Blended Learning 101: Basics, Benefits & Best Practices

According to our research, the overwhelming majority of organizations use a blended learning strategy to deliver training. Blended learning is the norm, not the exception. This likely comes as no surprise to you. Online is often the method of choice for fact-based knowledge and performance support, while instructor-led training and other interpersonal activities are the standard go-to for helping learners build soft skills and practice complex tasks.

If you are new to training and development or just looking for a refresher, this article is for you. Read on to learn the basics of blended learning, its key benefits and the best practices we use when designing blended learning curriculums.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is a combination of learning solutions. Essentially, it combines classroom or face-to-face learning with self-paced online learning. This gives learners an element of control over time, place, path, and/or pace. Blended learning uses multiple delivery methods to present a series of learning events. Delivery methods may include eLearning, video, mobile, and/or live training. This helps present learning content in a way that best serves the learner and the content being taught.

Benefits of Blended Learning

A blended learning strategy can benefit your employees, as a variety of learning approaches can stimulate their interest and increase their engagement. Blended learning offers:

1. The best of both worlds

Blended learning allows the flexibility of an online course while retaining the benefits of the face-to-face classroom experience. It gives the learner time to learn when it is most convenient for them. Learners can complete introductory modules at their own pace, rather than the pace of the slowest or fastest member of a group in the class environment. Then, learners benefit from the hands-on practice and coaching opportunities that face-to-face training provides for your more challenging learning objectives.

Blended learning also allows you to provide the right contextual practice via live, face-to-face training. It doesn’t force you to make concessions but allows you to create the interactions that are going to benefit your learners the most.

2. Stronger learner engagement and knowledge retention

Learning science shows that knowledge retention can significantly improve with the addition of a new element in the learning process. This is true even if it is something as simple as a drag and drop interaction in an eLearning course. By offering a variety of different approaches, blended learning can help learners remember what they need to be successful on the job. Blending face-to-face and online training creates a much richer training experience. It helps your employees learn and remember much easier than they would if they were offered a single-solution approach.

3. Simplified training logistics

Blended learning also reduces the cost of delivering basic, foundational knowledge. Depending on the solution used, analytics and completion data will give you a picture of what learners know and don’t know before they attend a live session. Because everyone completes the same pre-work or online modules, you can then teach the actual application of these skills in the face-to-face environment.

Potential Downfalls of Blended Learning

When I spoke with some of our Learning Technologists, most of them mentioned time and budget as possible constraints to a robust blended learning strategy. Blended learning obviously takes more time to design and develop than just a single course, for example. If some stakeholders are skeptical of the upfront investment, a strong training implementation strategy can help identify potential risks and build consensus early.

Other possible challenges include:

Finding facilitators for the live training events: Like any projects that involve logistics and scheduling, allow plenty of time to plan for this early on.

Making sure learners complete the pre-work before attending ILT: Create a communications strategy and align efforts with learners’ managers. Make learners aware that top performers will be recognized and rewarded when they attend the live training event.

Making sure learners are engaged and pay attention during ILT: Design a variety of interactive activities and avoid lecture at all costs.

Ensuring that learners complete any post-work and use the provided performance support tools: Perform a careful needs analysis up front to ensure you are designing the optimal tools for learners.

Blended learning curriculum design: What to consider


Create a cohesive curriculum

One of the most important things to consider when designing a blended learning curriculum is how to l solutions in a curriculum feel consistent and connected. How does the live meeting build on the pre-work, for example? A blended curriculum shouldn’t just repeat everything from one learning solution to another. All the solutions should work together to reach the common goal. Often, you may decide to use a story or a theme throughout to tie the pieces together. It should feel like one experience to the learner, not a series of separate courses or events.

Identify any constraints

You also want to consider your constraints. Your budget, timeline, and the time your learners have available all have a huge impact on what the right learning solution will be for your situation. A realistic picture of your project constraints will help you decide what to cover in an eLearning course, what can be done in person, and what should be used for follow-up.


Take a look at some of the blended learning curriculums we’ve created for organizations just like yours.

How to Successfully Implement a Training Program

There are many famous quotes about planning – or the failure to plan. I like this one as it relates to the implementation of anything:

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Herman Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve has gotten a lot of new buzz in the past few years. L&D practitioners and thought leaders talk about it a lot with the primary purpose of eliminating it through good instructional design. We ourselves have written about the forgetting curve and why it matters.

Reinforcement and spaced practice is a significant component to help someone actually use what you are trying to teach them. It’s one ingredient to ensuring successful implementation, but it’s not enough. You also must plan out everything else that needs to happen for your solution to really solve a problem. Excellent learning design and great content are important, but they miss the mark if we fail to consider what’s required for a solution to be implemented well and sustained over time.

When I do workshop sessions on implementation planning, I start by asking people to reflect on the Monday that will follow my session, which is typically their first day back at their jobs. These are the questions I ask participants to think about:

These questions help participants realize that they are no different than the learners for whom they design solutions. They have a tsunami of stuff awaiting them back at their jobs; so do their learners. The largest, most painful or loud thing gets their attention when they return to the work world; this fact also is true for their learners. Unless what someone learned at a conference, workshop or in an eLearning course solves an immediate pain point for them, it’s not likely to have much sticking power without lots of reinforcement and implementation support.

The cost of poor implementation versus the value of strong implementation

When I do sessions on implementation planning, I also ask participants to consider the cost of the forgetting curve or of poor/nonexistent transfer versus the benefits they hope to achieve. I am shocked at how few people can quantify their business problem or business opportunity. Saying people don’t know something is not a business problem unless you can quantify what it costs for people to not know something.

Here are a few stories to illustrate costs versus value:

Story 1: Solving a problem

Sally works for ACME corporation as its HR Generalist. ACME employs 100 people and wants to reduce its annual turnover percentage from 15% to 10%. Study after study shows that employee turnover costs companies a lot of money and ACME has taken note! Its average employee salary is $50,000, and it estimates it spends $75,000 to replace a single $50K employee.

ACME has done a stellar job of needs assessment and confirmed that poor employee onboarding is the primary reason for its turnover problem. Sending Sally to training on how to design a better employee onboarding program seems like a great solution. If ACME’s estimated cost is $75K per employee for turnover, its annual turnover cost is approximately $1.125M. If ACME can shrink turnover from 15% to 10%, it would reduce its annual turnover costs to $750K, a savings of $375K.

