Posted by Caveo Learning ● June 7, 2016

Pharma Instructional Designer on Cutting-Edge Learning Technology

marc_zoerb.jpgThis is part of our ongoing series, Interviews with Learning Leaders.

Marc Zoerb is a certified instructional designer, eLearning developer, and project manager with PAREXEL International Corp., a global biopharmaceutical services company that provides contract research, consulting, medical communications, and technology solutions to the worldwide pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries.  Marc is passionate about leveraging emerging learning technologies to improve individual, team, and organizational performance. He has over 10 years of experience in learning and performance, and has championed the adoption of Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, TechSmith Camtasia and SnagIt, Audacity, video, mobile, and performance support to better meet the performance needs of PAREXEL's 18,000 global workers. He is an active member of the Greater Boston Chapter of ATD, the eLearning Guild, and the Massachusetts Chapter of ISPI. He has an advanced certificate in instructional design from San Diego State University as well as professional experience in business analysis and accounting. 

Is anything in particular grabbing your attention these days?

The evolution of training keeps me excited and engaged about this particular industry—the constant evolution of the thought processes behind how employees learn and perform, and the supporting technologies that enable it. Some big changes are occurring, specifically related to the transformation of the L&D function from a more traditional model—sending employees off to training centers or building training rooms within corporate office buildings—to eLearning, moving the training closer to where the workers are actually performing the work and being able to take it from the comfort of their workspace. But now we are moving even more into embedding it into the workflow, where performance support becomes even more crucial than it has been in the past, especially given the rate of change in the marketplace. It is a constant evolution of trying to help our employees perform more effectively and at higher levels. That really excites me.

What have you learned from your work with mobile solutions?

You have to be careful of the audience you target those to, and focus on those employees who tend to be on the move quite a bit, obviously, such as the sales team. Also, some of our employees who work on clinical trials are also very mobile. These two groups are moving around quite a bit, so it certainly makes some sense to provide solutions to them. For example, a few years back, we deployed a mobile reference tool, hosted on a third-party platform, to provide information on our service offerings to our sales team through their mobile devices.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Innovation in L&D: Building a Modern Learning Culture Another solution that we piloted was to provide “mobile reinforcers” to support manager performance during the hiring process and other job roles in support of our company’s high-performance culture.  These mobile reinforcers are infographics, in PDF format, that our employees can very easily access from their mobile devices on a moment’s notice, to help reinforce key behaviors. We have played around with some mobile-friendly polling tools, as well, to increase learner engagement. In some cases, we see mobile, video, performance support, and microlearning kind of blending together, but it’s all very much part of a larger strategy and desire on the part of the L&D function to transform our approach to a more performance-centric type of learning. We want the learner at the center of the equation and able to pull from various types of resources—not just formalized instruction, but also from informal sources.

So mobile is certainly part of that overall strategy, but it is not the end-all. It’s complementary to this overall approach of not just pushing content out to the rank and file, but setting up solutions that the employees can pull from to facilitate knowledge share across the organization. Another area that I am personally interested in is user-generated content. This certainly fits in pretty well with social media and what people are used to doing outside the corporate firewall, with respect to leveraging consumer-side platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, or LinkedIn, to share information.

What are some logistical challenges with regard to learning technologies?

Certainly, one of the main concerns about mobile is data protection and security, especially of content that is of a proprietary nature. With the sales solution I mentioned earlier, it was not on a secure solution—thus, the content delivered via that platform was no more confidential than what was contained in our marketing brochures or publicly available. So although we were providing support content to our sales team via a different channel or delivery method than they would normally be using, we were limited in what types of information we could push through that platform.

However, for the “mobile reinforcers” solution, I discovered a way to leverage our existing mobile infrastructure in a new way, allowing learners to access proprietary L&D-created content in a secure fashion on their mobile devices—which had not been done before—thus avoiding the time and budget necessary to purchase or develop a new and secure mobile solution to meet this need.

In general, how willing is L&D to embrace new technology?

With any kind of a solution, it always gets back to making sure that you marry it to a legitimate business need, and it’s a challenge, because sometimes our internal clients are expecting us to consult, to advise, to lead. They might come to us saying, “What are you in L&D doing in the mobile space?” or “What are you doing with video?” or “What are you doing with virtual worlds?”—something that is very hot and they want us to look into it. Well, you may have to ask, “Do we have a budget to implement, let alone investigate, this solution?” However, sometimes the solution may not require much in the way of additional budget, time, or resources.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: VILT: Tips and Tactics for Taking Your Training For example, as was my experience with the “mobile reinforcers,” if you can use existing tools and infrastructure—but maybe in a slightly different way from how you used it in the past—that is a win-win situation. But when you have to go out and buy something or look at something that is completely new that has a price tag associated with it, then you have to have a pretty solid business case, sponsorship, and really demonstrate the value. It’s definitely more of an uphill battle when you’re trying to introduce something brand new into the organization, and I think it makes perfect sense that budget owners are cautious. The biggest fear is that you sink a lot of money into a platform and find out at the end of the day that it isn’t the right solution to meet the problem.

