eLW Mag
eLearning Weekly Magazine


March 5, 2009

Give Your Learners What They Need

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Written by: B.J. Schone
Tags: , , , , ,

We’ve all done needs assessments to determine knowledge and skill gaps, but how do you know what information your learners need each day, on the job? It’s easy to assume that we’re giving them everything they need, but let’s be honest: we’re good, but we’re not perfect.

There are several key pieces of data to help you figure out what your learners need. Consider the following:

  • Is there a search box on your organization’s intranet home page, or in your LMS? If so, do you know the most commonly searched terms? How well do these popular search terms align with the learning materials you offer? If you have the materials, are they quickly and easily accessible to your learners?
  • Do you have a learning portal? If so, are you tracking what links people click, what documents they open, etc.? Analyze traffic on this site; it may reveal trends to help you better target what your learners need.
  • Do you use any social learning / web 2.0 tools? If you have wikis, blogs, or social bookmarking, you may be able to look at the information that has been written/tagged/bookmarked. This may also reveal trends.
  • Interview your learners (and their managers) on a regular basis; one-on-one interviews and focus groups work well. They’ll be vocal if they aren’t finding what they need.

Monitor the information above and be as responsive as possible. If you notice a gap in your offerings, do something about it. This will help fulfill the short-term needs of your learners. (Of course, you’ll want to continue to do needs assessments to try and anticipate the organization’s long-term needs.)

Most of the suggestions I’ve given come down to the old adage, “Know your audience.” I’m simply suggesting that you mine existing data (or start gathering more data) to better understand what your learners need, and then adjust your offerings accordingly. This process should be ongoing; don’t be lazy and address their needs on a quarterly or yearly basis. I’ve even thought about creating a dashboard that can aggregate all of these data feeds into one place. This would allow me to keep an eye on the data on an up-to-the minute basis. I don’t know that I would react to each and every item that came in, but it would certainly help me identify trends.

What other information should be monitored?

Author: B.J. Schone

B.J. is the Founding Editor of eLearning Weekly and has contributed more than 150 articles. He works in elearning at Qualcomm, focusing on mobile learning.

About the Author

B.J. Schone
B.J. is the Founding Editor of eLearning Weekly and has contributed more than 150 articles. He works in elearning at Qualcomm, focusing on mobile learning.


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One Comment

  1. B.J., you’ve got great suggestions here, especially as they point to harvesting information already available.

    Other stuff: rates or patterns of errors (these could be electronic, or not). Do salespeople often try to add the foofram feature to the Jungaloo model because they’re thinking of the Jangalo? Do customers complain (as I did recently) because the number on the special order they place is different from the number that accompanies the shipped product (so that the customer can’t find out where his stuff is)?

    If you can observe performers on the job — and, no matter how good your remote systems are, you should — Cathy Moore suggests looking where they look.

    Like at their homemade job aids. These do several things:

    (1) They tell you you haven’t provided the right on-the-job support.
    (2) They suggest what the performer believes is important (useful to know even if the performer’s incorrect).
    (3) They harness the insight of someone doing the job.
    (4) They avoid or at least minimize useless memorization, which in corporate life is often canonized as “learning.”

    I do think it’s vital to involve the performers in this, lest they very reasonably form the impression they are being monitored, rather than the process.

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