Let’s assume that the training Sally attends is brilliant. Its contents perfectly mirror what Sally needs to learn. She is focused during the workshop and takes copious notes. Did ACME get a good ROI on its investment in sending Sally to training?

We don’t know yet! Sally has implemented nothing; she has merely attended the training.

Here’s what we do know:

Effective implementation requires more than Sally participating in the training program. When she returns from training, these things also have to happen:

  • She has to have the time to develop a new onboarding program. She also has to introduce it to the organization and anyone who will have a role in executing onboarding tasks. And she needs to prepare each person who will have a role so they can be successful in their implementation.
  • Other managers, employees, and stakeholders have to buy in to what she is doing and support it.
  • She has to have a budget for producing any materials required for it.
  • Its importance within the organization needs to be reinforced to her as she develops and executes to avoid her time and attention being diverted elsewhere.
  • She has to reinforce its importance to all others who have a role in onboarding.

If those things don’t happen or only happen in a limited way, the organization is not likely to see results from its investment in training.

Here’s what failure could cost the organization:

Conversely, if everything goes well with Sally’s implementation of what she learned, the organization is likely to reap a nice ROI, even if ACME doesn’t get its full 5% reduction in turnover. Even a 2% reduction in turnover would save ACME $150K/year, a decent return on an initial $5k investment.

Story 2: A business opportunity

SamplesRUs has a sales force of 250. It is doing a global launch of a software-as-a-service product that is priced at $20K/year. The target market is small to mid-sized hospitals. Its sales force is going to invest 20 hours of time into learning about the product’s features, benefits, and competitors. Formal training will help reps learn how to assess needs, demo the product, and deliver sales messages related to those needs.

SamplesRUs has done its market research and believes the sales team can generate $125M in revenue on this product in Year 1 with a full 80% of customers retained in Year 2 for renewals amounting to $100M plus additional new sales of another $100M for Year 2 sales of $200M. The customer need is clear. The product is excellent. Based on market analysis, the price point seems reasonable compared to other products.

What’s the cost if the forgetting curve post-training is high and SamplesRUs doesn’t do a great job thinking through post-training implementation? Beyond the hard costs of $200K for the global launch training experience for 250 reps, there is the loss from sales that never happened or renewals that didn’t occur. If reps only achieve 50% of first-year targeted sales, then about $65M in sales didn’t happen.

The reasons for this could be due to:
  • No post-training reinforcement of the product knowledge covered during training particularly spaced out over time.
  • Poor or nonexistent coaching from sales managers.
  • No practice of the demoing skills acquired in training, which made sales reps fumble or be awkward when they got into sales situations.
  • Poor communication with Marketing on the sales enablement tools that would best support reps.
  • Weak or inconsistent efforts on the part of Marketing to generate leads that the sales reps could then call on.
  • Weak or absent product support from the Customer Enablement group, which, in turn, leads to lower renewals than projected.

Training Program Implementation Planning

Implementation plans matter. Follow-through matters. If your organization is trying to design and implement a solution and you have not created any sort of implementation plan in conjunction with that effort, there is a huge risk that you will expend a lot and get little to no return on the expenditures.

Good implementation plans start with these things:

  • An implementation readiness assessment with honest answers as to where your organization is ready to support an initiative and where it is not.
  • An implementation strategy that defines the effort being undertaken, business outcomes it should produce, how outcomes will be measured, the stakeholders, the resources required, the target audience, current performance level, and desired performance level.
  • A risk analysis and strategies for mitigating risks.
  • A communication plan that considers all the people who need to know what’s going on, the appropriate distribution channels and message formats, and the frequency and timing of those messages.
  • A change management plan that factors in what’s changing, how it’s changing, people’s anticipated reactions to the change, and what the change will cost them/how it will benefit them.

Use our Training Program Implementation Kit to help you start thinking through all the elements required for an effective solution implementation.

Emerging Learning Technologies: Promise vs. Hype

Go to any of the big L&D conferences or trade shows and you’ll hear buzz and conversation about virtual reality, augmented reality, and 360 video. Explore the pages of Inc., Forbes, Tech Crunch, or Mashable and you’ll find articles. Search Twitter using the hashtags #AR, #VR, #360video and you’ll find links to innumerable posts.

For almost a decade now, we’ve been hearing that these “emerging” technologies will become viable solutions to add to the L&D practitioner’s toolbox. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to emerging technologies of any kind so I follow these discussions and explore where I can. After watching and waiting for numerous years, I felt like this year is the year where all three technologies reached a tipping point, of sorts.

So, last month, our Director of Technology, Brandon Penticuff, along with a great team of people, hosted an “emerging technologies” day so everyone at BLP could experience the new tech in the span of a two-hour hands-on lab. Afterward, we talked about what we saw as promise, and what we saw as “hype.”

This post summarizes what we explored, how we felt about it, what we learned, and what we plan to do next.

The technology defined

Want to replicate our learning lab? Here’s how we defined each technology and the tools we used to explore it:

  • Virtual Reality – This is the “hottest” of the three technologies in terms of the buzz it generates and its sizzle factor. It is computer technology that uses headsets, sometimes in combination with physical spaces or multi-projected environments to generate a completely artificial environment into which a user can become completely immersed. It often uses other inputs such as wands to allow for interaction through simulated touch or tool use. For our demo’s, we used HTC’s Vive and PlayStation VR.
  • Augmented Reality – This emerging technology seems to have the greatest challenge getting people to understand how it can add value or even what it actually is. It is the integration of digital information with a user’s real environment. Unlike VR, which creates a completely artificial environment, AR uses the existing environment and overlays digital information on top of it. For our demos, we relied on the iPhone and a Nintendo 3DS, along with some AR cards designed for use with the Nintendo.
  • 360 Video – This type of video is frequently labeled “virtual reality,” but we see it as a distinct category. These videos are also often called “immersive” videos because the intent is to immerse you in whatever environment they display. They are videos where a view in every direction (360 degrees) is recorded at the same time, typically by using a omnidirectional camera. The viewer has control of the viewing direction. We used an Insta360 Nano camera (purchased for $199) to record video and Wonda VR (subscription-based software as a service with a free trial) to create an immersive, interactive prototype for our team to test.

