Can Micro-Learning Help Stressed, Unmotivated Learners?


I’ve published two posts on micro-learning in recent months. One was on this site; one was done for ATD. Both generated discussion with some folks debating my assertion that we need to be very cautious about leaping to it. I’m going to stand by my assertion. I think “micro-lessons” can be great for some things; I do not think they are the answer to most things. And for learners who are over-extended and not motivated to learn in the first place, they are not the answer at all.

Will Thalheimer, someone I respect tremendously in the arena of learning science research and applying research to practices, wrote an extensive comment to my ATD post. He also linked to a post by Alex Khurgin, CEO of Grovo, a SaaS company that produces lots of micro-learning. Khurgin positions micro-learning as good for 21st century businesses. Khurgin’s blog is high-level and, in general, promotes micro-learning as the solution to the crazy pace that exemplifies many of today’s organizations.

Here’s the thing. I feel like I am an example of the “C-suite” person so many say are the reason we need to shift to micro-learning. I do not own a Fortune 500 company, but I am a business owner who has concerns about maximizing what my team can do. My company has been named as one of the top 25 fastest growing companies in Indiana… and making sure our team members continually learn and grow is a key reason why we’re on that list. Their skill and knowledge fuels company growth.

Why Companies *Think* Learners Need Micro-Learning

Micro-Learning 1

Within my company (and probably many others), these truths all affect my team’s ability to learn:

  1. We’re stressed. Life is stressful, not just work. We all have a bazillion things to do each day and many people who need things from us.
  2. We face multiple interruptions each day. If we don’t discipline ourselves to ignore email, disconnect from instant messaging, or mute our phones, we can be distracted every few minutes all day long every day.
  3. Time is limited. We never feel like we have enough time to get things done.
  4. We want to enjoy life. Most folks don’t want to work 60-hour weeks; we need for our work – and our learning – to happen within the sanity of a 40- to 45-hour work week. Sadly, we don’t all hit the goal of 45-hour maximums, which makes carving out time for learning a constant challenge if it is not prioritized.
  5. Maintaining focus is HARD. New technologies and ideas are like squirrels, tempting us to run off in new directions all the time. We see these squirrels when we consume content on social media – checking out links sent via tweets,  perusing Zite, monitoring our accounts. We can get highly distracted just trying to “keep up.”

Micro-learning is identified as the answer to items 2, 3, and 5 from that list, but I do not believe it is truly “the” answer to any of them. It sounds great on the surface, but the root of the problem goes deeper.

Motivate, Focus, Repeat.

So what is the answer? I think these things are…

  1. Make sure motivation exists. Putting people who have zero desire to be learning into a learning situation is a recipe for flushing money down the drain. Motivation trumps almost everything else. Really great instructional designers can help with motivation, but only to a point. People need to perceive that learning the new skill matters to them in a significant way.
  2. Make sure focused time is available  Get clear on company priorities…and realize you can  only execute on one priority at a time. Without time to focus, people cannot learn. Don’t think you can squeeze a learning experience into five minutes per day.
  3. Repeat to remember. Assume that people will need to have multiple repetitions to truly learn something. Repetition can be effective in short, continuous bursts… but I’ll save that discussion for another blog post.
  4. Make sure there are immediate opportunities to use what’s being learned. Without the immediate opportunity to apply, learning gets lost.This would be a second way you can flush money down a drain.
  5. Make sure someone else – besides the learner – cares about what someone is learning. Someone else, either a manager or co-worker, needs to inquire about what’s being learned. If people never get to talk about or reflect on what they are learning, the learning will be extremely limited and difficult for the person to apply it.


Right now, I am taking a 5-session MOOC (massive open online course) called Smart Growth for Private Businesses. It includes about 5.5 hours of lectures, several quizzes, and four case studies that are each 12-15 pages in length. I started the class about three weeks ago; I’m now three-fourths of the way through it and should have it completed in the next week or so. The lectures are organized into relatively small chunks, which are interspersed with 2-minute quizzes. The first sessions lectures are organized into “bites” of varying lengths that range in length from 2 minutes to 26 minutes. To date, I’ve invested several hours and I think every hour as been hugely valuable.

My completion of this course hits the five ingredients I feel are necessary for learning:

  1. I’m motivated. My company is growing extremely fast; we want to control our growth to maximize the health of our company and its team members. We’re also getting ready to start another strategic planning cycle and I will use the info from the course as we execute this process.
  2. I’m finding time to focus because focus matters. I’ve clarified my priorities… and taking this course is one of those priorities.
  3. I am reviewing the content with myself and others. I have taken notes, I’ve gone back and reviewed sections, etc. I’m repeating to remember… even using the white boards on my walls to write down key concepts I want to retain.
  4. I already mentioned strategic planning we’re preparing to do. I have an immediate need for the content.
  5. Two others in the company are also taking the course. Having someone to talk to is huge in retaining the information and learning from it.

So… that’s not micro-learning as I’ve seen it defined. But I can tell you I am getting excellent results, and I absolutely do not believe I would be getting excellent results if this content was of low or even medium value to me and delivered in small, five-minute chunks each day.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts: can micro-learning truly help an employee who is stressed and lacks motivation learn?

The Myth of “Micro-Learning”


There’s a new buzz phrase going around town these days in the L&D and talent development communities. That phrase is “micro-learning.” The infographic on the modern learner, published by Bersin and Associates” in late 2014, fuels this fire.


The biggest take-away many are getting from this infographic is that today’s workers and “modern learners” only have 1% of their workweek to devote to professional development and learning. That equates to 24 minutes per week if you assume a 40-hour work week… which is 4.8 minutes per day to focus on learning.