As a partner to our clients, L&D strives to keep its finger on the pulse of what is going on out there in the marketplace of learning technologies, but you have to curb your enthusiasm at times about wanting to implement or pilot some of these technologies. At the end of the day, you need to be very clear about whether the technology is solving a business need that isn’t currently being met in some other way. You have to be resilient, but also put on your business acumen cap and ask yourself, is the technology meeting the business need? Is it helping our learners perform better and more effectively so the company can compete better in the marketplace?

Are there any cool L&D technologies that haven’t hit the mainstream yet?

One that impressed me a few years ago, as a new breed of performance support tool, is called Leo by Kryon Systems. It’s sort of a hybrid performance support/desktop automation tool. With Captivate and other tools like Camtasia or Oracle UPK, we could create short videos on how to perform a specific task. With Leo, not only will it guide you how to do something in the actual production environment of the system you’re using, but it can actually do most of it for you. For example, let’s say you want to know how to create a business signature in Microsoft Outlook, so in the Leo wizard search box, you type in business signature. It pulls up a wizard that has been pre-created by an author, and this wizard actually sits on top of the application you’re using and it tells you how to proceed. You’re not just watching a static movie—it’s like having someone standing over your shoulder telling you what to do. Leo’s other mode—and this is where it starts bordering on desktop automation—is that it can actually do many of the steps for you. It’s a bit like “the rise of the machines”—the tool is starting to do some of the work for you by actually interacting with the application you’re using. I don’t know if you’d call it artificial intelligence, but it’s sort of a hybrid approach maybe between what we are used to with performance support and maybe where things will eventually be heading. 

Get Guidelines for Developing Simulation-Based Learning I’m also really interested in this whole concept of user-generated content and having the infrastructure in place and the tools in place to allow employees to be able to share knowledge as freely as possible and to learn from each other, as people are used to doing with platforms like YouTube. I was talking with someone who works in the learning organization of a UK-based company that had rolled out TechSmith SnagIt to 15,000-plus employees to allow them to share knowledge basically using video.  When you think about, why should employees be restricted to just using Word documents or PowerPoint presentations? As long as the video-creation tools are no more difficult than using something like Microsoft Office, video is just another communications channel. Employees are expecting to be able to create that type of content themselves, just like they are in the consumer space. Corporate IT departments tend to be a little more conservative in some cases, but they can’t turn a deaf ear to it, either.

Some of the resistance to it, such as, “How do you know that the information is accurate?” is understandable, and organizations have to be mindful of that. However, just as you see on the consumer side, user ratings are one way to help curate and make sure content that’s accurate and relevant rises to the top of the search results screen, and the stuff that’s not getting any hits or folks don’t find particularly useful, falls by the wayside or gets removed from the platform. This has the potential to be a big change in how L&D functions. Traditionally, L&D has been very much a “push” organization, where we’re feeding the employees the content that they need to know, and that’s certainly not going to go away completely. But with the rate of change and the demand for up-to-date and ever-increasing knowledge share, you don’t want L&D to stand in the way of that. The L&D professional has to evolve into a consultative, empowering type of position, where we’re helping the business with knowledge sharing and performance needs through new and innovative ways and platforms.  

Anything else that might be interesting for learning leaders to hear about?

It’s important not to fall under the spell of the latest learning technology—viewing the technology as a panacea to whatever performance issues may exist in the organization—without adopting a thoughtful approach to vetting it. I think a lot of leaders are wise to that and aren’t swept up in that, but for people who are tasked within an organization to evaluate this, you really need to be focused on what the business is trying to accomplish, to see what your clients are trying to accomplish, to see whether the tool is the right tool for the job.  

My advice for introducing a new learning technology would be to start small—try to build some prototypes or pilots before you do a large-scale implementation, and see what kind of results you get from that before you scale up or decide to cut your losses and not proceed any further with it. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo, though. You have to be willing to get outside of your comfort zone, in terms of the way we’ve always done things and the potential danger of falling into a trap when there is such change going on all around us. In the information age, we are all struggling to keep our heads above water with all the knowledge floating around out there. Keep it in perspective, but try not to get stuck in a static mindset of, “This is the ways we’ve always done it, it works, and we really shouldn’t consider anything else,” but also being careful that just because it’s something that is new, bright, and shiny, you’ve still got to kick the tires on it and make sure it’s the right solution to meet the business needs. Because that, at the end of the day, is what you’re trying to do—solve business challenges.

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Topics: Learning Technologies, Interviews with Learning Leaders