mLearning – the trend that’s NOT? mSupport the trend that might be?

Mobile Learning in 2014

Clark Quinn is a long-time advocate of the use of mobile technologies to support learning efforts. He’s also been a very public presence in trying to help the learning and development community (and anyone else who cares to listen to the conversation) that the BEST use of mobile phones is NOT eLearning. He has written and spoken numerous times on this topic. I responded to his recent post with this comment:

How did the name “mLearning” even get started? I agree with you 100% – the best use of the Smartphone is as a support tool. It seems, then, that the appropriate nickname is mSupport or mResource rather than mLearning. Phones are awesome “find and locate” tools that can help you research something on the spot – something you may not necessarily need to remember after you’ve located what you need, used it in the moment, and then moved on.

My comment was actually a lot longer than the above, but in essence, I noted that our challenge is that the term mLearning has become very entrenched (look at the name of the mLearn Conference), but I believe it is the wrong term. When the L&D community talks about the “mLearning” trend, we’re talking about a trend that is just… not.

But phones are EVERYWHERE! What do I mean?

Yes, mobile devices are prolific. A recent Pew report indicates a whopping 91% of us now own a mobile phone. Everywhere you look you see people on their phones – in restaurants, shopping malls, airports, sporting events, cars (cringe). People are ON THEIR PHONES. But…according to our own industry reports, they are not on their phones doing eLearning courses. Only 1.39% of the 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report respondents indicate they used mobile as a distribution method. ASTD’s reports run a year behind (e.g. their 2013 report relies on 2012 data), but if we are generous and assume a 100% increase in the use of mobile we are still way under 5% of respondents indicating they are using mobile devices as a distribution strategy for delivering learning solutions (okay – ASTD don’t call use the term learning solutions, they use the term training).

What ARE they doing with them?

According to a 2013 report published by Harvard Business Review, our largest usage of the phone is for “me” time (46% or 846 minutes of our time in a month) and “social interactions” (19% of our time or 410 minutes per month). The use of our phone for “discovery” or learning new information is only 4%, which translated to 47 minutes.  Here’s what each of the buckets included:

  • “Me” time included playing a game, checking out “gossipy” websites, or watching a funny video online.
  • “Social” time meant interacting with other people. I assume this would be via Facebook or Twitter but it wasn’t specified the way “me” time was.
  • Discovery time included seeking news and information.

What should L&D practicioners make of this?

I suggest these things:

  • Stop trying to use mobile technology to mimic what you have done via other technologies. We do this ALL the time. When video came out, we shot videos of people talking to mimic the live instructor lecturing to a class. When virtual worlds came out, we held virtual events and did virtual PowerPoint presentations – something we used to do live. When eLearning first came out, we put text onto a screen, slapped an image in, and had people click NEXT to continue.
  • Start paying attention to how people actually LIKE to use their phones. Consider whether there is something of value you can do that resonates with what people like to do. Ripe opportunities include mobile games that actually help people learn something while they play or  videos that people may enjoy while learning  something. Some are trying to create. Another opportunity to consider exploiting is the creation of podcasts or audio books.
  • Consider how to nurture and enable people to use online social communities for learning. People like using their phones for social interactions. Help people become proficient with social tools – and let them explore ON THEIR OWN rather than trying to figure out how to track “informal learning.” (If you are tracking it….it is NOT informal.)

Food for thought

I brainstormed a list of things that I think make a mobile phone a powerful and/or unique tool from other things we have available. Your job is to figure out what this means for the phone’s potential as a support tool to people in the workplace:

Phones are powerful and/or unique because…

  • …of their near constant presence. If we don’t have the phone in our hand already, it’s in our pocket, purse, or beside us.
  • …they keep us continually connected to the Internet and give us access to billions of bits of information at any moment in time.
  • …we focus on them very, very frequently, but in short bursts of time (60 seconds to a few minutes).
  • …the information we find on them is “in-the-moment” information rather than information we want to retain for long periods of time.
  • …if we DO want to retain the information over time, we push it to a repository on the phone (e.g. our Contacts or apps such as Evernote that allow us to document/store information we can retrieve later.) We don’t attempt to remember – we know we can find/locate later.
  • …we bookmark things we find valuable and we search out apps that support things we care about. I have a Fitbit app on my phone as well as a Grocery List app that I use constantly.
  • ….we like apps – but we only use a very few of them routinely. Most apps purchased are used for 10 days or left and then trashed or forgotten.
  • …we use our phones to play – quite a bit. Mobile gaming is exploding and some games have a high, high addiction rate (Angry Birds was a huge phenomenon a few years ago. Candy Crush was the big winner in 2013.)
  • …we prefer to watch stuff on them than to read on them. Videos are much easier to consume on a phone than large amounts of text are. Audio books and podcasts are wonderful to listen to while exercising, walking, or doing other mundane tasks that don’t pull our brain’s attention away.
  • …we like to create content with our phones. Snapchat has skyrocketed in popularity in recent months as people take pictures of themselves, attach a line of commentary and send to a friend. The message is gone as soon as the recipient views it. Twitter has found its greatest potential in partnering with television. It’s discovered that people like to treat TV watching as a live large group event where commentary flies via Twitter as the TV show or live event unfolds.

So… while people are currently talking about “mLearning”, to me it is the trend that’s NOT happening. The trend that COULD be happening if we think strategically and creatively is ‘mSupport.’ Perhaps true mLearning can come (I do love my audio books and podcasts and I learn from them), but I don’t think it will be something the masses employ or enjoy.

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.

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!


Training Needs Analysis Worksheet (Free Download)

Training Needs Analysis Worksheet banner

A soundly conducted Needs Analysis should always be the first step when you need to improve performance or change behaviors. Regardless of the type of learning solution you plan to create, taking the time to properly assess the situation and gather appropriate information will go a long way towards assuring the success of a new project.

Below, you will find a five step process for conducting a Training Needs Analysis. When we help organizations with their analysis, we recommend they follow these steps, or a similar variation. To help you through these five steps, we have created a 10-question Needs Analysis Worksheet you can fill out and use as a starting point for new project. You may fill out the form below and download it for free.

And now, the five steps of a standard Training Needs Analysis.

1. Receive Training Request

Whether you receive a formal request for training or a more vague indication that there is a problem you are expected to solve, now is the time to start gathering some basic information. In this step, you will formulate an initial instructional goal (which can be revised later) and clarify your target audience… including their characteristics, background, and current skills. You will also decide if the training can be developed internally, or if you will need an external vendor.

2. Formulate a plan

Chances are you will have quite a bit of content to gather and organize. You’ll also need a plan for refining your instructional goal to make sure it aligns with business objectives. Step 2 is all about figuring out what information to gather, who to get it from, and how to get it. Zero in on your instructional goal, profile your learners, and carefully identify the skills or behaviors you want to impact.

3. Gather the data

In Step 3, it’s time to collect data and refine your plan based on data that emerges. You’ll be collecting data using methods such as stakeholder interviews, locating source content, focus groups, and task analysis.

Interviews, focus groups, and locating source content are all fairly straightforward tasks, but you may or not already be familiar with the task analysis technique. This involves isolating an individual task and identifying the current results, the desired standard, level of importance, frequency of the task, and more. Quite honestly, we could give a full workshop on just the task analysis step alone. For a more in-depth explanation, get in touch with us.

4. Analyze data and conclude the process

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary data, it’s time to analyze the information gathered and formulate findings and recommendations. You should revise your instructional goal based on the data you’ve gathered. You should now have new insights on your learners that will affect the content of the solution, the delivery format, and other constraints.

By the end of this step, you should clearly know what the optimal training solution is… and why. You’ll also know whether you can complete the training internally, or if you need to bring in an outside vendor.

5. Plan next steps

Your final step in the Needs Analysis will be a comprehensive report, which will serve as the road map for your solution design. This report will include the final instructional goal, profile of the target audience, learning objectives, and a summary of the tasks or ideas being taught. You’ll also lay out the constraints to consider in your design… and the potential delivery method. With all five steps of the Needs Analysis process completed, you should be well on your way to developing an effective learning solution.


We have a created a simple, 10-question worksheet to help you kickstart your Training Needs Analysis. Use it to ask the right questions, zero in on the “need to have” information, and make a sound plan for identifying the right learning solution.

Blended Learning and Mobile Performance Support: Ahead of the Curve

“We can’t keep thinking of training as a one-time event.”

