I used to live near a bakery that made the most delicious bread. Thick, doughy, and light as a cloud, to bite into it was to have your stomach filled and your spirit warmed. What always puzzled me, however, was the sign that hung out front: “Fresh bread, baked daily just for you.”
“Just for me?” I would wonder. If it was baked just for me, why didn’t I have any say into the ingredients? What if I wanted multigrain dough with poppy seeds? Or a dark rye with cinnamon? Although the bread was otherworldly, I didn’t like being told that it was made for me when clearly, it was not.
As an instructional designer, I feel the same twitch of irritation when I hear the word “customization” thrown around. “Custom eLearning, built just for you!” It’s a nice promise, but what does it really mean?
Too often, “customization” means selecting characters, interactivities, or visual assets from a menu, and plugging them into a template using an authoring tool. To be sure, there are advantages to this approach. From the designer’s perspective, it allows us to reuse the backbone of our eLearning with multiple clients, making it easier and cheaper to produce. From the client’s perspective, it allows you to get a sense of a solution before you commit; it also requires less work on your end to see a final result.
To me, however, customization means so much more.
A custom solution isn’t something I design for you; it’s something I design with you. True customization means creating real value. It means taking the time to understand what makes your organization unique, and designing a solution together that meets your individual needs.
When it comes down to it, only you really know the people that make up your organization. My job is to dig deep to learn about your culture, business goals, and learning ecosystem. It’s about taking the time that is required to tell your story, to create a branded learning experience that fits your organization’s DNA.
So what does real customization look like?
When I’m designing a learning experience, I like to start with the unique challenges that you face. We’ll talk on a high level about your specific needs and the learning objectives you want to achieve. Then, and only then, can we even begin to think about a framework for our solution.
Then the real fun starts. Once we’ve figured out how we’re going to solve the problem, it’s time to start building from the ground-up: creating hand-drawn characters, scenarios, and worlds that engage learners and deliver results; using rich and authentic storytelling to drive change wherever you need it. For us at SwissVBS, this is our bread... and butter.
Customization means collaborating at every step of the journey. When I’m scripting, storyboarding, and developing interaction within the experience, I want to know that a client is a true partner. And I want to ensure that the solution we’re building is unique, targeted, and quality-tested over and over again until it’s perfect.
A lot of eLearning organizations treat customization as something that’s nice to have, if you can afford it. From my perspective, customization is the necessary starting point for any learning initiative, because only a customized experience can meet the individual needs of your organization. Customization is something you can’t afford not to have.
Without an authentic customized approach, eLearning is just a loaf of bread that suddenly doesn’t taste so good.
That sounds like a half-baked idea, and who wants that?