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Awareness isn't a good starting point for a learning program

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We regularly have people coming to us saying that they need a program to ‘make people aware of …’  The ‘awareness’ word is used a lot, particularly in induction and compliance programs. These requests don’t come from learning and development people, instead they usually come from subject matter experts for whom training has become a part of their role. Building awareness is not a great starting point for a learning program. Awareness is not a verb; it's not active; it doesn't lead to a behavioural outcome. If there is not a behavioural outcome then the project shouldn’t be called a learning project.   

The problem is often more complex than people first think

When we begin to explore someone’s motivations for wanting to focus just on awareness, we discover reasons such as they don't want the solution to be complex. When we ask more questions we find it’s really a behavioural problem they need to solve, the complexity of which they are not fully prepared for. They see a course as a quick fix. Awareness is seen as being simple and easier for the learner. Sometimes I think the term is used as it sounds like it will be cheaper to build!

Using digital learning tools doesn’t mean it is a learning project  

These awareness-type projects are actually more concerned with internal communications matters. Using digital learning approaches such as interactive storytelling and media can make the experience more engaging but that still doesn’t make it a learning program. There isn’t necessarily a behavioural outcome.

The need to track users is not a good reason to use digital learning

The reason people might want to use digital learning is to track who was engaged with the resource. There are now a lot of digital marketing tools for doing exactly this type of tracking. When a site asks about accepting a ‘cookie’ this is so that they can track you. If you have entered your email to sign up or download a resource, the pages you’re accessing are being matched to your profile. In an enterprise, there are a number of technical ways to match employee details to pages accessed on a website.

What to do with your next ‘awareness project’

Next time you come across a learning program that is focused on awareness, try to:

  • figure out what the problem really is and rework the learning objective into an active verb

  • think about the solution as further developing your learning ecosystem

  • see if there is another way to track usage of the resource outside of a learning management system

  • use interactive tools to make it more engaging, but don’t confuse the project with being a learning program merely because of their use.