Driving Learner Engagement at Choice Hotels

Driving Learner Engagement at Choice Hotels

Choice Hotels International earns the 2020 Learning! 100 Award for performance.

Choice Hotel International’s Choice University focuses on learning as a way to drive performance and increase franchisee profitability. We serve a wide variety of learners, comprised of 60,000+ external staff employed by more than 6,500 franchised locations and 14 brands worldwide. We build a culture of learning internally, within the Choice University learning organization, and support franchisees with resources and tools to build their own culture of learning. Discover how Choice Hotel’s culture is pivotal to learner performance here.

Jeneane Becker, Dean, Choice University 

The Learner Engagement Problem

A significant business challenge for Choice University (CU) is to drive learner engagement. Specifically, to create content and tools that develop learner habits to return again and again for bite-size doses of content to build performance in key areas.  Developing the right solutions requires a deep understanding of learner needs what they need, when they need it, and how they prefer it.

To address this business challenge, some areas of focus included:

  • Content: CU already had lots of relevant, shorter-form content, but needed more intentional methods for learners to consume it bit by bit over time.
  • Operational Realities: CU learners serve guests around the clock and, therefore, never know when a customer need will arise. They frequently have minimal time between customer interactions and need to incorporate learning within day-to-day operations.
  • Change is the New Normal: In hospitality, change is constant. There is always new technology to adopt, trends to adapt to, and corporate programs to train hotels and staff on to help bring in and keep more revenue, satisfy guests, and drive loyalty.
  • Forgetting Curve: Learnershave a habit of powering through content all at once but need content refreshers and energizers to promote knowledge transfer and application.
  • Needs Assessments: Various surveys and assessments uncovered insights about gaps in content, topics they cannot get too much of, and format preferences.
  • Video Capability: Needs assessment and the usage data CU track indicates that video has overwhelmingly become the learners’ preferred format (s), but the team’s video capability has historically been minimal.

The Solution

To address this business challenge, CU put in place a comprehensive 5-part solution including: upgrading the LMS to include a video platform (tools), shifting the blended learning approach based on a thorough needs analysis (process), upskilling team member video capability (people), standing up a corporate-based video “studio” (people, process, tools), and implementing a reinforcement strategy and automation (process, tools).

  1. Video platform

Two years ago, the team transformed the franchisee facing LMS to be a more engaging, relevant, dynamic and user-friendly learning tool, which continues to evolve based on what is working (or not), learner needs, and available tools and business objectives.  Simultaneously, the team shifted to developing shorter form resources.  Improvements occurred in how learners engaged with the content, including increased LMS visits, decreased search, and session times (learners are finding content faster), and higher volume of learning consumed.  The LMS was modified to more of a Learning Experience Platform than LMS, hosting more dynamic learning experiences while utilizing the same technology platform.

In the last 12 months, the LMS system was enhanced with a YouTube-style video delivery platform, ChoiceU TV. The channel showcases Choice-specific short-form video content.  The ChoiceU TV platform makes finding and accessing over 200 industry specific video e-learning easier and more intuitive.  The time required for franchise learners to get the resources they need directly impacts franchise business results.  They need to be able to find the right resources quickly to resolve guest needs.    After completing a video on the ChoiceU TV platform, learners are recommended related video content to further upskill on the topic they have searched.  This not only draws them in to watch the next video, but also provides stimulus to return for more learning in the future. 

  • Shift in Blended Learning Approach

CU has also hosted more blended learning while dramatically shifting instructional design to shorter-form, interactive, and action-oriented self-paced e-learning content.  CU learners overwhelmingly prefer video as their primary learning format (70+%) versus On-The-Job Training, Electronic Lesson, and Webinars/VILT following 47%, 45%, 40%, respectively.

Striking a balance of learning experiences is essential.  The team utilized this approach on a learning project that addressed a key corporate objective: helping hotels drive more sales and increase top line revenue.  In this project, the blend of deliverables (39% e-lesson, 30% video, 17% document/job aid, 13% on-the-job activities) was determined through a methodical examination of the business needs and the ideal learning experience.  CU increased the video mix, but not for the sake of more videos. It has been a methodical shift based on the intended learning outcomes.

Another adjustment made to the blended approach was with Webinars.  Video was the front-runner regardless of how the learner data was analyzed, but Owners and Hotel Managers preferred Webinars/VILT as a second choice (nearly 50%).  CU-designed webinar offerings are highly interactive, fostering social and peer learning, so this finding made sense for hotel leaders who are interested in learning from their own experiences and drawing from the broad experiences of their peers.  Webinar offerings were honed to address the specific learning needs of Hotel Owners and Managers.  The frequency of webinars was modified to drive attendance and enhance the level of interaction. 

