You can lead a horse to water and you can make it drink

It is possible to interest people in taking up new methods and media in learning. That is the eleventh of 12 truisms that have influenced how I have been doing my work as a learning and performance consultant over a number of years. I hope you will feel free to support it with a book reference, a personal experience or a case study, or knock it down using similar sources of evidence.

The whole industry of eLearning and online learning is predicated on the belief that it is possible to interest people in taking up new methods and media in learning, but is that a safe assumption? Managers, training providers and learners themselves can all influence the rate at which a sponsoring organisation might adopt new and innovative materials and programs. From the very first hint that an instructional project is under development, suppliers and buyers should be working out how to encourage users and all relevant stakeholders to advocate and work with the new materials.

A pessimistic view shows people often reject ideas and resources that have been put together outside the immediate ambit – a kind of “not invented here” complex. Another cliché is that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. An antidote to resistance and rejection is to involve all influential stakeholders, and that includes potential users, in the analysis and design phases of distinctive new items and approaches.

It is prudent to treat an innovation in learning as you would any other change in the normal procedures of an organisation, with a Change Management Plan and Process and a suitable person to lead it. That Change Champion has to fully empathise with the organisation that is facing the change and needs to demonstrate the following 7 things beyond question:

  1. That the new approach, materials or equipment are better than any old ones they might replace
  2. That they add extra value to those that remain and they fit easily amongst them
  3. research and evaluation shows the innovation will bring advantages
  4. there is a clear and logical plan for implementation and adoption
  5. the innovation satisfies a recognised need of the prospective user
  6. it is intended to be a long term solution and not merely a short-term whim
  7. users have the skills necessary to work with the innovation or can easily acquire those skills.

It is vital to focus on users and their needs rather than on the innovative solution itself. Managers must know at least as much about what’s going to happen as they do, must explain and perhaps justify it to users and show it can be shaped to their particular needs.

A Change Management process must move users progressively from one state to another, first by raising their awareness, then by arousing curiosity, helping them to a clear and accurate vision of what the change will look like, giving them opportunity to practise and finally providing support and feedback as they use it.

So if all of these initiatives are in place, it is safe to assume that you can make your horses drink. Do you think that is true or is it a flight of fancy? Please use the form below to contribute your views and experiences.

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