Day 2 of COGNITION was a digital potpourri of ideas and inspiration, taking full advantage of the new world of virtual events. 3 keynote addresses, including a product showcase, how to build adaptability and empathy, an exploration of unconscious bias, and 10 sessions across 3 tracks, Strategy & Planning, Content & Experience, and Data & Insights.
Following is a recap of 5 of the highly-rated sessions, including the insights shared.
Exploring Unconscious Bias with Vernā Myers
Perspective, professionalism and empathy are just a few of the admirable qualities that Vernā Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix and Founder and Principal of The Vernā Myers Company, brought to this sensitive discussion. Following are a few of the messages shared during this keynote that can boost the value of your customer education programs.
Diversification and inclusion are the 2 goals that we all must commit to begin to uproot the unconscious bias that is deep-seated within our society. The clearest personal metaphor is that I am invited to the party, and I am asked to dance.
Within business, diversification and inclusion means that every individual is respected, expected, and reflected. Bias blocks innovation. Try slowing down the decision-making process. The quick answer isn’t always the best answer. Ask yourself, are you hearing from everyone? It’s been proven that heterogeneous groups are better able to predict and solve difficult and new problems.
Specifically for customer training professionals - ask your customers where they are having problems, what’s working and where they need help – don’t assume you know.
We are undercut in our efforts to be “good people” by unconscious bias. These are automatic associations that we have learned growing up. Our upbringing shapes our grown-up world and how we filter information.
It’s like our brain reaches conclusions without consulting us. The result is automatically misjudgment because we think we know, or we assume we already know everything we need to know to make a decision.
To change, we have to recognize that this unconscious bias exists within us. Changing means being curious, humble, and – frankly – interested. It means embracing difference and questioning automatic associations as predictors of behavior.
We all need to get out of denial. I am a good person, but I have biases, some that I admit and some that are, right now, unconscious. It’s human.
To be anti-bias means to look for the bias. To admit that we can’t be neutral unless we consciously and actively work against bias. Let’s admit that racism is the norm and that it is embedded, consciously and unconsciously, throughout our lives.
You may think you know. You need to be skeptical. Ask more questions. See the bias in things like stereotypes and the stories we make up about people before we really know them. Don’t assume you know. And when you find out the real story, be curious about the differences.
The bottom line, especially for training professionals: It’s not about perfection, it’s about connection.
Fee vs. Free: Deciding Whether to Monetize Customer Education
The two sides are complete opposites, but there are a whole lot of considerations in between. Cary and Tom did a masterful job of illuminating both the questions and the imperfect answers. Their reasoning and approaches are a primer for any training organization evaluating this age-old dilemma. We’ll sum up each executives comments, which do overlap at times, and end with an incisive observation from the breakout rooms.
Cary Self – Fee
“We live and die by the subscription model, and the lesson that it teaches is that everyone must have skin in the game. Here’s what I mean – the basic training, how our software works and how to use it, is free. That’s part of the sale and part of our responsibility.
“Then, the goal of our training changes to how do we help customers grow their business and/or enhance their personal career. We charge for this. For this training to succeed we need the customer to have that skin in the game. Here’s an example:
“When we first conducted this type of follow-on training we didn’t charge. We found that 80% of customers who signed up didn’t even start. 5% finished. Now that we charge we find that 100% of customers get at least half way and 50% complete the course. They see the fee as an investment. Completion of the course, and learning how to improve, is closely tied to increased retention.
“Moreover, we found that once we began the fee structure the courses received higher NPS and CSAT scores. Learners feel an obligation to give us feedback that helps further improve the courses.
“One interesting observation during this COVID period – not only is consumption up, but 50% of our for-fee learners aren’t customers. They are investing their own money in their continuing education, in their marketability.”
Tom Studdert - Free
“Training is bundled into both onboarding and subscription fees. Our view is that the customer already paid. The last thing we want to do is to slow down the sales cycle or insert a potential flash point. What if we charge and they don’t buy?
“Our goal is to increase revenue and grow the base. So we feel it’s the training department’s mission to train our customers to be better customers, to use our solution in increasingly better and more effective ways. This, in turn promotes logo retention and causes opportunities to upsell the platform.
