Brief is Beautiful: Bite-Size Content and the New E-Learning

by on November 21, 2014 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Webinars for HR Leaders

Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Stephen Meyer, CEO of the Rapid Learning Institute. I’m delighted you took the time to attend this event, called Brief is Beautiful: Bite-Size Content and The New E-Learning.

I’m going to talk to you today about technology-enabled training, especially soft-skills training in areas such as Leadership, Management, Sales, Communication and so on.

It’s no big secret that in the past we’ve seen a big gap between the high expectations we had about soft-skills e-learning, and the disappointing reality of what we actually got.

And when I say that – I’m not going to mince words here – I mean long, e-learning programs that got very poor utilization.

The good news is that things are changing. I think we’re very close to a tipping point with soft-skills e-learning right now.

I’m going to identify some emerging trends that are driving this change.

They have to do with:

  • Demographics
  • The way we absorb information;
  • The ascent of M-learning
  • The increasing urgency in learning departments to increase utilization, which is the key to return on investment, or at least return on expectations, in e-learning.

I’m going to paint a picture for you today of The New E-learning and give some specific, prescriptive suggestions for how to get where we want to go. And I’m also going to be specific about what not to do. There is an astonishing amount of Leadership, Sales, and interpersonal skills content still being produced and deployed today that’s what we call “Legacy E-Learning.” We’re still doing things we know don’t work. We need to stop doing what doesn’t work.

I’m going to introduce a few new concepts today that I hope will help us create dialogue around the change we’re seeing in the learning world today. Now, I’m a big believer in the power of language to enable change. Change is hard and to make it happen it’s important to can identify concepts, and actually name them. To get change, you need language to describe it.

I’ve already mentioned “The New E-learning” vs. “Legacy E-learning.”

And I’ll talk about what we call “information design,” which is a discipline that’s THE key to getting people to engage in soft-skills e-learning, or any learning for that matter.

Another term I’ll introduce is “thin slicing,” which is a design technique that has the potential to change not just the way we do e-learning, but the way we THINK ABOUT the entire training process, from preparation to delivery of the training event to the essential follow-up that makes learning stick. With that introduction, let’s begin.

I. A story

I want to start with a story. Back in 1995 a young trainer named Lynda Weinman taught software classes and had written a book on Web design. One day she asked her publisher if she could write a book about the popular program Photoshop. He said no because they already had an author writing a book on that topic.

So Lynda did something world-altering for her and her family. Lynda said to herself, “Well, if they won’t let me write a book, I’ll create a series of instructional tapes, video tutorials, that will show people how to use Photoshop.”

She went from this and this to this. She video-ized content that in the past she’d delivered either in print or live in a classroom.

Now, you might say, Big deal, lots of people were doing that.

Let me ask you, “If Lynda had continued to write training books or hold live classes, what are the chances she’d be running, a $100 million plus company that raised $103 million in equity capital in 2013?” The answer is zero.

And then there’s TED Talks, those wonky 18-minute lectures that have gone viral in a big way. Few people know TED – which stands for Technology, Education, Design — has been around for 30 years. Initially, it was people sitting in an auditorium listening to speakers on stage. They started video-taping the lectures and in June 2006 posted their first talk on Youtube. These video-ized TED Talk lectures have gotten 800 million views to date.

The Khan Academy started in 2004 when Salman Kahn created a handful of three-minute video math tutorials on Youtube to help his young cousins. Now Mr. Khan has thousands of videos, tens of millions in investment from Bill Gates, Google and others, and his mission is to educate the entire world using his platform. He video-ized content.

There’s something BIG, something TRANSFORMATIONAL, about video-izing content and delivering it online, which is in most cases what e-learning actually is.

But corporate soft-skills e-learning is a bit of a puzzler.

We’ve seen wild successes with video-ization of content outside the corporate world. In popular culture, for example. And in hard skills training we’ve seen successes like, which until recently was primarily a consumer product.

But I think if we’re honest we’d have to say corporate e-learning, particularly as it applies to soft skills such as sales, leadership, management, and so on, has … well, underperformed. To date, technology hasn’t done nearly enough for most companies when it comes to soft-skills training. I’m going to tell you why e-learning has underperformed in the past. I’m going to show you why that’s about to change.

