Evaluating Design Strengths

The following is a post that also appeared on ModeleLearning.com—a professional blog that I edit for our design team. It speaks and gives strategies for continually developing and evaluating educational design tools and strategies—specifically speaking to evaluating and understand the strengths and weaknesses of your design team.

Crosspost – Moneyball eLearning

The Oakland Athletics were always a budget-minded franchise.

In 2001, they finished 16 games behind the winner of their division and lost to the New York Yankees in the first round of the postseason. Then lost three All-Star caliber players in the offseason. 

In 2002, they won their division, went on a 20-game winning streak in the regular season (breaking the American League record), and won as many games (and went as far in the playoffs) as the Yankees—who spent almost three times what the A’s did in player salaries.


By playing Moneyball. 

You see, the A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, (the guy in charge of building the team) realized something. Certain player qualities were under-valued by the market. Other teams valued stats like stolen bases, RBIs, and batting average to assess player value. Billy and his team could do statistical analysis and find aspects of a player that could lead to wins, but that other teams weren’t willing to pay for—like on-base percentage.

In short, the A’s found value where no-one else did. And you can do the same with your learning organization.

Don’t just follow the trends

We have no shortage of trends in the eLearning world. With technology rapidly advancing, new formats, modalities and tools are just a click away. MOOCs. xAPI. Artificial Intelligence. Interactive video. Virtual Reality. Data-Driven Learning. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these tools or modalities are bad—just that innovating and implementing them will probably cost money. Lots of money. And time. And you should ask yourself, “Am I just chasing the next a trend because I think it will help me ‘compete?’”

Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the best solution for your learners and organization. Think about your organization, your strengths, and where you can bring value to your learners.

Now, don’t confuse what I’m saying here—I’m not arguing that you should always go for the cheap option. In fact, in the past I’ve argued for taking strategic risks with innovative tools. Or that you should have a “spirit of entrepreneurship” (which is often just code for, “We don’t have any money, so figure it out using duct-tape and paper clips.”)

I’m suggesting you look for lightly trod paths that that your organization is uniquely suited to explore, or unique needs or desires of your learners that your organization can fulfill. You can do this even if you have resources available—though I suspect the “we’re broke” refrain can be heard from organizations of any size around the globe. Look to bring value to your learners.

Discovering your organization

The first step in adding value to your learning is identifying three things about your team or organization:

  • What resources, talents, skills do we already have?
  • What could we do with a nominal increase or reallocation of resources?
  • What can’t we do, or what resources will we just never have access to?

And that last question is pretty important. Just like the 2002 A’s couldn’t spend $143 million dollars in player salary, there’s no sense in exploring expensive tool integrations if you don’t have the IT infrastructure to make it happen. And I’m not just talking about money. Often there are higher priority projects than the new, shiny technology or structure. Don’t chart a course that will lead you off a cliff just because the zeitgeist has promised incredible returns. Know what you can do, and what you can’t.

If you take a solid inventory of what you can realistically do, you’ll be in a much better position to use those resources effectively, rather than wasting energy chasing at pipedreams. 

What do your learners value?

Part of developing any learning solution (online or not), is understanding what your learners need. We talked earlier about bringing value to your learners.

To do that, you have to know what they value.

So ask questions. Gather feedback. Look at your institutional demographics. Build profiles. Try to get a sense of what students, employers, and all your stakeholders actually want. What types of learning experiences are most valuable to them? How do they relate to material? What barriers do they face in time, technology, or resources? I can almost guarantee learners aren’t going to be impressed by a new interactive video software or a fancy new VR simulation. 

They’ll care about whether or not those videos helped them learn the material. And so will their bosses, potential employers, clients, and anyone else involved.

If they value flexibility, design learning that has multiple ways of completing assignments, or that doesn’t rely on strict due dates. Budget conscious learners? Maybe consider designing your learning materials without relying on expensive textbooks

Figure out how the expertise and resources of your institution intersect with the desires of your learners. Then you’ll be able to bring value as only your team can—that’s how you’ll stand out.