“We affect registration rates by marketing. For instance, we work hard to let customers know that when they run into a problem, there is training available. In-app widgets promote the content at the point of inflection, sort of just-in-time. We don’t talk about “training”, we talk about the benefit, solving the problem.
“We affect completion rates by developing the courses that are effective by segment, by role. Plus we look for opportunities, for interventions – where are there usage or skill gaps, for instance. We incentivize learners through certifications, encourage them regularly and reward them with badges.
“Lastly, we have tied our training metrics to retention, so that management knows our contribution.”
From the breakout sessions
One participant shared a very productive viewpoint. “We consider our training department a thought center vs a profit center. We position ourselves to the C-suite as self-funding. We contribute to the corporation by proving the basic training for free and working to increase retention and upsell the platform. The fees we earn with our higher-level courses are used to hire better, retain talent, and invest more in the production value of our training."
What Makes Training Engaging?
Matt Mulholland, Program Lead – Customer Education, at Miro, led us through a detailed, illustrated and engaging roundtable discussion of “what makes for a good training session and how do we keep learners engaged. He started off by admitting that most times when he asks this question he gets answers such as, tell more jokes, and let’s add a few more GIFs.
Is it all about the trainer's personality? How important is visual design? Actually, the answer is creating great, relevant content, which is of itself inherently engaging.
Great content has 2 components:
Substance - Substance is clearly the most important. As such, it is critical to validate its relevance – who is this for, what do they want, what are they struggling with. Many times, training session content is expanded because it is perceived that there is extra time. The answer is to optimize for the training goal, not a preconception of time. Cut things down if needed to focus on the core 20% of content that satisfies 80% of the goal. Then, the flow will be logical. Plus, topics inserted or wedged in are often rushed, and rushing can take a simple concept and make it hard.
Flow - Then, the flow will be logical. Plus, topics inserted or wedged in are often rushed, and rushing can take a simple concept and make it hard.
Authenticity - The key to authenticity is building trust, and to build trust you must be comfortable with what you don’t know ("here’s where you can find that information") and comfortable with product limitations ("that’s why we have a strategic partnership with ABC Company").
Interactivity - Interactivity clearly benefits retention, but all the interactivity in the world is not a substitute for substance.
Presentation - The 3 keys to an effective presentation include:
Clear, well-designed visuals that communicate the central idea
Eliminate filler words like “um” and “you know.” Presenters may be able to recognize and correct this by watching their recorded presentations.
Be and look professional. (Matt shares that some presenters say, "Hey I’m in IT, no one expects anything but a t-shirt, and that simply doesn’t convey enough professionalism.")
Some of the great ideas that came from the breakout rooms:
Validate that you’ve answered the “why” of a course. Surveys are helpful, but qualitative interviews provide a lot more depth and color.
Don’t forget what it’s like to hear a concept for the first time. The idea or skill may be old hat to you, but it can appear complex the first time through. If you remember your first time, you’ll help first-timers move through this easily.
Be flexible. Your audience is not homogeneous. Likely there are several different types of learners in attendance. Be aware and be flexible.
And one last gem from Matt: consider using webinars to test a course concept before you go through the time and investment of production. Here’s how they do it at Miro - Their key to success is responding to customer feedback fast and at every stage:
- They put together the webinar from the course outline that has evolved from development and advertise it on their website.
- Registrants are surveyed regarding why they signed up – what looked strong and what looked weak.
- Polls during the presentation to understand approval and engagement with the subject matter.
- Attendees are surveyed after the webinar for their guidance on how to improve.
Digital Transformation of Customer Education
Meeting Your Customers Where and When They are Through Authentic, Personalized Online Customer Education Experiences
This expert session, led by Mike Jahoda, Senior Vice President Professional Services, Thought Industries, went deep on how organizations have and should balance the carefully planned migration to a blended learning environment and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing everything into digital, because just moving ILT into digital learning experiences is not enough.
