What the Raptors Can Teach Us About Learning Design
It’s official. Raptors fever has taken over the country, and there’s no cure in sight. Here at SwissVBS, the infection has been acute. Our offices may be a brisk walk from Scotiabank Arena, but the way we high-five each other the morning after a Raptors win, you’d think we were located in the middle of Jurassic Park.
Since no one here can think about anything else right now, I thought I’d use this week’s blog post to reflect on what the Raptors 2019 playoff run can tell us about learning design. After all, if we’re all striving to be the best at what we do, who better to look to for ideas than the (soon-to-be) champs?
A quick note: as I write this, the Raptors currently have a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
Pass the ball
Kawhi Leonard is from another planet. If you’ve watched him bash his way through the first three rounds of the playoffs like a human subway tunnelling machine, it’s the only logical conclusion. Still, the Raptors are no one-man show, and neither is your organization. When opposing teams have smothered Kawhi with defenders, he has been happy (although you wouldn’t know it from the look on his face) to feed the ball to a teammate with an open look.
It’s the same when we design learning experiences. You might be the instructional design star of your organization. You know ADDIE like the back of your hand, and no one writes a branching simulation like you do. But if you’re not open to taking help from others, your learning design will suffer.
Ego is the enemy of good design. Leverage the talents of others in your organization and let them do what they do best. And be okay with not being perfect the first time. I have learned that collaborating with clients not only means listening to their feedback, but actively seeking help and advice to make the training stronger.
Identify the biggest threat and defend against it
In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the best record in the regular season. How? Simple: they knew that to win, they would have to contain Milwaukee’s best player, the almost-seven-foot-tall forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Well, contain him they did, by suffocating him with multiple defenders every time he got the ball.
Okay, so you’re not likely to encounter threats as freakishly large in your learning design, but the principle still holds. Like the Raptors, you need to identify the biggest obstacles to performance, and address them with the best that you’ve got. It can be tempting to create training that covers everything under the sun, especially if your organization is just getting its feet wet in digital. But do your learners really need be trained in something they already do? If, say, you’ve noticed an increase in safety incidents in the workplace, is retraining your entire workforce really necessary, or can you be more targeted?
The key is to uncover the underlying problems that are affecting performance and find solutions to address them. Sometimes that will mean training, but it could also mean other, simpler solutions, such as job aids or an awareness campaign.
Take risks like Masai Ujiri
On July 18 of last year, Masai Ujiri, the Raptors president of basketball operations, traded for Kawhi Leonard. Fans weren’t happy. Among the players going to San Antonia was DeMar DeRozan, the long-time Raptor and fan favourite. The trade could have been a disaster. Kawhi will be a free agent in a month, and there’s no guarantee he will return to Toronto, whether or not they win it all. And coming off a season in which he barely played because of a mysterious injury, Kawhi could just as easily have been another in a long series of disappointments for Raptors fans.
At the time of the trade, no one knew that Kawhi would turn into the second coming of Air Jordan. But after five straight years of making the playoffs and being not quite good enough, Ujiri pushed all his chips into the middle of the table and went for it.
It’s easy to design the same old learning. Your learners will grudgingly take it. Management will probably approve. And then you’ll move on to the next project. But without a little risk, there’s no reward.
Every once in a while, it’s worth doing something different. Instead of telling your learners what they need to know, how about designing a game where learners have to find information for themselves? Why not create a scenario with some real humour if you have the opportunity? There’s a chance it will fall flat, but if it succeeds, you’ll reap the rewards.
Reach out to digital champions
How comfortable is your organization with digital training? If you find yourself having to make the case for digital, it can help to identify internal advocates and bring them on board. Because there’s nothing more effective than getting someone with credibility, or even star-power, to champion your cause and (ahem) massage your message in exactly the right ways.
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