3 Ways to Combat the Corporate One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Learning Experiences

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Who doesn’t love a good origin story? Let me tell you my vocational one.

I met learning design by accident. I was straight out of university, the ink barely dried on my degree, when I walked into my first grown-up job.

The idea of learning design, instructional design, eLearning – well, those things weren’t around back when I had to stand up in front of the class and answer the age-old question: what do you want to be when you grow up? 

For the record, my younger self was excited by the prospects of being a teacher, author, or artist. Even as a kid, I knew the talent required for each of these and pretty quickly nixxed the last one, but my love for writing and passing on knowledge has stood the test of time.

Years later, there I was on the cusp of my forever career and I didn’t even know it. A brand new shiny option presented itself, and I was ready to grab it with both hands! The world of learning design lay before me and I was colored with excitement from my head to my toes. Having the opportunity to help people learn, in this cool, new, online way? Sign me up!

And sign up, I did. And I have LOVED it.

Now, nearly a decade later, it’s so interesting to look back and take stock of what has been, what is, and what is hopefully on the horizon for learning designers. I’ve been able to witness, firsthand how the world of the learning designer has grown, changed, and evolved.

And also, how it has not.

I’ve spent the majority of my learning designer life in the corporate sphere, which has a very distinct flavor when it comes to eLearning and learning design. My experience has gifted me the perfect macro lens into what’s working and what’s not. Learning designers out there, I’m sure (and I’m sorry!) you can relate to some of the frustrations we’ve come up against as our field has grown.

I’ve spent some time thinking about those aches and pains, and how we over here at Curious Lion are doing the good work to change things for the better. Here are my top three ‘Aha!’ moments that have helped us at Curious Lion set ourselves apart from the rest of the pack. Check it out.

1. Let’s Get Flexible!

The corporate world is a beast like no other. It’s where a huge chunk of our work as learning designers comes from, right? We’re the solution to their L&D needs. But for so many corporates, external learning design professionals have just become:

  1. An echo chamber for the old-school execs who believe in “the way things have always been done” in corporate L&D.
  2. A cookie-cutter, copy-and-paste production line: PDFs behind glass, dry seminars, and little to no practical follow-through.

One of the major frustrations I’ve encountered in my previous learning design jobs was the lack of flexibility and creativity in the design process.

Put a hand up if you can relate to this scenario:

Pre-defined template upon pre-defined template; formulaic structures; rigid and linear learning paths, dry, corporate content…

“Standardization” has been touted as an efficiency measure in learning design, but as learning designers, we know the cost of that efficiency – flexibility and creativity!

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Austin Chan / Unsplash

At Curious Lion, we actively do away with that typical, standardized approach to learning experiences. Does this mean we don’t have specific criteria and standards that we inject into every single learning experience we design and build?

Nope! And that’s the point. Our DNA isn’t found in a template, it’s not distilled into a one-size-fits-all structure.

On the contrary:

  • Our methodology? Solid.
  • Our philosophy about learning? Intrinsic in everything we produce.
  • Our passion for creating unique, transformational learning experiences? Tangible.
  • Our learning experiences? Transformational.

At Curious Lion, we use each project as a little laboratory: we test out new ways of doing things, while at the same time keeping the goals of our of our client-partners in mind. Then we take the best of what works, and weave it into our next project.

The result is iterative creativity.

Everything we design, touch, and build, is a result of learning from what we’ve done before plus an insatiable curiosity and desire to experiment.

2. The Learner At The Center

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Karly Santiago / Unsplash

Most of us have been there. Sucked into a corporate mandated training about internal systems, the company culture, or insert department-specific topic.

I want you to think back to that training (sorry). How much of it felt like it was talking to you? What about that training made you feel like it was going to help make you better at your job? How exciting was it?

Allow me to be so bold as to answer for the majority:

  1. Ehh.
  2. Not very.
  3. Not at all.

Now, this is not an indictment on the companies we work or worked at. When you know better, you do better, but how can companies do better when they aren’t aware of the well of potential that is being left untapped? For years, the goal has been to move the needle on business results: How is the business growing? Are you retaining clients – why or why not? How is productivity being maximized?

These questions are missing one very important factor: Learner buy-in. All these questions – all very important! – are focused on the business. What about Eric, in the Sales Team – why should he care?

At Curious Lion, we’re all about asking questions and exploring the answers. But for us, it’s about asking the right questions. We want to help Eric understand how he is contributing to all of those things. We focus on getting learners into the driving seat – of their roles and their learning.

The Curious Lion learner is enabled, and that is their superpower.

So, not only do we customize every learning experience in the sense of the course structure; we also design each experience to speak to the individual learner. Which brings me to my gripe with the concept of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

3. Traditional? No, Thanks!

Tradition? Who’s she?

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Damir Kopezhanov / Unsplash

Over here, at Curious Lion, I had to make a major (no, really) mindshift in how I thought about the way I design learning experiences, and subsequently how they are delivered.

My first bone of contention with “corporate training” is with the wording itself. One of the biggest mindshifts I made since joining the Curious Lion team, is to do away with “training” and shift the focus to learning experiences. It’s such a simple, but powerful thing: we don’t want to create a once-off learning event that learners rush through in order to be done with it. We design experiences that stoke the flames of curiosity in learners.

With my experience, I was so used to a set structure, an easy, comfortable formula to fall back on when it came to designing experiences. Even the terminology – in the past I designed courses; now, it’s experiences. That shift, alone, has been a game changer in how I think about the learner and the purpose of what I’m designing.

Now, looking back, the persistent overemphasis on traditional delivery methods, such as lengthy slide presentations or text-heavy materials, or never-ending walls of text, was a huge blocker for me as a learning designer. These approaches fell short of fully leveraging the potential of technology and interactive learning experiences, which ultimately leads to disengaged learners and reduced effectiveness.

The sad truth is, this leads to:

Passive learning experiences: Learners end up being passive receivers of information rather than active participants in the learning process. This limits their buy-in, engagement, and motivation.

Limited knowledge retention: A knock-on effect of little to no learner buy-in is that they’re not going to be retaining or applying knowledge. We build in reflection and application as often as possible to reinforce learning.

Missed opportunities for multimedia and interactivity: This is changing, slowly. But at Curious Lion, multimedia and interactivity are baked into every learning experience. The potential of technology to deliver multimedia content, simulations, and interactive exercises is endless, and we’re consistently pushing the boundaries of what we can do. 

Vive la révolution!

“It’s funny how those happy accidents can change the whole direction of your life.” – Cruella De Vil

I may have fallen into my forever career by accident and I know how lucky I am – I get to do what I love for a living. 

Can I share what I’m most grateful for?

That I got (and get) to experience this rollercoaster that is learning design.

There is no way I would be as passionate, interested or dedicated to the Curious Lion cause, if I hadn’t first experienced the growing pains of the eLearning arena.

Because that’s what they are: growing pains. It’s the stuff we have to endure in order to realize where we can improve, push the boundaries and grow.

One thing I know for sure is that I am so glad to be playing in this sandpit. We’re testing, experimenting, figuring things out, and evolving.

No, we’re revolving – each doing our part to keep that flywheel turning. We’re putting ourselves at the forefront of the eLearning revolution and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.

What would you change? What would you keep the same? How are you, as a learning designer, contributing to the revolution?

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