What is Microlearning?

Microlearning is “A short piece of learning, that addresses a specific practical skill, that is just ‘long enough’”.

So what’s the big deal about microlearning? Why are organisations investing time and resources into it? What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned workshop or eLearning module? There’s nothing inherently wrong with a workshop or a self-directed online learning module, they both serve a purpose. Whether you utilise one or the other depends on a whole number of things which is a debate for another time. We’re just interested in the ‘why’ of microlearning. The simplest answer is: we have terrible memories.

Back in 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus did some research on what he called ‘the forgetting curve’. The forgetting curve indicated that without some form of reinforcement over time, we forget a large percentage of what we have learned. For example, you attend a day’s learning workshop and after 4-5 days you have forgotten 80% of what you covered. That’s a pretty big loss of new information!

To combat this, researchers have proposed that learners should use the ‘spacing effect’ to assist them in remembering what they have learnt. The spacing effect is the phenomenon whereby learning is greater when studying is spread out over time, as opposed to studying the same amount of content in a single session. That is, it is better to use spaced presentation rather than massed presentation.

Researchers such as Will Thalheimer have taken this concept a step further and proposed a learning technique called spaced repetition that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material, in order to exploit the spacing effect. By having a spaced review of something we have learnt over time – less of the learnt content is forgotten.

So, does microlearning fit into this idea of spaced repetition? Yes, it does. Microlearning allows us to provide short review pieces that allow a learner to embed what they have learnt over a period of time.

Best practice microlearning in the workplace:

What has best practice shown regarding corporate learning that might gives us more information about why we could use microlearning?

  1. Microlearning is no good if it’s too short. People can’t and won’t engage fully. That’s why it’s impossible to give a time limit to microlearning, and part of the reason why our definition says that the learning should be ‘long enough’. That may be 3 minutes or it might be 10. The learning still needs to grab the learner’s attention. What’s in it for them? Why should they care?
  2. Content must be able to ‘stand alone’ It’s not just breaking an existing program into smaller units. This turns the training into a ‘start/stop’ process. The learning becomes inconsistent and fragmented, and there is the added effort on the learner to remember “where am I up to?” and “what did I review last time?”
  3. Workers have limited patience – they want to be able to finish a task and move on to the next one in a reasonable time frame. If they feel something is bogging them down and preventing them from getting on with their day, they will get frustrated and negative towards it fairly quickly.
  4. Even if they have more time for a task – it generally won’t happen – interruptions continue in the workplace because they have their ‘real jobs’ to do! Projects, customers, clients, meetings, communications etc. all are clamouring for their attention.

When microlearning keeps these practices in mind it can be effective and not add any additional burden on the learner. Heck they may even enjoy it!

What is and what is NOT microlearning?

Microlearning is NOT:

  • Chunking, breaking down, and ‘to be continued’ – Microlearning has to stand alone. If you’ve just chunked down a full program into smaller pieces with a ‘too be continued’, it’s too fragmented and too much of a cognitive demand for a learner to remember where they left off. Chunking down a 20-minute video into ten 2-minute videos just provides an increased annoyance factor of ‘what did I watch before?’ and ‘which video am I up to?’ Both questions eat into their small window of patience.
  • Video only – It could also be a job aid, a scenario, a couple of quick questions, a podcast, a mini module etc.
  • Less than 5 minutes – It could be if you discover that 5 minutes is ‘just long enough’, but time should not be the deciding factor.

Microlearning IS:

  • Just in time (not ‘just in case’)
  • Short and specific
  • A single focus – One idea/objective/concept/behaviour.
  • Immediately applicable – no theory/no extensive history/no backstories.
  • Available for the learner to access on their In other words, accessible on any platform – phone, desktop or even tablet, available at work and at home – what suits them?
  • Easy to find – not buried in the depths of your LMS/Intranet.
  • Great for review, practice or extension, all of which fit into spaced repetition well.

Check back soon to read my other posts on how to build microlearning with Articulate tools and how to use Birch Learning Platform for microlearning.

eLearning Tools Empower Your L&D Experts

One of the biggest concerns for organisations adopting an eLearning approach is that it will devalue the learning experience and overwhelm learners with poor quality programs. But we believe the exact opposite is true.

Instead, eLearning tools get your subject experts back on the front foot and delivering their expertise directly to those who need it. It removes complex, overly technical and long winded development from the equation. It allows your specialists to easily develop programs which are tailored specifically to their learners’ needs. Being directly engaged in the course development and design is great motivation and leads to a better quality course and better results.

