The first corporate training course I ever taught was a daylong class covering the basics of Lotus 1-2-3 release 1A. It was September 1987. The entire software program was stored on a single 5 1/2-inch floppy disk. Remember those? I taught that same class for three years, and I thought I’d still be teaching that class today. Boy, was I ever wrong!
Once the ’90s rolled around, most software manufacturers realized that a large part of their revenues weren’t going to come from introducing new technologies anymore, but from improving existing tools. The word “upgrade” was introduced and, without a doubt, was here to stay.
Meanwhile, learning departments worldwide were faced with a new dilemma: How would they keep learners current and up to date? For years, training calendars included titles that began with the words “new,” “intermediate” and “advanced.” Now, the concept of new features presents CLOs with a challenge in designing, delivering and marketing their learning offerings. The learner bell curve had been bad enough in typical classrooms; how would CLOs manage the new array of learning needs while bringing back a well-established and mature user base? Further, classrooms were becoming an increasingly expensive option for content delivery.
Enter e-learning. Here was a modality that was mobile, scalable, economical and measurable, thanks to learning management systems. Initially, this option seemed to work as a fairly broad solution, but as upgrades multiplied and specialized and learners matured in their use of these software applications, e-learning became harder to tailor to meet needs. Also, many of the e-learning design models never matured, meaning they still approached topics and audiences too broadly and left many disillusioned with the potential helpfulness and timeliness of this option.
Selling a learner on an upgrade isn’t easy. As it is, most aren’t using the full extent of their existing applications and may say, “Well, the software’s meeting my needs now, and I’m awfully busy.”
That said, upgrades clearly have much to offer the end user, and there are many on the way in coming months. For example, with Windows 7 looking to be a stable and effective operating system, there is strong buzz that the jump from earlier versions is finally imminent. Is an upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007, or 2010, going to follow closely behind? If so, how do we bring everyone up to speed amid a significant change to their user experience?
Although the learning methods mentioned above should still be considered, we need to look at alternative approaches and support change management issues to make this, and other upgrades, successful. Methods such as virtual instruction and performance support are looking strong in these areas. Each of these mediums can be used to move learning closer to the end user and make it more contextual and specialized. For example, virtual classes can be used to introduce end users to the new environment as well as to provide learning related to new features. These sessions also can be recorded and chunked for reuse. Performance support can be embedded directly into the application and help guide a user by job role, workflow or another process. Methods such as these accommodate for both the cost and time issues these types of upgrades present.
The most important factor to be considered, however, is the change management component. It’s not about new features, but rather new and more effective ways of doing business. The closer we can move these true gains to the learning experience, the higher the chance of adoption. Upgrades are here to stay: Has our approach to supporting them and our learners caught up?