Webinar Q&A | Digital Learning Innovation Centers: Harnessing the Power of Disruption

We live in an age where change is so rapid that ongoing innovation is a requirement of an effective learning and development organization. Research has shown that learning organizations in general are perceived to be unresponsive and slow in identifying relevant innovations and turning them into effective practices. High-impact learning organizations are able to ask the right questions, connect innovative ideas to processes, and put them in place to make those ideas happen.

During a recent webinar, I had the chance to explore key criteria for innovation centers, how to nurture innovative behaviors, and the innovative strategies that fuel high-impact learning.

If you missed the webinar, a recording is now available for you to watch online. However, if you are looking for the abbreviated version, I wanted to offer a quick look at some of the key takeaways:

  • In order to remain relevant, L&D organizations need to continuously adapt and develop the skills to identify trends and signals earlier.
  • Innovation centers provide a meaningful strategy for addressing these elements.

During the presentation, several great questions came up from the audience, and I wanted to share them with you. Below are those questions and my best answers. This is an ongoing conversation, and I encourage you to keep the questions coming in via the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Q: ­Which platforms are better out of the box for L&D?­

A: This is a tough question to answer. The more mature and developed the platform, the more refined it is when it comes out of the box. When evaluating, I look for both stability and planned feature evolution for the platform. When these exist, I find that they have a better vision for how the platform will effectively meet specific needs.

Q: ­Does GP Strategies have an innovation center?

A: Yes, we refer to our internal innovation center as the Innovation Kitchen. We have formalized the program, coordinated several of the informal field-based innovations this past year, and have seen a return on the investment.

Q: ­What roles, besides a champion, should my organization have in an innovation center?

A: Beyond the standard instructional design roles, a few other roles I recommend include a publishing specialist, a data analyst, a program lead, and a curator.

Q: ­Do innovation centers have to be fixed or can they be temporary spaces that you gather, create, and assemble for a few weeks a year, for example?­

A: They can be temporary or virtual spaces; however, I do recommend a blend of both temporary/virtual and fixed spaces. For some types of innovation and exploration a physical space, is important. Additionally, with a fixed or physical space, you can create a staging center for the temporary or virtual spaces.

Q: ­What are some of the challenges innovation centers face in organizations?­

A: There are several, but some of the most challenging are those linked to unrealistic expectations. The first challenge is that failure or an unsuccessful experiment is a bad outcome. Similarly, another problem is holding an unrealistic belief that innovation is tied to a single, overwhelming eureka moment. Another challenge is failing to see that innovations come in many forms — beyond the new, shiny technology.

Q: ­How do you measure success for innovation centers?­

A: One of the key indicators is related to practitioners in the field sharing and applying lessons learned. An example of success is when someone takes something they have learned about and adds to it, extends it, and/or applies it to the benefit of a client. It is important to measure the push and pull around experimentation and sharing of findings, the number of experiments, how many have progressed through the viability states, and how those that have been operationalized to positively impact the business.

Q: ­At a non-profit, we are limited on dollars to devote to a formal innovation process. Do you have any recommendations on how to move forward in spite of those limitations?

A: Depending on the scale and scope of your non-profit, I recommend collaborating with other non-profits in your area to invest in innovation. They can be in similar or different missions but complementary spaces. Beyond that, there are organizations that can help with certain aspects of innovation such as LINGOs.

Q: What are some steps that GP Strategies is taking to stay ahead of competitors when it comes to innovation?

A: The steps we have shared are the very steps that GP Strategies is taking to drive innovation across our organization. I am less aware of what the competition is doing; personally I prefer to focus on doing the best we can for ourselves and for our clients.

Matt Donovan, VP, Learning Solutions

Matt Donovan, VP, Learning Solutions

Early in life, I found that I had a natural curiosity that not only led to a passion for learning and sharing with others, but it also got me into trouble. Although not a bad kid, I often found overly structured classrooms a challenge. I could be a bit disruptive as I would explore the content and activities in a manner that made sense to me. I found that classes and teachers that nurtured a personalized approach really resonated with me, while those that did not were demotivating and affected my relationship with the content. Too often, the conversation would come to a head where the teacher would ask, “Why can’t you learn it this way?” I would push back with, “Why can’t you teach it in a variety of ways?” The only path for success was when I would deconstruct and reconstruct the lessons in a meaningful way for myself.

I would say that this early experience has shaped my career. I have been blessed with a range of opportunities to work with innovative organizations that advocate for the learner, endeavor to deliver relevance, and look to bend technology to further these goals. For example, while working at Unext.com, I had the opportunity to experience over 3,000 hours of “learnability” testing on my blended learning designs. I could see for my own eyes how learners would react to my designs and how they made meaning of it. Learners asked two common questions: Is it relevant to me? Is it authentic? Through observations of and conversations with learners, I began to sharpen my skills and designed for inclusion and relevance rather than control. This lesson has served me well.

In our industry, we have become overly focused on the volume and arrangement of content, instead of its value. Not surprising—content is static and easier to define. Value (relevance), on the other hand, is fluid and much harder to describe. The real insight is that you can’t really design relevance; you can only design the environment or systems that promote it. Relevance ultimately is in the eye of the learner—not the designer.

So, this is why, when asked for an elevator pitch, I share my passion of being an advocate for the learner and a warrior for relevance.
Matt Donovan, VP, Learning Solutions

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