Here are some benefits of having your L&D team take the in-house eLearning approach:

  • They know your audience and they know what works. On aggregate this leads to better outcomes.
  • Ease of use for those who don’t have a sound knowledge of IT. (although they still need to know how to structure a good learning experience!)
  • By making minor updates themselves, their courses can stay current whilst keeping costs down.
  • Speed of development means fewer resources are required both in terms of time and expertise.

Training courses like our Certified Articulate Training allow teams to trial and evaluate authoring tools. Here, teams can play around with these tools without paying for them first, and learn how to structure a course so that it’s both meaningful and engaging. Additionally, course participants will:

  • See more clearly and from the learner’s perspective having attended a course themselves, they will get a much better feel for what works.
  • Be exposed to a wide variety of approaches. Methods and techniques are changing so fast.

What are your views on eLearning tools? What benefits have you seen? What concerns do you have?

3 Things To Consider When Selecting A New Learning Platform

When transitioning to new a learning platform or even getting ready for a complete transformation of your learning program and embracing learning technology for the first time; there are a few different perspectives that should be considered to ensure the goals of your organisation are met and you’re getting real value out of this effort.

A learning system touches so many different facets of your business and understanding these areas and how they are interconnected will help guide you on not only selecting the best platform for your business, but also how to best implement it for your employees, contractors or learners. There are many areas that we could discuss, but there are three areas that I’m going to touch on:

  • The goals of the business – why change, why now?
  • How do we work within the existing ecoSystem?
  • How do I know if the new platform will work for me?

The goals of the business – why change, why now?

First off, you need to have a good understanding of why you are looking to make a change. It may sound obvious, but I’ve talked with many clients over the years and in many cases they were looking to make a change just for the sake of it or simply because they were frustrated with what they had and just wanted to try something different. The problem here is, unless you take the time to review and understand your current situation and what a change will actually accomplish, you could end up going through the entire process of change only to end up wasting money, wasting time, and having the same problems you started with – but with a new system to blame them on.

It’s important to talk with different business areas using the current system or process to learn about what they actually need and what will truly make their lives easier. Only after this can you be sure that when looking at a new platform, you are on the lookout for solutions that have the features the business actually needs and will be useful to them and not just something that ends up being a replacement with a list of features that can be found on the “Top Features in Learning” list.

How do we work within the existing ecosystem

Next up is ensuring that you have a good understanding of your business’ technological ecosystem. An ecosystem is made up of multiple platforms or systems that have some sort of relationship with each other and how they operate or connect. An example of this could be how a learning platform is typically connected to an HRIS system for the synchronisation of people or user data.

Learning platforms are no longer an island unto themselves and must be able to work within an existing ecosystem. Knowing what systems will need to communicate or interact with the new learning platform will help guide your evaluation to ensure you aren’t disrupting key technology that has already been invested in and relied upon by the business already. Be sure you’re on the lookout for a platform that will thrive in and even enhance the already existing business and technical ecosystem.

With the upcoming launch of our new learning platform, (Code name: Project Vegas), we’ve put together a few different resources that can help get you started.  As an example of this, our ‘All about Project Vegas’ diagram can help you look at our platform and help understand how you could align it with your business objectives and how it may fit within your ecosystem.

How do I know if the new platform will work for me?

Now that you have identified the goals of the business and have the knowledge of how the new platform is going to connect into your ecosystem, it’s time to evaluate your options and select the right platform for you and your business. Be sure you are looking for something that meets the needs of today but can also grow along with you as your business and learning programs grow.

Do yourself a favour and don’t just look at feature sheets or sales presentations.  Talk with the vendors to be sure their goals and values align with the goals and objectives you uncovered earlier in this process. You’ve put all this work into finding a solution to a real business goal or problem, be sure you’re working with a vendor who can partner with you along this learning journey and not just sell you some software and services.

I encourage anyone reading this to reach out to talk through things together. As previously stated – I firmly believe in working with someone who you can align your goals and ambitions with and I am here to have that conversation with you and see if B Online Learning and our new platform can be that for you. Please reach out directly – bryan@bonlinelearning.com and we can talk through your situation and see how we can help!

How ERPs Are Compromising Learning Innovation

An organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.  Jack Welch

The world we live in is in a state of constant flux in so many ways and one of the primary candidates for this constant change is the seemingly perpetual momentum of technological advancement.  By the time we come to understand and appreciate the application of current technologies, those same technologies are out of date and have been replaced by something new and less understood.

One of the trends we’ve seen lately in the digital learning world is the increasing prevalence of LMS providers merging with large software providers, generally Accounts or HR software to create ERP solutions for business that include a learning delivery component.