The customer experience is at the center of successful learning strategies. Personalized customer education experiences weigh heavily in the success of pivoting customer relationships to virtual. The following professionals shared their experiences in how to maintain the human-centric, authentic experiences that have been the hallmark of their organizations while also scaling to broaden reach:
- Margo Gouley, Vice President Program Development, The Humphrey Group (where leadership and communication meet);
- James “Buddy” Steele, PhD, Senior Digital Learning Strategist, from an American analytics and advisory company known for its worldwide public opinion polls;
- Chris Nekvinda, PhD, Director of Global Learning, Cannon Financial Institute.
Q: Mike started the ball rolling by asking the panelists about the role that customer education plays in each of their organizations.
Margo replied that they are basically a training company, offering a “white glove” experience to highly placed corporate executives. 90% of their training was in-person. They had been laying the groundwork for the gradual introduction of digitization, but the pandemic caused an immediate acceleration of what they thought would be years in the making.
Buddy’s company was also grounded in ILT – the human experience is consistent with “what we do.” Interestingly, clients had been asking for more digital options on the menu. Then the pandemic accelerated and amplified the urgency. As this was the only option, their team worked hard to show customers that digital learning can be tailored, enjoyable and productive.
Chris’ company was also dedicated to ILT, and on the path to digital when COVID hit. Central to their success has been behavioral evaluations to prove value to leaders. User-generated content has been a plus.
Q: Mike then asked the group about synchronous vs asynchronous learning - how did each company choose their approach?
Margo’s company wasn’t even considering asynchronous until clients started to ask for it. ‘We can’t get our senior executives all in a room for a full day – they need to access the learning at different times and in different ways.’
Q: Mike went deeper and asked the group how they convinced management to move to digital.
This was a huge decision for Margo’s company, which is comprised of a small number of passionate educators who were very unsure about this move. So Margo and her team had them experience it first-hand. They created training on the Thought Industries Platform and had sales and presenters experience it. This converted even the most stalwart objectors because they found things that they could do on digital that they could not do in the classroom.
Buddy pointed to the power of social and community-based experience as the biggest buy-in factor. While some of his leaders hadn’t been exposed to digital, he showcased how human and personal it could be. It was an eye-opener for them. They found real ease of use, not a lot of clutter, and adoption went through the roof.
Chris cautioned that “words matter.” To his constituency, the word social was a red flag. “'Community' sounds so much better to regulated industries.” It opens ears and empowers when you use the right language. Make it intentional how you choose to explain this shift.
Q: “How do you address personalization when moving to a digital format?” was Mike’s next question to the group.
The answer is ambient discussion, per Chris. There may be content that is good for 3 or 4 roles but there are distinctions. One role may be using the content to look ahead, one to analyze where we’ve been. You can personalize that content through ambient discussion. One tactic is for the instructor to include a question at the bottom of the screen to spur discussion. Also, coaching. Instead of being the sage on the stage, you become the guide on the side.
Instructors are very concerned with how they will deliver the personal touch in a digitized format, added Margo. Immersing them in the process showed them that they can actually increase personalization. Small groups can get 1 on 1 coaching, and you can’t do that with an in-person format. It takes too long. Executives can’t wait around. Clients have been delighted.
Also, all of Margo’s programs have instructors. It’s not their model to have just click-throughs. Their clients do not want a digital, faceless push of content. Here, your instructor is also your coach.
Buddy’s company is similarly committed to having all sessions instructor-led. They do offer micro-learning for special instances, but to gain the rich learning experience, the human element is essential. Additionally, at this point in time, learners are hungry for human touch points as a reminder of a sense of normalcy. “It’s interesting that technology is supporting and furthering this.”
Chris, “If I was an instructor leading a class of perhaps 20 people I’d ask a question and look for 2 or 3 answers. I’m not listening to or soliciting an opinion from everyone. I don’t have the time. Now, as an instructor and a coach I can go back and listen to each and every one. It changes the model of instruction and learning. Everyone can ask a question and everyone will get an answer.”
Q: As the final question to the group, Mike asked them for their advice for colleagues going through a similar digital transformation.
“Don’t confuse delivery with design,” was Buddy’s advice. “The first and necessary step has been to port to virtual. Now it’s time to step back and look at the design. Will this perform the same way? What adjustments need to be made to reach our goals. You’ll find that by shifting a few things you can translate the magic of ILT into the new environment.”