What we explored

We took commercial games available for Vive and Playstation VR, videos we could get via Oculus store and via Nintendo, and an interactive 360 video we created ourselves and allowed people to play. Via virtual reality headsets, people cooked recipes, battled spaceships, demonstrated archery skills, competed in a luge competition, and played a fancy form of Pong. They escaped from a crumbling skyscraper under attack by unknown enemies. They solved puzzles that emerged when placing a Nintendo DS over a simple “AR” card. In the interactive 360 video we created, they figured out where the safety hazards were in our office.

Our reactions to it

VR made several of us nauseous – not just one or two of us, but a few of us. For me, at least, the feeling of motion sickness lasted a few hours afterward. We aren’t unique. A quick scan of the landscape reveals that motion sickness with VR is a common problem (25% – 40% experience it). Women experience it more than men. People over 50 and 12 and under have more trouble with it than those in between those ages.

Despite the motion sickness, almost everyone was at least initially engaged by what they saw and experienced. There was lots of laughter and variations of the phrase, “Oh cool!” echoing around the area as people experienced the various games and apps.

The headsets required for VR and the 360 video were cumbersome and not super comfortable to wear. Google Cardboard viewer isn’t a comfortable device to use because of having to hold it up to your head. But a cheap $25 headset like this works just fine for viewing videos.

What we learned and what we’ll recommend to customers


Virtual Reality

There are very specific situations where full-blown virtual reality will definitely make an amazing difference in a learning experience. Those situations will be very specific and the minority of corporate situations rather than the majority of them. The best use case is going to be cases where learners need to build skill prior to being able to perform on a job. And this skill is difficult or impossible to simulate without creating an entire artificial training environment of some sort. (Think about surgeries, firefighting, operating large, complex expensive equipment.)

Even in situations where the use case is strong, these hurdles must be addressed:

  • Hardware requirements – Right now, users have to be tethered to a computer, which puts some constraint on where you conduct training.
  • Motion sickness factor – The high incidence of motion sickness means that the duration of most VR experiences must be limited (10-15 minutes seemed to be tolerable for our team. A few of our experienced VR users did say that motion sickness becomes less pronounced if you gradually increase your exposure over time, but most training situations won’t allow this.)
  • Development and maintenance expenses – Right now, VR is expensive to produce. It requires 3D art, skilled programmers, and specific tools that aren’t in the “rapid authoring tools” category.
Augmented Reality

Our team was decidedly mixed on this. Brandon points out that its best uses are going to be as a reference tool or guide. Consider the backup cameras in newer cars. These contain digital overlays to make it easy to guide your car as you back up. This use of augmented reality is simple but very effective. We all agreed it could have some great specific applications. But these would be more reference or resource applications than training applications. For example, agricultural sales reps might benefit from being able to position a phone over a field and “see” a crop emerge from the ground and virtually “grow” in front of them, showing them what a plant looks like in its natural environment at various stages of its development.

At its simplest level, being able to position your phone over an icon on a piece of equipment and have a troubleshooting checklist become visible could be helpful.

360 Interactive Video

This technology excited us the most. Wonda VR let us create interactions that a viewer can control with eye movements. This allows learners to practice making decisions in an environment that mirrors the one in which we want them to demonstrate skills or recall knowledge. The price is right, the solutions are easy to develop, and videos can be watched as 3D experiences… or not, depending on equipment and need.

The Forgetting Curve: What It Is and Why It Matters

If you’ve been in the industry long enough, you’ve probably heard about (drum roll please) the forgetting curve. It’s an often-used, and sometimes over-used concept that refers to the human tendency to rapidly forget what we learn without subsequent relearning or reinforcement.

You’ll hear vendors cite the forgetting curve as the reason you need their product or service. “Learners will forget 90% of what they learn in 30 days without reinforcement!” “70% of what people learn is quickly forgotten!” I’ve seen it quoted as 30% before, too.

There are lots of conflicting claims out there about what the forgetting curve actually is, how quickly people forget, and what trainers can do about it. But despite the confusion, trainers can’t afford to ignore the forgetting curve. When forgetting is properly planned for, it is just another design constraint. But when we pretend forgetting won’t happen or assume forgetting doesn’t matter, it becomes a value killer.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Some of the most commonly misquoted facts about the forgetting curve deal with its origin. Here are the facts:

  • Herman Ebbinghaus conducted two separate experiments on himself in 1880 and 1885.
  • Ebbinghaus taught himself a list of nonsense syllables, tried to relearn the list after various amounts of time had elapsed and measured how much he had to “relearn”. One of his studies lasted as long as seven months, and he repeated the same procedures virtually every day.
  • He found that the more time elapsed between originally relearning a list and his attempt to relearn it, the longer it took to relearn it. This increased until it was almost as if he had never learned the list to begin with.

The results of Ebbinghaus’ studies might seem like common sense to us today, but I found myself with a few questions once I first learned how these studies were conducted.

  • If Ebbinghaus was the only subject, how do we know that his curve is accurate? Is his brain an outlier?
  • Ebbinghaus was learning and relearning lists of nonsense syllables. What about learning about, say, a new product that is semi-related to a previous product a sales rep sells? How much would they forget in this scenario?
  • These studies were conducted in 1880 and 1885. Would they pass muster today? Can they be replicated?

Replication of the Forgetting Curve

As I was preparing for the Reinforcement 101 presentation Leanne Batchelder and I gave at the LTEN Annual Conference and in a subsequent webinar, I found a fascinating study where the authors attempted to replicate Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve. Jaap M. J. Murre and Joeri Dros published the results of their work in July, 2015.

You can read the full paper if you are interested, but here are the main takeaways:

  • Murre and Dros conducted a faithful replication of Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve experiment, once again using a single subject.
  • Their results were similar to the original forgetting curve and other recent replication attempts with some slight variation.

Murre, J. M. J., & Dros, J. (2015). Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. PLoS ONE, 10(7), e0120644. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0120644

While there are many experiments in the field of cognitive psychology that researchers have not been able to replicate, the forgetting curve has stood the test of time. The research (and our own experience) tells us that we can rely on it as a sound concept.

