Updating Your Learning Management Systems (Part 1)

When discussing updating Learning Management Systems (LMS), people often think of how they can buy additional computers, create more robust networks, and add new software. We’re not going to deal with that issue in this blog. Rather, the issue this week regards how organizations update the content and/or presentation of their learning modules. Organizations may have on-line training for orientation, compliance, various skill set demonstrations, and, obviously, a myriad of other educational objectives. The content of certain trainings rarely changes, but for others the content might change on a yearly, monthly, or even weekly basis.

In this week’s blog, we’ll discuss the need for updating based on changes in content. Next week, we’ll cover issues regarding changes in presentation.

The Need for Updating and Refining—In General

Corporations should always take a look at their educational material in the context of updating. This is not change for the sake of change, but should be part of a general internal process of assessment and reassessment. Much updating takes place on the “fly,” as it were; that is, when a problem is identified, the relevant administrator will make a change. For example, imagine an employee contact form that does not have a space for an emergency contact; an administrator—especially in a smaller organization—will simply change the template and print out new copies of the form. That might seem like a trivial example, but, actually, it is relevant to training.

How is this relevant in the world of training? How many of us have gone to mandatory, annual trainings with the same trainer using the exact same PowerPoint? How often have you noticed that all of the mistakes you noticed last year are still in the presentation this year? It makes one think that the trainer simply blew the dust of her/his presentation and mouthed the same thing. In fact, some trainers might even start such meetings with the comment, “I know nobody wants to be here, but we have to do this . . .” The issue at hand is not the trainers temperament per se, but the care placed in crafting educational material. Poor material serves to inhibit the desire and ability to learn.

Types of Content Changes

Administrators should keep in mind several different issues while refining and updating the organization’s educational material. Some of these changes are simple and almost technical, while others are of a more substantive nature.

  1. Basic Changes. Those creating and/or maintaining the educational and training material must attend to basic issues. Some might suggest, “Don’t sweat the small things,” but if you don’t take your own work seriously, then it’s hard for others to do the same. Grammar, spelling, syntax, sentence and paragraph structure—all of these things matter. These errors are easy to correct. Don’t let their presence in your materials serve as a learning distraction. There are particular challenges for the “PowerPoint” variety of trainings; this format uses bullet points with short, pithy statements. Grammar and syntax is this framework can get confusing.  Do I capitalize the first word of subheading or list? What if I have a second sentence after the first one? If you’d like to be a stickler, then check the Chicago Manual of Style (6:130-131). However, an easy rule to follow is this: pick a “rule” in your style and be consistent. It’s the inconsistencies that are distracting. (Though use of the CMS is not a bad choice.)
  2. Factual Errors and/or Inconsistencies. Nothing undercuts student interest more than a teacher or training material that presents incorrect information. Say what? That would never happen. Wrong. I have seen it happen any number of times. Sometimes I would address that at the time and others after the training. It’s extremely discouraging when the trainer does not entertain the possibility of being incorrect. At colleges or paid trainings, students feel like they are wasting their money; at the workplace, it undercuts morale and respect in a profound manner. Checking for errors of this sort is not easy. Such is not identified by spell-check, and, especially if you were the author of the material, realizing these problems is challenging by definition. In your mind, it was not an error when you wrote it . . . Getting others, informed others, to read your materials is always essential. Similarly, while, as a trainer, you are supposed to be the “expert,” encourage your students to point out parts of the training that could be corrected. You want to create a community of learning and critical thinking, not a herd of sheep who abide by your every word. In fact, you may find that any given student may be more knowledgeable than you.
  3. “New” Information. “There’s nothing new under the sun.” “I’ve seen it all.” “What’s old is new again.” This type of aphorism is a valuable heuristic to ward off the hex of novelty and the fallacy of presentism. Yet at the same time, attitudes like this inadvertently feed into an intellectual laziness and auger against materially new and valuable information. Let’s break this down into several sub-categories:
  • Technical Information. A good example for this sub-category is the annual, mandatory training, for example, compliance training. Most performing this type of training are on top of their field and are aware of new material to be integrated into their training.  For example, the City Council and the Federal Government passes a new ethics law regarding government employees. This most certainly would or should be included in the training. Indeed, sending this information out prior to the training, along with the e-mail announcement can pique interest in the training and spark greater dialogue during the meeting. Another update in this regard might be operational modifications. Imagine a complex machine is malfunctioning not only at your plant throughout the country. Training might need to include information, for example, about warnings and new safety protocols. While updates of this sort happen in real-time on-the-job, for reasons of safety if not liability, organizations should update any written material as well.
  • Alternative Approaches. This type of information update frequently occurs, for example, in clinical trainings. A previous training may include three modalities for treating a certain condition; however, since the last training, the FDA may have approved a new modality of treatment. Similar to clinical modalities, one may deliver a lecture on political analysis, a matter subject to frequent changes. A professor may have to re-write her/his lecture to reassess massive shifts in voting behavior and political identification. Political pundits may argue that all of the old assumptions have to be thrown out the window . . .
  • Contrary Information. Trainings are filled with content that make references to “no known cases” or “yet to be found.” As we all know, unprecedented, new cases can and do occur. So the keeper of an organization’s training material should update a training to include that new case or discovery. For example, imagine a legal training on labor law; a new precedent could happen at any time. Include it in the text of the training instead of just orally referring to it in passing. Likewise, while valuable in and of itself, check other parts of your training for consistency with the “new” information.
  • Timely Examples and References. The use of contemporary examples and references may seem superfluous, but they serve an important function of making the training real and tangible to the student. The class or training is not just some dry material one is forced to learn, but a matter that could have a personal impact. Again, let’s use compliance training as an example: news of a local government official who violated the new ethics law and was fined $10,000. This will get their attention. There are countless other examples one can and should draw upon. Think about drawing upon ideas and matters in popular culture or political life and relate that to your training. What does this mean? Imagine CPR trainings with instructors referring to how CPR was represented in a recent television episode. Was it realistic? This makes the training material seem relevant while also engaging the students.

There are other categories of content that should be updated, but you get the picture. Trainers and educators should be mindful. Your degree of mindfulness is communicated to your students through your material. Take it seriously.

Next week, we’ll look at updates and refinements in the presentation of your training. Till then, keep cool.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist


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