II. History

Let me give you my personal thumbnail history of e-learning. I see three waves:

Wave 1: The Age of CBT

Computer-based training, or CBT, began back in the 1960s. I wouldn’t really call it a wave. It was a wavelet. Mostly it was techies on mainframes teaching techies how to do techie stuff. It was all algorithmic, or hard skills learning. Very few people ever saw CBT in this form.

Wave 2: The Age of Instructional Design

The second Wave was what we call the Age of Instructional Design. It began with the first viable personal computers. Instructional designers who’d been practicing their craft for decades in traditional media, saw a great opportunity. They began creating CBT not just for algorithmic learning but also for heuristic learning, or soft skills. Lots of modules were created for salespeople, managers and the like. They were delivered on CD-ROMs. In the late 90s they started being delivered via the Internet.

There was tremendous excitement about e-learning during the boom. In 1999, about when the term “e-learning” was coined, investors poured nearly $800 million into self-paced e-learning.

People had big, gnarly goals at this point. I read one investment proposal by a couple of aspiring entrepreneurs who wrote that technology – in particular functionality that included interactivity – would eliminate the need the need for humans in training.

It wasn’t just aspiring entrepreneurs who were hyperventilating, though. John Chambers of Cisco said in 2001 that, “E-learning is the next killer app. It will make email look like a rounding error.”[1]

Those were big promises. Now let’s take a look at this chart. It tells a story … a story about a technology solution that got everyone very excited, but that basically bombed. E-learning bombed.

I remember reading an article back in the mid-2000s where some expert said, “Well, the reason e-learning didn’t meet expectations is that it came along too soon. People weren’t ready for e-learning.”

But let me give you a little multiple choice quiz: Was it users who weren’t ready? Or developers? I’d say developers. Early e-learning failed because it wasn’t very good.

My company, Rapid Learning Institute, got into e-learning in 2007, at the tail end of the Age of Instructional Design. We were publishers before and had no expertise in e-learning at all. To educate ourselves, our top team assembled in a conference room for weeks watching dozens of soft-skills e-learning modules from top providers.

We were experts in delivering content to salespeople, HR executives and managers. We’d spent years conducting focus groups and site visits with these customers. So we were well equipped to see existing e-learning content through their eyes.

We found that that the modules were well-constructed and the subject matter experts knew what they were talking about. But the modules just weren’t right. We looked at each other said, “The business people we know would never sit through one of these modules.” They were 30, 60, 90, even 120 minutes long. And they were also … clunky. Interactivity, which was supposed to simulate the human element, was just plain irritating.

Frankly, we thought we were crazy. We couldn’t understand why everybody was doing something that was so obviously wrong to us. Then we went to Masie 2007, met a lot of industry insiders and found out we weren’t crazy.

Somebody pointed us to a Masie / ASTD study from in 2004[2] saying only a third of employees who were offered access to enterprise e-learning platforms actually logged in during the given year.

We learned from a top salesperson at one of the leading enterprise e-learning providers that the average module views per year for a log-in was 1.6.

In the Age of Instructional Design, poor utilization was the dirty little secret of the e-learning business.

It must have puzzled a lot of people. E-learning developers applied time-tested learning principles to e-learning. They understood how people learn, they created modules that were structurally sound, and the subject matter was good. It should have worked.

But e-learning in the Age of Instructional Design failed at the most fundamental level – people didn’t watch it.


Wave 3: The Age of Information Design

We’re now in the early years of the Third Wave of technology-enabled training, which we call the Age of Information Design, It began in about 2010-2011, which coincides with the early buzz about M-learning. Information design is the heart and soul of The New E-learning.

Information Design is “the art of presenting content in a way that engages people.”

Information design doesn’t replace Instructional Design — it’s an adjunct, a partner that we all need to add to the mix.

I think of instructional design as mechanics; it makes a module instructionally sound. Information design is art; it makes the module compelling and interesting. You need both to create successful soft-skills e-learning.