So what do we do about it?

From Learning Events to Learning Campaigns

Whether it takes place live or online, most training is designed event-based. Learners log on, take training on X, log off, and move on with their lives. In a more expensive example, learners fly in, participate in a training event while multitasking and checking their phones, fly home, and move on with their lives.

What do we really expect them to remember if this is the only planned training activity?

Since the human brain is wired to forget without repeated exposure and practice, trainers have to think beyond an event-based model. This is why the concept of a learning campaign has been gaining in popularity.

Similar to a blended learning curriculum, a learning campaign borrows elements from marketing, communications, and behavioral psychology to make learning experiences more effective at driving behavior change.

At the most basic level, a learning campaign includes:

  • Cohesive branding and theme for the training initiative to generate excitement, motivation, and interest.
  • A clear value proposition for the learner, who should understand how the training connects to the bigger picture.
  • Timely reminders that are designed more like marketing messages than traditional emails from the L&D department.
  • Elements of “fun” incorporated throughout, whether that means a competition of some sort or the use of full-fledged learning games that connect to the campaign theme.
  • Online learning tools that are available on learners’ device of choice.
  • Reinforcement tools, such as Knowledge Guru, that are designed to help fight the forgetting curve and help learners remember things they need to know “cold”.

There are many reasons why it is hard to overcome the forgetting curve, but the first step is awareness. If you are dealing with a skeptical stakeholder who doesn’t want to invest in training that will actually help prevent forgetting, show them the research!

Articulate 360 Review: Why Your Business Should Strongly Consider Upgrading

Have you ever watched Bob Ross paint, amazed by how the piece is taking shape? Have you ever watched Bobby Flay pan sear a ribeye to perfection? What do Bobby Flay and Bob Ross have in common?

They use the best tool available for the job.

Bob Ross wouldn’t be as smooth without his Van Dyke Brown… Bobby Flay’s dishes not as delicious without his cast iron skillet.

You will never find the perfect eLearning tool, ever. No matter how many you test. Every tool will have one feature or two over another forever… in perpetuity. What you can find, is a tool that is usable, useful, teachable, learnable, and that gives you the most back for what you can put into it.

In this humble Multimedia Manager’s opinion, Articulate 360 is your new best option. Articulate provides the best tools for rapid authoring in the industry, and upgrading to the 360 subscription model ensures your team will always have the latest and greatest authoring tools at their fingertips.

Let’s dive into some of the key tools.

Articulate Storyline 360:


The flagship, the bread and butter, the big kahuna. While there are some nice new features, Storyline is not what excites me most.

Responsive Player: Did you get excited when I said “responsive”? Yeah, everybody does.

While a responsive player is heavily touted addition to Storyline 360, in reality, the player leaves developers a little wanting. In a nutshell, the responsive player provides a minimalist UI around your course with a hamburger menu on small devices. You can zoom in to stuff that’s too small, and… well, that’s all, folks.

Sometimes the responsive player ends up being a bit of a miss. For example, I had a hard time interacting buttons that appeared low on my iPhone 5s in multiple courses I tested.

In the Storyline 360 authoring tool, you can’t hide/show content, branch, or change interactions based on screen size like you can in Lectora or Captivate. But you might be surprised to learn that I think this is a good thing. Lectora and Captivate can both be cumbersome and a little difficult for most new developers to learn. Small device content should be thought of mobile-first… Not a “Let’s just hide stuff that doesn’t work on the phone” solution.

You can force portrait or landscape orientation (to an okay degree) and you can preview what content will look like in Storyline, but it’s better to upload and test on a device.

Better HTML5 output: One of the best, most unspoken new features is an optimized HTML5 engine. Got a team taking training on older iPads? With the better HTML5 engine, republishing courses using a new version of Storyline may improve crash issues on mobile devices lacking in RAM.

Flash vs. HTML5: You can publish to Flash, HTML5, or both (and prioritize either over the other). Does your company want to decrease Flash use and focus on future browsers with HTML5? You can publish with a priority to HTML5, and only the folks with dinosaur computers/browsers will see the Flash.

It was the opposite in previous versions.

The Dial Tool: You like sliders? We’ll then I’ve got a dial for you. Did you know that a dial is basically a round slider? With a skilled developer and imagination, dials can do cool things, but this is not what you should pay the price of admission for.

Other Stuff: Improved accessibility options, improved options for rendering video (no additional compression), ability to add subtitle files for audio/video, improved motion path options, collision triggers, and more are all included.

Killer Feature: The integration with the other Articulate 360 tools is what sets the new Storyline apart. Quickly iterate by publishing directly to Articulate 360 Review (you can even publish a single scene or slide for review) or jumpstart your project by importing a theme, images, and characters from the included Content Library.


Honorable Mention: The Insert > Input button looks like a drunk robot… and I love that.

 

Upgrade Grade: B-

The improved HTML5 publish plus integration with the Content Library are great to have, but probably don’t sell the tool alone. The responsive player is a stop-gap for now so your Storyline courses are at least usable (in some regard) on a phone. I’m guessing Articulate will have something better in the next year or so. 

Review 360:


When it comes to bang-for your buck, Review 360 is the clear winner here. Iteration on eLearning has long been a pain-point in the industry, and Review 360 looks to fix that.

Simply put, Review 360 is a step forward in eLearning review and iteration.

Need feedback on a course? Easy, publish from Storyline.

Need feedback on one slide/scene? Also just as easy (publish just a slide/scene).

Need feedback from multiple, different reviewers? Easy, publish with different titles and invite the right people.

Need to find an issue as a developer? Easy, you get a screenshot of what the user is seeing with the edit.

Want to iterate in the tool, online. Straightforward.

Prefer to iterate offline in excel. Easy, export a CSV.

Killer Feature: Screenshots with each edit. Give a developer an edit with only words and a page title and watch them cringe. Give them the same info with a screenshot and watch them kick butt. The ability to review a single slide/scene is up there, too.

Honorable Mention: Want to know when you get feedback? You can receive notification of feedback immediately, every hour, day, week, or never, if you’d like.

