Corporations Use Arist To Deliver Employee Training Courses, One Text Message At A Time


Current corporate training solutions on the market are too rigid and slow to adapt the needs of a dynamic, flexible workforce in today’s remote-first world. Getting new employees up to speed in-person is prohibitive in a pandemic environment. For companies to continue staying competitive in the global economy, corporate training has to evolve to get the best out their talent immediately. Michael Ioffe, Maxine Anderson and Ryan Laverty understood companies need lightweight, reliable alternatives to traditional training methods and created Arist as a result. Arist creates high-quality, engaging text message-based courses that employees can complete at their own pace.

Frederick Daso: Why are current corporate training solutions subpar for workforce training purposes?

Michael Ioffe: Most corporate training is done either in-person (pre-COVID), over video or through a PowerPoint presentation. These forms of training are difficult for employees to engage with and have very low completion and satisfaction rates, to the point where corporate training tools currently have a net promoter score of -34. These pieces of training can also take several hours or days and overload a user with content.

More importantly, existing training mediums are not conducive to a hybrid work environment. As a learning and training leader, you often have employees worldwide, content that’s tough to update, and completely inflexible learning technologies. While training can create meaningful behavior change and skill development, learning and training leaders currently don’t have the right tools.

Daso: What are the assumptions behind the design of incumbent workforce training courses? Why are these assumptions wrong concerning the audience they are trying to reach?

Ryan Laverty: Most traditional training materials are long-form videos or rich media sessions (think: gamified paragraphs and images to click through) and were built for employees spending 40 hours per week in an office. Additionally, many training pieces are time-based, meaning they’re built to check a box and measure success by the number of hours spent learning.

In reality, “seat time” is no longer a good metric for tracking the efficacy of learning, and the vast majority of employees will be hybrid or fully remote workers post-COVID-19. As well, many learning leaders are already seeing plunging rates of employee engagement and satisfaction with existing training solutions, largely because employees don’t love the learning modalities (video, PowerPoint, etc.) that they’re offered. However, over 95% of people open and read a text within 3 minutes of getting it, so taking advantage of cell phones as a medium makes training both active, enjoyable, and flexible.

Daso: Who are the end-users and decision-makers that use and purchase Arist’s product and services, respectively? How have you designed your sales process and go-to-market strategy to best sell to them?

Ioffe: We typically work with a learning leader, Talent Development lead, or learning designer, while our end users are the employees that take our courses. Arist courses cover every subject from sales training to health and safety, so with many of our clients, a learning department will build a course that every corporate function is an end-user of.

Our pilot package — which includes our team building a custom course for the client, launch it to a few hundred learners, and collecting data about what worked well and what didn’t — is probably the most popular aspect of our sales process. Not only do learning leaders get a sense of how their employees interact with text message courses, but they often solve a real and immediate training need just by testing out Arist. 

Furthermore, our end goal is to make it easy and frictionless for our clients to experiment with text message learning, and the pilot requires less than 30 minutes to set up for a corporate learning leader. 

Once a pilot is wrapped up and demonstrated efficacy, we then train a company’s learning team to build text message courses on their while signing a larger contract. I would describe our sales process as extremely hands-on — we see ourselves as our client’s partner in learning and do everything we can to support their work and make their lives easier.

Daso: What drives the massive amounts of spending on employee training?

Laverty: In short, employee retention and satisfaction. Employees generally stick around longer if their employers invest in their learning and development. Yet, only a small percentage of employees feel like their employers genuinely champion their learning and growth. Training is also critical to avoid critical failures in the workplace like severe culture issues or manufacturing defects.

Spending $1,900 per employee per year might seem like a lot, but when you consider how much hiring and paying an employee costs, we should be asking why companies aren’t spending more. If great training can improve employee outcomes by at least 10%, spending a tiny fraction of an employee’s salary on ensuring they do their job super well ends up being very, very worth it.

Daso: Given that Arist’s learning courses are text message- and SMS-based, what were some of the technical challenges in building your product to produce high-engagement while being constrained by how much information you can transmit given the media you are using?

Ioffe: First off, the cool thing about text message courses is that the medium forces brevity, meaning that concepts and case studies taught via text are often far clearer and more concise than their counterparts in textbooks or video courses. Brevity forces clarity, which’s generally a very good thing for learning, especially in the workplace.