SAP merging with SuccessFactors LMS is an excellent example of this trend. The idea is that by combining multiple business relevant products under one banner, the client is able to purchase a one-off product that solves their every need. That might seem logical on the outside looking in, until real world economics, flexibilities of scale and business priorities take over.

For the vast majority of these systems, the leading application within the ERP suite is not the LMS. Most of these systems are put in to manage the company accounts or the HR function within the company and the learning management features are viewed by the people making the purchasing decision as a nice to have or “Value Add” in the deal, rather than a business critical component.

More often than not, its the professionals in L&D not being consulted about their requirements for the LMS before the new ERP system is signed off and installed, much less letting them have an active say in the appropriateness of the solution for themselves and the learners. This lack of consultation with L&D, much less an understanding of the growing importance of continual knowledge and skills improvement, often driven directly by learning, in peoples professional and personal lives, results in an LMS that at best detracts from the personalised provisioning of information and at worst just simply don’t work.

The other factor is the learning functionality is being compromised for the feature set of an ERP.  They simply are not capable of performing at the same level as an enterprise digital learning platform.

Recently I was talking to some contacts about how they moved from their own bespoke LMS solution to an LMS that was part of a larger ERP package and their feedback was unequivocally negative.  For instance:

  • The new system couldn’t link to their payroll system in order to create and manage user accounts
  • The new system cant deal with both internal and our external contractors
  • The new system uses old technology, they are not nimble enough to adapt to the way learning will be delivered in the future
  • The new system couldn’t manage competency management
  • To access courses the learners had to move through up to 6 screens before they could launch the course they wanted to complete
  • The reporting in the new system was inadequate and customisations were expensive (not to mention that they will probably need to pay for the customisations to be updated should an upgrade to the LMS come about)
  • The user and course structures in the new system are cumbersome and rigid
  • The performance of existing digital learning modules is compromised as the new system doesn’t fully support HTML5 or the latest browsers.

What these solutions fail to take into account is that the world is changing at a ridiculously rapid rate.  A 2016 World Economics Forum report state that 65% of kids starting school today will leave school to work in jobs that do not exist today. There have also been studies done that state, with current technologies, around 51% of the work-related tasks we perform on a daily basis, its technically feasible to replace these tasks with automation.

These figures alone suggest a very large section of the workforce, their current skills and knowledge will shortly be obsolete or no longer required. If that is the case then the only way for those same people to stay relevant is to be able to continuously re-educate themselves. But if the systems we use to manage the delivery of skills on knowledge on a large scale are there not because of their own merit and only because they come as an optional extra on the latest corporate abacus, then the future may be starting to look bleak. This is where specialisation in learning delivery, using a Bespoke Digital Learning Platform, should be viewed as more than just a compliance generator, but rather as an investment in the future.

Certainly, the view of B Online Learning is that learning development and delivery will need to grow to service these new needs and more importantly that the tools used to support these needs should emulate the general direction of technology. They should be:

  • Flexible
  • Modular
  • Easily Integrated
  • Fluid
  • Learner Focused
  • Mean more than just compliance

A truly bespoke digital learning platform is born from a partnership of trust between the client and the provider, one in which the specific and often dynamic needs of the client are understood, acknowledged and support by the provider. B Online Learning is one of the industry leaders in providing such partnerships, in fact it is our preferred business model for all our client relationships. In combination, this partnership of trust coupled with the best technological solutions, produces a unique innovative, flexible and eventually a business-critical differentiator.

After all your people are your most valuable assets and as the world around us changes and accelerates, supporting and nurturing their intellectual growth will be far more important to them than the accountants getting a value add on their system.

eLearning development

How To Design, Develop and Deliver eLearning

Perhaps the mystery and hyperbole that surrounds so many new technology based solutions is inevitable. Perhaps people are intimidated by the “newness” and fear investing on the “bleeding” edge.  Perhaps they have had their fingers burned in the past. A cynic might even argue that there are vested interests in the form of specialist consultants who like to inflate the complexity and risk of developing technology heavy solutions and make a buck or three on the way through!

eLearning has suffered from its fair share of bluff and bluster in its formative years and maybe in those times when the market was in its “early adopter” phase some of those labels were true. However there have been tremendous strides in recent years in the eLearning space and the market is accelerating fast as organisations realise how practical it has become to deploy eLearning content rapidly and affordably within organisations, both messages that resonate in today’s marketplace, still rattled by the GFC.

Conventional wisdom dictates that eLearning is time consuming to deliver, that it’s technically complex and above all expensive to develop. It argues you need to find tried and trusted and expensive consultants to create your content and deliver and host your online courses. Maybe in the past but this is no longer true.