The concern I have is that we make an assumption that we can and should winnow down all learning initiatives to fit into this 4.8 minutes per day or 24 minutes per week. Most definitely, reinforcement of a skill or reinforcement of a specific body of knowledge can be handled in 4.8 minutes a day. Learning science-based platforms such as Knowledge Guru, qStream, or Axonify can be very useful in delivering micro reinforcement in this context.

Micro-learning is NOT useful when people need to acquire/learn complex skills, processes, or behaviors. Imagine trying to learn any of these behaviors or skills in 4.8 minutes per day:

  • A musical instrument
  • Project management
  • Agile software development and processes
  • Instructional design
  • Any software tool
  • Teamwork skills
  • Sales
  • A product (e.g. launching a new one where you need to acquire knowledge of the product’s value proposition, competitive landscape, positioning, etc.)

What our industry needs is better clarity on when we need to formally train people, when we need to reinforce knowledge or skills people are building on their own, and when we simply need to keep key principles or practices front and center (e.g. safety and security practices).

The BLP Way

A few years ago, we opted to create a “learning lab” environment in our own organization. We wanted a means of building technical and project management skills – and we recognized that if we want innovation to happen, we have to give it time to happen. This sparked the idea of “skill-builders,” which are formal side projects that employees can do ON COMPANY TIME. This year, we formalized this to the point of letting an employee allocate five full work days to time on a skill builder. Criteria for doing a skill-builder:

  • The skill-builder needs to link tightly to a competency the company has agreed is important to us. (e.g. We use AfterEffects quite a bit in our work. So, if a graphic designer wants to learn AfterEffects, he or she can craft a skill-builder around it.)
  • BLP needs to make sure the employee has sufficient time to do it; ideally, they will be able to work in 1/2 – full-day “chunks” on the skill-builder as it is too hard to stop/start when you are in learning mode.
  • A formal document needs to be created that describes the project, what skills it will build, and what resources are required, and how it links to BLP business needs.

Here’s an example of what one team member, Jackie Crofts, recently did with her skill-builder: she produced a fabulous AfterEffects video that we will use as a “product tour” of Knowledge Guru. She had only base knowledge of AfterEffects when she started.  More critically, Jackie is a fabulous illustrator, but she had minimal skill in using stock imagery and in doing graphic design work. She is a pure artist, which is GREAT when we are designing games; challenging when we need her to focus on marketing collateral.

Let’s not get so excited by this concept of “micro-learning” that we fail to recognize when it is appropriate – and when it is absolutely NOT appropriate. If we had only allowed Jackie to spend 1% of her workweek building AfterEffects skill, she would never have built the skill she did. Also…note that we did not send Jackie to a formal AfterEffects training course. We did provide her with access to tutorials and to a colleague with AfterEffects skills, but she was mostly self-directed with her skill-builder.

So, is “micro-learning” the right answer for reinforcement? Absolutely. Will “micro-learning” help when it comes to actual skill-building? Not really. People still need dedicated time to build their arsenal of knowledge and skill. However, not all of this time needs to be spent in formal training. It DOES need to be time they can devote to learning for more than 4.8 minutes per day or 24 minutes per week. The payoff to organizations who give employees this time will be huge in terms of the innovation and productivity gains over the long-term.


eLearning Trends That Will Fizzle, Sizzle, or Simmer in 2014

2014 eLearning Trends

Our industry is notorious for chasing after trends. We all enjoy reading the summaries of the past year – and seeing predictions for the new one. Most folks want to know: which trends are worth pursuing and which ones are going to fizzle? Is gamification going to go the way of Myspace and Foursquare? Will social learning be replaced by “isolation learning” (okay, I made that up)?

At any point in time, there are trends that sizzle, others that simmer, and ones that fizzle out. The really, really good ones become “best practices” over the long haul. So let’s see what’s on the stove right now.

First, the sizzle

This is the stuff that I see TRULY taking off inside organizations. It’s not just talked about…it is happening:

Experience API (aka Tin Can API): Considering the fact that “xAPI” was just introduced in 2012, I think this trend is sizzling. There is no question that companies – particularly large ones – love to track data. If they can’t track it then people didn’t learn… or so the feeling goes. Experience API allows for tracking of all that stuff that has been so hard to track – use of social media, for example. So – just as SCORM took several years to get to a point of critical mass, I think Experience API will – but I do believe this type of tracking is going to be a force for the future.

Gamification/learning games: This trend is at full sizzle right now. We are having LOTS of conversations with folks who want either a learning game developed or would like support in creating a gamification strategy related to a large endeavor or program. I fear that over-use or inappropriate use could lead to it falling out of favor by 2016 because a lot of efforts may fail due to poor design or implementation.

The same reasons games and gamification are being used should be reasons to keep them around: they tend to structure learning experiences into challenges and provide feedback loops, two things that engage people and help foster behavior change.

Storytelling in Training: This trend/topic began peeking its head out last year, and seems off to a roaring start in 2014. Almost every recipient of the “Best” awards at the 2013 eLearning Guild DemoFest featured the use of stories within the learning solution. There is a nice body of research that points to the value of stories in helping us remember. It’s harder to remember discrete facts, for instance, than it is to remember those same facts when they are woven into a narrative. Check out John Medina’s Brain Rules book for info on this.

Agile development: This one got very hot in 2013, and I think interest in it will remain strong in 2014 and beyond. Why? Because a linear approach doesn’t work when you are designing highly interactive web-based solutions; you need to iterate. The skills people will want to acquire are skills in creating rapid prototypes on paper and digitally.

