Build amazing online courses
that make your strategy real at scale

The 70–20–10 model is widely known in the world of learning and development. It claims that 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% through interactions with others and 10% through formal training. But even if most of our learning happens on the job, it doesn’t mean we should stop putting investment in classes — particularly learning online. Formal online learning provides a foundation to learn with greater awareness, flexibility and intention all the time.

Workshops and away days can only reach so many people. For global organisations, technology can play an integral role in reaching the most possible people, to move from a class of 10 to a community of 10,000. And to move beyond dry powerpoints and worksheets no ever looks at to interactive videos and forums that people can access on their own time.

Structured online courses should support all learning

We need to think more rigorously and imaginatively about how we design formal experiences that help employees adopt the mindsets, ideas and skills to make your strategy a reality. Curated learning experiences can be a powerful way to create deep transformational change at scale.

But it can’t start with technology, it has to start with people and what they really need. We need to build experiences that are integrated with and turbo charge on-the-job learning and mentoring — to inject moments into work life that inspire people to reflect, get feedback and grow with greater focus and impact.

To that end, I’ve put together a simple, actionable guide based on my experience developing online courses and content to make strategy real for Wolff Olins and FutureLearn.

We’re going to take a look at how to:
1. Start with a clear strategy
2. Wireframe an outcome-led content map
3. Curate content people keep coming back to
4. Design a learning experience, not just a course
5. Make a marketing strategy that excites people
6. Understand your impact on individuals and the business
7. Refine your programmes for future growth

1. Start with a clear strategy

Careful planning will help you focus your content development for the right outcomes. Start with a crystal clear brief that intersects your organisation’s strategy with learner needs.

Meet with your core team to define your strategy brief

Questions to guide your thinking

Vision + Strategy
What is the overarching business strategy?
What are the core capability gaps? How can learning help solve your biggest business challenges?
What is fundamental for people to learn to make your strategy a reality?

Audience + Learner Outcomes
Who is this learning experience for, and why?
What do they need to know to be successful on their job to make your strategy a reality?
Are they ready for this course? Do they have the time, mindset and energy to meaningfully participate in this course?
What evidence can you provide that they’ve obtained new ideas, skills and mindsets?

Helpful tips
-Be as specific as possible. It’s important you develop the right learning experience for the right people. For example, is it senior marketing directors who need to get better at working across siloes? New joiners who need to understand how to make the company strategy real every day?
-Create user personas to paint a more intimate picture of who your learners are.
-Get learners involved in the content process early on.

Value proposition Why is it so important that they take time out of their busy days to take this course? What will you enable them to do?

Helpful tip
Finish this sentence: By the end of this learning journey you will be able to…write more powerful presentations that get people to do things, facilitate workshops that align your entire team, define your own unique leadership style.

Production + Delivery
What is the most powerful way for your specific employee audience to learn and apply the topic?
What is the existing budget? What is the most cost-effective way to achieve the desired outcome?
Who is on your team? Can you get resource to make this happen in a meaningfully way?
What supplementary activities might you implement to support the online c0urse (e.g. coaching, weekly emails reminders, lunch-and-learns)?

Helpful tip
-Remember 10% of learning happens through formal classes and training.
-Does this need to be a curated online learning experience? Can it happen more informally or on the job? Can a user google it or email a colleague to solve their work challenge?

2. Wireframe an outcome-led content map

Use your learning brief to shape your content. Start with the learning outcomes to determine what kind of content you need to create for your course.

A course can be as simple as one piece of content: a video, a thought provoking question, a challenge. Each piece of content should have a clear purpose, supporting a core learning outcome. All content should stand alone, but work together to form a coherent narrative.

The content map will help you guide your production.

I often start content maps with simple notebook sketches

Questions to guide your thinking

What kind of content will help us reach this learning outcome?
What can we re-purpose? What do we need to create?
Who is the subject expert practitioner in or outside of the organisation?

3. Curate content people keep coming back to

Why is that we can watch an entire season of House of Cards back-to-back all night, yet completion rates for most online courses are less than 10%? How can we create more engaging online learning experience?

We need to think more like filmmakers and storytellers. The core content for online learning is video. It is a catalyst for changing the way people think and act at work.

