To focus or not to focus, that is the question.

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It’s safe to say that almost every small business has been through the process of defining exactly what service or product it provides.  In fact, most market savvy businesses will go through this process multiple times, to stay afloat and keep up with the pace of change.  Questions asked are likely to include whether a business should… 

  • Focus on a core service or product?
  • Broaden the offering and capture a bigger share of the market?
  • Specialise in one industry or have a general understanding of many?
  • Offer a one off service or something that needs an ongoing contract?

The answers to which are all critical for any business to know.

One thing we have learnt in almost 20 years of trading is that small companies must excel at something!

In our case, we are a digital agency.  More specifically, we’ve refined that down to providing ‘eLearning and digital comms’ for the heavy industries and transportation sectors.  Even more specifically, our specialist topic areas are non-technical skills, railway communications and site induction via our online platform SiteSentinel.

We’ve also learnt that it’s important to say what you don’t do!  This builds credibility and helps clients frame your offering. In our case, we don’t do Public Relations; we don’t do Marketing Communications; and we certainly don’t do print campaigns… 

…except for the fact that we’ve just done a print job! Our offering – digital comms and learning – is pretty well defined, so why have we dipped our toe in the print pond? The answer is simple: it made sense for the client.

The rail client wanted a set of cards designed and printed that workers could use to learn about non-technical skills.  The project was required within an existing programme of work that we were involved in and we were well placed to deliver it.  We used our knowledge of non-technical skills in the rail industry and combined that with our experience of creating and delivering eLearning programmes, to design the set of educational cards.

And now comes the critical part… we then brought in a partner company and leaned on their specialism – printing!  In this case the excellent print management company Birch Print – who printed a beautiful set of client-ready cards.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  Defining what you do, and don’t do, is key to attracting customers and making sales.  However, sometimes a job might come along that you are well suited to – just with a little expert help.  So it would seem that specialising, whilst remaining open to possible new opportunities through collaborating with trusted business partners, provides the best of both worlds.

Repeat business – as straightforward as it sounds?

The idea of repeat business sounds so clear cut: customers electing to return for more work, often needing something the same or similar, and all wrapped up in an established working relationship.  It might therefore seem like an opportunity to roll out more of what worked previously, and in some circumstances, this is exactly what the customer wants.  However, even with pure repeat business there is a process of checking and challenging that must happen to ensure the customer gets what they need.

Take our SiteSentinel online worksite induction solution, which we’ve successfully rolled out across numerous rail sites – depots and more recently stations. The structure and benefits stay largely the same, yet the content often contains significant differences – additions, subtractions and points of emphasis. It all depends on the nature of the site and its associated risk.

As consultants accepting repeat business, the benefits of already knowing an industry are huge.  We can make good use of standard industry phrases or acronyms in site induction content, confident that induction users will be familiar with the terminology.  For example, the rail industry ‘HOT’ protocol for assessing the risk of an unattended object: Is it Hidden from view?  Is it Obviously suspicious?  Is it Typical of what one would expect to find in that area?  We can use this across different site inductions safe in the knowledge that all rail employees will understand it.

Repeat business also means that as consultants we become more and more familiar with our customers’ policies and procedures; making us adept at knowing exactly when and where to cite them for maximum impact in site inductions.  By supporting our clients across multiple different sites, we are also efficiently and effectively communicating company-wide policies across the organisation – helping to develop awareness, support uptake and increase consistency of implementation.

However, the real benefits for a customer comes from a consultant that doesn’t make assumptions when undertaking what looks like a repeat job.  Just because one site paints its safe walking route yellow, doesn’t mean they all will – even if they are all part of the same company.  For many of the rail companies we work with, every site is different, and if we make assumptions, we risk making mistakes.

Therefore, for each site induction we develop, especially when it’s repeat business, we remain actively curious.  We ask questions, we don’t jump to conclusions and we never assume we know the answer just because of what we did at a neighbouring site.  It’s only when we’ve completed a thorough assessment that we begin to carefully add or remove content from the induction programme to ensure it reflects each unique site perfectly.

If you get it right, customers will vote with their feet.  Having implemented SiteSentinel across a range of train operating company sites, Arriva Rail London, East Midlands Railway and Greater Anglia are just some of our customers that have returned for more site induction development at different sites in the last six months… which is no small achievement considering the last six months we’ve all had!

How do you make online training engaging?

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And ‘Boom!’ just like that we were thrown into a world of home working, online meetings, virtual conferences and screen based training… and although we may not have chosen this way of working, we’re gradually finding our way.

So, consider this – you’re faced with around 50 trainees, all eager to learn in real time from the comfort of their home office.  You also have a handful of different trainers – also working from home – ready to share their knowledge and expertise.  How do you make sure, despite the virtual environment, that the learning experience is relevant, useful and engaging?  Just recently we’ve been doing exactly this and have some hints and tips we hope you may find useful…

