Managing Complexity While Delivering Custom Content
Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning has a mission to improve the practice of management and its impact in a changing world. To support this mission, its corporate learning group focuses on providing learning experiences for corporate clients built around important and timely ideas-based content from Harvard Business School, Harvard Business Review, and industry experts. Its learners include executives at large global organizations, who can choose to participate in a broad spectrum of flexible, tailored leadership development experiences through both online and blended learning.
Jennifer Long, Director of Educational Products at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, comments: “Our co-creation approach is what makes our offerings unique. Although we’re building on our expert content, we’re tailoring it to the business priorities of our clients. Clients may also have a need to change aspects of their program midstream. We can adapt dynamically to meet the client’s needs.”
Ron MacLean, Experience Architect, Educational and Learning Product Design Group at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, adds: “Co-creation is great, but it creates more options for the user experience. During the program, if we don’t manage the learner experience carefully, it can lead to learners becoming confused.”
It was a serious and intense process, in a very good way. The Learning Services team went back and forth with us to understand the unique complexity of what we do and how we use the platform. They provided us with a set of design recommendations, which our in-house team then reviewed and prioritized.Ron MacLean, Experience Architect, Educational and Learning Product Design Group, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning
When Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning launched phase one of a new blended learning solution, the team quickly identified opportunities to improve the user experience.
Ron MacLean recalls: “We had feedback from learners saying that they weren’t clear on what to do next that sent us back to the drawing board.”
Part of the challenge is that Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning’s courses are highly focused on self-directed and peer-to-peer learning, rather than a top-down instructional model.
“We’re trying to drive our learners’ engagement with the platform, with the content, and with each other. We need to walk the line between having a robust design that enables us to deliver content aligned to the specific client needs and keeping it simple enough that learners don’t get lost. That’s the challenge.” – Jennifer Long, Director of Educational Products, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning
Learning From Learners’ Experiences
To optimize the experience, the corporate learning team went straight to the source: the learners themselves. They interviewed learners from six client organizations in five different countries and used tools from usertesting.com to capture the user experience of both current learners and new learners who had never used the platform before.
Jennifer Long comments: “The tests showed us that we needed a fundamentally upgraded user interface and improved visual design. We had already chosen D2L’s Brightspace platform because it has a very clean design, but with the flexibility and the ability to tailor to client needs, we needed to take that simplicity to the next level.”
Working with D2L’s Learning Services team, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning’s learning design team began by conducting a comprehensive audit of one of its most comprehensive learning experiences.
Ron MacLean says: “It was a serious and intense process, in a very good way. The Learning Services team went back and forth with us to understand the unique complexity of what we do and how we use the platform. They provided us with a set of design recommendations, which our in-house team then reviewed and prioritized.”
For example, the Brightspace team recommended adding a section explaining the learning objectives, which would help learners understand what they were going to learn.
Ron MacLean says: “Adding the learning objectives was a big hit with learners. It was a really grounding element for them, a real game changer.”
We went into this project with a hypothesis that we might need customized templates. D2L helped us build a full design system—including not only templates, but also design components that we can easily pull into any content page and use to create templates of our own.Ron MacLean, Experience Architect, Educational and Learning Product Design Group, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning
Enabling Customization At Scale
While improving the learner experience, the Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning team also had to maintain the right balance between hard-coding information into their design templates and retaining enough flexibility to allow their delivery team to tailor each program to their individual clients.
Ron MacLean comments: “We went into this project with a hypothesis that we might need customized templates. D2L helped us build a full design system—including not only templates, but also design components that we can easily pull into any content page and use to create templates of our own.”
The new design system also provides a consistent user experience right down to the color palette—ensuring that clients recognize the consistent Harvard branding and experience the same look and feel across their blended programs.
Transforming The Learner Experience
When Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning launched the new version of its blended learning platform, it saw a huge and immediate improvement in user feedback. The new user interface not only improved visual clarity; it also significantly improved the learner experience and learner engagement.
Ron MacLean explains: “Just putting the content in a consistent context makes a world of difference for the learner, as well as giving them a cleaner and more professional user experience.”
Today, learners log on to find a single activity page that contains all the instructions they need and allows them to work on all their tasks in one place. The interface is consistent throughout the entire experience, and users never need to leave the platform or access external sites to complete
Jennifer Long says: “The new design has made a huge difference without adding complexity to the setup of each program. It’s still a streamlined process for our delivery teams, who can create learning experiences tailored to client needs—without necessarily needing all the skills of an instructional designer to build engaging, consistent content.”
Ron MacLean concludes: “The best thing about what we’ve achieved is the positive feedback we’re now getting from our clients.”