April  08,  2023

(cheesy commercial voice) “Do you find yourself enamored with things that sparkle or shine? Are you often the one bringing the latest learning trend to your organization? Maybe you fancy yourself an instructional daredevil, trying to impress your boss by being the first to do something new. If this sounds like you, you could be suffering from Shiny Object Syndrome (Objectivius Shinium Syndromus). Yes, it’s a real condition, defined as the attraction to new methods that exhibit a glassy, polished, gleaming or otherwise newfangled appearance. And, if you’re not careful, you could develop a full-blown case of Innovation for Innovation’s Sake. This is a serious condition that can distract you from the bigger picture and cost you, your learning team, and your organization many hours of productivity and quite a bit of cash.”

If only it had a quick fix we could buy from an infomercial! Many of us in the learning field are always on the hunt for new ways to deliver training. We chase the latest buzz-words and trends in our industry. It’s a never-ending journey, driven by a sincere desire to improve the engagement and behavior changes our programs seek to provide. It seems a new modality (learning delivery mode) hits the market every week. Each time, we write the obituary for tried-and-true methods like instructor-led training (ILT), eLearning, and job aids, then tout the merits of the trends: virtual learning, micro/Nano learning, MOOCS, individualized learning, gamification, social learning, etc.

Don’t misunderstand me, each modality has its merits; however, as a learning consultant, I consider it my duty to walk my client through the dangers of hopping on the latest training train with little investigation. There are three steps I highly recommend whenever you are trying to land on a modality: be practical, evaluate all legitimate modalities, and conduct a proof-of-concept.

Be practical.

Practicality means concern for the actual doing or use of something, rather than the theory and ideas. Why? Because business is about getting whatever you sell to the market with speed and accuracy. Very few have time to test an idea each time employees need to be up-skilled. Be practical (not to be confused with boring); keep these things in mind before selecting a modality.

  • Skills – What behavior are we teaching? Are the skills regulated? Do they present a high risk or danger if the user doesn’t perform correctly? How often will the skill be used? How complicated is the skill?
  • Goals – What do we need to accomplish? Does learner performance need to be checked at the end of training to make sure it will get us to that goal?
  • Learners – Are they rookies or veterans? Are they tech-savvy or nah? How are they used to working? Ensure the method works for the audience and their environment.
  • Budget – What platform, equipment or setting do the modalities require? Can we afford to deliver training using the latest trend?
  • Schedule – Do we have time to properly plan, design, develop, and deliver the training?
  • Logistics – Where are the learners and how many? Is the training organization equipped to deliver and support the program? How long do we have to maintain the program?
  • Culture – Ignore the culture (formal and informal) in any program targeting employees and you lose, every time.


Evaluate all modalities.

Table of training modalities

Conduct a proof-of-concept.

Listen, I’m not some old fart (can I say fart in this blog?) who resists innovation – quite the opposite. I love to see organizations do something new to pull the learner in and improve the likelihood of behavior change. In my job, I see it happen quite often. But I also see clients trying too hard to force the latest thing into their program, only to have it fall flat. If you want to try something new, you can minimize the risk. Do a proof-of-concept. Pilot the new modality with a trusted audience and see what happens. Introduce your new idea as a small part of a larger program. Implement a low-fi approach to the cutting-edge method. Any of these will give you valuable information you can use before going all-in. And remember that a blend of learning modalities is usually the solution to your organization’s learning needs.

New toys are fun, but choose them wisely. This is just a reminder to do what learning professionals should be doing every day – properly assessing the landscape before selecting a learning delivery method.