That sums up the philosophy behind blended learning and the majority of mobile learning being implemented today—and it couldn’t be more true. Those of us in the training industry have heard the phrase “forgetting curve” more times than we care to remember, and I’m sure by now we all get the idea. But just because the phrase is overused in blog posts like this one, doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem many people still aren’t addressing.

Blended Learning header

There are plenty of objections to mobile learning, and actual uptake is still much less than the marketing hype would have us think. Desktop eLearning is still “king,” but recent statistics show mobile learning is on the rise for real this time. Why? Mobile learning gives trainers a practical tool for combatting the forgetting curve.

How blended learning and mobile learning combat the forgetting curve

There are two ways to combat the forgetting curve:

1. A higher degree of initial learning

Blended learning is a great way to establish a higher degree of initial learning (a nice coincidence that the definition of blended learning includes mobile). By integrating e-learning courses with face-to-face instruction and sprinkling in some really engaging game based learning, you can create a variety of opportunities for synthesis, practice and reinforcement. Using a variety of mediums will make your learning more “sticky,” and you’ll avoid burnout by keeping the learning solution from becoming too repetitive. Not only are you ensuring that people don’t fall through the cracks, you’re also making it easier for them to remember what they are learning.

2. Reinforcement

The forgetting curve remains in effect no matter what training techniques we use. We can’t avoid it… but we can sure reduce it. Mobile learning provides opportunities for “just in time” reinforcement and extended practice. By reinforcing the learning at well-timed intervals, you’ll give your learners, who are already challenged with multitasking and daily distractions, the best opportunity for success. Mobile learning allows you to deliver on-demand support wherever and whenever learners need it. This is how mobile learning is going to secure its place in the world of formal eLearning and “training” for years to come.

"Mobile learning is an essential piece of the blended learning puzzle"

How we incorporate blended learning and mobile learning

I sat down with one of our Senior Learning Designers, Kristen Hewett, to discuss how we advise our clients on implementing blended learning, mobile technologies and performance support. Here’s what she had to say:

Could you do a brief overview of the various elements combined in a recent project?

Well, this curriculum includes various learning solutions, over several phases. The solutions span from online discovery-based modules to face-to-face training sessions, and even a mobile app with performance support tools and reinforcement activities. Much of the curriculum is story and scenario driven, with real-life examples that learners need to respond to. Because the audience is competitive, we’ve incorporated some games and game elements, too.

How do you envision these elements working together to make the learning solution more successful?

The different phases offer learners multiple opportunities to learn information and practice their skills before they have to use them in a sales situation. We know that repetition and activities that mimic real-world situations help with remembering. Essentially, practice really does make perfect.

So in this case, learners need to know the new product features. First is the online solution (which is prework for the face-to-face training) where learners explore the product and complete a scavenger-hunt style activity to find the new key features. Then, at the face-to-face session, they have to pair those features to a customer need through a table-top game. Towards the end of the face-to-face session, they even have an opportunity to demonstrate the feature to another learner for feedback.

Finally, the performance support mobile app includes a list of features and benefits the learners can go back to for a refresher.

Were there any obstacles in pitching this to the client?

Because this is a global product rollout, they wanted to consider how different elements of the curriculum would be received in various countries. To that end, we made a decision to talk about activities in terms of discovery-based learning as opposed to games. There was thought that discovery-based might be better received. We’re still waiting on feedback but so far, they seem pretty positive about the materials.

Is it difficult for a company to manage a blended learning solution?

Managing a blended learning solution is new, so it may take organizations a little more time to get used to it. For our project, we recommended that the performance support portion live somewhere else—not in the LMS. We also suggested an email campaign to drive learners back to the materials. Is that more work than a one-and-done course? Sure. But it will help learners remember the materials, it’s an important step to take. We can’t keep thinking of training as a one-time event to get the results we want.

Do you think “support modules” are successful? For instance, flashcard apps— are these good uses of mobile learning?

Support modules are the best use of mobile learning. The best feature of mobile learning is that it can be just-in-time support, right there, when it’s needed. Support modules are the perfect use for mobile tech.

Less buzzwords, more action

I hope Kristen has given you some insight into how blended learning and mobile learning function in a real-world consulting scenario. We talk about blended learning and mobile learning on the web constantly, even though actual implementation numbers don’t match up. Training can be an expensive investment, and when it’s done right it can make your organization a powerhouse of innovation and success—but when you don’t go all in and provide engaging learning experiences with reinforcement, it can be a waste. And we all know that when a training solution fails it’s not just bad for that company, it’s bad for our industry as a whole.

