Think 'Campaign', Not 'Course' (Lars Hyland) - Guest Blog

Within the world of education and training we remain curiously reluctant to confront institutionalised structures and assumptions even when we now know they are not the most effective ways to support learning.

The concept of the “course” is a case in point. The lecture/workshop/course is predicated on the largely defunct notion that it is more economically efficient to bring “those-who-don’t-know-can’t-do” to the more scarce and hard to access expert who “knows-and-shows”. In a time when recording any event didn’t exist, attending a live lecture was essential to the transfer of knowledge. The arrival of books, a transformational mobile technology when it was introduced, allowed distance learning to be born. Since then, the march of technology has now made the transmission of interactive, multimedia information instantaneous and on-demand whenever and wherever we want it. We can now experience anything anywhere on the planet at any time we want to. This should have a huge impact on the way we train and educate.

Yet most people’s learning experiences are still predominantly based on attending a formal course for which they have not properly prepared, which is often inconsistent in the quality of its design and delivery, and will then receive little or no follow up support post attendance. Any learning of new knowledge and skills quickly dissipates, together with any value to the individual and organisation with it. Even as we move online, many e-learning experiences simply replicate this simplistic event driven mode of delivery yielding similarly poor results.

Focus on effectiveness

As learning professionals, we would probably all agree that all the following elements should be addressed and present within the design of an effective learning experience:

Unfortunately many of these components do not feature strongly enough (if at all) in the majority of learning experiences we serve up because they are perceived as either too time-consuming, expensive or administratively difficult to implement. The added pressure to deliver rapid “solutions” in an ever shorter window of time only further exacerbates the tendency to measure simple course completion rather than actual changes in acquired competency and improved performance. It is now imperative that we put effectiveness ahead of efficiency of delivery.

Introduce Campaign thinking

One way we can do this is to move away from the single event “course” model to a multi-event “campaign” structure. Or to put it another way – let’s have less learning, more often. Shorter, sharper, more varied learning experiences deliberately spread over a longer elapsed time period, demonstrably improve learning effectiveness. There are more opportunities for reinforcement of key knowledge, more prompts to practice skills in the field and the ability to adapt to the pace and personal needs of each individual. Our efforts can be focused on providing learning support interwoven into life and work, rather than a few artificially abstracted training events. This embodies many of the principles of the 70:20:10 framework.

In design terms, we have to be much more aware of how to manage and attract attention. We can learn a lot from the fields of communications, advertising and marketing, all of which understand the power of persuasion, engagement and repetition. We can learn further from neuroscience and cognitive psychology research that is blissfully ignored yet would impact very positively on our professional practices.

You can learn more from Epic’s Insight paper, “When is it better to campaign than to train?”, which provides detailed direction on how to introduce campaign thinking into your learning design and the technologies you can harness to deliver both efficiently and with greater effect.

It bears repeating: Think campaign, not course.  Do so and you will deliver more longer-lasting benefits to your learning audience. Don’t you think they deserve it?


Lars Hyland is Head of Consulting Services at Epic Learning Group and co-author of the Really Useful eLearning Manual (Wiley, to be published Winter 2013)  
Experienced specialist applying technology to enhance communication, learning and performance in the workplace, with a special focus on e-learning and social media.