Global corporate learning is improving but it is not yet meeting the needs of learners around the world. A description of the current state of global learning and some of its causes can be found in the first article here. This article is part of a series meant to equip the learning leaders of global organizations on the best practices for creating engaging and impactful learning experiences for every team member, no matter the region or culture. CLICK HERE to see a list of the topics covered in this series and access the articles.
In November 1965, German economist Theodore Levitt wrote an article in the Harvard Business Journal entitled “Exploit the Product Life Cycle.” Levitt was aware that the concept was not new. It has become a common term in the corporate world. His concern was that so few were using it: “Now that so many people know and in some fashion understand the product life cycle, it seems time to put it to work. The object of this article is to suggest some ways of using the concept effectively and of turning the knowledge of its existence into a managerial instrument of competitive power.” (https://hbr.org/1965/11/exploit-the-product-life-cycle).
The things we create go through a similar process. Actually, everything we know and experience goes through it. Beginning with development, objects go through a growth stage. Eventually they reach maturity. And finally, they begin an inevitable decline. Our entire universe is going through this process. So is our solar system. So are all human beings and every part of our existence.
Levitt was not attempting to coin a new phrase or idea. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew this cycle 3,000 years ago. Aristotle was aware of the same dynamic 2,300 years ago. There is always a clock ticking on who we are and what we create.
3 BIG QUESTIONS OF LIFECYCLES
What Levitt was arguing for in 1965 was intentionality in the face of the lifecycle of products. In his opinion, corporate and organizational leaders knew about lifecycles but were failing to think about them in product development and how they might be applied early in the creation process. He asked 3 questions:
- Given a proposed new product or service, how and to what extent can the shape and duration of each stage be predicted?
- Given an existing product, how can one determine what stage it is in?
- Given all this knowledge, how can it be effectively used?
LIFECYCLES OF LEARNING
Think about the learning projects that currently occupy your time and your mind. Most of the focus is on the Development Stage. For those who love learning, this is often where the most fun and creativity is found. It is the opportunity to help people grow in what they know and what they are able to do. This is what enticed many of us into the learning and development world in the first place.
Once developed, we often do not think a great deal about the growth stage in which a learning experience is launched into an organization. We tend to create and release, without giving much thought to how it performs. The same is true for seeing the learning experience grow into maturing where it takes root and begins to produce fruit through increased safety, stronger and more caring leadership, and growing efficiency.
Mature learning leaders give thought to the growth and maturity stages of the lifecycle. They plan for the release of new opportunities. They think of their learners as consumers whose time is valuable and they market their products to them (learn more here.) They want to squeeze every last drop of juice out of it because they realize that success means more than just releasing new content.
FOCUSING ON THE “DECLINE” STAGE
The focus of this article is the last stage: Decline. This is the most often ignored stage for good reason. Who wants to think about the inevitable decline in the middle of creating and launching something?
The problem is, that we have all experienced learning that has gotten long in the tooth—dated images, old technology, or even worse, out-of-date training that misses steps or teaches processes that have not been used in years. Many learners can tell stories of onboarding for weeks only to find out quickly that what they were taught is not how things are done.
There are several benefits to thinking about the lifecycle of the learning experience you are creating at the very beginning of the development process. Being intentional about the inevitable decline makes it easier to plan the projects in your annual production calendar. Annual budgeting becomes easier if you are tracking the lifecycle and performance of your learning and you already know which modules will need to be refreshed in the coming fiscal year.
KEY QUESTIONS FOR LIFECYCLE MANAGEMENT
The goal in lifecycle management is keeping a project in maturity and out of the decline stage for as long as possible. There are some key questions to consider as learning materials are being developed to help manage the process:
- How often is the material likely to change? It is helpful to think about the topic for which you are creating learning material and take an educated guess as to how often the content will be changed. Categories like short-term (within 12 months), medium-term (12-24 months), and long-term (24+ months) will be helpful. This enables you to create a revision schedule for your team and helps with budgeting.
- What is the priority level of the learning? Not all learning experiences have the same level of priority. Mission-critical learning is most often connected to safety or production procedures that are essential to keeping everyone safe and efficient. Priority decision factors usually include things like topic, visibility, and the potential impact of incorrect information.
- How will your learning team find out about changes to content? Although your team is made up of experts in learning, they are not subject matter experts in every topic. Think about how changes in processes and procedures will be communicated from your team. One good way is to schedule an SME review of the content on a regular basis. Small changes can be implemented in a matter of days. Bigger changes or entire system alterations will require more time.
- How will you control various versions of the content? Multiple versions of the same learning become chaotic quickly. It is important to have a process (and good software) to ensure that there are not multiple versions of the same content on your LMS at the same time. Being deliberate is the key.
- Do you have planned revision cycles? Most universities have developed set revision cycles for content which enables them to plan, schedule, and budget for the work. This seems less common in the corporate and non-profit worlds of learning. Typically there are two types. Minor revisions are planned every 1-2 years in which SMEs will review the material and make small improvements or additions to keep the content relevant. Major revision cycles are often planned every 2-3 years and begin with a review of objectives and work through all content. In a major revision, content will be changed and newer technology may be employed to increase learner engagement.
I’ll end with two cautionary tales. Recently, Ingenuiti was asked to update some learning experiences that included a substantial amount of video. We were given scripts and the previous video for review. The person sending the video apologized in advance and he was right to do so—it was awful. The clothes and hairstyles were from the 1980s (mullets anyone?). So were the vehicles and office decor. Many of the processes described were no longer accurate. We can only imagine what new employees thought when they engaged with these modules in their onboarding.
The second story was of a newly hired CLO at a large grocery store chain. As part of her orientation, she took online courses that all new employees were required to complete. The courses were old, inaccurate, and communicated that the company did not value onboarding. She told me that, had she been anyone else and taken these courses as is, she might have resigned immediately.
Managing the lifecycle means not only getting the most value from the learning you create, it also means communicating that the learners who spend their time taking them are deeply valued. It can mean the difference between a healthy learning culture, in which employees are engaged, and one in which people and learning are devalued.
Ingenuit is a unique learning agency that combines expertise in learning, localization, and staff augmentation. We are ISO-certified in three different areas to ensure projects are on time, on budget, and on target. To view our solutions, please visit our learning solutions page CLICK HERE. If you need another set of eyes on your global learning solutions, the learning experts at Ingenuiti are ready to help. We offer a Global Learning Needs Analysis which is a session with our learning experts to review your learning challenges and consider solutions. Please click CLICK HERE to set up a time to talk.