Meet the Team: Matt Smith
In this edition of our Meet the Team series, we sat down with Matt Smith - Pure Learning's CEO.
So first off, why the name "Pure Learning"?
Learning is the main thing we're focused on. The problem with the work we do is that the end product is really visual, interactive and animated. Those things stand out and clients get really impressed with that stuff because it's great and it gets everyone's attention... but it should never be the main focus.
Creating eLearning and animation is really fun and it's very tempting to show off all the cool things you can do. Quite often you'll see a course and it's obvious that the developer just discovered a new animation technique and wants to show it off. Or the instructional designer secretly wants to be a stand up comedian and is trying to throw in as many jokes as possible.
In our office we often come up with designs and animation ideas that are amazing, but we'll get rid of them because they don't actually contribute to the purpose of the course. Humour, beautiful visual design, great animation etc. should be used in eLearning. But it should be meaningful - it should contribute to the end goal - learning how to do something new, or getting better at doing something you already do.
You're talking about new skills, but a lot of eLearning seems to be focused on giving people new knowledge.
Yes and that's a shame. Training is about improving performance and changing behaviours, not pushing a lot of information on to people.
Here's a couple of examples. Number one, compliance training. A lot of it is really focused on the ins and outs of the law, with maybe a few examples of inappropriate behaviour. Most people have sat through this and they hate it.
As an organisation, what is the real goal? It's not "to make sure everyone knows everything about workplace law" it's to stop bullying and harassment from occurring and creating a better place to work. Once you're focused on the real goal your training looks a lot different. Then you're really focused on winning the learner over, really getting them to think about how they act and feel in these circumstances at work.
Then take product training. It's easy to say "Let's include as much info as we can, the more the better". But what is the real goal? Increase customer retention rates by improving customer service? Increasing revenue by getting our salespeople to sell more of this product? Once you look at it this way you start only including the relevant information and building experiences for the learner where they get to apply the knowledge in the same context they will be using it in real life. Simulate customers asking questions, complaining and raising objections. Get the learner to not just learn the features, but how to relate those features to personalised benefits. Present opportunities to cross sell and up sell. It's way more exciting, way more effective and it's addressing the real reason you need the training in the first place.
To me, this is fundamental to instructional design and I think it's important that I'm still looking at all of our work as an Instructional Designer.
So what do you tell people when they ask you what your job is?
I hate being asked "What do you do for a living" question, because people normally run away when I say that I create eLearning.
They actually run away?
Haha, no, but they usually end up telling you horror stories about some terrible eLearning course that sucked up 3 hours of their life. Usually with an accusing tone, as if I was responsible for it! I think the problem is that most people have had bad experiences with eLearning, so all they think about is the bad stuff. I can't blame them for assuming that I'm one of the people putting this rubbish out into their workplace.
Usually it turns around when I start explaining our philosophy and how we approach things, but then that creates a whole other problem...
I get too excited and talk their ear off about what's possible and great eLearning can be. It's at that point that they pretend that their phone is vibrating and they have to leave to take a call.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The possibilities. The potential that hasn't been reached yet. Bringing in knowledge and skills from other industries to help enhance the learning experience and create better eLearning. I really like how eLearning combines all the favourite parts of my previous jobs: technology, training/instructional design, solving business problems, creativity, storytelling.
Ultimately though, it's helping people improve. I love learning new things and I love teaching people, it's why I got into training in the first place. All the possibilities and potential are just a means to that end.
Where do you see Pure Learning progressing to in the next 12 months?
I see a strong, continuing focus on creating some really unique custom eLearning for our customers. Those jobs are great because we really love getting to understand our clients and a new audience. As an Instructional Designer it's great to get into a new organisation and do the fun (& nerdy) analysis work.
We also have big ideas for our products. We're working on "off the shelf" content for Health and Safety related courses, some more compliance topics and a whole bunch of leadership/soft skills courses. Those are quite interesting because we're developing training for an incredibly broad and diverse audience.
What is the last skill you had to learn?
Well, I'm currently trying to teach myself how to touch type using the Colemak keyboard layout, instead of QWERTY. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, it turns out that the standard QWERTY key layout is poorly designed and inefficient. Your hands and fingers have to do too much travelling while you type. There are other keyboard layouts, like Dvorak and Colemak, that have been designed to reduce finger movement. Anyway, learning Colemak feels much harder than learning to type for the first time, because my fingers instinctively go to the QWERTY layout. It leads to a lot of frustration and poor spelling. If you've received an email from me recently and there are a few typos, that's why. I promise I can actually spell.
One last thing. What is the hardest thing you've had to learn?
Parenting! Just when you think you've worked it out, your kids do something to show you that you really know nothing about parenting. I guess that's one of the things that makes it so much fun and so rewarding. Nothing worthwhile is easy.