It doesn’t need to be big budget and high-production, but purpose and planning will help make your content more relevant for longer. Collaborate with an art director and a video production team to co-create the videos. But remember, the majority of content in the long-run should come from employees.

Principles for creating engaging videos

Learn from a trusted expert
Make people feel like they are not alone.

Helpful tip
Encourage educators to share personal experiences, anecdotes, quotes, surprising facts, and tips and tricks.

This is an excellent TED Talk where researcher Brene Brown shares her personal story on why vulnerability matters

Share stories, not lectures
Get away from traditional academic learning or business comms

This RSA Animate is a great example of how to use design and animation to bring subjects to life

Helpful tip
Frame business questions in a more human way to get richer responses.

Instead of
Tell me about the work…

How about?
Tell me a story about how we…

Check out Pixar’s Andrew Stanton TED Talk on what he knows about storytelling

Go behind the scenes
Focus on showing rather than telling about the work (think documentary short, not corporate film)

This is a beautiful vignette on the creative process of designer Michael Wolff

Put it into action
Pose a provocative question, invite discussion or set a challenge to help the learner apply the thinking at the end of each video

This thought provoker is one of the most popular steps in the FutureLearn MOOC on the Secret Power of Brands

4. Design a learning experience, not just a course

Content alone is not enough. The medium is just as an important as the message. How can you choose or create a platform with features that facilitates the most impactful growth and change? We’ll go into that in further detail in another post, but here are initial principles to guide your thinking.

Principles to create an immersive experience

Clear and flexible path that lets you know where you are

Our MOOC on the Secret Power of Brands had a very clear learner path

This can be as simple as outlining the different steps along the journey. Let learners move back and forth, like a choose your own adventure novel.

Instantly useful thinking rooted in real business problems
I’m an HBR IdeaCast junkie. Thoughtfully curated conversations focused on common business challenges with the world’s most successful business leaders. I especially like this episode on why being a better listener will make you better business person.

Bite sized content that you can easily fit into your day
Meditation can be intimidating. Headspace makes it easy for beginners through beautifully designed 10 minute segments, with soothing guided voiceover from Andy Puddicombe.

An open community where you feel welcome to contribute
One of my favourite resources is Ada’s List, a listserv set up for women in the creative industries. Many are practitioners from top agencies, startups and tech companies in the world, including ThoughtWorks, UsTwo, Spotify and Google. There’s never been question I couldn’t get answered — whether it was on learning platforms or visas. Don’t underestimate the power of more lo-fi solutions like email.

Duolingo gives you instant feedback after each action

A rewarding journey that you feel motivated to continue
Duolingo gives you an instant feeling of accomplishment when you first start. Similar to Headspace, they break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Helpful tips
-Work with a UX designer and strategist to shape the right experience for learners
-Create learner journey maps to see where the course might fit into their work
-Get inspired by learning that might not be perceived as education (e.g. Weight Watchers for motivation, Tinder for building connections)

Outside resources inspired by behavioural economics
Nudge, a read on how to nudge people to make the right, but often difficult decisions. For example, how can you motivate people to get a pension? Make opt-in the default option.

Switch, a read on how you can use simple methods to yield extraordinary results, like a how a pair of gloves transformed a company’s finances.

5. Make a marketing strategy that excites people

Think carefully through your engagement strategy, not just your content strategy. Treat your learning experience as a customer-facing product. It’s about reaching the right people at the right time.

Things to consider

People
How can you best collaborate with senior leadership and marketing to promote the content? Where should you focus your attention?
Who are the influencers? Who might be your early adopters and champions?
How can you get learners to contribute, not just consume content?

Content
Re-visit your value proposition. Why should people take part in your learning experience? How will you help them do their jobs even better now?

Channels
What are the key channels for reaching and engaging your people?
For example, the office walls, Intranet, all-office email, team meetings, Linkedin.

Make key announcements through community spaces

Timing
What is the best time and order to engage your people?
For example, new strategy, annual or quarterly review, all-company meeting.

6. Understand progress, refine programmes

Learning can only go so far without impact. It’s important to understand how your learning programmes are creating value across the organisation — and how you can refine them for the future.

