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How to create great learning content that actually drives learning | Advice from the experts

Ever Googled something and ended up on an article from ten or more years ago? It’s dated, the format’s difficult to digest and it quickly becomes a tricky read – and if you remember when the internet actually looked like that, it’ll make you feel incredibly old even quicker!

Like most of us, the internet has matured as it’s gotten older and it’s shaped our expectations of content. When we search for something, we expect the answer to be staring us in the face or at least it’s clearly marked in a more detailed resource. We no longer want to read 3,000-word essays, four-hour videos are a big turn off and training events where we’re locked in a room all day have really lost their appeal.

But while online content is leading the way, a lot of learners are wading through dated learning content that’s counterintuitive to how we learn naturally and outside of work. Case in point would be compliance training, where 70% of content is longer than 30 minutes and 18% exceeds the hour mark. So it’s no wonder that one study on compliance was dominated by a single word – boring.

And those are some of the reasons why great content can be so powerful, but how do you do it? That’s what we’ll be covering here! We’ve even roped in a few experts from the HowNow community to share their tips too.

Focus on people’s problems and the solutions they need

We couldn’t resist shoehorning in another expert here, but Bob Mosher explained it best in our podcast conversation: learning should be designed for the moment it needs to be applied.

And that moment that we need to apply it is when there’s a problem to be solved! Something that  Nikolina Todorova, HR Manager at Xoomworks, was keen to point out:

“Great content should help people find answers to their questions/solutions to their problems. That’s why we should start from gathering people’s needs – what they face as problems/issues. We should also discuss the same with Team Managers. Then we will have the major topics.”

But when content isn’t centred around our moment of need, it becomes very difficult to find it, understand it and apply it. As we’ll look at shortly, formats and length of content are directly tied into this idea – but the starting point should absolutely be conversations and analysis of any relevant data. 

Surveys are often great for getting an overall sense and broad responses, but ensure you’re having those consulting conversations to truly get to the heart of the matter. You might find that people come to you asking for the solution before you’ve even had a discussion around the problem – resist the urge to prescribe what they’re asking for and truly get to the heart of the matter.

But even the best conversations might not tell you things your data can! Let’s take a customer success team as an example, there might typically be five key touch points in each relationship – which stage has the longest response time? That might indicate a problem or challenge. It’s the same with a sales team that loses a higher percentage of leads at a particular stage of the cycle. There might be problems they’ve yet to realise…

And the challenge is ignoring the temptation to solve more than one problem at once. Onboarding would be a great example because we need to consider what’s relevant during the new starter journey – what do they need to know now and what can wait until they’re up to speed?

That’s something that Katie Harrison, People Operations Assistant at Cognism, explained when we asked her what makes great content:

“Ensure it is something that is useful and people will need to know. A question I always ask myself when creating content is what would I want to know on day one?”

Think about the formats that matter to your people

On the subject of speaking with people and understanding what they need, Adam Davies, People Development Partner at Gymshark, makes a brilliant point:

“Vary it, make it relevant and engaging by asking people what they want to consume and how they want to consume it.”

It’s important that your conversations with people include discussions around the types of content that resonate with them. Even if we boil learning styles down to their most basic principles or what most of us could spot during our school days, some people learn best in theory and others in practice. And it’s those preferences that you need to establish and consider when you’re working out how to create effective learning content.

Another consideration is why and when people are trying to solve the problems you’ve established. That will impact the formats you choose. A basic example would be if customer support reps are dealing with people on the phone and need to troubleshoot as the call develops, any audio-driven content would make that more difficult for them. In those situations, written step-by-step instructions or a cheat sheet would be more likely to help them out.

And you’ve got to recognise that these preferences change over time. If people are leaving and new employees are coming in, it can shift. If you introduce new technology, that might drive changes. And you might find that the data around learning content indicates certain types are more effective than the perceived winners – so make sure you’re paying attention to that too.

Create specific resources and harness the power of microlearning

Microlearning and that moment of need are the perfect match! When you encounter a problem, you’ve hardly got time to flick through a huge book or sign up for a training course a few weeks away – taking those approaches would really see the moment pass. Microlearning is about offering specific and relevant content that people can apply when they need it.

Marie Payne, People Development Specialist at Checkout.com, sums it up in a fittingly concise fashion:

“Keep it short, sweet and focused. Tackle one thing at a time.”

Nikolina Todorova, HR Manager at Xoomworks, made a similar point:

“The content itself should be simple and to the point, with step-by-step solutions. If it covers soft skills then it should include real-life examples taken from our business context.”

And that one thing at a time approach has plenty of benefits for learners! Research has shown that it can increase learner engagement by 50%, retention by up to 80% and performance by 17%. Mostly because people can easily understand the information and use it to overcome the specific problem it sets out to address.

But as Martin Møller Andersen, Head of Global L&D Online Learning and Operations at Telenor, points out, microlearning shouldn’t be the only tool in your arsenal:

“It depends on the level of skill required. Sometimes you need short, relevant and contextualized content that can easily be applied in a work context. 

Other times you need more deep diving content that covers a broader perspective. It’s about connecting people with the right content, in the right context, together with the right peers.”

You need to recognise where people need more information than you can cover in one short resource. Whether you use that resource as part of a wider course or create something separate that goes into the necessary detail – that’s up to you and those consulting conversations with employees.

Use social learning and tap into subject matter experts

There’s no point trying to come up with a better opening to this section, Edd Tomlinson, Senior Consultant at Xoomworks, summed it up perfectly!

“Everyone is a fountain of knowledge in their own right. We promote SMEs to share this knowledge and ask the learners to create their notes as Nuggets so that the knowledge is documented for future reference.”

So, could the best way to create great learning content actually be to step aside? At the risk of damaging all of our L&D or people development egos, the answer is sometimes yes! People all across your business have experiences, skills and knowledge that could help others overcome challenges. 

It’s the idea of making someone’s a-ha! moments available to everyone else. A lot of what we learn comes from others, it’s the natural way that we top up our knowledge bank and correct blind spots. Especially at work, when people are able and willing to share contextual knowledge with us. The 70-20-10 rule is a seemingly mandatory inclusion when making this point but it’s one worth making because 70% of what we learn happens on the job, 20% socially and 10% from formal education.

Subject matter experts in your team have either encountered the same challenges on the job or can share insights that relate to your clients, product and company. And that’s why it’s important to give them the tools to create content! But it’s equally important that you’re determining the knowledge and skills in your team, which talents you need to progress and the gap between the two – that’s what we call a learning needs analysis

In our case, HowNow empowers people to create and share knowledge in the form of Nuggets – which can be as simple as adding some text and saving, or you can dive into some of the video or more design-led content types we’ve discussed. If you’d like to see the Nugget in action, you can check out our on-demand product demo