In Conversation with…
Mark Singleton and Robert Wade-Smith
Mark Singleton, Director at NKD responsible for creating learning and communications solutions for everything from systems learning, to building a culture of customer centricity.
Robert Wade-Smith, Project Lead, has most recently worked on developing NKD’s digital learning solution – Navigate.
“…as the technology gets better and our understanding of how to use it in a truly engaging way increases, the possibilities are endless.”
NKD: Can you give us an overview of NKD Navigate and the Navigate approach?
Mark Singleton: Until quite recently, we’d done lots of Blended Learning, where digital solutions are used alongside face-to-face experiences, but not much stand-alone Digital Learning. But, last year a client came to us, and they were undergoing a big organisational change.
They had been undergoing a massive consolidation of all their systems, and came to us with a list of about 150 systems that were being consolidated. They realised they needed to develop learning to train people in how to use these systems effectively. We looked at how long it takes to develop face-to-face learning, the cost of it, and the difficulty of taking people ‘offline’ to attend a classroom based workshop. They realised this wasn’t a feasible solution for 150 learning modules – we needed to find an alternative.
We knew that, potentially, digital solutions were the answer. So, we looked out to the marketplace. There was nothing out there that was really interesting, and nothing that we thought would effectively deliver the learning outcomes, whilst keeping the NKD touch. It had to be really engaging, really immersive experience – not just participants going through a glorified PowerPoint and ticking some boxes.
We realised that off-the-shelf solutions weren’t going to work for us – we were going to have to build our own from scratch. The initial phases were about us defining what that would look like, and outlining the benefits to the client. They had told us they wanted it quicker, cheaper and they wanted to produce multiple modules that would roll out easier and faster. When we looked at the business case, we quickly realised that the biggest savings area was in the ‘roll-out’ costs.
NKD: Aside from cost, what were some other benefits of the Navigate approach?
MS: Well, the Navigate approach can be very role-specific. Some of the work we’ve done in the past might be targeted at people in 5 or 6 different roles, at the same time. Which means, if it’s a two-hour classroom module, only an hour and half of it might be relevant to you individually, and there’s half an hour that’s wasted. That really is a huge cost to the business. It’s great when we design learning this way, because the participants get a lot of context. But, is it all relevant to them? Can they apply it immediately at work? There’s a lot of wastage that goes on there. What Navigate allowed us to do, was to make the learning much more role-specific so people can choose which parts they do.
NKD: How did you give the Navigate modules that ‘NKD touch’?
MS: We looked at existing Digital Learning, and a lot of it really looked like PowerPoint presentations – I also actually found a lot of it to be quite patronising. We looked at other types of systems learning, because, effectively, that’s what we’re doing with a lot of Navigate – teaching skills and systems knowledge.
Robert Wade-Smith: For me, what gave it the NKD touch, was the level of detail that we went to. We asked how many pixels the average user has, and how that will affect the system. Are all the sounds of the system exactly the same? Is all the colour exactly the same? We even ensured that the speed of each screen would transition and mirror the actual system.
A lot of the systems stuff that we were looking at would be a video of someone, with a cursor clicking on a button, and saying ‘now click on this button, now do this, now do that’. So, the first real challenge for us was about how you actually guide somebody through it – how do you get them to use the real system? We very quickly ruled out using the actual system. To do that meant you needed data. It meant you needed access to the system, and then you need a screen that’s got a screen and then another screen and then another screen.
NKD: That doesn’t sound practical at all!
MS: It’s not practical, you would need two screens, one screen guiding you and another test environment. That’s incredibly hard to set up for systems learning, so we needed to find a way to replicate the actual system. It had to feel like interacting with the real thing, so if you had to click on a particular button then that button had to respond like it would in real life.
RWS: One thing that I found impressive was the speed at which we produced Navigate. We had already produced a classroom version of the solution that our first Navigate was built for. The classroom version, we did in about, 8 or 9 months, which was seen as very fast. But, turning around this module took about 5 or 6 months. In terms of the development process, we could turn the first part around in 8 weeks.
MS: At a much lower cost than that of classroom-based learning.
RWS: The client is seeing the value in the learning we are producing a lot faster. Technology can change in 8 months, so it mitigates that risk. We not only did it much faster, but we also retained most of the detail. Every part of our system matched how the participant would use it in their actual job. It wasn’t just ‘click this box and it will look a little bit like this’, it needed to be perfect to provide that level of immersion to keep them engaged – rather than something that wasn’t bespoke.
NKD: So, even though it was Digital Learning, it sounds like you managed to really retain the experiential aspect of the learning?
MS: Yes, you have to live the experience! I think our core principles of Simple, Social, Stretching and Real were very important.
Simple – it was really important to have a clear narrative running through the module. We learned that in a classroom environment, you could leave this up to the facilitator, so you don’t have to spell everything out. But, of course, with screen-based learning you don’t have a facilitator. We found that when things weren’t 100% clear, people got stuck. You have to keep it short, simple and punchy.
Social – participants can potentially go through the module in a room together, and because it sits on a learning management system your supervisor can see what the scores are, where you sit next to your peers, and then they can begin to get conversations going between people. Making sure that people interact with each other was one of the key areas our client is making sure to follow up on – it’s essential.
Stretching – At the start of the module, we would do simple stuff first. We’re building people’s confidence and competence, as they step through the module. By the end of the module, you’re bringing it all together, so you might have a multi-step – a challenge – which is now, ‘your Customer has to do X, Y & Z. What are the things you need to do?’ You’d need to make 6 or 7 steps at that point, so you’ve taken someone from knowing nothing to being able to perform some quite complex work tasks, within the space of 20 or 30 minutes.
Real – We base everything on the real system, so the experience feels like using the real thing. It responds in the same way the system does, and because we build the scenarios in a way that is totally realistic, it feels like a day in the life of somebody – it’s not abstract, they can take what they’ve learned and apply it back at work as soon as they’ve finished the module.
NKD: What were your biggest challenges?
MS: One of the biggest challenges is when a client says, ‘We want it a lot cheaper, a lot quicker, and we need to deliver the same in terms of the learning’. Your first thought is always ‘How on earth do we do this?’ However, we were confident that we would solve those challenges. The one thing that really struck me about building the Navigate modules was that we went from ‘it’s not possible’ to delivering it in the space of 2 or 3 months. At the end, our clients were saying, ‘This has set a new benchmark for Digital Learning in our company now.’ It was our first attempt, and the company said this is the best e-learning they’ve seen.
RWS: We really had to develop our testing approach throughout the module. We’ve made big gains in terms of what is more efficient, and we are implementing that immediately in future modules, already continuously looking at the development process. Considering what we have achieved, our previous module is the benchmark. For us as a company, this is brilliant because we are not resting on our laurels, we are always looking at improving and refining it. This doesn’t just affect the client we are currently working with, but all our clients. What we’re constantly learning is captured and fed back in, which means we’ve provided something that is amazing, but we are always pushing for more. I think the future of digital is very exciting for NKD.
MS: Digital learning can’t currently match face-to-face learning for emotional engagement, mind-set and behavioural change. However, for building awareness, transferring information and demonstrating skills it has a key role to play. And as the technology gets better and our understanding of how to use it in a truly engaging way increases, the possibilities are endless.