Things to consider

Go back to your initial brief, focus on the strategy and learner outcomes.

Vision + Strategy
What is the overarching business strategy?
What are the core capability gaps? How can learning help solve your biggest business challenges?
What is fundamental for people to learn to make your strategy a reality?

Audience + Learner Outcomes
Who is this learning experience for, and why?
What do they need to know to be successful on their job to make your strategy a reality?
What evidence can you provide that they’ve obtained new ideas, skills and mindsets?

Meaningful measures of progress

You need to look at a range of sources — both qualitative and quantitative, self to customer reported — to understand how your learning programmes are impacting people on an individual and as a whole business.

Portfolio of case studies and evidence
Whether you’re just starting out or far into your career, we think everyone would benefit from maintaining a portfolio of their experience and progression.

This is a tangible way for learners to show their impact on the organisation.

Here are things they might include
Sales + costs savings — number of new customers, speed on the job
Customer + Peer testimonials — Linkedin recommendations, press mentions
Completed Projects — photos, documents, wireframes, sketches

Here’s an example from my old portfolio that I shared in another Medium post on how to get into strategy.

Add relevant images — it brings text to life.
This is a simple model for case studies and stories: ambition, action, impact.
Go behind the scenes of your work; it gives people a better sense of the experiences you create.

Self-reported survey
Send online survey right after completion, three months after and a year after.

Key Questions
How has this learning experience made a difference to your work? And why?
Key question: On a scale of 1–10, to what extent has this learning experience helped you on your job? And why?

Manager survey
Send online survey to manager after completion, three months and a year after.

Key Questions
How has this learning experience made a difference to your colleague’s work? And why?
On a scale of 1–10, to what extent has this learning experience helped your colleague on their job? And why?

Platform Metrics
Most metrics provided by learning platforms are focused on vanity metrics.

We’ve found these to be the most meaningful:
Log ins to see who’s actually participating in the course
Completions + time spent to see how invested people are
Most popular content to see what is actually working

Ultimately these metrics need to be correlated with your learning outcomes, to ensure you’re building the right learning experience — and on the right path for refining it in the future.

7. Refine your programmes for future growth

Take inspiration from agile product development to build and refine your learning programmes to maximise your team, time and budget.

Process: Make. Test. Refine.

Make
Create V1 based on content brief rooted in business strategy, employee conversations and involvement (including senior leadership), content and best practice audits.

Test
Pilot V1: Handpicked team of 5–10 key of more users (some of who may be more forgiving) to gather initial feedback. Create a survey with qualitative and quantitative measurements. For key stakeholders, it may be worth collecting feedback in person or letting people respond directly over email.

Refine
Create V2 based on user feedback, prioritise refinements based on the most frequently cited problems and key business needs.

Test
Share V2: Bigger team of 20–30 key users to gather wider feedback. Share the same survey from the pilot.

Refine
Create V3 based on user feedback, prioritise refinements based on the most frequently cited problems and key business needs.

Test
Launch V3: Entire department or organisation, depending on your size

Refine
Based on learner progress and feedback, set up a schedule to implement regular changes to your learning programmes, as if you were a product team.

And remember just like crafting a book, “the best writing is re-writing.” The process of making a course is constant refinement.

Hungry for more?

Get inspired by this carefully curated selection of outside resources.

Teaching to Transgress, a philosophical read by the critical theorist and feminist Bell Hooks on promoting a radically open space that enables people to grow

Bersin by Deloitte, one of the usual suspects for thinking on people, talent and learning

Grovo, alternative LMS provider based in NYC, has an excellent white paper on microlearning — and why and how to break down your content in small useful chunks

Brightwave, another alternative LMS provider based in Brighton, has a good collection of guides on online learning. I especially like their one on video-rich learning.

Elearning Industry is a great DIY resource full of practical guides and tips on online learning design.

In Closing

Moving into online learning design can be daunting, but with strategic focus and careful planning, you’ll create a powerful tool that helps everyone in your company live your strategy at work. The most important thing is to get started.

Melissa Andrada @melissaandrada looks after Qlue, a consultancy whose mission is to unlock the potential of every person in business.

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