One of the most powerful and underused learning tools readily available to the CLO is the recorded human voice. With widely dispersed knowledge workers whose expertise is in need of constant updating and expansion, it is surprising how few companies use this simple, easy-to-produce, easy-to-use medium.
I have produced talk-show formats for a number of companies, and each of the programs has gotten rave reviews from the intended audiences. Essentially the programs consisted of conversations with subject-matter experts either singly or in small groups. The conversations were recorded either on-site or over telephone lines, then edited for content relevance, length and to eliminate “ums” and “ahs.” The result was a concise but natural-sounding conversation on a subject of interest by an expert in the subject. The final product was delivered on CD for listening at the convenience of the individual audience member while driving, sitting in an airplane, or whenever and wherever opportunity and interest coincided.
This kind of seemingly informal learning is very powerful simply because it is informal. It doesn’t feel like “learning.” Nor is there a quality of “teaching” about it. It is as if the listener is overhearing an expert talk about a subject in which the listener is interested.
One obstacle in the adoption of such programs is the natural, but mistaken, urge to test the product before committing to its implementation. Testing, of course, is a good idea, but too often the test proposed is that of a single program. Such a test supposes that a single program can have the impact of an ongoing series. Most would agree that the power of advertising and learning is in repetition. A test of a single ad or lesson often yields misleading and contradictory results. The real test is with a series of programs. After six or so programs, a well-constructed listener survey can assess the effectiveness of the medium, the individual programs and the series itself.
Now that Steve Jobs has reduced the size of the iPod to nano-proportions, such programs can be downloaded with astonishing ease. But whether it is the iPod or its kin, the laptop or the venerable CD, platform selection and distribution are no longer significant issues.
Production requires nothing more than some inexpensive black-box technology to ensure voice quality over phone lines and some computer-based audio editing software. Production skills include an interested and informed interviewer, the patience for editing and a sense of how a good conversation flows within a structure designed to both inform and entertain. A CLO who would like his learning organization to be more visible (or audible) to the rest of the company might take on the role of talk show host himself.
The result is a story, not a lesson. Each story relates content that is specific to the needs of its target audience. This can cover the entire gamut of management issues for that audience. It can have to do with the process of selling and relate success stories from individual sales representatives—thus sharing successes with the entire sales force. Sharing success also applies to project teams within major corporate initiatives. But whether it is management development, sales education or any other area of technical or professional expertise, the impact is equally powerful. And the impact is both powerful and pleasantly surprising when programs are developed that are directed to a customer audience. Programs that include customer representatives but are intended for internal audiences are also very effective. Nothing says “customer focus” with more personal force.
The human voice telling the stories of human achievement is the most compelling medium yet devised. In the mix of instructional technologies, e-learning strategies and corporate learning media, it should not be overlooked.
Jim Boring is a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based corporate communications and development consultant. His background includes leadership development positions and consulting assignments at a number of Fortune 500 companies. Jim can be reached at email@example.com.