Witness the development and success of B Online Learning’s eLearning Design Essentials course (EDE). The course has been designed to bring together the technical aspects of eLearning with the principles of adult learning. Let’s take a closer look at why the EDE is proving so hot for not just Australians but global clients as well.

Why everyone is choosing professional development?

  1. Provides a holistic view of designing, developing and delivering an eLearning project
  2. Shows current and best practices and utilises a wide range of both formal and informal eLearning approaches which you can choose to apply back in the workplace
  3. Is learner centred which provides important insights into how your future learners may feel completing training online
  4. Build a fully functional eLearning course for use in your workplace, utilising our expert advice
  5. Takeaway latest templates, tools and tips and knowledge for successfully implementing eLearning projects in any size organisation

Why an eLearning Course?

Our aim is to dispel the myth of eLearning and place it in the hands of subject matter experts and workplace teams. Almost any program currently being delivered as face to face programs can easily be converted to eLearning. In fact the need for “bells and whistles” and complicated, expensive eLearning extravaganzas is what was stifling the uptake of eLearning.

There is however a need for this type of eLearning, but we believe that in the majority of cases of eLearning being delivered in organisations today, such as induction and compliance programs, can be easily developed in house with a rapid approach to eLearning and some assistance and advice up front from eLearning experts such as B Online Learning.

However the difference with the EDE is it is not just about designing and developing an eLearning course. Many people do not understand how the different technologies combine to create an eLearning environment and what is actually necessary to deliver a successful eLearning program. We get questions all the time like; what does a Learning Management System or LMS do? Do I need an LMS? So we explore, in the course, the different eLearning technologies such as LMS, authoring tools, social networking and collaboration, and webinars and also give advice on what to look for when purchasing this technology.

But having invested all time, energy and money into developing the eLearning program, delivering it successfully is the final step and one that is often overlooked. Establishing a change management program, evaluating what worked and what didnt for continuous improvement and building a network that will support and drive the program are just some factors that need to be considered.

Individuals and organisations want flexibility with their eLearning. They don’t want to be locked into providers that have access to their intellectual property, don’t allow their courses to be used with other systems, and not be able to take their courses to other providers in the future. So developing eLearning in house or with a provider who gives clients all the source material, is an attractive option.

Organisations are realising they can reduce their energy use and carbon footprint by providing an eco-friendly alternative to traditional classroom-based training. Green eLearning can bring training to organisations’ desktops without the trainer cost, travel time and facility hire associated with traditional learning and classroom based training.

What are the success factors of the course?

For an eLearning program to be successful it must be collaborative, engaging and interactive. Our courses focus on motivating learners to engage with others in an online collaborative model using latest technologies. Because people learn from one another, our programs aim to connect learners with experts, colleagues and professional peers, both in and outside their organisation.

By adapting activities from the traditional classroom and adding imaginative ideas that take advantage of the unique online technologies, you can create eLearning courses that will excite and engage students. And, by including a variety of interactive eLearning experiences, you should be able to improve retention rates, increase learner participation, achieve your learning objectives, develop online learning communities, and ensure that your online courses engage learners, regardless of the course topic.

To effectively meet the needs of diverse learners, the eLearning environment that you create needs to be:

  • Engaging – engagement is more important than content
  • Learner Focused – let the students guide their learning
  • Collaborative – the students learn from their peers.

eLearning is a different way of learning from the traditional workshop approach. Many people, including training and learning managers, express concerns about how eLearning will meet the needs of their learners. The most effective program, for both traditional and eLearning, is one designed to take all learning styles into account. Our eLearning Design Essentials course shows you how to use various eLearning techniques to accommodate multiple learning styles.

Who can take the course, and how might it be applied in the workplace?

The course is designed for training program developers, HR professionals, training co-ordinators, instructional designers, workplace trainers, IT professionals and teachers who wish to develop, design and deliver courses via eLearning.

This course does not teach you how to be trainers or teachers. It already assumes that you have some experience and skills in a face-to-face situation. This course helps you to evaluate and transfer your existing skills to the online environment, and to develop new strategies for facilitating online learning. During the course learners will be taken through the benefits and merits of eLearning so they can see how this applies to their workplace and how it would enhance their business processes. Some organisations are putting a few of their team members through the course so they get to design and develop an eLearning course that is currently being delivered in the workplace in a face to face capacity, such as the organisation’s Induction Program. Students can then go back to the workplace and subsequently design and develop new and existing programs in an eLearning format.

For further information or to enrol in the eLearning Design Essentials workshop please visit our webpage.