Visuals and graphics: Along with the use of storytelling, the winners at eLearning Guild’s DemoFest featured heavy use of visuals. Designers are wisely shifting away from screens filled with text to ones dominated by visuals. Check out this YouTube video that showcases the World Wildlife Fund’s new educational app for an outstanding example of how visuals can be used to help educate people on facts and “build awareness.” We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for using graphics in eLearning, available here.

Here’s what’s simmering

…With the potential to reach sizzle status:

Mobile Support in lieu of “mobile learning:” This one is just now creeping its way out. There’s no question that mobile has NOT taken off as predicted. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry Report tells us that only 1.39% of respondents are actually distributing content via mobile even though we’re very close to reaching market saturation with SmartPhones (predictions vary from August of this year to early next year).

I think the concept of mLearning needs to fizzle as we’re not seeing people really wanting to take entire courses on their phones. BUT – we are seeing that people use their phones for tons of stuff – in short chunks – and they love to use phones to find/locate information. Hence, I think more and more corporate L&D people are going to want mobile solutions that help people with these find/locate tasks or with quick two-minute reviews of concepts.

Video: This one has been on simmer status for awhile. I think 2014 will have it burning brighter – but for very specific uses, not broad use like “Click NEXT to continue” did in eLearning.

The low price of the technology is quite a driver. The GoPro lets anyone take amazing video for about $300. Today’s SmartPhones enable high-quality video shooting AND post-production, right from the phone. Video is no longer something you have to consider too expensive to do or leave to professional videographers and editors. It lends itself to storytelling and it allows people to share. In fact, the “homemade” quality videos have become quite acceptable, courtesy of YouTube. Its limitation will be that it’s best suited for the 2 to 5-minute support function rather than a formal course-like learning solution…and lots of companies don’t have a good infrastructure for deploying videos yet without making folks log into an LMS to view them.

Spaced Learning and Repetition: The research is compelling in these two areas, and I am getting phone calls from folks who are telling me they are actively researching these topics – and trying to figure out what they need to be doing differently within their L&D functions to help people really remember what they supposedly “learn” in training courses. I think this one could go from simmer to sizzle at some point in 2014.

What Will Fizzle?

Here’s my big fizzle prediction – and I know I’m going to upset the people who passionately support the concept. I, personally, am an avid user of social media for learning, however…

Twitter-style tools for “social learning:”  I will stop short of labeling “social learning” as the fizzle because I personally am an ardent fan of it… and it’s a natural part of how people have always learned, no matter what L&D has to say about it. I love content curation tools such as Zite, Flipboard, and, though I believe I am in a small minority of people who DO consume content and gather information with these tools.

I sense – based on watching my various Twitter feeds –  that the Twitter fascination is ending – at least in corporate settings. Twitter feels a bit like yesterday’s news. So many tools have entered the landscape that the landscape is starting to feel overwhelming. The number of social tools out there is massive – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, Vine, etc.

I think people will continue to use a variety of social tools for personal learning – but I’m not seeing wide adoption or interest in it inside corporations – despite heavy conversation on it within the L&D world for the past several years. In fact, I see active resistance to it – not from corporate leaders but from employees themselves. The landscape has become overwhelming; when people feel overwhelmed, they opt out.

mLearning: So I identified mSupport as a “simmer” status trend. I think mLearning is going to fizzle as employees let us know they do not want to take courses on phones. MOBILE won’t fizzle… but the idea of entire courses distributed via phones will. The landscape shows us that we use our phones in very short bursts, though the phones are constantly present. My one caveat to this would be mobile games – people will spend lots of time playing them. If we can design a full-blown course that is as immersive as a mobile game, we may be able to get some sizzle going.

Virtual Worlds: These fizzled a couple years ago, but it’s worth mentioning here only because I still hear others mentioning it… as a tool that fizzled. Second Life had so much buzz back in 2008… and, while the tool still exists, you do not hear organizations talking about how they will use virtual worlds in training anymore. The technology curve was too steep in terms of the hardware and systems requirements to use it – and the learning curve simply to function in the world was too high.

So I’ve gone out on a big limb to predict my sizzle, simmer, and fizzle trends. I would love to hear others’ views on this one. This is a topic that begs for lots of diverse opinions and discussions.

Is Wearable Tech a 2014 eLearning Trend to Watch?

Consumers will continue to adopt wearable tech in 2014… there’s no doubt about it. It’s coming, and in some ways it’s already here. But if the last few years have been any indication, we cannot assume the buying behavior of consumers will have a significant impact on the eLearning tools used in corporate settings… at least not right away. wearable-tech-2

Just because a “trend” appears to be growing in the consumer world does not mean it will have a real impact in corporate learning during the same calendar year. Just look at mobile learning, social media, gamification, serious games and the like. These have been trends for years now, and some organizations are still just getting started. Many of the “2014 eLearning trends” being touted as new by various websites are really just recycled from 2013, 2012, or earlier. BYOD? Big data? Responsive design? Been there, heard that.

Mobile learning uptake is a prime example. Despite all the hype surrounding mobile, and the fact that there will soon be more mobile devices on the planet than humans, most eLearning is still completed on a desktop or laptop computer. We wrote in early 2013 that mobile learning uptake is more like a glacier than a waterfall: slowly but surely changing the landscape, but not at the pace some vendors would have you think.

Mobile Learning - Glacier, Not Waterfall

So while wearable technology brings with it significant promise to remake some old processes and provide previously impossible opportunities for data analysis, feedback, accountability, and personal tracking… what we can expect to see from wearable tech in the 2014 L&D mix is more akin to “baby steps.”