Here’s a definition of training by a leading instructional designer:

“Training is the achievement of pre-determined learning objectives through planned instructional techniques.”

That’s accurate, but doesn’t exactly get you excited about learning, does it? Imagine that the creators of Game of Thrones or House of Cards talked like that:

“TV programming is the achievement of pre-determined entertainment objectives through planned plot-enhancement techniques.”

An information designer understands that soft-skills training is almost always about getting people to change behaviors that they may not want to change. From that perspective, training is essentially an act of persuasion. And we can only succeed if we get learners’ attention with compelling content, make sure they stick around, and make them feel a sense of urgency to act on what they learned.

You can’t do that if you frame e-learning as “the achievement of pre-determined learning objectives through planned instructional techniques.”

I get that learning isn’t entertainment. But creating learning videos is not just a mechanical process. If you want to grab and sustain people’s attention, you need more. I’m suggesting that Information Design was largely ignored by e-learning developers for decades.

So, as you look at your training plans in the future, and as you think about Information Design, what do you need to be thinking about? I think Information Designers must start by asking two fundamental questions:

  1. What’s the medium?
  2. Who is my audience?

Question 1: What’s the medium?

Let’s start with “What’s the medium?”

Back in the 1960s when Marshall McLuhan said famously, “The medium is the message,” what he meant that the medium has more influence than the content it carries.

The story of, where a modest book writer video-izes her content and becomes an educational powerhouse, is one of the best examples in history that validates McLuhan’s maxim. It was the technology that was transformational, not the content.[3] isn’t wildly successful because they know something about Photoshop or Powerpoint that nobody else knows. They’re successful because their Information Designers have mastered the medium of video, which operates under a completely different set of rules from books, manuals and ILT.

If we don’t understand those rules, and follow them, we don’t have a chance of using technology to educate our learners successfully.

Question #2: Who’s my audience?

The second question Information Designers must ask is “Who’s my audience?” But I don’t mean this in the sense that it’s an HR Exec or Sales manager. I mean it in the sense of, “Who are these people?” “What makes them tick?” “How do they learn?”

There’s your user? A brain. But there’s a problem. In his book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain,” Nicholas Carr argues that the Internet has rewired this human brain. For the past 20 years brain research has blown up the age-old belief that the brain is immutable. We now know that it’s highly plastic, malleable; it changes based on what we do with it. And one of the biggest influencers on our brains these days is electronic devices.

Carr cites a study by a consulting firm called nGenrea that interviewed 6,000 Millennials.

Here’s a quote from the lead researcher: “Digital immersion has even affected the way [Millennials] absorb information. They don’t necessarily read a page from left to right and from top to bottom. They might instead skip around, scanning for pertinent information of interest.”

I’m a boomer, if you were to watch me read the New York Times online, you’d see me doing exactly what’s described in that quote. I jump all over the place. Click hyperlinks. And my guess is many of you are the same. We didn’t used to be like this. Something has changed our brains.

Boomers and GenXers were raised in what Carr calls the post-Gutenberg world – that is, the world from the printing press until the Internet.

Think of this as the Book Era, where instructional design would start with a large body of knowledge on a topic such as, say, interpersonal communication.

And it would build a course that covers all the major theories and concepts that will give learners a linear, logical and complete understanding of interpersonal communication. But Carr says that’s pretty much the opposite of what modern learners are looking for when they’re watching a video.

He says that search engines[4], which teach us to expect instant gratification, have rewired our brains to seek out granular solutions-in-the-moment-of-need. As a result, when we sit down to watch a video, the linear mind of the Book era takes a back seat.

It’s replaced by a nonlinear mind that, I’m quoting Carr here, “wants … information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts.” [5]

The key word there is “wants.” What Carr is saying is that the brain is malleable and it has adapted. In fact our brain has adapted so well, and become so comfortable with disjointed, overlapping bursts of information, that it doesn’t want linearity. At least not when we sit down to watch a video.

Looking back on the Age of Instructional Design (roughly 1980-2010), could it be that the reason e-learning performed so badly is that we were already well into the Digital Age, but the information design was still in the Book era? Its priorities were: Linear. Logical. Complete.