Using an LMS to Support Blended Learning

As the continuation for this series of blogs on the how’s and why’s of developing and delivering a good blended learning experience for the learner, we will now delve into the platforms that support the delivery.

So far we have discussed what is blended learning, how to identify your audience and how to analyse and break down your course content across delivery modes. This leaves us in a position where we know who we are training, we know what we are training them in and how that training is to be delivered as an experience, but we do not have a platform in place that can manage this delivery for us. This is an important yet seemingly obvious point to make, automation in the delivery of training is not compulsory however it does provide a number of advantages:

  1. If configured correctly it is effectively infallible
  2. It removes a significant time constraint from the course administrator/instructor
    1. They don’t have to worry about manually managing learners
    2. They don’t have to track and monitor learners continuously in order to ensure that the elements of the blend are delivered in the correct sequence at the correct time
    3. A large amount of the assessment requirements can be managed automatically
    4. Course resources such as training rooms, don’t have to be managed across multiple systems
  3. The need for constant emails to be sent to learners as they enrol and progress can be removed
  4. Comprehensive and instantaneous reporting not only saves time but allows the focus to move from purely monitoring progress to actually improving the course.

The simple fact is that systems have been designed and built to specifically manage the delivery, tracking and reporting of training across a group or groups of people. These are called Learning Management Systems or LMS. Most people are aware of the existence and purpose of LMS’s however they tend to view them as compliance platforms and not much else, in fact some vendors in the learning space use this narrow focus and mix it with fear to create their sales dogma “Are you compliant? Can the government come and shut you down tomorrow? Only our LMS and Content can save you!!!”

But an LMS can be so much more. At B Online Learning we use and recommend our own learning platform that I will discuss LMS functionality as it exists in our platform, however there are other LMS’s on the market and most good ones should have the same features as standard.

What functions can an LMS give us to support our blended program?

To help answer this lets go back and see what we have covered so far in building our program.

First we looked at our audience, who they are, where they are and what they are. Through those investigations we revealed that our audience can come from any number of backgrounds, locations, socio-economic brackets and have a wide array of physical and/or knowledge based advantages and disadvantages.

What we can glean from this is that, in order for the LMS to support our people, it needs to be flexible in how our people can access and interact with the system. For a start there should be multiple ways in which the LMS can acquire user records because all of our users may not be captured in a single external database (like a Payroll or HR system). For our learning platform, user records can come from any or all of the following:

  • Real time feed from an external system or systems
  • Self-registration by the learners through filing in a registration form
  • Manual entry by an administrator

Beyond this, the information captured around the learner can be varied so that the profile derived from this information will help us to deliver and manage the training program as well as providing the basis for individual and program reporting.

To do this the LMS fields and functions need to be configurable, so that the information being captured is less generic and more specific and aligned to the learner’s requirements as outlined in our blended program research.

Part of this configurability must also extend to the frameworks created within the LMS dthat will manage and interpose learner and program information. Once again flexibility is required within these frameworks to cater to the whole audiences requirements. For instance using an existing Org chart structure to represent working relationships and reporting lines for an internal audience is a great method to easily replicate a useful framework against the learners. However our investigation demonstrated that the learner audience may well exist outside the organisational framework, or their roles could be such that they straddle multiple organisational branches in a practical sense but they are only allocated to one branch from an HR reporting or Payroll sense.

This type of complexity in the learner audience is very common and the LMS needs to have the capability to use both static (Org Chart) and dynamic frameworks (User role) to accurately capture the learners requirements. Our learning platform does this through allowing several static frameworks, such as Org Chart and User Streaming to be added to the user record directly whilst also being able to overlay the user record with one or many dynamic frameworks like Job Roles, Communities Geographic locations and Business units. In combination these static and dynamic elements provide the flexibility required to support the different learner profiles that we identified in our blended learning research.

So we have a platform that can accommodate the different user profiles that we have identified, next we looked at the actual training in the program itself and this we have separated into delivery modes as well as considering our learners profiles.

In an LMS this breaks down into two areas of concern:

  1. Training delivery options
  2. Training delivery structures

The training delivery options are easy, in so far as you need the LMS to be capable of managing the different training interventions in your blended program(s). The two primary interventions are generally face to face training and eLearning content, but blended programs can easily go beyond these two modes to include downloadable content (documents, media, files) as well as collaboration tools (online chat and social tools).

The delivery structures are a little more complex, as they need to be able to assign the right training to the right people at the right time. This is simple if everyone gets the same X number of courses all in one big dump when they first start, but part of the beauty of a great blended course is the discovery aspect, the way the overall course unfolds as the learner progresses through. Our learning platform can manage the distribution of program elements and it does this by allowing the elements to be grouped together and structured in the order of delivery and also allowing each element to describe a number of criteria that need to have been met in order that the specified element becomes active.