If wearable tech is really going to grow slowly in the workplace in 2014, and we know that the other hot trends are just a continuation of the gradual movements our industry has been making over the past several years, what trends should we be watching for? Where should turn for new ideas? What’s really significant in 2014 is not so much the “hot new trends” coming to be, but rather a collection of several trends, technologies, and opportunities that have come to be over the last few years starting to coalesce. We’re taking all of these new technologies and starting to integrate them into learning strategies that are proven, practical, and actionable today.

What are most organizations doing today?

A growing number of organizations are developing a set of best practices for their corporate learning programs that takes all of these “trends” from the past few years and turns them into a set of tools that can actually be put to use. Are most organizations exactly where they want to be? Of course not! What they’re doing is using the resources and tools they have to position themselves for the technologies of tomorrow, while gradually integrating new tools and methodologies when it makes sense to do so. Here are some examples:

  • Most organizations are still using eLearning courses and delivering instructor-led training, but they’re making those courses tablet-friendly and using smartphone apps for just-in-time reference tools and content review.
  • They’re not in a “100% responsive design” world yet, but 2014 learning solutions are increasingly designed with responsive in mind… and the top authoring tools are adding responsive elements.
  • A growing body of research supports using serious games for learning, and there are finally enough solid case studies and examples available to show organizations who have not yet used games how they can start. More and more of our own clients are including games, or gamified eLearning courses, in their large curriculums. We believe this is a trend for the industry as a whole.
  • Organizations still mostly use SCORM, but they’re asking about Experience API and looking to see that any solutions they add in 2014 will work with the new standard. They’re starting to think about all the data points they could collect or would like to collect when Experience API fully replaces SCORM.
  • They’re sending learning out in smaller chunks and, in some cases, setting up intranets and internal social networks to connect learners to these resources.

What about wearable tech?

In 2013, 96% of the connected wearable tech market was in the form of “activity trackers” (source).This includes popular products like FitBit and Nike Fuel that track your physical activity and provide apps for monitoring your own performance. In the business world, wearable tech has started to peek into retail sales environments.

Take Theatro for example: it’s a wearable device that helps sales reps stay in touch across a large show floor, provides GPS tracking to easily locate other reps, and collects various data points throughout a rep’s day that managers can use to assess productivity and make staffing adjustments during a shift.

How much information do employees want their managers to have? That’s up for debate. Conversation our own team had on this topic at last week’s #TalkTech showed that most of us are not looking to embrace an Orwellian future quite yet. But there’s little doubt that wearable technology can and will provide some useful metrics on employee performance in the future. Even if those data points are only used for self-evaluation and self-correction, they could still be useful.


It may be too soon to say how wearable tech will ultimately come to fruition in the workplace. Our advice?

  • Keep an eye on the new products released this year.
  • Pay special attention to products like Theatro that are specifically geared to the workplace.
  • Start thinking of the type of data you would like to collect, or feedback you would like to provide, if wearable tech was a viable option for you.
  • When the tools and technologies being released come close to matching your needs, run a small pilot.

Got questions or ideas? Contact us!

Interview With Mobile Learning Thought Leader Mayra Aixa Villar

Mobile Learning - Glacier, Not Waterfall

Mayra Aixa Villar

Mayra Aixa Villar

I had the opportunity to interview Mayra Aixa Villar, instructional designer and thought leader in the mobile learning space. Mayra has authored articles for ASTD and Learning Solutions Magazine and writes frequently on her personal blog.

If you are interested in where mobile learning is headed, or in how mobile learning is different from “regular eLearning,” read on!

How did you get started in instructional design, and what sparked your interest in mobile?

In 2009, as I was writing my M.A. thesis on Applied Linguistics, I focused my research on a field called Computer Assisted Language Learning. My research findings on how to develop effective educational applications led me to complete an internship at the United Nations Headquarters in 2010. My tasks consisted in assessing online as well as instructor-led courses and to carry out an in-depth research on training course design and training needs. It was at that moment when I fell in love with eLearning and instructional design.

A year later, a sense of curiosity and eagerness to leverage the latest technology in order to design enhanced learning solutions sparked my interest in the potential of mobile for educational purposes.

What tips would you give a learning designer new to designing for mobile devices?

In my opinion, it is crucial to observe how the target audience behaves in the context of performance. When designing for mobile, the ability to understand the environment, the habits, the problems and the needs of the learners is far more critical than in any other training initiative. All these factors heavily influence on the activities and goals that learners seek to accomplish though mobile devices and therefore, they will determine the relevance and usefulness of mobile learning solutions.

When is a learning experience really mobile learning… and when is it just eLearning on a different device?

As Scott McCormick stated in his recent presentation at mLearnCon 2013, 10 Essentials for Successful Mobile Learning Implementation, re-imagination is the first and the most important aspect to consider. When we take advantage of mobile devices built-in capabilities to enhance learning and stop talking about “clicks” to start exploring how touch can free up our interactions with content, we can make our design utterly mobile. I´d also like to add that a really mobile learning experience should integrate seamlessly into the task the learners are trying to perform and help them attain their goals without all the hurdles and constraints that traditional eLearning or instructor-led training usually pose.

What are some of the biggest reasons to transition from desktop eLearning to mobile?

Many people talk about stats that refer to the massive adoption of mobile devices, the impact of devices in our daily life and so on. While I think these facts are very important because they portray the habits and expectations we need to cater for, I truly believe that the biggest reasons to transition from desktop to mobile lay or should lay on the type of experiences we can create and how we can meaningfully respond to learners real needs in order to help them successfully accomplish a task within their performance context.

