While it might sound like a bit of a glib statement, most of us would agree that LMSs and other platforms (LXPs etc.) rarely get the usage people expect when they purchase them. And when your organisation has invested a substantial amount of money and time in the platform (and is potentially locked into a contract) low take-up is a problem. Obviously, usage isn't the sole indicator of effectiveness but it can usually be relied on as a leading indicator that you are on-track to achieve your outcomes.
So, if you're looking for ROI on your learning platform, it makes sense to investigate why uptake is low and see what you can do about it. In this short article, we'll explore three of the main reasons why learning platforms are under-utilised and some simple things you can do to change that.
Problem 1 – Nobody knows about it
Maybe you have a learning platform full of useful stuff that could help staff perform better in their roles, but they just don't know what's there. It's a common problem. There's so much noise in the modern workplace that it's difficult for most people to find time to engage with things outside their immediate priorities. If that's the case, you need to think like a marketer.
Solution – Marketing and advocacy
Launch your learning platform like a product. Think about the core value proposition behind it for staff and communicate it to them in places you know they will notice. For example, if people use Slack or Teams for most of their work, get the message out there. If they live out of their email inboxes, set up an email marketing campaign with subject lines and content that will jump out at them.
However, you choose to market the platform, you'll need advocates to convince people of its worth, and to help them make the most of it. It's a good idea to take a multi-layered approach to this. Starting at the top, ensure senior stakeholders are talking about the platform favourably, and help managers buy into the benefits, too. Then find champions who can help their peers get familiar with the platform and what's on it. You could have them run short conversations and learning sessions in their regular meetings to help raise interest.
Problem 2 – Learners can't find useful or relevant content
If you want people to use the learning platform, it's vital that what's on there is useful and relevant to them. Learners also need to know where to find the most useful content for them at any given point in time – which can be a challenge if you have tons of content on the system to help people out with a multitude of challenges. When that's the case, it's useful to go back and understand the core problem your learning content is solving for the learner.
Solution – Effective problem-space discovery, content creation and curation
Understanding the problem space is key to creating something useful and relevant to your learners. Whether you use human-centered design, Jobs-to-be-done or another modern design framework, it’s vital that you start by being clear on what problem you are solving for learners. If it's an important enough problem for them, they will engage with the solution.
If it's a problem that's important for the company but that the learners don't feel is important to them personally, a learning platform is likely not the best place to try and convince them. In these cases something more experiential and immersive is likely a better solution.
If you've established that your content is relevant and useful to learners, then the next job is to make it as easy as possible for them to get to it. The first method for this is search. People love Google because most of the time, what you're looking for will be in the top three search results, and a learning platform should be no different. For example, if someone wants to know how to use a company-specific piece of software and can't find the answer on Google (because they will Google it first), they should be able to search for it and have it come up straight away. So, as part of your discovery work, you need to understand what terms people use to search for this content and set up the titles and metadata in a way that works for that search.
The other learner problem you might help with here is when they know they need something but not exactly where to start. In this case, curated pathways can be useful. This might mean having a learning designer create a journey that covers several areas which are relevant to the learner, or using an algorithm to guess what content will be most useful based on their role, current skills and knowledge, and what other people in a similar position to them have found useful.
Generally speaking, modern product management methodologies are more effective than the traditional L&D toolkit (Training needs analysis etc.) for understanding the problem space. If you're new to this, I'd suggest reading more on:
- Product discovery (An introduction to the core concepts behind Jobs-to-be-done)
- User research (A simple way to understand your users better through informal conversations in this book)
- Human-centered design (IDEO has a great toolkit here)
- 5Di (Nick Shackleton-Jones makes many of the core concepts of human-centered design relevant to a learning audience in this book)
Problem 3 – Platform UX
Learning platforms in companies solve many problems for many people, and that's a difficult thing for any product to do. Think of the best products you use every day – they almost always do one thing really well. It's slightly unfair, but your learners will be comparing the platform to the consumer-grade solutions they use in their home lives. When that's the case, it's important to make the most of the strengths of the platform and fill the UX gaps in another way.
Solution - Simplify and streamline
Again, this goes back to the fundamental question – What problem does your learning platform solve for your audience? If you're clear on this, then you can play to the platform’s strengths and simplify the experience for learners. When doing this, it's also important to consider your learning ecosystem: the other platforms involved in the experience and how they integrate.
For example, your learning platform might have great features that learners could use to find useful, relevant content at the point of need. If this is the case, and it's what solves the most compelling problem for learners, focus on that above the other features and make it the easiest part of the experience for them to get to.
Use tools such as Google Analytics or Hotjar to see the data on how your learners currently use the platform. You'll be able to see where they drop out or get frustrated and focus your improvement efforts there. Consider the other elements of your learning offering that your learning platform might be trying to host and whether they could be better housed elsewhere. For example, if Slack or Teams is the place where most of the informal collaboration happens in your organisation, it's likely a much better home for the social elements of your learning offering than trying to do it in an LMS.
If you do decide to take the approach of using several platforms and playing each to its strengths, it's important to ensure the overall experience is seamless. That likely means setting up single-sign-on so people don't have to remember multiple passwords and making the most of already-available integrations (for example, many LMSs and LXPs such as Sumtotal already have MS Teams integrations) or building your own if needed. If your platform has an API, you could even use simple automation tools like Zapier to build your own integrations.
If your learning platform still doesn't solve the learner problems well enough, you could consider what other plugins or tools you could use with it to make it more effective. For example, we have an assessment tool we use with our learning programmes to surface the learning content that will be most impactful for the learner, so they don't need to waste time on things they already know. We also have tools that can curate learner journeys from content already in a learning platform and bring that journey to the learner's attention so they know where to start. They are both simple tools that don't replace an LMS – just make it more effective.
When learning platform uptake is low, there are plenty of things you can try to improve the situation. However, all of them rely on one simple starting point – ensuring you are solving a worthwhile problem for your audience.
You can get started with small steps, in fact, that's what I'd recommend. Choose one thing to focus on at a time, write a hypothesis on what you think the outcome will be (and what you can measure to see whether the change achieved that outcome) then make the change, learn from it and decide what to test next.
Interested in a learning strategy that works? Talk to us today.