consistencyHere’s a real problem that I see bogging down Learning Departments everywhere:The Imaginary Burden of Consistency.

Aesthetic consistency is something that we tend to strive for, whether we know it or not. We want to make things that look nice, or at the very least don’t look ugly. When it comes to learning, we want to make courses that look and work the same because they’re easier to maintain, create a more predictable experiences for the learner, and…well, it looks nicer than doing otherwise.

That’s all fine and good, but — what about when there’s an update? 

You know the kind of update I’m talking about:

  • Someone paid for branding consulting, so now there’s a new logo has to replace the old one everywhere. Oh, and there are new colors & fonts to go with it too. Company-wide.
  • A new LMS or other technology changes how everything is done. Goodie.
  • Someone up the management chain simply decides to issue a new mandatebecause, hey, they can, right?

Change happens. Business is all about managing change, and so is life in general, I suppose. The problem with these kinds of changes is that they are mostlybusywork, and if you manage training it can quickly snowball into a lot of busywork.

Branding

Okay, so there’s a new logo, color palette, fonts, or whatever. It’s the duty of the Marketing Department to care about these things, which are important to people outside the company. But inside? No big whoop. If you work for an internally-focused Training Department, your duty is not marketing. You are charged with ensuring that people learn what they need to learn to keep business running better tomorrow than it does today.

So let me ask you, does the new branding change anything about how the learner learns? Will hunting down and updating every piece of content increase knowledge retention or behavior on the job? Of course not. So…why do it?Marketing must make a learning argument to get in your workstream, not a marketing argument.

Technology

The systems are changing! The systems are changing! Yes, sometimes the people making purchasing decisions and managing projects overlook that pesky step oftesting the existing content with the shiny new toy. Don’t let them. The instant you hear about a new system coming down the pike, ask how it affects the deployment and maintenance of legacy content. No one will know the answer to this most of the time, so ask if you can test it for them. Then test the living sh*t out of it, and kindly report back on your findings.

If it’s too late and you’ve missed that window, just remember that their folly is not your crisis. You may still have to help clean up the mess, but at least show them just how much work it is and make every attempt to bill it back to their cost center. Even if you can’t, they’ll get the point, and other options tend to materialize (“oh yeah, I suppose it is more cost effective to extend the license for our current system until the regular update cycle touches all our older material…”).

Mandate

People throwing their weight around in a company is never pleasant, but it’s the kind of behavior you’ve seen before. When you were in Kindergarten and the 2nd grader came along to interrupt what you and your friends were doing on the playground, how did you handle it? Here’s your chance to combine what you learned from childhood with your best grown-up social skills and business intelligence. C’mon, it’ll be fun!

Here are a couple approaches I’ve used successfully in the past:

  1. Yessir, certainly sir. We will incorporate all these changes in our next round of revision.” Mr. Mandate felt powerful, and never asked when that revision was scheduled to take place. It wasn’t. Then Mr. Mandate left a year later. (My what a surprise…)
  2. Thanks for your critique! It sounds like you’ve studied this in the past, and I’m happy to receive such feedback in the future. Please remember though, that learning will always look different from course to course. Just like if you turn on the TV and flick channels, you’ll see very inconsistent quality and content and formatting — even between educational channels. We’re focused on maximizing behavior change in our learners, not making art. I’m sure you, like us, take this business very seriously.” Flattery, misdirection, and refocusing gives Miss Mandate nowhere else to go.
  3. I agree that this is very important and urgent. Let me talk to [bigger more important person] about reprioritizing [major showstopper project] and the rest of our current workload to focus on this for you.” I didn’t take more than two steps down the hallway before Mr. Mandate suddenly changed his mind.

Consistency: The Ideal vs. The Constraint

Courses or any learning experiences can and probably should be designed with consistency in mind, sure. But what is your plan — and your defense system — forafter that? Is your attachment to making things consistent and aesthetic slowing or distracting from your learning delivery output?

If your answer is yes, I’d encourage you too look at who actually benefits from this, what the costs are, and if you might like to go all grown-up and maybe make a different choice.