At Bottom-Line Performance, we often refer the uptake of mobile learning tools and uptake as slow and steady rather than a sudden spike. What’s your take?

I agree. I see that many companies are too attached to old systems and solutions, which is completely understandable as they have invested time and resources in their development. There are also many misconceptions around mobile. Some may think that “mobile learning is too complex and expensive to be implemented” while others prefer designing their own solutions and end up with a bunch of PPTs delivered through mobile devices. This last option is fine as long as it helps learners at the moment of need. Otherwise, why would you want learners to go over 20+ slides of irrelevant content when they just need to know the specific function of key components or equipment?

Many companies want to transition to mobile, but still require eLearning courses to work on desktop and mobile. What are some ways to make the best of this situation?

I have been working for an American company in the health sector during the last couple of months. At the beginning, they asked me to create eLearning courses without mentioning mobile delivery at all. But, I decided to optimize all the courses so they can also be consumed from the iPad even though that was not part of the client´s requirements. This has helped me not only to introduce new approaches to design and information organization but also to start conversations about the need of envisioning mobile learning solutions. Even though this is not the ideal, unique mobile experiences I described in previous answers, it is a good starting point to pave the way for a future multi-channel training strategy.

Organizations invest lots of time and money in deciding which mobile device to deploy across their workforce. What are some best practices for evaluating which device to choose?

Every mobile solution is different. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the convergence of factors and priorities can better guide all your decisions. As I said in one of my posts, the three key elements that we need to consider are the learner, the need(s) and the context. If we concentrate on which mobile device to deploy from the very beginning, we will not be designing a solution from a holistic, more effective approach. In other words, we will not be designing for a dynamic learner with specific needs in a specific context. We need to stop thinking about the device because this may lead to unnecessary constraints and also, ineffectiveness.

What role will adoption of the Experience API play in the adoption of mobile learning?

In words of Megan Bowe, now with xAPI, we can focus on different activities and track different interactions between the technology and the user. Designers are not constrained to create only courses any more. Now, xAPI allows for a comprehensive view of activities across all the systems.

Also, as a linguist, I see great potential in application of Natural Language Parsing techniques in order to extract information from the types of statements generated by this wide range of activities, which, in turn, are delivered to a LRS. This information could help me define behavioral patterns of users and possible influences from the environment and therefore, design more learner-centric experiences.

What do the popular authoring tools (Storyline, Captivate, Lectora, etc) need to do to improve their mobile learning capabilities?

Tools are just tools. It is our approach to design what needs improvement, adaptation and evolution. Some tools are better suited for some projects while fall short for others. Again, everything depends on what needs and priorities you have identified. I could argue that rapid authoring tools cannot offer the benefits of responsive design to deploy content across multiple screens, or they don´t take full advantage of HTML5 technologies.  But, what if those approaches are not the best solutions for a specific project? For this reason, I am always exploring new tools that can help me accomplish every project´s unique goals and requirements in the most efficient way.

What formats and interactions work best on mobile devices and why?

Video is one of the most ubiquitous media formats, and this makes it extremely practical to deliver relevant content at the right moment and virtually on any device. We can also add layers of interactivity that allow for quick search and exploration or we can integrate social interactions. In this way, we could leverage mobile users´ typical behaviors too. I have also seen great examples of mobile applications which make use of AR and 3D simulations. These are ideas I am particularly interested in and I am planning to research in the near future. As regards interactions, simple touch-based gestures that allow the user to quickly perform a task and attain his/her goals will definitely work best.

Are certain types of content better suited for mobile devices than others?

I think that performance-support solutions and jobs aids have become the “wild cards” when talking about mobile learning initiatives. However, I think that rather than content types, there are interactions and ways of presenting information which are better suited for mobile devices. In fact, any type of information could be delivered through mobile devices as long as it is mobile-enabled content and relevant for the end-user.

What are you to now? Any big projects?

Aside from developing eLearning courses and testing platforms and applications, I have been appointed by a local Scientific and Technological Center to be part of a research project in the field of Computational Linguistics. My first task is to design and develop an application aimed at assisting university students and researchers in the processes of grammar writing and text generation. The project involves a web-based as well as a mobile component. So, in spite of its complexity, I am highly motivated to start and also, to contribute to the advancement of mobile learning from my side of the world!


Experience (Tin Can) API: What to Expect from Your LMS Provider

Tin Can. Experience. TIN CAN! Experience! We’re all hearing about it… but what is it?

For starters, the official, government-sanctioned name is “Experience API.” It’s the next generation of SCORM… an API for distributed learning. You’ll probably still hear it called “Tin Can” sometimes, but that was a working title. We’ll use its proper name from here on out. ADL, or Advanced Distributive Learning, is the government agency behind the spec.

Tin Can API and Experience API are the same thing

API’s (that stands for Application Programming Interface) are not nearly as scary and complicated as they sound. An API is a language two software programs or databases use to talk to each-other. Ever created an account on a third-party website using your Facebook account? That was thanks to the Facebook API. Ever had an app that uses Google Maps to log what route you ran? That communication comes courtesy of Google’s API.

SCORM, You’re Looking Weary

eLearning has been signed, sealed and delivered via SCORM for years. The SCORM API is tested and reliable for tracking of basic information such as course completion, time spent taking a course, completion date, and post-test score. This works great, because the only learning interactions anyone has ever thought of hinge directly on how learners do on a post-test, right? Wrong!

