Employing Learning Design to Avoid the The Awkward Translator Syndrome

The Awkward Translator

A key to designing and creating effective learning solutions is to remove the client from the role of “the awkward translator.”

This is the role to which technology vendors often – albeit with the best of intentions – constrain their clients.  They begin their learning solution conversations with the many features, incredible functionality, and wonderful benefits of a particular technology product.

The conversation begins well and sparks a genuine interest in the prospective client. After all, who doesn’t like shiny objects?

The client is impressed by the vendor’s vision, design, and innovation.

Eyes light up with possibilities.

The client thinks, “This something that might really be valuable for us. It could even be transformational!”

And then – the realization dawns.

The client isn’t really sure how this impressive technology will work within the context of their current vision.

And just like that, the client is thrust into the uncomfortable position of having to design a pathway from their current situation to some exciting new technology platform, which, admittedly, they don’t really understand.  In other words, the client has to translate the fascinating information the technology company has provided into the client’s needs and workflows.

The client has been forced into the role of the awkward translator, and it’s an uncomfortable and slippery-sloped role at that.

What the client has at this point in the process is a good sense of the What – they know what experience they want their learners to have and what desired outcomes or evidences their participants must master – but they lack the learning design clarity, shared language, and technology understanding to translate the What into a successful How.

In order to avoid this disconnect – and the possible loss of interest in the learning technology or services being presented – companies should consider introducing a strong learning design component into initial conversations with both prospective and current clients.

Learning design begins with and is guided by the What. Properly employed, learning design ensures that everyone discussing a project – executives, product managers, program directors, course designers, and instructors – understands and can communicate clearly the purpose and goals of a particular learning experience.

Perhaps most important, learning design provides all participants with a shared language.  A shared language makes it possible to design and deliver the ideal learning environment to support the project learning experience.

This is one of the reasons that, at NextThought, we use a process called Learning Environment Modeling (LEM) to define the What at the outset of every project.

LEM allows us to create shared visual models that can be understood by everyone participating on a project. It helps everyone involved understand the desired learning experience, project and business goals, and required outcomes before we begin any discussions about the How. Just as important, it helps us create a model that can be translated easily into the optimum bundle of services and technology.

Making the Invisible Visible

We begin our projects with a collaborative learning design workshop that involves all project stakeholders. The purpose of this workshop is to help us gather the necessary information to understand, at a deeper level, the vision for the project.

Kickoff Meeting and Design Workshop Agenda - Design Workshop Agenda.png

(Click to see large version of the agenda)

We begin the workshop with discussions around the current project vision, goals, audience, and

desired experience. During this segment, we ask questions to uncover specifics related to the four design layers we want to address in our modeling process.

Design Layers.png

In the next segment, we introduce participants to LEM and the basic building blocks for creating a learning environment model.

Building Blocks.png

Once we feel comfortable that everyone understands the visual building blocks and how to use them, we move into a collaborative modeling session in which we define more specifically the experience we want learners to have.  We then create an initial learning environment model that is optimized for delivering that experience.

Client Design Workshop Model - Design Workshop Model.png

(Click to see large version of the model)

Based on the discussion and modeling activity during the workshop, we create a proposed draft model for approval. When this is finalized we have a visual model, co-created based on a common language, that defines clearly and accurately the What of the project.

Having created this foundation, we’re able to move forward comfortably with modeling the How. Now we can begin creating Build Boards and simple prototypes to ensure our learning environment model actually translates into a specific in-person or virtual environment.

But, if you're still wondering how to solve your translation problem...

Cartoon by Vicky Woodward

NextThought is an innovative learning solutions provider specializing in engaging experiences that produce increased learning potential, participant satisfaction, and member retention.