  1. Firstly, to create engagement you need to prepare, prepare and prepare again.  Unlike a face to face setting, engagement won’t just ‘happen’ in the room.  Instead you’ll need to think about how to generate engagement using the training content, interactive tools and a healthy dose of creativity – so you’ll need to plan for this.
  2. Don’t expect to simply take the slides you’ve used for face-to-face training and deliver them online.  Trainees will be more reliant on the specific content; they may need more or less detail, superior images or embedded videos, as well as interactive activities and games.  So, review your tried and tested slides through an online ‘lens’ well before the training session is due to happen.
  3. Consider your own delivery style – on screen you may need to work that bit harder to convey enthusiasm and interest in your specialism.  You might want to consider slightly exaggerating your usual way of explaining a topic; and remember to move and smile!  This will all help build interest and engagement in the subject matter.
  4. Activities like online quizzes (Kahoot is one that works well), videos, ‘podcast’ style interviews and scenarios for discussion all provide different formats for learning which helps maintain interest.
  5. For larger training cohorts, breakout rooms can be effectively used to split trainees into smaller groups to foster relationship building, more focused discussion and inject variety into the learning experience.
  6. Encourage interaction between the trainees and the trainers – most online meeting platforms have a chat facility which provides a great way to gather questions whilst presenting.  If there are two trainers – share the load – have one present whilst the other monitors and responds to the questions.
  7. Invite other ways of trainees communicating their views – without it disrupting the overall session.  For example, using participants ‘status’ facility is akin to a quick ‘show of hands.’  Don’t be afraid to ask people for their opinion like this!
  8. Strongly encourage or even mandate people to keep their video on unless they have a valid reason not to.  There’s nothing like a lack of visibility to reduce engagement.
  9. Consider using ‘backchannel’ communications on a different platform like WhatsApp – it allows the trainers to talk to each other to rectify any issues or change the presentation plan to suit the mood or address feedback in real time.
  10. Finally – ask for immediate feedback using a polling facility – most of the online meeting platforms have them.  It’s an excellent way of quickly gathering high level feedback on the training session.

So, what are your hints and tips?  Do you have any you’d like to share?  Additional input is always welcome to make sure we keep learning too!

Face to face training may have had to stop for now, but thankfully good learning experiences don’t have to…

Attention please! Lucid is working with Network Rail to develop key non-technical skills in its operational staff…

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Imagine the role of a railway signaller… controlling the routing of a train, operating signals from a signal box or operations centre… the information screens, indicators, warning lights and alarms… all utilising highly technical skills developed through specialist training.  The development of these skills then occurs on the job, alongside experienced supervisors and managers until signallers are deemed sufficiently competent to go it alone.  But, are technical skills alone enough to safely direct trains?

All of the operational staff at Network Rail – including signallers, control room operatives, local operations managers, mobile operations managers – also need a whole range of non-technical skills (NTS).  These are the “social, cognitive and personal skills that can enhance the way…staff carry out technical skills, tasks and procedures” (RSSB, 2020) and include skills in areas like conscientiousness, communication, control under pressure, teamwork, planning and attention management.

Let’s think a little more about attention management.  Signallers may know a control panel like the back of their hand… but if they get even slightly distracted and spend fractionally too long focused on something else… will they notice a light has begun to flash?  Or something else unexpected?  It doesn’t matter how technically good a signaller is at managing their area, if they haven’t noticed a train in a section.  This is why non-technical skills – like attention management – are just as safety critical as the purely technical ones.  

At Lucid we are therefore excited to be working with Network Rail again to design a training programme that supports the development of attention management in its operational staff.  As big fans of a blended learning approach, we plan to design the programme to include a range of different training formats – including e-learning packages, video segments and worksheets.  In our experience, providing training content in different, but complementary styles – such as text, visual, audio or interactive – results in a wider appeal to different types of learners and also helps to embed the learning at a deeper level.  This means all of Network Rail’s operational staff can really benefit from the training programme and develop their skills in maintaining attention when it matters most.

Why Use Voiceover, Graphics and Text Content in E-learning?

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At Lucid HQ we often find ourselves creating e-learning content combining graphical, auditory and text-based content – and please let’s bust any myths right here and right now – doing it this way isn’t straightforward!

We certainly don’t do it to ‘pad out’ the learning material or reduce the time spent writing technical text.  In fact, it makes the process of content creation more complex as we gather information from different sources and in different formats.  This is time consuming, and can also be costly, so it’s not something we would readily opt for!

However, recently a big customer asked us “Can we remove the voiceover and graphics from our e-learning and just stick with the text?”.  In responding to the client, it made us carefully consider exactly why we do this…

You might be familiar with the “cognitive load” concept… we’ve certainly highlighted it in other blogs because it’s key in the world of training.  It’s the notion that when we learn new information it must be stored in our working memories until it’s fully processed and passes into our long-term memory.  However, our working memory is a crowded place, and if too much information is presented we run the risk of losing it altogether.

However, there’s a little trick termed the “modality effect” – which means if information is presented in different formats or ‘modes’, then our working memory can hold on to more – because it reserves a separate space for processing visual data and another space for auditory data.  So, by using both visual and auditory stimuli in e-learning packages, we improve the trainee’s chance of avoiding cognitive overload and embedding new learning.

Building on the scientific basis, let’s face it, people also just have different learning preferences and by presenting information using a variety of mediums it keeps people’s interest throughout.

And finally, we live in a fast-paced world.  With around 40% of consumers not willing to wait more than three seconds for a web page to render before abandoning the site, societal patience levels are at an all time low.  But rushing can cause people to miss critical information.  This is the last thing we want in a training scenario.  So, delivering e-learning using a range of formats forces people to slow down and take the time to steadily digest all the new information.

So, can you see why we take the harder path when developing e-learning content for our customers?!  It may be a longer process for us – but ultimately it helps to improve the learning outcomes for our clients.