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.

Using Rapid Authoring Tools to Design eLearning Courses for Multiple Devices

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Our eLearning Challenges blog series explores the common situations our clients face when deploying learning solutions. We use samples from real projects to help you uncover the best way  to meet these challenges in your organization. To get today’s content, I interviewed Alicia Ostermeier, a senior learning designer for this project. This is Part 3 of our series.

Let’s face it: the primary delivery tool for eLearning is still usually a desktop or laptop computer. And it’s not even close. The 2012 eLearning Guild research report on mobile surveyed 819 respondents about their mobile learning usage across four categories: Content Delivery, Content Capture and Uploading, Custom Applications and Social Networking and Communication. Each category of mobile learning had only been implemented by 12.5 – 20% of respondents:

eLearning Guild's mlearning Report

These numbers put the current state of our industry into perspective. When clients come to us in need of a learning solution, accessing the solution on a phone or tablet is still usually a “nice to have.” They may be researching mobile usage and plan to implement mobile learning in the next year or two (maybe), but we still must meet their needs today with the learning solution we produce.

Just because many clients have not implemented mobile learning yet doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. We still expect to see wide mobile learning adoption soon. That’s why so many are currently researching and building the business case for mobile now.

Our client, MISO, is a perfect example of this. We recently created a course for MISO to help managers handle organizational change. MISO currently does not require their eLearning courses to function on an iPad, but they are seeing usage of the iPad increase in their organization… especially at the director level and above. Since our target learners are Managers, there is a high probability that they will want to access the course on their iPad.

This was our approach:

  • Use Articulate (a rapid authoring tool) to decrease development time and cost.
  • Use Articulate Storyline specifically because Articulate Studio was already the development tool of choice for MISO but Studio did not allow you to publish courses for use on an iPad. Storyline does! MISO wanted to complete a project in Storyline and see how they felt about the upgraded tool.
  • Create a design that is similar to the desktop eLearning courses the client was familiar with but with subtle changes to maximize the learner experience on the iPad.
  • Enable tracking through MISO’s learning management system (LMS).

eLearning Design Considerations for iPad

As we were designing the course, we made a couple of choices specifically because we knew the iPad was one distribution method. For example, the original course design included rollover states. Those do not work on the iPad, so we replaced them with “tap” or “swipe” activities that would translate well to the tablet. This drag and drop activity is a great example of an iPad-ready activity:

Articulate Storyline - Drag and Drop activities on the iPad

You’ll notice that the faces of the characters are large enough to touch with a finger. We used large links and buttons throughout the course. The buttons are much bigger than what we might use in desktop-only eLearning. The key is to design the entire course while thinking about the smaller screen. Use generous amounts of white space and make links as large as possible. The screen below is a great example:

Articulate Storyline - Large links for iPad

It’s not just the size of your links and buttons, either. Notice how those magnified faces above are all at the bottom of the screen? That’s where users hold their tablets. We placed lots of interactions near the bottom of the screen so learners can easily tap the links with their thumbs. The lower right hand corner is also a good place to put your interactions. Take a look at the branching scenario screen below. Alicia intentionally placed the dialogue choices in the bottom right so users with iPads have easy access:

Articulate Storyline- Button placement for iPad users

Check out the left-hand navigation menu on all of these screenshots. Articulate Storyline gives you the option of publishing courses with or without the navigation. It may not look as pretty, but our internal testing showed that learners preferred having the navigation menu when viewing on an iPad. It makes the course much easier to navigate. If you publish to the iPad without this navigation, you do not have any navigation controls at all. We left the navigation off when publishing for the desktop.

Tracking mobile Learning in an LMS

SInce MISO needed the course to function within their LMS, we had to adjust some settings when publishing for the iPad. The Articulate Player gives you the choice of letting learners download the course on their iPads or running it through the web. If you are not yet using Tin Can API for tracking, you do not want to let learners download your courses. The data will not be passed back to the LMS. Unfortunately, Articulate Storyline courses that are meant to be used without an internet connection are not a good option if you need tracking with your LMS. If your LMS is Tin Can API compliant, you can work around this pretty easily.