Here is an example:

Course Element Course type Completion Criteria Activation Criteria Display Criteria
Pharmaceuticals Overview Downloadable PDF NA Activated at the commencement of the learning Displayed permanently
Pharmaceuticals Online Course eLearning View all screens Activated at the commencement of the learning Displayed permanently
Pharmaceuticals Face to Face workshop Face to Face Instructor sign off Activated only after the Overview eLearning is complete Displayed permanently
Pharmaceuticals Online assessment eLearning 90% pass mark Activate 30 days after the Pharmaceuticals Face to Face workshop Displayed after completion of previous element
Pharmaceuticals onsite assessment Face to Face Observational Assessment Activate after passing the Pharmaceuticals Online assessment Displayed after completion of previous element

From this we can see that both multiple modes of delivery can be delivered and the delivery of those course elements can be varied by one or a number of criteria.

What’s more is that the LMS should be able to use both the course structures and the dynamic user structures to deliver a user specific set of learning elements as reflected in the blended program plan.

Given that the above learning outline contains both date based and learner driven criteria, the LMS should also encompass a comprehensive notification system to allow learners, managers and administrators to keep up with requirements as they arise and require attention.

The final big piece of the blended learning puzzle from an LMS perspective is reporting.  Reporting at a high level obviously allows both administrators, instructors and management to obtain an overview of the program. Who is enrolled, how far they have progressed, what has been completed and what needs to be completed. Taking the reporting a step further however allows us to start to review and improve the content and the delivery of the overall blended program. Reports can be run that encompass such things as:

  • Post face to face survey results
    • How is the instructor performing
    • Is the content relevant
    • Were the elements that led up to the face to face comprehensive enough (Or too comprehensive)
  • Online assessment question level tracking
    • Why does everyone get question 10 wrong, has it been worded poorly
    • Are the questions to easy or too hard
    • Do they test the right knowledge
  • Time taken to complete the program
    • Is the program too long
    • Are people failing to finish
  • Learner based comparison
    • People in Group A are doing better at the case studies than the people in Group B, why is that so what are the differences between the groups are the case studies not generic enough

Opening up the world of reporting beyond just pass and fail statistics provides a wonderful window into how and why our programs are poor, average or great. A great program is one that can be adjusted based on ongoing observation.

Our learning platform enables this level of reporting by going beyond the standard reports provided in most LMS’s and adding to that the ability for designated users to build and save their own custom reports within the LMS.

Blended learning is a wonderful and powerful method to educate our audience and the proper planning of our program is of the utmost importance but we can also see now that the actual delivery of the program can also make or break the user experience.

In the next blog we will look more closely at the eLearning component of our blended course and how to get the most out of the training.

Planning Your Blended Learning Program

This is the third blog in a series that looks at the learning principles behind blended learning, the needs of the audience and how these are determined, the technologies available and combining all these aspects together.

Now that we have profile to work from,  we can proceed to the planning of our blended course. And we will start this process by comparing our learner profile with the requirements for the intended training to see where we need to focus to achieve the maximum benefit for our learners.

blended learning

In the image above, from the last blog post, we have determined who our learner is and what their preferences for training might be. Across a normal learner population you will need to develop multiple versions of the above profile since your use group will envelop a wide variety of roles and user backgrounds. We are using one profile for the sake of easy explanation, however multiple profiles can be accommodated in any blended program by simply overlaying the profiles, identifying the commonalties and using these as focusses for the program.

Once you have your user profile, or profiles, ready to go these can be set aside while the focus shifts over to the actual training that is the requirement for the blended program.

Let me state at this point that one of keys for developing great training, whether a single intervention or an entire program, is the application of Occam’s razor. Which basically states that if the simplest option works, there is no need to look any further and build superfluous complexity.

This holds true for training delivery. If the requirement of the training is that the learner needs to memorise a 4 digit passcode to get access to the build, then the “training” material need be no more than an email containing the passcode and the instructions on when to use it. To send the learner, in this instance, an online course on why the passcode is required, have them attend a face to face training session on how to use the passcode entry panel, make them complete an online quiz and perform and observed and graded assessment of passcode entry, would only waste the learners and the instructors and the companies time.

In light of this we are going to look at some training for our regional nurse that is a little more complex than passcode entry so that we can explore some of the possibilities for a blended program.

For our program we will use the relatively broad topic of Pharmacology (ie the use and effects of drugs on patients).

