Providence Health & Services recently launched a community of practice — a group of individuals who collaborate to fulfill both individual and group goals — and this group needed an online platform to reach members across several states about instructional design. I learned about Path2X during a workshop several months ago. Path2X incorporates numerous helpful features. I was excited about implementing the enhanced tools and I understood how these tools matched the organic ways in which people learn such as finding, sharing, and discussing articles or asking for help with a particular skill from an experienced peer. The failure was not due to Path2X, it was due to factors that should have been considered when launching any social learning initiative, regardless of the platform used.
LESSON #1: START SMALL AND FOCUS ON USERS’ NEEDS
I made the mistake of explaining how each tool in Path2X worked immediately, rather than focusing on the purpose of the group — instructional design. Many group members became lost in the amount of information about the tools and were quickly turned off to using them.
The lesson I learned was to first focus on the users’ needs. I should have identified their high-priority needs, then I should have identified and used the tools that supported those needs. I later found that they primarily wanted to download templates, learn how to use specific skills, and discuss best practices with particular authoring workflows. These needs all stem from a desire to increase their production capacity on their current and upcoming projects. They did not want to learn about the latest trends nor how to track their progress.
I would have initially focused solely on file sharing, lessons and tutorials and group discussions since they matched the user needs. Hold off on introducing other tools until there is an interest or an organic way to introduce them.
LESSON #2: COMMUNICATE THE BENEFITS IN A WAY THAT USERS WILL UNDERSTAND
When I first started this initiative, I had spent some time configuring the site so it would best support the group’s learning needs. I made examples of how the mentoring would work, aggregating more than 5,000 relevant blog articles, tutorials, templates and discussion threads. In a very real sense, I was completely focused on how the features worked rather than identifying what the benefits were and how they supported the goals of the group. For example, the group said they wanted to have templates to help them author their projects faster to meet their deadlines. The benefit of being able to access and use templates is reduced production time which results in less stress and greater ability to meet due dates. If I could redo the Path2X launch, I would have explained a basic tool by explaining its benefit then shown how it can be used to decrease production time.
LESSON #3: BE CLEAR ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
During the set-up of the online forum, I often thought about the vibrant social learning that could occur including the exchange of timely questions and thought-provoking answers, feedback on projects and developing valuable relationships.
The lesson I learned was how important it is to clarify expectations. I did not explore with key stakeholders and explain to the users what was expected of them, me, and of the whole project. Before implementing social learning, be clear about how often users should participate in online discussions, and the frequency that facilitators will post templates and other resources.
Looking back, instead of thinking about what could occur, I need to be thinking about clarifying what should occur. Avoid this by having discussions early with key stakeholders about expectations of the users, host, and project.
A FINAL WORD TO THE WISE
The Path2X launch was an implementation failure, not a technical one. It doesn’t matter how good whatever social learning platform you use — you’ll be three steps ahead of the game if you learn from my mistakes.
— Johnny Hamilton is Online Instructional Designer at Providence Health & Services. He is a 2016 Learning! Champion for extraordinary contributions to the learning industry.