I think e-learning developers in the late 90s and early 2000s had an impossible task. Not only were they creating content for a new type of learner, whose brain was wired differently, they were creating content in the medium of choice for the digital native, video, which had its own new set of rules. And it was too soon for instructional designers to really understand either of those challenges.

But today we understand that most e-learning is first and foremost VIDEO. The medium is the message, and we need to play by its rules, not the legacy rules of Instructional Design.

III. How to Think About Information Design

So let’s talk about Information Design, which is the essential design strategy for the New E-learning.

I mentioned earlier the importance of understanding your audience. Let me show you the person I believe a New E-learning information designer should have in mind when creating a soft-skills e-learning module. Here she is:

She’s female but could just as easily be male. She’s a Millennial. But she could be a Gen Xer or a Boomer who’s effectively a digital native. What’s really important is that she’s in an airport. She’s using a tablet. And she’s not even sitting down. She’s standing.

THIS is our learner! The question we all need to be asking is this: What Information Design elements do we have to bring to the equation to attract and sustain her attention? I’m confident that if e-learning developers imagine this type of mobile learner, they’ll ask the right questions and bring smart Information Design to the task. And they’ll create engaging e-learning modules.

When you watch a lot of legacy soft-skills e-learning, you get the impression developers had somebody else in mind, like this guy If you’ve seen Clockwork Orange, that Malcolm McDowell and he’s got calipers holding his eyelids open. How much easier would ourjobs be if our learners HAD to watch our stuff? For better or worse, that’s not the world we live in. We’re got to earn people’s attention and mind-share.

I see three important trends that define the New E-learning. And none of them would be occurring if the Information Design perspective I’ve just described hadn’t already started to take root. Here they are:

  1. Rapid Learning
  2. Single-concept Learning
  3. “Coaching” rather than “Training”

Trend #1: Rapid Learning

We define “rapid learning” as short-form or “bite-size e-learning for today’s short-attention-span workforce.” In other words, “make it short and fast-paced.”

Rapid Learning is an Information Design strategy. Shorter is better for many reasons. If you invite me on an 8-minute learning journey, I’m more likely to sign on than if it were 30 or 60 minutes. I’m more likely to complete that journey for the same reason. And I’m far more likely to go back and revisit a bite-size chunk of learning than a long one.

Now, it’s always nice to get powerful endorsements for what you’re advocating, and I’ve got a really good one. This comes from Vatican City, the synod of bishops, in a book called “The Word of God,” advocates 8-minute sermons.

So the Vatican thinks brief is beautiful. Who am I to argue? But I thought I’d get independent verification. I did a survey, which you see here. I wanted to know how much urgency learning professionals felt about providing more short-form e-learning. About 50% of learning professionals thought providing shorter learning was a high priority. Another 40% said it was a medium priority.

But rapid learning is not just about length. It’s also about pace. By that I mean fast-paced.

Let’s talk a moment about embedded interactivity. That is, of course, the practice of interrupting an e-learning module with activities such as quizzes or other exercises that force the learner to engage literally with their fingers with the module. For legacy instructional designers it’s an article of faith that e-learning MUST be interactive.

But I’d like to challenge that. Does it really work in soft-skills e-learning? My opinion is no.

I get the theory — that you don’t want a learner to “lean back” passively. You want the learner to “lean in” and be active during learning.

With hard skills training, “lean in” is a smart e-learning design strategy. I approve completely.

But for soft-skills training, which is almost always non-urgent and non-mandatory, it fights everything we’re trying to do. As an information designer, I want to grab you by the throat and not let go. I don’t want you to be in control. I want control. And I want to earn that control by delivering a short, tight, relevant message that’s so compelling you’ll want to stick around.

I invite you to read a new research study exploring different ways to “pace” an e-learning module. The two I want to show you were “auto advance” (which is “lean-back” learning where the computer automatically advances slides) and “click to advance.” (which is the lean-forward, embedded interactivity option where the learner controls the slides with a mouse and keyboard).

Here are the results of the recall tests they did after learners watched the modules. The auto-advance option won by a landslide. Nearly two-thirds of the high performers were in that group. The click-to-advance option, which is required for embedded interactivity, was at the bottom of the heap. It had 56% of the low performers.

