What you are about to read is a fable about custom mobile learning technology. The company, AshCom, is fictional, but the mobile learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in corporations, non-profits, associations, and education. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
It was more than a friendly greeting. The introductory handshake between the two colleagues eight months prior marked the beginning of a significant professional partnership between the two leaders. While their roles at AshCom were considerably different, their goal became the same: help increase sales.
Kathryn’s role as the Chief Learning Officer was not only to lead her team but also to launch new initiatives related to learning. Ronda, the newly added Vice-President of Sales, wanted to put in place a new sales system that would change how her team of almost 300 account executives approached sales. It would be a combination of new ways of thinking, new processes, new approaches, and new software. Her past success with the system she had developed was the primary reason why AshCom hired her away from her sales role in one of the largest medical device manufacturers in the world.
To achieve her goals, Ronda believed that the learning experiences needed to be delivered to mobile devices. The initial discussion between Kathryn and Ronda led to a series of meetings for
Kathryn’s learning team in which they considered the strengths and weaknesses of mobile learning, authoring tools, learning management systems, and creativity.
Custom Mobile Learning Apps: The Technical Possibilities
Kathryn brought Professor Dan Nichols in for a day to meet with her team and talk about technical approaches that might solve some of their problems. One of Kathryn’s team members, Alishia, was completing a master’s degree in instructional design, and Dan was one of her professors.
Dan, as everyone called him, held a Ph.D. in computer science but also had a solid understanding of instructional design.
Dan spent a full day with Kathryn’s team thinking through the options for authoring courses and delivering learning experiences through mobile devices. When the day-long meeting concluded, Kathryn asked for a follow-up call with Dan.
“I want to thank you for your time with us,” Kathryn began the call. “You’ve given my team a lot to consider. The option of custom authored content is certainly intriguing to our team, as is the possible development of an app.”
“Glad I could be of assistance,” said Dan. “What else can I do for you?”
Kathryn replied, “I’d like to bring you in for one more meeting. This is a big initiative for AshCom, and I think we need to get key the stakeholders in the same room for a couple of hours. I don’t think I need our entire learning team but a few people I will select. I’d like our VP of Sales, Ronda, to be there because this whole thing started with her new sales approach. Of course, I’d like to include our CFO as this will certainly have budgetary implications. And I’d like you to join us. Can we get access to you for a couple of hours later this week?”
“I’d be happy to,” replied Dan. “Any chance Friday at 2:30 p.m. would work for you? I’m sure Friday meetings are not everyone’s favorite time to meet, but it sounds like you have some urgency.”
“We do,” replied Kathryn, “and Friday afternoons are usually available for most of us. Let me check with the others, and I’ll get back to you later today.”
Who Should Be Involved?
After they hung up, Kathryn spent a little time thinking about who from her team should be involved. She knew she wanted Amy, a consultant on her team who also did consulting work for other large companies and was a good source for benchmarking.
She also wanted Martina and Darryl, two of her instructional designers who had remarkable artistic skills, and first brought up the creative limitations in their current authoring tools and learning management system. Darryl was out with his family on Friday, but Martina was available.
The two key people were Ronda, VP of Sales, and Kurtis, the Chief Financial Officer at AshCom. Kurtis was new to the conversation on mobile learning and so Kathryn asked for 30 minutes to give him an overview of their thinking and invite him to Friday’s meeting. Kurtis quickly grasped the basics of the need and committed to joining the others.
What’s At Stake?
Kathryn spent several hours thinking through how to approach this very important meeting. She concluded that she needed to lay out the big principles at stake, work through the options for addressing Ronda’s need for robust mobile learning, and then ask each a single question: What’s most important to you?
Knowing the priorities of each person at the meeting would help them understand each other. Kathryn was hoping the solution would become obvious at the end of the exercise.
Everyone was on time for the Friday meeting. After quick introductions of each person and their role in the discussion, Kathryn followed the plan she had developed.
“I want to begin with what I think is the big principle of our discussion,” said Kathryn. She walked to the whiteboard and wrote “Sales = Lifeblood of AshCom” across the top.
“I’m quite sure this is a core belief of the Ash family and the leadership of AshCom. That’s why they worked so hard to bring in Ronda. That’s why this discussion is so important. Whatever we ultimately decide to do, I think we need to keep this in mind and do what we can to strengthen our sales team. Their performance has a powerful impact on all of us.”
Building A Learning Experience
Seeing everyone nod in agreement, Kathryn continued, “We need to build a learning experience for the account executives that will enable them to know the new sales system Ronda is implementing, to be able to do it, and to embrace it. The learning solution needs to be what Ronda described in our first meeting about this: ‘elegant.’”
She continued, “I’ve had multiple meetings with our team on achieving this goal. Professor Dan has been incredibly helpful. Ronda has done her own research and has spent time talking to her salespeople about the best solution for them. And we’ve concluded that mobile delivery is the best option. But that solution needs to be robust, world-class, and, back to a word Ronda used in our first meeting, ‘elegant.’”
“It seems to me that there are two other key considerations,” said Kathryn. “We have to consider cost and timing. We know that some of the options we are considering will certainly require a bigger budget and take longer than our normal development process. So here are what I think are the four options for developing the kind of mobile learning experience that Ronda wants for her team.”
Sales = Lifeblood
Again, at the whiteboard, Kathryn wrote the following under “Sales = Lifeblood”:
Option 1: Use current authoring tools and LMS
Option 2: Custom author content but deliver in our LMS
Option 3: Use current authoring tools and build an app
Option 4: Develop a custom authored experience and build an app
Below this, Kathryn wrote “Other considerations: $$$ and Time.”
Before moving on, Kathryn asked if anyone disagreed with her summary of the need and the options or if she was missing anything.
Applying The Learning Science
Kurtis responded, “I know I am the least knowledgeable person here when it comes to learning science. It’s certainly not my specialty, as you know. But Kathryn spent a little time walking me through this a couple of days ago, and I at least understand the choices.”
Ronda spoke next. “This sums it up well for me. I’m on board.”
Everyone else in the conference room agreed with Kathryn’s big picture summary, and so she moved on. “What I would like each of you to do is to talk about what is most important to you in this discussion on both sales learning and mobile learning. I know some of you very well, having worked with you for a while. Dan, you are new to the group, but I hope you’ve come to know a bit about how we operate.”
“So, I’d ask for the unvarnished truth of what’s on your minds today. I think that is the best way for us to come to a decision together. Is everyone willing to commit to this approach?”
Seeing that everyone agreed with both her summary and approach, Kathryn decided to give the group a short break of five minutes. She’d brought in some snacks and thought it would be a good idea to give those in the meeting