As we did with our audience we need to break down the topic being training into its components however this time the result will be the required training outcomes for the specific learner groups undertaking the program. And to get to those outcomes we will need to pull apart the whole subject area and determine the topics and subtopics that make up the entire program.

Depending on the subject this can be a relatively simple task or it can be dauntingly complex and large, either way, the best approach I have found is to start with broad topic headings and then delve down through those headings to determine sub topics, sub topic sections and so on. This can be done with any method you prefer to use such as mind mapping, building a spreadsheet, white boarding, flip charts or even post it notes.

blended learning

So if we take this approach with our topic of the use and effects of drugs on patients, we might see the following breakdown of part of the topic. I have chosen to represent this breakdown within a hierarchy diagram, however there are multiple methods for documenting the requirements from bullet lists to mind maps to spreadsheets. You just need to choose the method that serves you best.

blended learning

With the full picture of the program now outlined for all learners, we can start to overlay the specific requirements for our identified learner profile, since different learner profiles may need varying levels of detail across the full program.

blended learning

Finally then, once the topic and all of its requirements are outlined and the audience has been overlayed onto this, we can return to our specific audience profiles so that we can make some informed decisions as to what elements the blended program requires based on the audience profiles.


Remember that some elements of your program may transcend the above process, for instance one aspect of the program may require the learner to demonstrate a physical task to an instructor or examiner. In the absence of a suitable video link capability this type of demonstration may only happen at a specific onsite location, hence ruling out online or written assessment options from your blended tools.

So we have now broken down our audience and our topic and we understand how those two fundamental elements are linked. Now we have the task of actually pulling together the elements of the blended program into a structured delivery point. In the next blog in this series I will look at how a Learning Management System (LMS) is perfect delivery point for this type of program, how it can be configured to support the multiple facets of the topics and user needs and what some of the pitfalls are when selecting an LMS to handle the job.

Making Your LMS Earn Its Keep

Does your organisation have any or all of the following characteristics?

  • Distinct learning groups such as different divisions within an organisation which have their own unique identity and very distinct learning activities and business rules.
  • The need to provide training to external contractors for compliance requirements.
  • Clients that you provide training to as a ‘value add’ or even sell training to.
  • Pre-employment on-boarding activities.

Some organisations may have these characteristics but their LMS is ‘one size fits all’. You could be restricted in how you can expand the services of your LMS to other parts of your organisation or outside your organisation, as it will affect how you facilitate the learning of your internal employees. Besides you cannot have those training reports ‘polluted’ with other data.

During many implementations of LMS’s, I have come across situations where an organisation has several distinct groups of learners, (for example internal employees, external contractors, external clients) and they have recently acquired another organisation.  In this scenario, they wish to retain their current identity or they may even have a Registered Training Organisation as well.

All these scenarios have the following traits:

  • Different business rules are required; for example approval is required for training internal employees but is not needed for external contractors.
  • Different branding may be required for different divisions within the organisation.
  • Different learning activities may be targeted to different groups of learners.
  • Training is managed by different departments within the organisation.

In Birch we call these groups of learners ‘communities’. A community is the top-level category for grouping users. Birch supports multiple communities. Each community can have different banners, colours, navigation, course catalogues, learning paths, language libraries and business rules.

By using Birch’s communities, we can configure within one instance of the LMS a very different look and feel, as well as different business rules for these distinct learning groups. So let’s explore this by looking at three different scenarios.

Scenario 1 – Internal Employees

This is traditionally what your LMS has been implemented for. This implementation may involve employees having their own learning paths based on their job roles, a skill/capability framework, and a self service facility that allows learners to register into courses with or without approval workflow. It may also allow employees to request external training and add their own personal achievements such as licenses or other qualifications. Participation in a collaboration platform supports that invaluable exchange of knowledge. Employees have single sign on from their intranet.

So within our LMS we could create a community for internal employees that would contain the following:

  • Branding based on the organisation’s intranet
  • A learner portal with menus renamed to reflect the learning development processes of the organisation.
  • The enabling of manager approval

Scenario 2 – External Contractors

The external contractor scenario is common in a number of organisations. For an external contractor to commence work, they usually have to complete some form of induction such as Workplace Health and Safety training or other information that may be pertinent to the organisation and site. This may be required from a compliance point of view.

So within the LMS we could create a community for external contractors that would contain the following:

  • Branding based on the website.
  • A learner portal with menus renamed to reflect what an external contractor is doing versus what an internal employee would be doing.
  • The inclusion of a self-account creation form with a defined URL and defined rules
  • A feature to make the account automatically inactive after a certain period of time.

