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Try a Learn-A-Thon: Crowdsourced UserExperience

While there is widespread interest, dialogue, and experimentation in new forms of learning technologies (e.g. Chatbots, Smart Speakers, Wearables, Immersive Reality) and new formats of learning content (e.g. Curated Segments, Agile Module Lengths, Shoulder-to-Shoulder OJT), where are the innovations in new models of Learning Design?

We can’t create a radically new learning ecosystem if we are simply going to rely on a dusted-off version of ADDIE, a more video-rich webinar construction, or a more compressed use of a Subject Matter Expert distilled by an Instructional Designer!

Let’s instead apply a “deep disruption sauce” to the learning design recipe!

I advocate that our colleagues experiment with a Learn-A-Thon, a crowdsourced way to create a different approach to teaching, training, and supporting skill, competency, or compliance in a workforce setting.

The Learn-A-Thon combines two forces that are highly impactful in the world of invention, innovation, and product development:

• UserExperience: Radically aligning a new design to how the learner actually experiences the activity – and how rapidly or deeply they get to a state of readiness. UserExperience is NOT about testing if the module “works”; rather, it forces us as designers to intensively map each action to a behavior that a learner will want to do/can do successfully and leads to a measurable, positive learning moment.
• Hack-A-Thon: Imagine a room filled with workers from the business who have mastered a desired skill and are fully experienced with the context of the targeted learning goal. Lock them up together for a day, or even a few days, and have them build – from scratch, with no barriers, assumptions, or rituals – SEVERAL totally different ways in which a worker could learn this skill. The Hack-A-Thon is a safe and brave place where ideas can soar, stretch, break, or be transformed.

Our Learn-A-Thon model requires some courage, pizza for a crew of 5 to 20 colleagues, and a willingness to take a totally fresh look at learning design and format rituals that are not easy to break.

You might start with a large challenge (e.g. New Hire Orientation) or a more focused task (e.g. Procurement Process for Purchasing Materials). A facilitator who truly is open to the idea of “hacking” or even failing our way to success would ask the Learn-A-Thon participants to explore with encouragement like this:

• Our goal is to come up with 2, 4, or even 10 new ways in which one of our employees could go about learning the target skill, competency, or information set.
• You are going to blow up our traditional model as you explore new approaches. You can change the style, length, intensity, media structure, branding, and/or testing elements.
• You don’t need to be a learning designer to succeed. Think about yourself or a new learner: what do you/they actually want, need, or desire? It might not be the 24-slide PowerPoint deck. So, create an alternative!
• The Hack-A-Thon model helped create innovations like Yelp, Uber, Airbnb, and more. It has been used by medical corporations to imagine and create totally new approaches to solving health challenges. And, the White House even hosted a “Game Jam Hack-A-Thon” several years ago to develop brand new learning games for high school students. Learn-A-Thons play off the successful Hack-A-Thon model!
• Build multiple and different possible solutions – without grading or evaluating their probable success. Later, we will have fun with a UserExperience LAB process to see if elements of each solution will work with actual learners.

The Learn-A-Thon model will fail if you let your instructional design protectiveness sabotage the process. Remember, each and every design model starts with assessing and aligning the needs of the organization and learner. But, we often jump into highly traditional models as we flow into the design and rarely test against a diverse set of learner expectations.

Before you reject this model, go talk to a few of your work colleagues and ask them “How did you actually learn to do this task?” Be prepared that few, if any, will refer to the great classroom offering, or the well-developed eLearning module, or the pretty Job Aid that is on the wall. Listen to their UserExperience and you will discover that they did their own Learn-A-Thon, optimizing formal, external, social, and non-traditional approaches to get to their own readiness on the topic.

Design is art and science. The Learn-A-Thon will creatively optimize our workers’ pathways to Learning in the Age of Now!

Try a Learn-A-Thon: Crowdsourced UserExperience
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