Using the Articulate Player

Rapid authoring tools allow us to publish courses for the iPad easily and cheaply, but they do not deliver a fully immersive experience. You’ve already seen images of the left hand course menu and likely noticed a black “shell” around the course content. This is the Articulate Mobile Player. Users will have to download the Articulate Mobile Player app to their devices to view Storyline courses. If they try to access the course without downloading the app, this is what they’ll see:

Articulate Storyline Mobile Player

Once learners have the player though, it acts as a library to house all of their Storyline courses. If you are delivering multiple courses to learners using iPads, the app is pretty nice.

If mobile learning is still a “nice to have” or you are still researching the possibilities, designing eLearning courses that are “iPad ready” with a rapid authoring tool is an inexpensive, easy-to-element solution.

Stay tuned for part four of eLearning Challenges!


When Instructor-Led Training is No Longer a Sustainable Model

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Our eLearning Challenges blog series explores the common situations our clients face when deploying learning solutions. We use samples from real projects to help you uncover the best way  to meet these challenges in your organization. This is Part 1.

We have tons of technology at our disposal, but the majority of companies still use some form of instructor led training (ILT) — 59.4% to be exact, according to the 2012 ASTD State of the Industry report. Sharon Boller’s Learning Trends white paper uses a variety of recent statistics to show that ILT is still a major part of the learning mix for most companies. Instructor led trainers crisscross the globe and lead classrooms full of learners every day. There are plenty of situations where ILT makes sense, but we also see scenarios where ongoing ILT costs are overwhelming to a budget and don’t deliver significant results.

When we announced our eLearning Challenges blog series, we listed some of the common challenges our clients face when delivering learning solutions. These two challenges are especially relevant here:

  • A need to comply with regulations, which means pushing out mandatory training on an annual basis to groups of employees who are less-than-enthused about completing the training.
  • Limited time available for employees to complete training. Employees in most organizations are getting an average of 32 to 40 hours of total training time per year. How do you design an effective solution when you are told upfront that your solution cannot require more than  X amount of time – regardless of the time you might believe is required for someone to actually learn whatever is going to be taught?

You read that right…. many companies must comply with regulations and deliver training constantly… but their employees only have 32 – 40 hours a year to devote to formal training! What’s more, most of the required, compliance-based training does not require learners to master the topic. They simply must be able to prove that they received the information and know how locate it later as, needed.


When simply delivering information is the goal, Instructor-Led Training is far from the optimal solution.  eLearning can be better, but it is not always the best solution, either! Workplace learners have been taking eLearning courses for years now, and they are probably tired of seeing more of the “same old, same old.” Milennials in the workplace will be even harder to reach with a typical eLearning course. Having grown up with technology, their expectations for engagement are sky high.

When you really just need to deliver information, you should consider the following:

  • Learners want to access the information on their terms.
  • You need an easy way to track what they’ve read… especially if the information is for compliance purposes.
  • The mode of delivery should be elegant and easy to use. Remove barriers of entry for learners.

Lower Your Cost Per Learner

The upfront cost of a technology-driven solution can seem high up front… especially if you already have ILT instructors on staff. But when you add up ongoing expenses such as travel, lodging, food, printed materials, and salary paid to ILT instructors, an eLearning or mobile learning solution is almost always more cost effective. When it comes down to it, ILT is expensive and tough to scale.

From ILT to eMag for “just in time” support

Sometimes, the content of an ILT course can be re-purposed and delivered online, in a much more palatable format. One way to do this is through an eMagazine.

Roche eMag Project

Roche Diagnostics is a client of ours who must constantly be aware of government regulations and compliance issues. They deliver compliance training every year… some of which we showed in the last eLearning challenges post. They also deliver non-mandated training to educate their team on regulatory issues. Roche often needs to “push” information to their team in a medium they can easily consume.

The Introduction to Regulatory Affairs course was originally an ILT course taught overseas. It required a couple of facilitators and up to two days to teach. We created the eMagazine as a turnkey solution for when facilitators weren’t able to travel to locations in support of new hire training in a timely fashion… and to reduce the number of times they needed to teach the course in person (Reducing the number of ILT courses also reduces expenses!). The eMagazine also acts as a great reference tool for learners back on the job after completing the ILT course. It’s very multi-purpose.

The eMagazine functions as a web app: you can access it on an internet browser as a website on a desktop, or launch if from a tablet like an app. Users enjoy being able to access the eMagazine directly from their iPad home screens:

eMag Home Screen iPad icon

Users can save the eMag to the iPad home screen and open as a web app.

