Where the Magic Happens: Designing eLearning in the Age of Analytics
To create anything beautiful and useful, you need the right people and the right tools. Tools, without the right people, can’t create anything. And people, without the right support, are misplaced talent. So when it comes to eLearning, you need that combined creative magic to build beautiful and useful courses that will engage employees and support your company’s business needs.
Vacasa recently became the largest full-service vacation rental company in the United States. We manage over 8,000 vacation properties across 20 U.S. states and 15 countries. At our core, Vacasa is a technology and services company. We build technology in-house that we use to scale and work our magic. Vacasa is one of the most disruptive companies in this market, which has led to incredible business growth and outcomes. And, like any company focused on growth, employee training is a critical pillar of our success, especially for a company of more than 2,000 employees.
Searching for the Right Stuff
Prior to starting here, training development at Vacasa was a two-person team that used a learning management system (LMS). The platform just didn’t cut it for learner interactivity and engagement. In 2014, shortly before I joined Vacasa, the company grew 16,000%. As you can imagine, two people trying to scale with an inflexible system was less than ideal.
The LMS itself was reliable, but the fundamental problem was in developing courses and training within a limited platform instead of developing externally using stronger methods and programs. The LMS itself simply wasn't the right space to author learning content. I had to find a way to make the process more flexible and interactive so training could be more engaging. I also needed to determine how to develop content that could scale with our incredible growth.
Because we needed our lessons and eLearning modules to be SCORM compliant as well, we started to explore solutions like Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and xAPI but we couldn’t find an eLearning developer who was strong enough in instructional design, and vice versa. We had hired some amazing people who, it turned out, couldn’t fully perform the job they were hired to do using those tools.
We decided to keep looking for a tool that would allow us to build quicker while still remaining modern and visually appealing because that quality seemed to be lacking in many of the tools in the market.
The Real Shift: Advancing eLearning Through Analytics
With all of our requirements and methodologies in hand, we finally found the solution that checked every box: . The platform was easy to use and also allowed us to build the quality of courses that we expected.
In addition, a major benefit was Elucidat’s ability to let us develop courses for mobile. When I develop training for housekeepers, property managers, or managers in the field, I can use Elucidat for the whole process. We issue mobile phones to a large swath of our internal employees. We don't provide computers—nor require they have their own computer—so we have to develop training that works well for those audiences on any device.
But an unexpected benefit of Elucidat was the analytics side of the equation. I like to use data to inform where we're going and our projects’ effectiveness. But, ultimately, I'm a creative person at heart. I'm not much of a numbers guy.
Yet, I was blown away that Elucidat allowed us to immediately identify problems within our courses we didn't even know were there. I could see that, of the 700 people who had taken a required lesson over the last year, only 10–15% actually completed it.
With our old LMS, we could see what the completion rates were, but with Elucidat, I can see exactly where people drop off. For that required lesson, I was able to see that on one page I had 500 people, but only 400 on the next. That pinpointed where the problem was so I could go in and figure out what the problem was.
Today we have a review process in place so we can make those adjustments as needed. The analytics tool is a game changer for us. Getting so granular within the actual learning experience itself is something we weren’t able to accommodate prior to using Elucidat’s analytics. To be honest, it wasn't something on my radar. Now we’re solving problems we didn't even know we had.
eLearning and Design: Philosophies and Pivoting
One aspect that’s crucial to the way we work is to be comfortable “killing our darlings,” so to speak. As you design and build new elearning programs, you have to be mentally prepared to scrap it or pivot ideas that don’t work—regardless of your love for them. This is especially important to keep in mind at Vacasa because of how quickly we grow and enter new markets. Unfortunately, not every idea will work.
You also need to be aware of what works in each course, what doesn’t, and how to adjust quickly so you can maximize engagement and true learning. This way you can constantly improve your content where it’s needed most.
Vacasa is focused on exponential international growth, and our internal processes must change direction as needed. That's great from a company perspective, but it’s difficult from a training point of view. Our challenge was to figure out how we could create both a scalable, nimble training strategy and team that internally supports the business. We look at ourselves as a service within the company, to the company.
Analyzing and Adjusting Design Problems
Our small team of four learning experience designers work with whichever teams, stakeholders, and subject matter experts that need assistance solving a training or learning problem. We look at training developments as a design problem. Learning is not one-size-fits-all. We want to effectively accommodate the learners for their unique problem.
We don’t default to any modality before understanding the problem and exploring the solutions. We’re hyper-aware that whatever we build today may be obsolete within even six months because of how fast Vacasa is growing. As a result, we have a modular approach to training.
This modular approach is, in essence, micro-learning. Small, modular pieces of learning content can be adjusted as needed instead of redeveloping an entire training program to accommodate new business needs. Learners can also access these bite-sized modules as required.
When I talk to my learning experience designers they clearly understand how our philosophies align with the creation side of our eLearning. I think of them as full-stack learning professionals. They need to design and accommodate the gap analysis, create the actual courses and modalities, and then develop the content as well.
Creative Magic at Work
While I initially saw Elucidat as a supplemental platform, it’s now very much the opposite. Elucidat is now our first choice as a course creation tool. And it’s changing the way we build our instructional design team. We’re hiring people who have years of development experience and they default to creating with Elucidat.
Our story isn’t unique to Vacasa. Regardless of size or industry, business leaders finally realize their companies need to be nimble in order to become—and remain—competitive. We have to move quickly and develop strategically. Leveraging tools like Elucidat allow us to scale at any pace we need. We know we’ll have the right tools to support our talent, no matter their role or department. And that, to me, is the true beauty of creative magic at work.