Upgrade Grade: A-

It doesn’t have all the features we could dream up, but you’ll get the latest features with your subscription to Articulate 360. If implemented correctly, and used well, I honestly feel like this tool could reduce reviewing bloat (clarification of edits, ease of review, etc.) almost in half.

That’s a huge deal.

Articulate Rise 360:


Rise 360 is where Articulate really gets responsive (sorry to Storyline’s responsive player). What you can expect is that Rise 360 produces trendy responsive courses that look pretty dang good on any device. Yes, you can screw it up, but the tool holds your hand and makes you look good.

In my opinion, the responsive features in Lectora and Captivate are too cumbersome and not really mobile-first. Rise 360 makes a lot of sense, and is easy to pick up and run with.

“But won’t everything start to look the same?” Says a wary industry expert.

“So, you’ve used that same course UI for how many years for what reason?” Says Nick.

“But you’ll only be able to use the tools Articulate provides you.” Says Liddy McDeveloper.

“Sometimes less features are better.” Says All Great Modern Software.

Rise 360 is a responsive authoring tool that any learning designer/developer can figure out and get good at with a little practice. It doesn’t take advanced programming logic to make responsive materials with this tool. I’m not over-blowing the complexity of others, but I am highlighting the simplicity of Rise 360.

Honorable Mention: New features – Customizable course buttons and text + xAPI support… Yes, please!

Upgrade Grade: B+

If your team can author in Storyline, they can author in Rise 360. All that content you want in people’s pockets… yeah, it’s possible. While Rise isn’t the right solution for all mobile materials, it’s a huge step forward for just-in-time resources and reference materials. If you build it, they will come.

Articulate Content Library:

Weighing in at a svelte 1.5 million images (including characters’ bundles, illustrations, icons, and more), the content Library is another handy addition to the Articulate 360 Suite of tools. Not a designer? Grab a template and implement your brand standards… Or, just use it to improve your team’s designs. 

Killer Feature: Storyline Integration. Quickly implement included assets in your courses without needing to leave Storyline at all.

Upgrade Grade: B

This is a great supplement to your current stock photography and character sites. While it’s probably not a replacement, it could save time and money through quick integration while developing (less task switching) and could help reduce subscription needs on other stock sites.

Other Apps


 Replay 360:

Articulate Replay allows you to quickly record your screen, voice, and face simultaneously. Quickly edit to toggle between Screen and Presenter view and captions and lower-thirds with ease. Want to make Lynda.com style tutorials or training videos? This tool makes that easy. This is my favorite tool that I don’t consider in the core above.

Articulate Studio 360:

With the trio of Presenter 360, Engage 360, and Quizmaker 360… Articulate Studio 360 is a PowerPoint plug-in packing potent powerful publishing potential. Yes, I did that on purpose.

Articulate Studio 360 is a close relative of Storyline who you call when you don’t need the heavy lifting of the big kahuna. Have a page-turning slide deck? Call Studio. Want a splash of interactivity? Create templated interactions and quizzes for Presenter with Engage and Quizmaker.

Studio 360 was a separate purchase from Storyline in previous versions. With Articulate 360, it’s included.

Articulate Peek:

Peek is a quick and easy tool to record your screen for interacting on ideas with your team. Videos upload directly to Articulate Review so you can share a link and get feedback from anyone. Remember Screenr? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

Bonus: Upload your Peek video to 360 Review, and Export to LMS. You can even tell the package to “Mark the user complete when the user watches 75% of the video.” Now any SME with Peek can make scorable video content for your LMS.

Articulate Live:

Weekly webinars to help the community learn. These are handy resources if your team is just getting started, and occasionally, there’s a treat for a grizzled vet.

Preso:

This iPad app is a handy way to annotate images, add narration, and quickly make informal training videos on your tablet. Upload to Review 360 and export a scorable version quickly for LMS.

The Verdict


Total Upgrade Grade: B+

The Articulate 360 Suite of software doesn’t answer all your dying questions and doesn’t solve all your eLearning riddles. But guess what? Nothing else will either.

What it does do is continue to provide the best community, the best support, and the best tools that are accessible to all. Tools that people can pick up and run with.

Someday we’ll all easily be able to create advanced apps, VR, and games with crazy simple software, and hell… Articulate might be right there making that software.

Seeing my teammates get excited as they dig into the new tools and new possibilities is a reminder that this is a crazy-creative industry. So, at the end of the day, my recommendation is to put the best tools in the hands of your creative people. And right now, I think Articulate’s tools are leading the pack.

A standalone version of Storyline 3 (strongly rumored to be true) might have you holding off on taking the leap to Articulate 360, but dip your toe in… the water is fine.

Seven 2017 Learning Trends: Novel or Norm?

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At the start of a new year – or the end of an old one – we love to read about trends. Articles on trends can be fun reads, but do they really help us see the future? Do trends really matter?

I’ll let you decide. I went back and found a 1998 ATD (then ASTD) State of the Industry report. Note that the “trends” listed in this report were often reported by only 1% – 2% of the respondents, who numbered in the 300 range. This meant only three or four respondents were citing these trends as tools or tactics in their talent development toolkits:

  • Computer-based training (CD-ROMs)
  • Electronic Performance Support Systems (Interesting fact: Google was founded in September 1998.)
  • Interactive video laser disks
  • Intranets
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Individual development plans
  • 360-degree feedback

From Trend to Reality

If we look at 2017, we can see that 1998 trends were all hallmarks or rudimentary renditions of things we take for granted today:

  • Computer-based training delivered via CD-ROM has been replaced by custom-created eLearning delivered via the web as well as on-demand content from MOOCs, Lynda.com, or Software as a Service (SaaS) content providers such as Grovo or Skillsoft.
  • Early Electronic Performance Support Systems and intranets were the predecessors of modern help systems such as Lynda.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, or Google as well as collaboration, information sharing, and communication tools such as SharePoint, Slack, Basecamp, and Skype plus networking tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter.
  • Interactive video laser disks were quickly replaced first by VHS and Beta videotape and now by videos that can be shot and edited via a smartphone and streamed via the web.
  • Coaching and mentoring, along with 360-degree feedback, have created an entire new industry and a plethora of assessment instruments. DISC, Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, EQ assessments, leadership inventories, etc. all exist to provide us with feedback and enable others to coach us.
  • Individual development plans are a foundational element/concept related to the learning management system and now talent management systems, which try to catalog skills and knowledge required for various positions and document the development plans that enable someone to be successful in a given role.