I don’t want to debate this right now. What I want is for each of you to hear what I’m saying and take the debate back to your own team. As far as I know, most learning departments aren’t discussing this. They accept the gospel truth that e-learning is unthinkable with embedded interactivity.

Trend #2: Single-Concept Learning

The second trend that’s defining the New E-Learning is “single-concept learning.”

The opposite of single-concept learning is of course multi-concept learning, which is what a lot of soft-skills learning happens to be.

We’ve all experienced fire-hose instructor-led training – where a trainer downloads massive amounts of information over a one- or two-day period. And we’ve all seen long, linear-logical-complete e-learning programs that do the same.

Thin slicing is the polar opposite of fire-hose training. It’s an information design decision to focus on one thing rather than many. To be intentionally incomplete.

“Thin slicing” is a term used in psychology and philosophy to describe the brain’s ability to intuitively spot “thin slices” of experience and with very limited information draw powerful and surprisingly accurate conclusions.[6] The book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell is about this idea. We hi-jacked the term, altered its meaning a bit, and applied it to learning. Thin slicing is about isolating thin slices of learning and delivering powerful insights from very limited information.

Thin slicing is different from “chunking,” which usually starts with a large amount of learning content and breaks it up into small chunks. Thin slicing does the opposite. It starts small, usually with a very specific problem, or challenge, and develops that “thin slice” in isolation.

Let me give you an example: Years ago we had a customer call and say, “I need a module on how to fire an insubordinate.” In response to that request, we set out to create one module on terminating employees.

But as we started discussing it, we realized that terminating an insubordinate was different from firing a low-performer, which was different from laying people off in a reduction-in-force. What’s really interesting about that experience is that the customer did the thin slicing for us. He narrowed the focus to just insubordinates.

And I think there’s a lesson in that story: the learning challenges that our people face tend to be really specific: “How do I deal with a bad attitude?” “How do I counter a price objection?” “How do I get past a gatekeeper?”

Did you notice those all look like google searches? They’re all seeking granular solutions in the moment of need.

“How do I fix my dryer belt?”

A few months ago the belt on my dryer drum broke. I went on Youtube and there was a five-minute module showing how to fix it. I bought the belt for three bucks and fixed in a 15 minutes. I know nothing about dryers. I don’t want to know anything about them. But I was able to fix a single broken part with the help of a video.

My point is the same. Learners think in thin slices. They want to get learning as a response to a google search. A solution in the moment of need.

Thin slicing says, “I’m going to engage learners better, and meet their needs better, if I start with a ONE concept and try to achieve ONE behavior change that will lead to ONE desired outcome.”

“It would be hard to overstate how different this approach is to legacy soft-skills e-learning.

Is that a good thing, or a bad thing. An influential study on what’s called “cognitive load” suggests it’s potentially a very good thing. The research tried to figure out the best way to increase knowledge retention when teaching a series of elements. The researchers created two groups to compare two instructional methods: In Group 1, the “isolated elements condition” group, they taught students several elements individually as discrete learning events (single-concept learning). In Group 2, the “interacting elements condition” group, they taught students the same elements together in an integrated way, emphasizing the interactions between the elements (multi-concept learning). In a follow-up test, the “isolated elements” (single-concept) group did better. In fact they performed twice as well on the test.

So that’s Trend #2 – single concept learning, aka “thin slicing.”

Trend #3: “Coaching” rather than “training”

I mentioned a survey earlier about the urgency learning professionals felt to move in the direction of bite-size training.

There was a second question in that survey – we asked people “why the urgency?” The answer was very interesting. Here are the results

  • 21% – Employees have increasingly short attention spans
  • 14% -We’re placing greater emphasis on mobile learning
  • 65% – Short modules will help us get managers more involved in training and coaching

What it seems to indicate is that learning professionals are not entirely happy with the level of commitment managers have for their talent development role.

Let me tell a little story. A couple years ago I attended a training event at a large manufacturing company. Sales were down. The CEO was pushing the VP Sales to give the salesforce a shot in the arm. So the VP Sales brought in a high-powered sales trainer. Two days of fire hose learning. I sat in the back of the room next to the VP sales, who spent most of his time playing on his Smartphone.