Learning designers have been forced to design their eLearning to work within the tight constraints of SCORM for too long. As stable as the API is, it has a number of limitations:

  • Activities must be launched from the LMS. Courses, courses, and more courses, please.
  • Activities must have a constant internet connection to be recorded. Sorry, mobile workforce.
  • A limited number and type of activities can be tracked. Exciting metrics like completion, time spent, pass/fail and a final score are as good as it gets.

How is Experience API better?

Experience API brings us a number of improvements to take advantage of in L&D:

  • It can track learner progress without a constant internet connection.
  • It does not need learning experiences to be launched from the LMS in order to track them.
  • It can record information on social interactions.
  • It can track learner activity from a variety of informal activities. One example given by ADL is a “bookmarklet” that can be installed on a web browser and be used to track informal activities such as web pages visited.

Differences between SCORM API and Experience API

Since Experience API does not need the LMS to report activity, content from Wikipedia, Youtube, TED Talks, Coursera, Kahn Academy and more can all be integrated into formal courses without a hitch. Progress from these sources can be reported in the LMS right alongside formal courses.

These new data points are all collected by a new database called a “Learner Record Store.” These are currently stand-alone products, but ADL predicts they will eventually be integrated right into LMS’s. A Learner Record Store, or LRS, is where Experience API sends all the data from mobile apps, informal learning, social conversations, and more.

That’s great, but when will my LMS Support Experience API?

Experience API reached version 1.0 in May 2013. Now we can all complete our required training while skiing in the Andes with no internet, right? Not so fast. LMS’s will all have to adopt the spec before it can be used in eLearning… at least, by companies that require all training be housed in an LMS. And while enabling Experience API is one thing, taking full advantage of the spec will take more time.

Authoring tools such as Lectora and Articulate Storyline have already announced support for Experience API, and this is certainly a necessary step in the adoption process. However, these tools have really just added Experience API as an option for delivering the same data that was already being tracked via SCORM. Sure, you can start using it now, but you’ll probably still just be tracking course completion, Pass/Fail and the like.

It’s sort of like hopping in your new Ferrari to drive 20 mph through your neighborhood. It sounds great, but you aren’t using the vehicle any differently than you used your old Camry.

Even if a major LMS vendor adopted Experience API tomorrow, it would not have much to offer you if you still plan to deliver the same “click next” eLearning courses. Sure, one potential advantage would be allowing you to record the completion of a mobile app or game created by a custom provider like us. But this hypothetical Experience API LMS still would not be doing anything to interpret all of the new data points it can now collect.

New Analytics and Reporting capabilities Needed

In order to take advantage of Experience API’s ability to collect data from informal learning activities, detailed results from games and mobile app usage data, LMS vendors will need to build robust new analytics, reporting, and data visualization capabilities. The data we collect is only as good as the means we have for processing and interpreting that data.

Experience API-enabled learning solutions

Experience API gives L&D the ability to design and develop more engaging learning solutions… but we still have a long way to go before we are really harnessing all this new potential. The technology we use to deliver and manage these solutions has a great deal of catching up to do… and that catching up requires significant time and financial investment. So while Experience API-compliant LMSs will undoubtedly start popping up next trade show season, an LMS that is really using Experience API for all it’s worth is farther away than we think.

And while just adding “Experience API support” is not the final answer for LMSs OR authoring tools… it’s a positive first step that prepares our industry for the dramatic leap that will happen when we really start measuring learner experiences instead of course completion.

How can I get my LMS to be Experience API compliant sooner?

Ask for it! Talk to your LMS provider. Let them know it’s a priority for your organization. The sooner a critical mass of customers are asking for Experience API support, the sooner LMS’s will get on board.

2013 Corporate Learning Trends: Where Are We Now? (White Paper)

In January, BLP President Sharon Boller published a white paper exploring the trends in the corporate learning landscape. She forecasted where she sees the trends going… while also revealing six “truths” about what the current state of training and development really is. The contrast is fascinating.

The white paper focused on 7 trends we expect to see grow in 2013 and beyond. We’re halfway through the year now, so it’s time to check in with these trends and see how the industry has progressed over the last several months. Based on what we’ve seen through industry conferences (ASTD ICE 2013, Training 2013 anyone?), recent client work and the latest eLearning Guild research reports, Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities remains on track with most of its predictions. You can download the white paper here.

Learning Trends, Technologies, and Opportunities - White Paper by Sharon Boller

Click the image to download the white paper!

Revisiting Sharon’s 2013 Learning Trends

1. Less desktop and more mobile…but not that fast. Clients still want desktop eLearning, but they want it to work on a tablet, too. We’ve been asked to use rapid authoring tools to design iPad friendly courses, for example. Most people who demo Knowledge Guru are quick to make sure it is HTML… and not Flash. Even if companies are not deploying mobile learning solutions now, they hope to be doing so in the next 2 or 3 years. Read more.

2. Fewer full-sized courses. More learning snacks, ePubs, videos, and reference tools. Almost every eLearning project has a performance support component now. For example, one of our largest active projects includes a flashcard app and other mobile performance support component to help sales reps practice what they’ve learned. Learning and development is more aware of the forgetting curve than ever before… and people are motivated to make sure learners do not forget what they’ve learned so quickly. Read more.

3. Less focus on the LMS; More focus on Tin Can API. The survey results in the recent eLearning Guild research report, Evaluating and Selecting a Learning Management System, are telling. While SCORM is still the most important standard for practicioners, over 68% of respondents rated Tin Can API (now called Experience API) as either “Extremely Important” or “Very Important” as an LMS feature. Another 22% rated Experience API “Somewhat important,” meaning 90%of respondents are considering Experience API when selecting an LMS. Experience API just reached version 1.0 in 2013, so most LMS’s are not yet compatible. But with 90% of LMS customers considering Experience API as an important feature, we expect to see a huge spike Experience API-compatible LMS’s as the year progresses. Read more.