In short, those 1998 trends evolved into today’s reality over a span of years. But the evolution was not always fast. In fact, the 1999 “trends” probably looked similar to 1998’s version.

Fast Forward to 2017

There are really two groups of learning trends to watch in 2017. The exciting group that everyone wants to talk about is new on the scene. We are seeing the first signs of these trends, but it will take several years for their usage to become meaningful. The second group has already been talked about for several years, some of them as far back as 2008. But just like those trends from 1998, they are now becoming mainstream.

Three 2017 Emerging Trends

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1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

This one is getting ready to boom. Artificial intelligence and machine learning take in lots of data inputs and provide pinpoint guidance back to us. AI is already in the classroom. It’s available to us as consumers. It’s logical to believe that corporate learners are going to expect an evolved learning experience that goes beyond static, unchanging content as we move to the future.

We are seeing lots of examples of machine learning (self-driving cars use machine learning, for example). Predictions are for virtual assistants to find their way into more and more classrooms; some already exist today. It’s realistic to think that at some point, virtual assistants will make their way into the HR and L&D realm as well.

2. Virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality

These new reality technologies have been sitting on the horizon for years. Technology has finally gotten to the point where the opportunity is catching up to the promise. In 2016, VR headsets and game systems emerged on the market that are relatively 1) affordable, and 2) comfortable to use at least for up to 30 minutes. Older systems tended to make people motion sick very quickly. Motion sickness can still be a problem, but most people can tolerate it for periods of up to 30 minutes’ time.

The eLearning Guild has announced its first VR and AR conference in 2017, a sure sign that this is a technology that’s moving past “interesting to watch” to “great examples of its use are out there.”

3. Storytelling

This one is a sleeper. It is not about technology. It’s about how we get people to pay attention. We are all going to have to get better at telling stories and using stories to help people learn. Videos, VR, and games all lend themselves to stories so the ability to craft compelling stories is going to be key to effective use of technologies.

Four 2017 Established Trends

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1. Microlearning

Simply put, microlearning is learning that is organized into small components or activities, typically about five minutes in length. Microlearning has been around as a term since the early 2000s; it has become immensely popular as a term in the past couple of years.

In the past three years, there has been a proliferation of SaaS solutions focused on microlearning, including Knowledge Guru, qStream, Axonify, Grovo, and Mindmarker.

Part of the push links to the uptick in interest is the arena of “learning science” and the science of learning. Increased awareness of the linkage between spaced repetition of content and long-term memory has sparked interest in microlearning.

2. Mobile

Mobile is no longer new, but it does appear to be “stuck” with adoption not proliferating as trend watchers predicted back in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  The constraints of the LMS – and lack of adoption of xAPI – keep it in limbo as a primary tool for learning. However, it’s an excellent tool for microlearning. The tools touted for microlearning rely heavily on smartphones to distribute their microlearning.

3. Gamification and learning games

This trend has moved mainstream. It is questionable whether it still warrants the term “trend” as the research is fairly compelling as to the efficacy of learning games as a tool.

Mobile games remain an intriguing learning solution, particularly when combined with the emerging interest in microlearning.

4. Interactive video, 360-degree video

Video keeps getting more and more useful as the tools available to produce it become more accessible. The newest iPhone, for example, has a very worthy video camera. It’s possible to shoot and edit a video all on a smartphone and then push it out to a video streaming site such as Vimeo or YouTube on that same phone.

Why Compare 1998 to 2017?

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As I pondered trends from 1998, I concluded these things:

1. Change can feel slow, but we never stand still.

Year-to-year change can be so slow that we may fail to recognize when big change is around the corner. It takes a decade or more for dramatic change to start to become visible. In that time, some “trends” will morph into completely different technologies. Clearly CBT has morphed into the eLearning we currently have. The eLearning we have now is likely to morph into AI, VR, or AR… or something we cannot yet envision.

2. The influence of technology has touched every aspect of L&D.

It affects design, development, implementation, and tracking. It has also dramatically affected talent development. No area is untouched. The skill sets of today’s L&D professionals include technical abilities those in the 1990s would have not even imagined.

3. Despite the evolution of technology, the “what” of training has remained very stable… with a few twists.

The 1990s marked the dawn of technology in the workplace as we now know it. This meant a ton of training on how to use a computer or how to use software. We don’t need that today. However, managerial training remains a constant as does compliance, product, and process training.

Finally, in answer to the question I posed at the start of this post: yes, trends DO matter. We need to pay attention to them. What starts as a trend – with only 1% or 2% of early adopters using a process, tool, or technology – does find its way into the mainstream. But it may take a while (virtual reality and augmented reality have actually been on the landscape for a decade). I started attending to games and gamification in 2008 and it is now close to mainstream in 2017. Eventually, however, these early trends become the way we do things. What is novel today becomes the norm tomorrow.

Access the 2017 Learning and Remembering Report to view the results and analysis of our Learning and Remembering Survey.

Why Learner Personas and Learning Design Go Hand-in-Hand

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Most learning and development professionals are familiar with the term audience analysis. To maximize the effectiveness of your learning experience, you need to analyze your audience. By crafting a learner persona, you can go beyond a typical audience analysis and paint a vivid picture of who you are designing a learning experience or materials for. This means gathering more than simple demographic data. Ideally, you will interact with the target learners. If that’s not possible, make sure someone on your design team has firsthand knowledge of the target – either she has been in the learner’s role in the past or the learners report to her.

How to Create a Learner Persona

Marketing professionals have long used buyer personas to gain a clear picture of whom they are selling to, what motivates them, and what strategies work best to target them. They base the personas on real market-research data, but fictionalize them to a degree to describe a single buyer, which personalizes the buyer for the marketer.

Your learner personas should be similar. Base your personas on the research you do to help you understand their goals, motivations, challenges, and daily work flows. Add to these data any company data that exist on age, gender, educational background, years of experience, and so on. The table below offers an example of a tool you can use to help create a persona. The column on the left identifies the type of information you want to gather and questions you want to answer. The column on the right is an example that shows you the right level of information detail to gather.