At a coffee break on Day 2 I said told him, “This trainer is great.” He said, “That’s why I hired him.” So I said, “Well, how are you going to make all these great ideas stick?”

When I asked him that, his face went blank – he was a deer in the headlights – you’ve been wondering what that cute little animal was, right? This was gotcha moment. He knew that I knew that he’d never even thought about making the training stick. He was embarrassed but recovered quickly and said something about how he’d follow up.

But of course he didn’t. In fact six months later the team wasn’t applying anything they’d learned, and the manager got fired.

That’s an interesting story for many reasons, but I want to focus on one thing. Let’s talk for a minute about what he’d have had to do to make that kind of training effective. He’d have had to take copious notes. Then spend a day or two or three reviewing the concepts, figuring out how to adapt them to his team and his company’s unique culture. He’d have to plan out follow-up sessions with his team. He’d have to conduct those sessions to reinforce the learning. Then he’d have to follow up with his reps repeatedly to make sure they were correctly deploying what they learned.

I get exhausted just thinking about all that.

Question: Is it reasonable to ask managers to do that?

No. And if as learning professionals we create the expectation that our managers are going to do all that, we’re going to be disappointed.

I spent a year on a speaking circuit traveling all over the country. I was sort of like a coach giving pep talks trying to motivate CEOs to do better talent development. And to get them to motivate their managers to be better talent developers. I wasn’t very successful.

The reason is that trying to motivate managers is the wrong thing to do.

Let me show you a model for behavior change from Stanford professor B.J. Fogg.

The Fogg Behavior Model isolates three factors that influence behavior change: Let’s get our heads around this model. On the y-axis, you’ve got motivation – somewhere between High at the top and low at the bottom. On the x-axis you’ve got Ability – given your skills a task is either hard to do or easy to do.

The third element is triggers. Now, a trigger is just what it suggests – for example, smelling bread in the oven would trigger your desire to eat.

Above the arc – which Dr. Fogg calls the “action line” – the combination of motivation and ability are high enough to make change happen when we introduce a trigger. Below the line, trigger or no trigger, it doesn’t happen. The task is too hard to do, or we’re just too un-motivated. Or both.

In some situations, it makes sense to change behavior by pulling the motivation lever. Imagine someone lives next door to a gym but won’t exercise. That’s most likely a motivation problem.

But are managers unmotivated to train their people? Not really. Most managers know that acquiring talent development skills would advance their own careers and help their people. The real obstacle is on the Ability axis. The reason most managers don’t train their people is that they perceive it as “hard to do.” They either don’t know how, or don’t have time.

BJ Fogg will tell you that in most areas where we want behavior change – whether it’s exercising, dieting, smoking, drinking, learning or coaching – the answer is usually figuring out creative ways to make it easier to do the right thing.

And that’s actually good news for learning professionals because there’s plenty we can do to make training easier on managers. By doing so, they can move managers far enough to the right side of the x-axis on the Fogg Model. We’ve got to make it easy to do.

So how do you do that?

First, let’s examine why training is perceived as so difficult. Managers tend to frame the task of developing people through a wide lens, as in “I need to teach my supervisors ‘to lead’,” or “I need to teach my sales reps ‘to sell’.” Framed that broadly, the task seems overwhelming. How many managers know how to assess needs, create curricula, conduct learning events and provide follow-up to make it stick?

Not many. So most do nothing at all. But what if you we were to reframe that task through a narrow lens? As in, “I just need to teach my managers how to give praise. Or my sales reps to nail the first 20 seconds of a cold call.”

You see where I’m going with this. Rapid learning, and single-concept learning, make the manager’s task seem “easier to do.”

So to get people from Point A below the Action Line to Point B above the Action Line, on the Fogg Behavior Model, we need to “repackage” for managers the task of training their people in a way that makes it seem doable.

I used the word “repackage” with intention. Learning professionals “own” the learning culture at their organizations. Your job isn’t just to “provide training” – it’s to shape the way people THINK about training. That’s packaging and it’s a huge factor in whether you succeed or fail in your job. Here are some things we can do to repackage training and development for managers.