4. Less Tell; More Games and Gamification. According to a recent report by global research company Markets and Markets, gamification is a $421 million dollar market today… and it will grow $5.5 billion by 2018. Those of us in the L&D field have been reading bold gamification predictions like this all the time, but how is it translating to true gamification adoption? We have fielded more requests from clients for “gamified eLearning courses” than ever before. Even when traditional eLearning is still the primary delivery method, clients are turning to gamification to make it memorable. The high level of interested we received in the Knowledge Guru Game Creation Wizard at ASTD ICE is also telling. Read more.

5. Less PPT-only; More Cool Interactive Tools within Lectures. We use our weekly #TalkTech chat on Twitter to unearth new trends and tools. One gem we discovered and discussed was Nearpod, a fantastic iPad app for instructor-led courses. Nearpod enhances the classroom experience by allowing the instructor to guide a lesson on the participant’s iPads. Nearpod has primarily been marketed to the K-12 sector, but we have hosted Nearpod training sessions for our corporate clients in 2013. The demand for interactive tools like these continues to grow. Read more.

6. Less Formal Training; More Informal Social Learning. “Social learning” is tough. Of all the trends we predicted in 2013, informal/social learning as a true company initiative is growing the slowest. Interest in fostering informal learning is still strong… but most L&D professionals are still looking to gather more information on how to leverage these tools in a “controlled” way. For more information on how to integrate better social learning into an organization, consider attending the eLearning Guild’s online forum, Collaborative and Social Learning: Best Practices for Learning With Others. Sharon and I will present a session on our #TalkTech social learning chat as part of the virtual event. Read more.

7. Less Trainers; More Community Managers and Curators. Managing a community of learners is still foreign to many trainers. Transitioning from delivering eLearning to creating a portal of resources (which may include eLearning) where learners can take what they need can be difficult. It’s happening, sure… but not in a way that is radically reshaping our work environments. Read more.

Introducing the eLearning Challenges Blog Series

eLearning Challenges Banner

We’re pleased to announce a new blog series called eLearning Challenges. It looks at the real issues our clients face when developing learning solutions.

We are genuinely excited by the growth of mobile learning and game based learning solutions in the workplace… and many of the examples and case studies we will show in this blog series indeed fall into these categories. But at our core, BLP is most passionate about delivering the right learning solution for each client. That might be a course, game, app, or even an instructor-led session. Whatever method is chosen, the solution must be driven by the performance goal and learner profile.

The Right Learning Solution

Workplace learning has to be more focused and direct than learning in the K-12 space. Any technology we use has to solve a business need in order to have real value to our clients. When it comes down to it, workplace learning is supposed to help people do their jobs better. No matter what format you use, that should always be the goal.

So over the next several blogs, we will be sharing real stories of recent client work we have completed. In doing so, we are going to show how we worked with the client to meet their eLearning challenges. While every situation is different, we tend to see certain challenges surface in many organizations. I recently sat down with Sharon Boller to pin down what the most common challenges are, and she gave me quite a list. Do any of these sound familiar?

Common Challenges Our Clients Face

  • Limited budgets – this dramatically affects the types of learning solutions that can be considered.
  • Limited time and attention available from subject matter experts who they need to be part of their projects. This can make it difficult to produce something in an expedited timeline or fashion.
  • Lack of control over legal reviews, required in many companies for anything that will be externally facing. Most of our clients are at the mercy of others when it comes to reviews. They don’t control the reviewers’ time.
  • Lack of expertise in learning design. Often people feel safest producing what they’ve seen others produce and they focus on content rather than outcomes because of this fact.
  • Disconnects between the person requesting a learning solution and the person charged with creating/implementing the solution.
  • Difficulty at getting face-time and attention from company leaders: this can make it challenging to align learning initiatives with the company’s strategic or operational goals.
  • Disconnect between strategic vision of a company and the learning initiatives.
  • A need to comply with regulations, which means pushing out mandatory trainings on an annual basis to groups of employees who are less than enthused about completing the training.
  • Limited time available for employees to TAKE training. Employees in most organizations are getting an average of 32 to 40 hours of total training time per year. How to you design an effective solution when you are told upfront that your solution cannot require more than X time – regardless of the time you might believe is required for someone to actually learn whatever is going to be taught.
  • How to create an English version of a course that can be easily translated.
  • The forgetting curve – the fact that nothing can be retained by anyone without repeated repetitions. Most formal training doesn’t map well to this forgetting curve – and most organizations don’t consider it.

Ideas for Solving Your eLearning Challenges

I know we are calling this blog series “eLearning Challenges,” but truthfully most of the situations described are much broader than just eLearning. Here are some of the topics we will be covering:

When Instructor-Led Training is No Longer a Sustainable Model: Instructor-led training is expensive and hard to scale. When the time comes to move from ILT to other delivery methods, you’ll likely want a blend of courses, apps, and performance support tools to do the job. We’ll share a recent client story where we created a web app to deliver information that was previously done through an instructor-led course. Read the post

How to Convince Higher Ups That “Fun” eLearning Is Good Business: We’ll share case studies of some of our more innovative learning solutions and explain ways you can convince stakeholders to try a new approach. They key is to show how the learning outcomes align with high level strategic goals. Is it possible to turn an annual compliance course into a gamified experience with colorful animations and challenges? You bet!