Finally, the “life cycle of relevancy” process was adopted, where a live webinar was made available for a set period to a target audience, then repackaged the content into smaller video e-learnings and made available on the LMS for the broader learner audience.  This process has reached more Owners and Managers with an interactive format they prefer, gather insights from those webinars, and then share the content with the broader audience on an ongoing basis.  Additionally, it has reinforced learning and key messages beyond an initial, single content offering.

  • Upskill Video Capability

Recognizing that video has quickly overtaken other formats as learners’ most preferred delivery method, the CU team did an internal skills and capability inventory.  While the team had dabbled with developing video learning content already, their video capabilities were still rudimentary, and consisted mostly of screen capture and slideshow-narration videos.  The team needed to quickly ratchet up video competency to deliver more of what learners were asking for and needed. 

The team invested in some basic and inexpensive equipment that allowed field facilitators to capture high quality video using their personal mobile devices.  Pairing team members’ learning design expertise with their passion for learning and an entrepreneurial spirit, the team adapted a polished design processes (storyboards, scripting, quality review, etc.) to video development.  The intention was low-mid production, YouTube style videos on select business-relevant topics since learners find them more authentic and engaging.   Since this style of rapid, self-developed content is new to the team, review parameters were established to ensure high quality, relevant content for maximum business impact. Eighty-five percent of CU’s facilitators have been upskilled and have been regularly capturing and producing professional video content over the past six months.

  • Corporate-based Video Studio

Enterprise-wide, the team want to help franchisees drive more business, retain more revenue, and satisfy guests in an increasingly crowded and competitive industry.  New or enhanced systems, technology, and resources to better support hotels’ business are being rolled out regularly.   It is important that that hotels have the resources as quickly as possible to help them understand, adopt, and implement the changes.

Mid-2019, Choice University video “studio” space was launched in the headquarters office and set up video capabilities in a secondary office.  It is equipped with video, lighting, sound equipment, and backdrop options.  The studio provides us the ability to pair our learning expertise with a stakeholder’s subject matter knowledge to produce content efficiently, leveraging the stakeholder in the design process and on camera.  CU partnered with one stakeholder to produce a video series that addressed several questions most frequently asked.  The stakeholder’s team provided the questions and the answer content, and the L&D team helped with storyboards and scripting, including the chunking of content into separate videos, prepared the stakeholder to be on camera.  The final product(s) are a shared achievement of CU and our stakeholder. 

The studio is also used to produce a quick video that gets the word out about a new system, program, or resource in order to help hotels understand the “Why” and “WIIFM” (i.e. what’s in it for me) of the change.  This helps the stakeholder create early buzz and buy-in for a coming change, and it allows us time to build more in-depth learning solutions like e-lessons, webinars, and job aids over time.  The studio capabilities have helped satisfy our internal business partner needs more quickly and effectively as well as improved the ability to build hotels’ awareness of upcoming changes to adopt.

  • Reinforcement Strategy and Automation

Countless studies have shown that once-and-done learning is ineffective.  Yet, learning teams often deploy a full suite of learning resources all at once.  Learners consume the available training and perhaps the organization sees a spike in behavior change. However, without continued reinforcement over time, pre-training behaviors eventually return.  The ultimate purpose of learning is to change behavior, which takes time, repetition, practice, and continuous encouragement. 

One powerful example of putting reinforcement learning to the test was with a learning project tied to the loyalty program (Choice Privileges® Rewards Program), a program with which every hotel employee interacts.  The blended solution recommended included a mix of e-lessons, videos, activities, and job aids.  The team designed several “foundational” resources that would be released first and would always be available to learners.  The curriculum also included bite-sized “reinforcement” tools and resources that would be strategically released to learners through the LMS one-by-one over time and cyclically retired, so the content would not become an overwhelming quantity.  Foundation content is intended to provide learners with basic content, then reinforcements add more advanced information and/or provide specific scenarios and situational how-to that build on the foundation content and frequently suggest repeating a foundation resource.  Based on a planned launch schedule, reinforcement content is deployed, retired, or recycled manually every few weeks.

Using this reinforcement approach, learners have been highly engaged with the loyalty curriculum overall, returning frequently for additional training as it is launched and to refresh on foundational content.  This loyalty curriculum is not mandatory, yet engagement with the resources is as high, if not higher, than the required training programs.  The results were remarkable.

