Learning, be it academic or corporate, has almost entirely migrated to the online realm in just a few months after the coronavirus pandemic started. Schools hurriedly implemented learning management systems (LMS) to deliver blended learning, combining synchronous and asynchronous modalities, to students.
On the other hand, corporate learning moved from a predominantly classroom setup to online. This presented a host of challenges. One of them is that older employees — the “Baby Boomers” and older members of Generation X — require the highest degree of personalized learning and the lowest degree of independence from others. They need a more personally focused learning structure and classroom delivery, as well as in-class participation, reflection and feedback, to bring them more directly into the process, which many corporate trainers are struggling to deliver online.
In the corporate world before Covid-19, learning and development (L&D) departments would normally analyze training needs, understand the skills gaps, and create and conduct trainings in a classroom setting. The learning experience of the employee-learners involved getting announcements from the L&D department on the available trainings and sitting in, classroom-style, where the trainer influences much of their experience. The same is true in the academic world, where students are constrained to how the teacher designs and teaches his or her subject.
In an online learning environment, it is more challenging to achieve your targeted learning outcomes. Distractions at home abound, as are the limitations in internet speeds and technologies.
That’s why, in both academic and corporate learning environments, it is important to put the leaner experience at the center of the program design and technology choice in remote learning.
One of the tools we use in our consulting work is the learner journey mapping. This is similar to the customer journey mapping or employee experience mapping that many are aware of. It forces you to shift your perspective from inside-out to outside-in.
Learner journey mapping is an exercise that produces a visual representation of a learner’s journey in the entirety of his or her learning experience — from program awareness to registration, from pre-course preparation to evaluation and beyond. The goal is to put the trainer, teacher and course designer in the learner’s shoes so they can better understand his or her needs, perceptions and emotions, as well as the factors that contribute to or detract from his or her learning experience. This exercise prompts conversations and insights about needs, pain points and opportunities for improvement.
There are several possible learner touchpoints that we can evaluate in learner journey mapping. First is the learner’s awareness of the learning program, whether through Google search or a course catalogue. Second is when the learner researches on the learning program, be it through testimonials or asking other learners. Third is when the learner purchases the course or registers in the online class. Fourth is when the learner receives the acknowledgement that he or she has enrolled through e-mail or other messaging system. Fifth is when the learner goes through preprogram or prework activities, such as online assessment, prereading or online orientation. Sixth is the coursework itself, which includes instructional materials, homework and projects, with the online facilitation of the trainer. Seventh is the final assessment, in which the mastery of the new skill is evaluated and knowledge is assessed. And last is the completion of the course: how is the skill mastery recognized, and how certificates are generated and delivered.
These sample touchpoints are not exhaustive and may involve a long list of other touchpoints. The more detailed the touchpoint is, the better for mapping the learner journey.
Now that we have identified the touchpoints, it is time to look at the factors that influence the learner’s experience at each one. We identify them at every touchpoint of the learner journey, stressing on how the learner feels, what his or her needs are, and what are the emotions and expectations for each touchpoint.
To shed light on these, we need to ask: What do they need at each touchpoint? What expectations do they have? What are they thinking? What questions might they have? What are they feeling? Doubt, fear, excitement, confusion, anxiety, frustration?
Once we have answered these, we can now identify the pain points of the learner and design or redesign the learner experience accordingly. In out consulting work, the pain point common across corporate and academic learners is the coursework itself. This is influenced by the slow internet speeds of many students. Even in corporate learning, as much as 30 percent of employee-learners have spotty internet access, which affects their learning experience. I have extensively written about how to effectively deliver classes and training in allow-bandwidth environment.
Another factor in the coursework pain point is how the facilitator can make the online class interesting and engaging. I have also written several articles on how to master the new digital medium and keep learners engaged in a virtual setting.
Nonetheless, it’s still advisable to go through the learner journey mapping to pinpoint exactly where the learner pain points are, in order to design and redesign a more effective online learning experience.
The author is the founder and chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the chairman of the Information and Communications Technology Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, and an institute fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.