Enabling Powerful Learning Across Cultures and Languages: Global organizations must constantly be aware of cultural differences learners in different regions may have. They must also be prepared to translate their training into many different languages, which means the content must be written carefully. We’ll talk about some of the ways we make sure learning solutions will be effective globally.

Ways to Figure Out If You’re Hitting the Mark With Target Learner: I mentioned above that learning solutions must be carefully geared towards the target learner. You’ll want to make sure the learning is applicable to each job role AND that it is properly reinforced so learners retain the information. We’ll share the methods we use to gauge learner response before and after we create a learning solution.

Using Rapid Authoring Tools to Design for Multiple Devices: We are big fans of Articulate Storyline and have used it with clients who want courses that function well on the desktop as well as tablets. We’ll share some of the common challenges with using a tool like Storyline to make an iPad friendly experience… and how designing for the tablet will affect what you create for the desktop, too.

Check back on Tuesday, March 26th for our first eLearning challenge.

Less Trainers; More Community Managers and Curators

This is an excerpt from Sharon Boller’s newest white paper, Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities. The white paper describes today’s learning landscape… then predicts 7 trends for the next 12 – 18 months. Here is Trend 7:

Less Trainers; More Community Managers and Curators

Lots of us are already curating content for others. At BLP, we’re doing it with learning technologies, processes and tools. We “follow” several others in the learning and development community who curate content – via blogs, online newspapers, orby sharing links to resources via Twitter.

Here’s a few:

RJ Jacquez consistently “curates” content about mLearning. He writes a blog called The mLearning Revolution Blog and he publishes a weekly online “paper” (using theservice that aggregates blog articles on mLearning from others who have expertise in the topic. He shares content with people who follow him on Twitter.

At BLP, we curate content on learning, categorizing it for easy viewing on our blog called Lessons on Learning. (yes, you’re already here!) We share out content via our Twitter account: @BLPIndy.

BLP Lessons on Learning Blog

Lots of other folks have started online newspapers to share content on a specific theme or topic. Web tools such as and let anyone start an online newspaper. They identify thought leaders whose blogs and tweets provide the content for their online papers. Chris Saeger, the executive director of the National Association of Simulations and Games, publishes a weekly online paper about learning games and other related educational topics.

Formal training can’t (and never did) meet the needs of a workforce. Information changes quickly – and often we need information, not training. Numerous tools now exist for rapidly creating and sharing content with other like-minded people.

Instead of remaining afraid of social learning tools, organizations – fed by a younger workforce that is already well versed with many of the tools – can begin to use these tools to make it easier for employees to find, locate, and share content and ideas with each other. When privacy IS a concern, there are tools for that as well – enabling companies to keep content behind their own walls. The eMagazine shared as part of Trend #3 is a good example of a tool that curates content and makes it
easy to share out on a specific topic… without sharing it to the entire online universe.

The skills of today’s trainers need to morph to include skills at content curation and distribution. Rather than training people formally, the curator will gather useful resources and content, organize it well, and distribute it out. They will oversee an ever-changing landscape as opposed to trying to define and formalize everything people need to know and do.

Click the image to download the white paper.
Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities White Paper

That’s a wrap on our white paper excerpts. Feel free to download the entire white paper now.

Less Formal Training; More Informal Social Learning

This is an excerpt from Sharon Boller’s newest white paper, Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities. The white paper describes today’s learning landscape… then predicts 7 trends for the next 12 – 18 months. Here is Trend 6:

Less Formal Training; More Informal, Social learningTwitter chats, Twitter lists, massive open online courses (MOOCs), YouTube channels and blogs devoted to highly specific topics, resources such as, CodeAcademy, etc. are all examples of resources that enable people to build highly customized “personal learning networks” for themselves. Given that the average employee only spends 31 hours PER YEAR in formal training, staying current requires employees to develop skills in social learning tools and strategies.

Social learning has been touted by a brave few for a long time – Jane Bozarth and Jay Cross are two big names who’ve been beating the social learning and informal learning drum for the past few years. The official recognition of the power of social learning – and the adoption of social learning initiatives inside organizations — has been even more glacier-like than mobile uptake. As more people who were born after 1980 get into the work world, though, social learning initiatives will become more and more commonplace – because this generation lives and breathes social.

What it might look like:

At BLP, we are our own “Learning Lab.” This means we test out new tools and techniques on ourselves before advocating their use by clients. Twitter chats have been around almost as long as Twitter – and they are now occurring with greater frequency. We started a chat in January 2012 called #TalkTech. The goal was to promote conversation and increase understanding and awareness of learning technologies that we – and our clients – might find useful. We host the talk on Twitter to encourage participation from non-BLPers. That’s right – we WANT the perspective of outsiders, who can share technologies and ideas with us… and we want the ability to share our perspectives, too.

The premise is pretty simple. We have a “content curator” who monitors a “hashtag” we titled #TalkTech. Anyone – BLPer or larger world community member – can submit links to articles about learning technologies, tools, or ideas using this hashtag. The curator selects the best three each week, publishes them to a blog, and we meet every Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. EST to discuss the three articles.

We’ve discovered a ton of new tools via these talks and we’ve also picked up new ideas for methods we could employ. (See a recent blog on how Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke and the correlation to interaction design.)

Participating in the weekly chats is easy using a web tool called TweetChat.


If you miss the live chat – no problem. You can get a transcript of the conversation via another great web tool called Storify, which lets you create an online transcript of your chat. Storify lets you create stories from a variety of social media resources.

Storify - transcript of social learning chats

Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities White Paper
Click the image to download the white paper.

Check back next week for Trend 7, or download the entire white paper now.