Additional functionality was built into the LMS that allows uploading a set of learning resources that string together with iterative releases over time based on when an individual learner initially completes a piece of content.  This personalizes the learner experience and reinforces learning, with the timing of content based on when a learner was hired or has taken certain training.  The team has begun designing resources more strategically over longer periods for most projects, and we now have the automated mechanisms to support the process.

The Results

Based on a study conducted by Choice’s analytics team, the engagement with CU content drives hotel performance.  Those hotels actively engaged in CU content perform higher on several KPIs, including Likelihood to Recommend (LTR), service scores, and RevPAR, across brands.  Content is now more accessible and relevant to hotel business than ever, and learners are returning to the LMS and completing more content.  During the last twelve months, hotels that have a greater engagement with learning programs performed better with both customer satisfaction and revenue than those who are less engaged.  Some results include:

Learning Engagement and Hotel Performance:

  • Hotels that have a high level of engagement with available learning resources (relative to the brand) average 15% higher LTR, 13% higher customer service scores, 13.7% higher revenue per unit.
  • Hotels that saw more learning resources consumer resulted in an LTR 28% higher than those with no completions.

LMS, Content Completions, and ChoiceU TV results

  • Content completions overall increased from 1.3M to 1.8M in the last 12 months (500K 2 years prior)
  • Content completions by Owners increased from 29K to 38K (9K 2 years prior)
  • LMS average session durations have decreased from 15 minutes 19 seconds (2 years ago) to 6 minutes 37 seconds
  • Mobile LMS logins increased from 11% to 15%, showing that learning is more accessible than ever
  • Logins (unique users) to ChoiceU TV have nearly doubled over the platform’s first 8 months, while sessions (visits/returns) have tripled over the same period
  • Video finish percentage remains at low-to-mid-70%, even as we have significantly increased the volume of available videos.  (We target 80%+ finish percentage, so this is a focus area for the Choice University team as we continue to refine our video approach.)

Needs Assessment Impact on Solution Development

The bi-annual needs assessment also tracks and evaluate learner usage of available content to better understand what learners need and use to guide content, format, and delivery decisions.

  • Increased the mix of videos, alongside purposeful development of e-lesson and on-the-job activities, and re-focused webinars on Owner and Manager roles which directly aligns with needs assessment results as well as learner behavior in the LMS.

Video Content Produced and Consumed

  • Produced 57% more videos at the end of the 12-month span, including videos produced by field facilitators and in the corporate studio, while intentionally retiring older videos
  • Learners consumed 19% more videos at the end of the same 12-month span, while the learning hours consumed increased by only 4% (Chart 6)
  • Studio is just a few months old but early activity is promising: 13 videos produced in the corporate studio and 9 in the secondary office in the first 4 months, there are currently 20+ in the pipeline

Webinar and Recorded Webinar Statistics

  • Webinar capture ratio (registration vs. attendance) increased from 37% to 48% in the most recent 12 months
  • Webinar net promoter score (83%), participant feedback (9/10) and facilitator ratings (4.75/5) remain steady year over year
  • Our first webinar-converted-to-video series has increased visibility of 740% from 1,458 live webinar participants in 2018 to nearly 11K video plays of the series in 2019

Reinforcement Strategy and Automation

  • Reinforcement content increases learner engagement an average 32% – 64% above the “normal” levels of engagement
  • Because of the unusually high turnover of hotel staff, recycled reinforcement content increases engagement at the same or higher rate (as seen in latter 2019)
  • Choice Privileges training is the only learning initiative of the top five most completed content across the LMS and ChoiceU TV that is NOT required for compliance
  • Reinforcement automation is new; measurements are planned for mid-year 2020.

Summary

The goal has been to increase learner engagement, specifically by creating content and tools that develop learner habits to return again and again for bite-size training to build performance in key areas.  Using multiple new approaches described in this application, we have significantly driven learner engagement. 

Results include double the number of logins and triple the number of sessions in ChoiceU TV, 38% increase in overall course completions, 11% improvement for webinar capture ratio, 19% increase in video plays, and 32+% lift in engagement with our reinforcement strategy – and there are early indications of positive business results.  Some of our most successful new approaches to drive performance through learning include ChoiceU TV, a more intentional blend of learning formats, improved team capabilities, a video studio that empowers internal stakeholders to effectively communicate directly to learners, and reinforcement automation to layer learning over time. These approaches along with the enhanced user interface has helped drive engagement to all-time highs. Engagement with Choice University relates to business results and we have seen dramatic increases in the number of students and course completions.  With the enhancements to the system, our processes, and our team’s approach to comprehensive learning solutions, we no longer have an LMS.  We can now say we have a full-fledged Learning Experience Platform (LXP). 

Choice Hotels International is a 4-time Learning! 100 winner.

 

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