This particular tool is used to gather data with the intent of creating a learning game so it includes specifics around game play.

 Information-Gathering Tool for a Learner Persona

Persona Element and Description Example
Name: Give your persona a name. You want this persona to feel real to you and not be a bunch of statistics. Stephanie
Demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, college, etc.): Make your training look like your learner. Don’t assume anything. Age 41, Caucasian, Female. Four-year degree from a small liberal arts college. Majored in communications. Sorority member who achieved numerous academic honors while in college and was extremely active.
Experience with the company, within the role: What is representational of your learner? Go with the median, not the average. Averages can fool you. Ten years of experience within pharmaceutical sales with specific experience in three different therapeutic areas: cardiovascular, primary care, and gastroenterology. Shifted to selling biologics three years ago.
Biggest challenges on the job: Most roles have common challenges; find them and include them in your persona. ·       Pace—the days are long

·       Keeping up—there’s always more you could be reading to stay abreast of trends, issues, and competitors

What she values most about the role? What motivates this person regarding the role? What makes her want to do this particular job? Your training can acknowledge both challenges and values. ·       Being credible

·       Knowing her product helps patients have a better quality of life

·       Hitting goals she sets for herself

Workday flow: How does a day go from start to finish? Your training should reflect understanding of the workday flow. ·       Because her territory is urban, Stephanie may schedule as many as eight appointments in a day.

·       She’s up at 6 a.m., with her kids getting up at 6:30. She starts her “work” day around 7:30 and often ends as late as 10 p.m., although she may take a break in the late afternoon.

·       Evenings vary. If there is a professional meeting, she could be dining with healthcare providers (HCPs) at that meeting. If there’s no meeting, she could be planning calls for the next day, entering notes into Salesforce, catching up on reading, or responding to emails.

Sales call flow: Be clear on how the rep sells the product you are helping her learn about. Learn how much time a good sales call takes. Map what you believe reps need to know and know how to do with what they will actually use in a sales call.

Types of calls made in a typical day: Find out how many types of sales calls there are. If there are several different call types, make sure your training program reflects this reality.

·       Calls need to follow a “ladder” process. Early calls have different sales call objectives than later sales calls. The ladder is a six-call process. Each “rung” of the ladder has a specific call objective and message associated with it.

·       Call lengths vary from five minutes to 20 minutes.

·       Early calls focus on educating HCPs on the product category. Later calls focus on providing information on the specific product being sold.

·       There are two categories of customers: clinicians and pharmacy.

·       Getting from the bottom of the ladder to the top may take anywhere from six weeks to a few months’ time.

Devices and how they are used during the flow of a day: Design for the device that reps use the most. ·       Uses laptop in early mornings and late evenings. Does planning activities; documents information in Salesforce; takes e-learning courses (because they’re not available for phone or tablet).

·       Phone is constantly in her hand throughout her day. She uses it to track appointments, check and respond to emails and voice messages, and put quick notes into Salesforce between calls.

·       Uses tablet to pull sales aids up on tablet when talking with HCPs, if needed and appropriate.

Where self-paced training will be completed: Setting matters because it tells you how distracted reps are likely to be, how much time is realistic to allocate for any self-paced segments, and whether sound is a good or bad option to include. ·       Wherever she can squeeze it in. Usually she’s at home, later in the evening while she sips some herbal tea or has a glass of wine. She may also start her day with it, leaving it to a Friday when she does more home office work.

·       If she had access through a phone, she could do small bits between sales calls or while grabbing some lunch.

Games played and amount of time spent playing them: Ask your targets what games they play, how much time they spend playing them, and how frequently they play. ·       Stephanie is slightly embarrassed to admit it, but she is completely addicted to Candy Crush and other simple mobile games like it. It’s almost a stress reliever for her. She’ll play it whenever she’s in line or waiting.

·       She also really likes playing board games with her kids; it’s great family time.

The Next Step

Once you gather the information, your next step is to convert this into a more concise format that’s useful to your team. Learner personas are often shown to a team as presentation slides or printed so they can be posted on a workroom wall for ongoing reference throughout design and development of the learning solution. When you create your personas, search for images that capture their essence and help you think of the real learners represented by the personas.

Create your own learner persona with our learner persona worksheet. Reference our example profile above as you go along.

How to Design a Complex Training Curriculum in 10 Steps

We’ve barely gotten past the title and this article is already misleading. Make no mistake: there’s nothing simple about designing a complex training curriculum. And it takes more than 10 steps.

These days, we find ourselves working with more and more clients who need support with a major product launch or another rollout of some kind. These projects are huge in scope. Hours of training must be created for a wide range of learner roles.

Situations like these can make tools like our learner persona worksheet a little less useful, to be honest. What’s the point of spending lots of time analyzing the target learner and creating a persona when there are 10+ personas that need to be created? Who has the budget for that? When we took participants through a learner persona activity in our Sales Enablement and Beyond Webinar, the feedback was “We don’t have time create personas because there would be too many. Training can never be designed to meet the needs of all of these personas!”

These challenges are real. But they don’t change the fact that organizations have major product launches, and they need to teach a wide variety of roles (sales, support, customers, etc) how to use these products. For example, a medical device launch needs to include training for sales reps, support technicians, MSLs, every HCP who interacts with the device, and sometimes even patients. Oftentimes this only scratches the surface. For example, a recent medical device product launch we supported had 14 different roles that needed training!

Here is a generalized version of the steps we take when designing a complex training curriculum for a client.

1. Clarify the process

Most product launches have aspects of their timeline that are already set. Is there a launch meeting already scheduled? When is the medical device first used with a patient? These touch points should be included in the curriculum design, with learning solutions created to support them.

2. Identify the roles

Make stakeholders agree on what roles are impacted by the product launch. As I mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for a medical device or pharma launch to have 10+ roles that need some form of training. It will take time to winnow down what training each role really needs, but listing them all out is a good way to start.

3. Look for ways to group similar roles

Every role probably has its own unique characteristics. But are there any obvious groupings? For example, you could group all employees of the medical device company together as one group and all HCPs as a separate group. To get more granular, try separating sales roles from service roles, surgeons and doctors from RNs and healthcare support staff, etc.