As a result, when our team is building a course (or teaching someone to build a course), we always start with the outcome and learning objective in mind. Rather than asking, “what should this training include?” we start by asking, “What would this training be incomplete without?” We started to learn that we could cut down 75-90% of the content in some traditional training courses without losing any desired knowledge or outcome. Simple things like using lists, simple language, and getting rid of extra details allow us to get the important info across while holding the learner’s attention. We also heavily use emojis and GIFs to make things engaging.

In an Arist course, each day often includes several screen lengths of content that equates to roughly 5-10 minutes of learning, including stories, case studies, images, and links to resources. The result is that by cutting down unnecessary content, writing simply, and utilizing visual elements effectively, we can create better learning outcomes in far less time.

Daso: How are the courses structured to meet corporations’ needs while avoiding their employees suffering from information overflow? What flexibility have you built into the courses to allow users to finish them at their own pace?

Laverty: The important thing to note regarding corporate training (and learning in general) is that course objectives usually fall into two buckets: behavior change or knowledge retention. Courses like Harassment Prevention are very behavior change-oriented, whereas subjects like product training tend to be very knowledge retention-focused. It turns out that spacing out information and delivering information via text are two of the best ways to encourage both behavior change and knowledge retention.

As a result, text message courses are delivered to an employee once per day over 1-3 weeks, typically taking just a few minutes per day. Along with a concept or case study explanation, each day of a course can include exercises, interactive assessments, and resources that track the learning outcomes that leaders are looking for. 

Because learners pick their preferred messaging platform and the time of their daily text, we make it easy to learn and interact with training content without overwhelming employees with hours’ worth of learning — which is currently what happens. Learners love this flexibility because there’s no need to download an app, and they often know when they’ll be most likely to text back. I opt to get most of my Arist courses during lunch, for example.

Finally, employee phone numbers are always encrypted and stored securely, and employers can see responses, learner progress, completion rates, and answer accuracy rates in the Arist dashboard.

Daso: How did you first conceive of this idea about Arist while you were at Babson?

Ioffe: Before starting Arist, I founded, which is now one of the world’s largest entrepreneurship education nonprofits — we currently host free live conversations between students and entrepreneurs in over 450 locations globally. One of our locations was in the Yemeni conflict zone. I realized that the students we were working with had super limited internet access, meaning video-based courses were completely unavailable. 

The concept of delivering educational content via text initially started to deliver learning in Yemen since nearly everyone has access to a phone. We eventually realized that along with being accessible, text message courses were also remarkably effective. That’s where the idea of Arist came in: we realized that to teach people via text, we first needed to build a tool and framework for creating text message-based courses. 

I was living on the same floor as Ryan and Maxine, our third co-founder, at the time, and they had both returned from volunteering abroad when I shared the idea of a text message course with them. Ryan and Maxine quickly jumped on board from there. Today, Arist is used by over 20 Fortune 500 companies, and text message courses have completion and satisfaction rates of over 90%.

Daso: What’s your strategy around recruiting potential Arist employees for such a niche industry to disrupt?

Laverty: With Arist, we aren’t just building a corporate training tool, although that’s certainly where we’ve seen a lot of early traction and adoption. In the long-run, we see text message courses as an entirely new content medium that can transform the way people interact with knowledge — whether that’s employees receiving training, customers learning about a product, or students with limited internet access. 

Our team is passionate about pushing the limits of how people learn and bonds around our mission of making learning more accessible and human-centered. We firmly believe that text message courses are a tool with widespread use cases and impact potential. Arist courses have already been used for everything from delivering COVID-19 training in refugee camps to rapidly training journalists in Sudan to training disconnected California residents on disaster preparedness.

Ioffe: Alongside our broader mission, Arist has an incredibly strong and supportive culture, and we believe in hiring capable people while giving them the resources and space they need to do their absolute best work. Our employees tell us that the transparency, positivity, unique benefits (from freelancer budgets to monthly ice cream), and ability to work with such a capable team makes them love their work. We’re also obsessed with kindness and optimize for that in our hiring process. We’ve found that working with a kind and supportive team while defining the future of how people learn is a great opportunity for many people.


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