Download The Customer Education Playbook, below, for a validated methodology for developing, implementing, and evaluating a customer education program.
“Add in coaching, not only from instructors, consider using subject matter experts and maybe their managers,” said Chris. “Also, ask learners for their feedback – what would you do differently here? Recognize the digital strategies are different than traditional learning instructional strategies.”
Margo added, “You may find that your value prop is not what you think it is. We were heavily invested in the idea that our intellectual capital was what learners valued most, and thus we were terrified and opposed to have it appear free on the Internet. But we then realized that isn’t it. The value we bring is the learning experience, and we are working to replicate that virtually. So don’t be so concerned about protection. Turn it into a value-add.”
Mastering Content Diversification
The Key to Learning Business Growth
We’ve all heard the saying “Content Is King,” but format, variety, learner preference and user experience bring content to life. With more time spent in a virtual environment, finding new ways to reach your audience is more important than ever.
That was the premise of this roundtable discussion anchored by Ann Fuerst, Director of Professional Services, Thought Industries. Joining Ann were:
- Josh Goldberg, Executive Director, Boulder Crest Institute for Posttraumatic Growth
Each shared their perspectives and experiences regarding:
How leading learning professionals have leveraged a mix of digital transformation, design and consumer behavior to develop impactful learning programs.
Primary factors to consider when reviewing your content mix and building a strong user experience.
How to virtually bridge the gap to deliver meaningful and relevant instruction in an age of microlearning, multitasking, and virtual event fatigue.
Following are their responses to specific questions posed by Ann.
1. How can you produce more power content with smaller teams?
Shanna advised that you need to stay hungry and be a sponge for knowledge and ideas. Expand your horizons, dive deep into each course topic. One of your main tools is research, talking directly to your learners about what they want and how they want to learn.
It’s also important to build content, aware of the time your learners have to devote to learning. With work from home, and work in general, learners have to put aside time for training, and there are the unscripted interruptions from kids, pets and life. Be aware of the three T’s: type; topic; time.
Josh’s view is to keep your goal in mind – what are you trying to create? For Boulder Crest, it’s both education and relationship, and while education will work through a variety of channels, relationship building works best in a face-to-face environment.
Treion’s experience has been that it’s better with a large budget, a large group of professionals and lots of time. That’s when the magic happens. His advice: “Simplicity is best. People want to get in, get help and get out. Testing for relevance will make all the difference.”
2. How do you drive and increase content engagement?
Shanna’s company focuses on simplifying sales tax compliance for business owners. They provide customers with a “sandbox,” a place they can play with and test out the ideas they’ve learned without real-world ramifications. This safe place substantially increases engagement.
Josh relies on his commitment to qualitative research. “We are constantly running focus groups with our constituents to make sure we’re on the right track.”
3. What are the potential pitfalls?
Per Treion, we should look at this differently. FAIL = For All I’ve Learned. He advises a three-pronged approach to fine-tuning your training.
Crowd source – gain input from a large array of your target market
Clients – they are bought in and have a clear view of what’s needed
Internal – review the results of #1 and #2 with your team and decide on an action
Not putting your learner first, cautioned Shanna. In addition to substance, you have to be very aware of where the learner is consuming, what are the surroundings and potential for interruption? How do they like to learn? Can you find their comfort zone?
“We really think about the experience and believe it is central to achieving our mission. Remember that opportunity exists in the moment of need,” added Josh. “As you diversify, think about what is feasible and when. Some things are possible online. For us, we need the human connection.”
4. What do you see as the future of learning?
Treion was precise, “MVP: minimal viable product.” Also, diversification is the way to stay relevant to the learner. Someday, AI (artificial intelligence) will tell us who needs what and when.
Josh was reflective, “Be humble about what you don’t know.”
Shanna suggested we pay attention to the three I’s, that customer training works best when it is:
COGNITION was an intensive, interactive 2-day event bringing you the experts and their expert insights and advice on how to improve the business of learning. It was both educational and inspiring.
It would be worthwhile to check out the Day 1 recap, and don’t forget to download the Customer Education Playbook, another example of Thought Industries taking a leadership and partnership role in helping to elevate your customer education programming and business to the next level.