4. Figure out who does what, when

This is where things get a little more complicated. You’ll need to map out all the steps each role takes when interacting with the product. How do they sell it, support it, or use it with patients? Are they already slated to attend a product launch meeting or separate training event for HCPs?

5. Decide what success looks like

This part of the process is pretty standard for most learning and performance consulting methods. Before going further, you need to know what your overall training goal is and what learners must know, do, believe or avoid doing to reach that goal.

You might easily have over 100+ individual learning objectives for a complex product launch curriculum. You can reduce the complexity by grouping similar learning objectives into sub-topics.

6. Look for overlapping objectives

Once you have defined learning objectives for each role, you will probably notice some commonalities. For example, Role A, B and C might all have some learning objectives in common. These objectives can be covered in a single learning solution that all of the roles take. For solutions like these, it is important to think about how to branch the learning by role. For example, pre-work eLearning can allow learners to self-select their role and see content that is relevant to them.

7. Map out solutions for one key role

Start with a role that has the most learning objectives to meet. Map out a learning pathway that works within the product launch activities already scheduled, such as the product launch meeting or a training event for HCPs. Consider how pre-work can be used to introduce key objectives, and how training reinforcement tools can sustain the learning.

8. Continue with a second role

Now that you have mapped a learning path for your most hands-on role, try the same process with a second role. This time, look for ways to use the training events and modules you envisioned for the first role to also meet the needs of the second role. Is it possible to make the eLearning role-based, so learners select their role when they begin and take a personalized version of the training? For in-person meetings, can breakout sessions be used to split learners into relevant groups? It’s possible that the modules you imagined for the first role might change to accommodate the needs of another role.

9. Add other roles, opting out as needed

You’ll now be working down a list of learner roles who most likely need less training than your primary roles. Look for places where the learning objectives for these roles overlap with the primary roles. If a module exists with objectives this role does not need to meet, let them skip it. If they have unique objectives that have not yet been covered, consider a learning solution that can help them meet these objectives. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a course; a reinforcement app or tutorial library might do the trick.

10. Create a curriculum map

Sound like lots of information to organize? It is! If you put the learning path of every role on a single chart, it would be almost unreadable. This is why we often create an interactive curriculum map to show the product launch phases and training modules for each role. An interactive map is advantageous because you can click a specific role to only see their learning path.

How to Target Training to Learner Personas (Free Worksheet)

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You want to make your training engaging… but why? Common sense tells us that engaging training is more likely to be successful. Blogs like this one share examples of award-winning training all the time, and it’s what people talk about at learning conferences as well. But sometimes us learning professionals do all the talking.

What do learners want?

If you found your way to the training field through a sales or marketing background, you probably already know what a buyer persona is. Here’s Hubspot’s definition:

 A semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.

But what about your target learners? Have you ever a created a persona for them? Do you know what motivates them, or what types of learning solutions will motivate them most? You might have assumptions or hunches, but don’t take that at face value. Here’s our definition of a learner persona, based off of Hubspot’s buyer persona description:

A semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. You base them on research you do plus data that exist. They help you create a training experience that aligns with the realities and preferences of your learners.

So how do you create a Learner Persona? You might consider information like this:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnic group
  • Years’ experience in role
  • Years’ experience with your company
  • Household income (estimate a range)
  • College background
  • LinkedIn presence
  • Marital status / family status

Demographic information helps paint the picture, but you still need to dig deeper. Here are some other questions to ask when creating your learner persona:

  • What’s a typical day like?
  • What makes the role challenging?
  • What values drive and motivate the employee?
  • What gaming experiences are typical? (If you are designing a game. Otherwise, change this to “training” or “learning.”)
  • What device experiences are typical?
  • If the learners are sales reps, what does a sales call really look like?
  • Is every call the same? How do they vary?
  • How should training be designed to optimize this transfer into the learners’ world?

It takes time and research just to get accurate demographic information, and asking those deeper questions about the target learner can be daunting. We’ll be leading a group through the exercise this week at the LTEN Annual Conference during our “Sales Enablement and Beyond” session, and we will give a shorter version of the session on June 22nd as a Lessons on Learning Webinar.

Learner Persona Worksheet

Want to create your own learner personas? Our worksheet lets you check to see what questions you are currently asking about learners, see a sample learner persona and create a persona of your own.

4 Steps to Sales Enablement Success Using Games

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Sales training professionals play a critical role in their organizations. Whether an organization has highly educated reps selling complex products or sales representatives helping customers in a high turnover retail environment, sales enablement is the key to a healthy sales pipeline.

We find that many organizations have similar challenges when it comes to sales enablement. They need their reps to communicate value, not features and benefits, through asking the right questions and telling a compelling story. They need to avoid competing on price, which is what customers use to make decisions when they can’t tell any real difference in value. And they need to quickly ramp up on new products after they are launched.

These challenges are amplified in the competitive, highly regulated life science and medical device space. If you come from an organization in this space, you are faced with providing excellent sales enablement plus navigating issues such as the healthcare shift from volume to value, a more complex sales process and a shift from 1:1 selling to physicians to strategic account management and selling to the C-suite.

It all comes down to this: Preparing sales reps and account managers for success in an increasingly challenging environment.

It takes a blend of learning solutions to meet most sales enablement objectives, but game-based learning is often part of the mix. For example, a sales enablement curriculum about a new product might include gamified online learning as prework, games and roleplay activities at the launch event and a mobile reinforcement game available post-launch.

If you think a game will work well with your reps, consider the following:

1. What is my business objective?

This should come before anything else!

2. Who are my learners?

Learner Personas, similar to Buyer Personas, provide a semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. Take the time to create rock-solid personas before designing the training itself.

3. What are my learning objectives?

As with any learning solution, you must have a clear picture of what reps should know/do/believe/avoid doing after the training. This will impact the design of your game.

4. What game mechanics/elements best link to my learning objectives?

Once you know your learning objectives, match them to the game mechanics and game elements that best support those objectives. You should also use your learner persona(s) to decide what type of game your target learners will most benefit from.

Access our recorded webinar to learn more

We cover this information and more in our Sales Enablement and Beyond webinar. It’s part of our ongoing Lessons on Learning Webinar Series.