Microsoft’s Clippy – oh how I miss him… This little bit of animation that always used to offer me help that never quite hit the mark. I remember fondly swapping the characters for my amusement (which was a welcome distraction from the task I should have been performing). But I know it got to the point that every time I loaded up Microsoft Word my first task was to CLOSE CLIPPY DOWN!

Well, roll on a few years and we now have a label for what Clippy was trying to do, and that is context-sensitive learning. And most importantly, we’re now doing it better!

What is context-sensitive learning?

For me, context-sensitive learning means offering the right knowledge to the right person just when they need it. Simple, right?

Let’s take a look at some scenarios:

Scenario 1

Imagine you’re using a piece of software and a little light bulb at the side of your screen gently flashes just letting you know that your computer:

  • knows what software application you are using;
  • knows what screen and fields you’re populating;
  • based on this information the computer offers Guided Help / Work Instructions / Simulations / Quick Reference Guides that might be useful to complete the task you’re doing.

Scenario 2

Imagine you’re approaching a piece of equipment in your factory, you point your mobile / tablet at its control panel and you’re immediately offered various tasks that can be performed and provided the information to perform those tasks.

Scenario 3

Imagine you work in the service industry and a regular customer approaches – you are immediately provided the necessary information about the customer to allow to you cater to their expected requirements (RIP Google Glass, the world wasn’t ready for you yet!)

I’ve already had the pleasure of working with a client on Scenario 1 and am now working on Proof of Concepts for Scenarios 2 and 3. And it is at this point that I must heed a warning – don’t get lost in the shiny tech, the potential, and the vaporware. (Vaporware is the impressive slide-deck and/or marketing video displaying the product or solution that doesn’t exist yet.)

It is important to always come back to your primary goal: offering the right knowledge to the right person just when they need it.

What’s involved in designing and rolling out a context-sensitive learning solution?

I always approach learning using these three fundamentals:

  • Effective content;
  • Management (of the content);
  • Measurement (of the content).

Effective content

For many years now I’ve advocated designing all learning content in bite-sized chunks (referred to as RLOs, or Reusable Learning Objects) – and with context-sensitive learning, this approach really highlights the benefits.

A training course is made up of many bite-sized chunks, but really when learners need to recall the information via a context-sensitive learning solution, they don’t need the training course; they need the relevant Work Instruction / Simulation / Quick Reference Guide / etc. How this information is designed is key.

Management of the content

The effective content that is being served to the learner needs to be stored in a repository – be it a learning management system, a content management systems, or a digital asset library, to name but a few.

But to minimize content management overhead (and therefore cost) it is very important that the repository allows for (1) bite-sized chunks of learning content and (2) integrations (APIs).

Measurement of the content

Often overlooked, the measurement of learning effectiveness is the business benefit and what I wished learning centers were made accountable for. The fact is that learning effectiveness is hard to quantify (ignoring ‘happy sheets’), but with context-learning solutions, measuring simple engagement itself is a very strong measure for success.

If people are using the solution, and most importantly, repeatedly< using the solution, it can be assumed it is providing benefit.

One last thought

Finally, regarding scenarios 2 and 3 mentioned above — some of you might be more familiar with the term Augmented Reality. If you’ve played Pokemon Go recently, whether you realized it or not, you’ve experienced AR. It is a really exciting time for learning architects like myself, as Augmented Reality opens up context-sensitive learning so now it is not just ‘software’ on a computer.

The future is certainly bright!