The articles can be locked or unlocked as needed, but otherwise learners can read through them in whatever order they please. The article screen is clean and simple, and we created the web app with responsive design. That means it works great in portrait or landscape mode on any device.

Roche eMag - Landscape view

Blend ILT With Performance Support

You probably aren’t going to be able to replace all your ILT right away with a single app or course. But you can certainly use this example and supplement ILT with performance support tools like an eMagazine to decrease the amount of live sessions you support. It’s also extremely important to provide as-needed reference tools to reinforce the initial learning experience.

Stay tuned for part 2 of eLearning Challenges!

Less Focus on the LMS; More Focus on Tin Can API

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 3:

Less Focus on the LMS; More Focus on Tin Can API

Over the last decade the learning management system (LMS) has become a fixture inside organizations. There are well over a hundred LMS products on the market for learning functions to choose from.

Yet few organizations seem to really use the data generated by an LMS or use the LMS for any purpose other than to house courses. Our clients consistently ask for SCORM-compliant courses without even knowing what SCORM is or why it was created. As mobile devices and the concept of “social learning” have edged their way onto the learning scene, the LMS has become a problem. Suddenly learning professionals everywhere have a conundrum: How do we track what learners are doing?

Tin Can API (also known as Experience API or “xAPI”) is a solution that drew a lot of buzz at mLearn 2012 and Devlearn 2012 as the eventual replacement for SCORM. Why is it getting the buzz? Because it tracks “experiences” learners have – rather than course completion. An experience MIGHT be completing a course, but it could also be playing a game, participating in a Twitter chat, reading a blog, or viewing a video.

It will take time for organizations who have made a major financial commitment to traditional LMSs to abandon them completely… but look for Tin Can to make major inroads in 2013. We are already seeing our clients talking to their LMS providers about Tin Can – and letting them know they want the LMS to be compliant with it.

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

Check back next week for Trend 4, or download the entire white paper now.

Less Desktop; More Mobile… but Not That Fast

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 1:

Mobile Learning - Glacier, Not Waterfall

Think glacier and not waterfall.

Glaciers had a massive impact on our topography – but it took awhile for them to make the impact they eventually did. Mobile learning has supposedly been the next hot trend since about 2009…and we’re still just getting started.

What points to somewhat faster movement in 2013 is that market saturation on the consumer side is pretty complete. Businesses will follow. We see mobile in the news daily, and a search under the Twitter hashtag #mLearning gets you a plethora of commentary, stories, and ideas for using mobile for learning.

After attending mLearn 2011, we shared data that showed the explosion of devices and uptake. In 2012 it accelerated further. A few updated stats shared in a Forbes Tech blog from May 2, 2012:

  • Apple shipped 15 million iPads in Q1 2012. They’ve sold 67 million iPads in just 24 months’ time. (It took 24 years to sell that many Macs and 5 years to sell that many iPods).
  • By 2015, there will be 7.4 billion mobile devices in the market; as of today, the world’s population stands at 7 billion.
  • Also by 2015, mobile app projects will outnumber native PC projects 4:1.

The shift to mobile seems to be happening fastest in K-12 and college classrooms (a bit ironic). But it’s also happening in businesses as IT standards start toppling all over the place to handle trends such as “BYOD” (bring your own device) and the demise of the Blackberry. Businesses can look at what’s going on in schools to see where they need to be going next.

Companies who are using mobile today are focused more on supplying solutions to customers rather than to employees. Fierce BioTech had a blog post in August 2012 featuring 10 smartphone apps developed by several big pharmaceutical companies to support their clients. These apps are true performance support tools for customers. They don’t teach people how to do something; they support them in doing a task.

Also in the “mobile” category of trends is to say “mobile” without clarifying exactly what’s meant
by it. We see our clients using the term “mobile” when they really mean “tablet” sometimes
and “smartphone” other times. One of the first questions we ask related to mobile is, “Are you talking about tablets, phones, or both?” In our opinion, you shouldn’t treat tablets and phones interchangeably. Notice the difference between our Knowledge Guru app for the tablet, and what we offer for the phone:

Knowledge Guru - Tablet and phone interface comparison

Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities White Paper

Click the image to download the white paper.











Check back next week for Trend 2, or download the entire white paper now.