Designing Training to Go Viral

In today’s world, if a person doesn’t know something, it’s likely their first instinct is to turn to Google. I do it myself when I’m trying to remember how to create a particular formula in Excel or if I’m trying to resolve an issue I’m having with a piece of software. If the learners’ first instinct isn’t to open the LMS (Learning Management System) and search for a training course, how do we as trainers compete with the vast amount of resources on search engines like Google? How can we create compelling training resources that our learners will not only turn to as their first line of defense but also want to share with their peers?

Revamp the LMS

The first problem we have to overcome is the structure of our LMS databases themselves. They simply aren’t as easy to search and use as Google. The search screen often isn’t the first thing that catches the learners’ eyes when they launch the LMS. Instead, their home screens are cluttered with announcements, mandatory training enrollments, or lists of training they’ve already enrolled in or completed.

Additionally, traditional LMS programs don’t have the same social features learners are used to seeing on most commercial websites, like the ability to like and comment on posts, buttons to easily enable the sharing of content, and the ability to write reviews. Sure, such features would open the instructional designer up to increased scrutiny, but if we’re doing our job and creating compelling training, these features would allow learners help us get the word out about our training. Learners are most likely to trust recommendations from other learners who have completed the training. If learners could see that others had benefited from the content, they would be more likely to take our class or view our material.

At my job, we’re in the process of converting to the Saba Cloud LMS platform, which has many social learning features. It will be interesting to see how this upgrade affects the spread of our training materials.

Design to Spread

In the book Spreadable Media, authors Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green outline tactics that make online content more likely to be shared among users. As instructional designers, we can apply some of these same principles to our training to make learners more likely to share it.


Jenkins et al advise that content must be posted when and where the audience wants it. Often, that isn’t inside a separate LMS. We should embrace the idea of embedded performance support championed by industry leaders Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson. This principle encourages us to place our training and reference materials inside the situations and software programs where learners will use it, or at the learners’ moment of need.

Quotability and Grabbability

Audiences need to be able to quote and grab content in order to share it among their peers. Enabling the social features outlined above in our LMS systems is the first step toward making this happen. Imagine if our training videos had buttons underneath to share with others like YouTube videos have already had for years. How many more people would we be able to reach with our content?

Another way to make our content more grabbable and portable is to chunk it into smaller pieces. Instead of posting an entire 3 hour or day-long course, why not break it up into smaller pieces that are easier for the learner to digest? By limiting our training to one point at a time, we can help the learner fit in training when he or she has time, help ensure learners only have to consume learning that’s relevant to them at the moment, help learners remember and digest one point thoroughly before moving on to the next topic, and help make our smaller chunks of learning easier to share.


According to Jenkins et al, the more relevant content is to more than one audience, the more likely it is to be spread. I posted several weeks ago about designing learning for different generations. Making sure our content is relevant and appealing to all members of our target audience is key. We have to think about how various audience members will use and respond to our training and design accordingly, for both digital natives and immigrants, for both fast-paced and slower-paced learners, and so forth.

We can also help audiences see the relevancy of our content through the successful use of storytelling and scenarios. Stories and scenarios place the learner in situations where they will need to apply the material they are learning. As long as we don’t cross the border into cheesy territory, these strategies can help learners understand why they need to learn and apply the content.


Jenkins et al tell us learners are more likely to engage with a steady stream of content, some of which may resonate with them more than the rest. We should explore ways of supplementing our content that make it more interesting to learners. Things like regular blogs with email updates or tags that make it easy to link one piece of our content to another can help learners not only find our content more easily but also see how a particular piece of learning fits into the bigger picture of the subject matter.


Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. New York, NY: New York University Press.


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