  • Help managers see their role through a narrow lens
  • “You’re teaching a single concept, usually a skill that you’re very good at. You can do this!
  • Define the task as “coaching,” not “training” – coaching isn’t nearly as intimidating a task as training
  • Give managers easy-to-use coaching tools that do a lot of the work for them. You don’t have to build a curriculum. You don’t have to create content. Just use this tool to coach someone to do something you yourself already do well.

But here’s the real magic of this narrow-lens approach. When managers see their talent development role as doable, they start doing it and have a success. Think of Red Dot B on the Fogg Model as a “small victory.” Then they try it again and have another small victory, then another and another and another. As they accumulate small victories – Dots c, d, e, f, g and so on — they start experiencing what Professor Fogg calls “success momentum.” Both Motivation and Ability increase, and gradually they develop a core competency as coaches.

They start playing the talent development role that we want them to play, but that they also want to play for their own benefit, for the benefit of their people, and for the benefit of the company.

The potential is there for an incredibly powerful win/win?

I. Conclusion

Let me sum up by juxtaposing The New E-learning with “Legacy E-learning”

We talked about how legacy e-learning tends to be long-form – 30-120 minute modules. The New E-learning is bite-size – under 10 minutes.

Legacy tended to be multi-concept. The New E-learning is single-concept and it recognizes that modern learners, when watching a video on an electronic device, want learning served up in short, disjointed bursts.

Legacy was driven by the imperative to be linear, logical and complete. The New E-learning is linear and logical, but incomplete by design.

Legacy prioritized instructional design principles that worked great with traditional learning vehicles, but it was missing something required to succeed in the medium of video. The New E-learning creates prioritizes Information Design.

Legacy used embedded interactivity. The New E-learning does not.

Legacy, as we pointed out, got low utilization. The New E-learning, if only because it’s shorter and more narrowly focused, will get higher utilization.

Legacy isn’t really compatible with M-Learning. It’ll never engage that young woman at the airport. The New E-learning will.

Legacy tended to be primarily self-directed learning. The New E-learning, because it’s bite-size and single concept, works great for self-directed, but has the potential to be an easy-to-use coaching tool by managers if, aided by the Fogg Behavior Model, we can get managers to perceive coaching as a doable task.

Here’s a quote from NYT columnist Tom Friedman.

“Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly
possible meets what is desperately necessary.”

I said at the start of my talk that technology has achieved amazing things in the field of learning – but that in corporate learning it’s lagged way behind. In fact it’s created tremendous disappointment. I hope that from my talk today you’ve gotten a sense of the tremendous optimism I feel about tech-enabled learning in the workplace. We’re on the verge of a big breakthrough right now.

On the “suddenly possible” side of that equation we have:

  • The massive shift in our mindset: the legacy e-learning mentality is being replaced by the New E-learning.
  • The appearance of models for bite-size learning that actually work

On the “desperately needed” side of the equation we have:

  • The changing workforce – 50% of the workforce will be digital natives in 20/20. We need to provide learning that works for them
  • Deep frustration with poor utilization rates for e-learning, particularly soft-skills e-learning. The people who pay the bills are fed up. And learning professionals are as well.


Something BIG is happening right now in corporate e-learning. The suddenly possible is meeting the desperately necessary. Forces like M-learning, the rise of Millennials, the shift in the way the brain absorbs information – it’s all converging and people’s thinking is changing.

Thinking tends to be a little out in front of action. But we’re nearing a tipping point in tech-enabled training, and the whole point of a tipping point is that incremental change is suddenly overtaken by an avalanche of change. E-learning is entering its most exciting phase ever, and all of us are incredibly lucky to be part of a dynamic industry that’s really starting to come into its own. The next few years are going to be transformational. Fasten your seatbelts.

Thanks for listening.


Leave a Reply


Request a Free Demo

We'd love to show you how this industry-leading training system can help you develop your team. Please fill out this quick form or give us a call at 877-792-2172 to schedule your one-on-one demo with a Rapid Learning Specialist.