I moved into healthcare and education, I’ve been bringing what I know to this space.  So at the invite of Joyce and the LXDesign.co team I’m going to share our adventures and findings as we began applying UX practices to traditional learning design methods in this blog series

Like a confessional, this will be a warts-and-all telling of the failures, missteps and victories as we started forging a new path towards our goal: to create training that solved problems and improved practice.

That strengthened our organisation.

That saved the world.

Saved our souls.

Mo’ Training; Mo’ Problems

This story begins in a Learning Technologies room in a hospital in urban New Zealand. Peter Jackson hasn’t filmed this part of the country yet and I am not sure it will be on any future call list. The room has worn carpet and windows that are sealed shut except for one that is only reachable by standing on your toes in the middle of the workroom table. The first time our Health and Safety SME saw this, she had a fit. We were lucky we had just finished a resuscitation module.

Like the room, the online learning programme was also due a makeover. A dilapidated LMS held about 60 courses built in outdated software, a broken waterfall process [note: I am not saying that the waterfall method is broken] had about 25 projects trapped in various stages of development with busy SMEs, we identified seriously lousy compliance rates, and a central database incapable of providing clear reports. We had an end-to-end problem: ineffective and expensive learning was being developed for a hard to use LMS that wasn’t integrated with a working central management system.

Meanwhile, we were still trying to clear the development backlog. Because there was such a long wait time for development, SMEs had moved onto different projects. We cancelled about half of the requests for learning because no one could remember why they wanted it. Those that did remember didn’t have the capacity to provide us with information. The process we followed meant that we spent weeks in revision zombie apocalypse. When we finally did finish an elearning module – it failed to get clinical sign-off.

Seriously. It happened twice.

However, I was beginning to have a bigger concern. The consistent and constant failures were beginning to take a toll – on me, the team, and my manager. I began to wonder if we had the resilience to actually fix any of these issues – and if I could convince our organisation to give us the time or the resources to do so.

LX saved a good portion of the day

There’s a saying that ballerinas always return to the barre. Well, UXers always return to the experience.  Specifically they return to the ‘beginning’  or the new user experience.

We were in the middle of a design process that was sinking us. We needed to go back and imagine a space that would work for what we wanted to do.

Applying UX methodology to solve learning issues made a lot of sense. User Experience evolved and emerged as a discipline and an approach designed to solve problems such as engagement, usability, communication and collaboration. It bases these solutions on a foundation of research, testing, analysis, reflection and evaluation.

Without over-thinking, we began to develop an LX approach.

So we needed to ask ourselves a lot of questions. Here are the top 5:

  1. What are we really trying to do? Keep unpacking that.
  2. Identify the core issues – Why are we failing? What, precisely, is failing?
  3. Where can we affect change?
  4. What action should we take to create change?
  5. How will we know if it worked?

Figuring out what we wanted to do was actually relatively easy. We wanted to create learning that mattered. And we also knew we were not on a course that would let us do this. We needed to chart a new path; we needed a map.  

In the next episode: how to write a map.

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