Is convenience a problem for digital learning?

Does making everything easy actually do unintended harm?

Convenience is, arguably, the most important element of a successful digital experience. Our favourite digital services are built around making our lives easier and removing the effort of performing freqeunt tasks. In many cases, activities which used to require effort and a certain degree of planning are now a more frequent part of our lvies because of the ease and simplicity a good digital tools can offer us.

Deliveroo and Just Eat have, in part, grown the market for take-away food in the UK by making it so easy to order from a large selection of restaurants. A meal arrives in less than an hour (often much less) and we don’t need to even stand up to order it with one hand. Uber has transformed an industry by simplifying ride hailing to the extent that, in many cities, waiting for more than 5 minutes can create irritation.

Crucial to the success of these services is the simplicity for the providers as well – Uber drivers lives are made easier by the platform as it offers access to customers and to administration as well. (There is a debate around the equity and fairness of rates and sustainability quite rightly. That debate would not be necessary, however, if the service were clunky and unreliable on the provider side). Deliveroo offers the restaurant customer reach and access, logistics support and delivery services.

Convenience is king and is the driving force behind the ever rising expectations of customers and service providers.

You might argue that many learning technologies in the corporate world have not yet mastered the convenience challenge. That is a fair riposte. Many systems vendors have a way to travel before they can claim to offer consumer grade convenience to either user or service provider.

Having said that, I think there are a couple of risks in the quest for convenience in the L&D world. On the provider side: the ease with which we can now create, publish and distribute content is problematic. Making stuff is a reflex reaction of the current learning and development world – amongst the ocean of digital content available is the growing sea of the L&D industry. Maybe we need a final check before publishing: “Tick this box if you are certain people care about what you have made.”

Another, perhaps more subtle risk, is the convenience for our learners (or whatever you prefer to name them). Ease of discovery, access and usage are hygiene factors of a successful product experience. But ease of activity and task can undermine effective learning. Too much convenience can make things worse. The idea of “desirable difficulties” from Bjork & Bjork (no, not that one) gives rise to this idea – making a task too easy can reduce the desired learning as a result.

Oddly, then, too much lubrication of the activity within digital learning can risk the objective. A preoccupation with making learning fun and dividing everything content experience into the atoms of micro-learning need to be treated with some caution. They are not to be rejected out of hand but neither should we slavishly adopt these approaches as inherently good.

Tread with care in the search for convenience.

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