An external contractor can create their own account within the LMS via the URL provided,  log into your LMS, complete their induction and if successful, print off a completion certificate to hand to the site representative upon commencement. Optionally you may have them upload their various licenses if required.

All this could be done prior to commencement, saving work time and improving the efficiency of the on-boarding process.

Scenario 3 – Your Clients

Your organisation may have some great eLearning resources you have developed.  Why not make these available for your clients?  This could be a great ‘value-add’ for your clients, or you may even wish to turn this into another revenue stream with your clients.

For example where you have product knowledge eLearning modules for your sales force, why not make them available for your clients? Not only would you be providing online content to upskill their staff, you would also be providing them with a portal that allows them to report and track those learning activities. In addition you are building a stronger relationship with your client.

So within our LMS we could create a community for clients, that would contain the following;

  • Branding based on your client’s website
  • A learner portal in your client’s context
  • No automatic deactivation of accounts
  • Possible restriction of 200 accounts at one time

By providing  this to your clients, you are turning your LMS into a multi-tenanted LMS.  So taking this a little further, if you are already providing training to your client, why not get the clients to manage their own training requests in their community?

Traditionally these groups of learners may have been excluded from a LMS implementation, so by including them, you really are making your LMS earn its keep.

Getting your LMS to earn its keep can not only be rewarding to a Learning and Development group, it can also generate potential revenue for your organisation.

Explore B Online Learning’s LMS, LXP and LRS solution here.


There’s More to Support than Technology

Support is all about the mindset of the supporter, the information they provide, the ease of access to that information and willingness to share information. It’s also the people providing the support that make that support both seamless and beneficial. Now let’s get a little more specific and talk about software support and break this up between LMS and authoring tools.

Learning Management Systems

A Learning Management System is basically a large database that has two faces:

  • The public face that serves out learning interventions, in a user friendly website setting, based on the parameters set by the administrators and L&D professionals
  • The other side, the actual LMS coal face where the truth is held and the data is mined to provide reporting, continuous improvement, gap analysis and training pathways

Supporting a system with such potential for variation at both ends of the spectrum from users to administrators requires some very specific skill sets amongst the support staff themselves. Primarily because it is virtually impossible to publish supporting documentation that covers all potential system configurations and or customisations that make the LMS work for any given set of business requirements (And for LMS’s every set of business requirements is unique).

The people supporting systems such as this need to have a specific skill profile, which should look a little like this and is also what we model our own Birch Learning Platform support team on:

  • Approachable – Given that you will be building a relationship with these people over time, the fact that they are approachable and amiable cannot be discounted.
  • Knowledgeable – They should know what they are talking about and be able to provide advice on the spot, even if that advice is “I cannot tell what the issue is without testing but I will get back to you when I do know and that will take X minutes/hours”
  • Honest – In an attempt to sound knowledgeable, I find that support staff will often just go with a scripted response (The most common in my experiences is “The problem is with your content not the LMS”) Quite often by asking some simple questions the actual problem can be found and remedied. How does this relate to honesty? The support person should be honest enough to admit the issue might be with their system or their level of knowledge
  • Detailed – When an issue is found and fixed the details of the fix should be provided along with the how why when where of the original problem. All of this should also be recorded in the records of the provider and shared across all of the users of the software if issue and fix were universal
  • Accessible – Finally it’s no good having great support staff if you have to wait up till midnight to call or message them. If the provider doesn’t have support in the local timezone you should think long and hard before signing up
  • Accountable – All great support is underpinned by a solid and realistic service level agreement. This agreement should not only outline solution timelines but also guidelines for continuous information sharing and initial contact times as well

Authoring Tools

So if that is software support for an LMS, at least from a support provider’s role description point of vArticulateiew, what should the support of a content authoring tool look like?

In short it should be more about the sharing of expertise and resources than the solving of problems. Even though bugs do appear in software applications, so long as you have access to a global community of users, the answer is usually only a forum post away. (Even though not all forums are created equal as seen in this forum post shared by Tom Kuhlmann).

Articulate certainly took this a step further with the creation of their own user community to provide this type of support, however the Articulate model took the community much further. Articulate also provides:

  • Training – From a global team of partners delivering a Certified program through multiple channels (face to face, client onsite or virtually ) to tutorials (blog posts and video ) on most of the application functions.
  • Feedback – From both the articulate support team and the wider community
  • Resources – Free templates, icons, images and most importantly ideas
  • Community – It might sound strange to say that a community provides support but that is exactly what eLearning Heros does, everyone involved in the community is indoctrinated in the wider community values of sharing, support and applauding the ideas and creative energy of other community members through a range of functions such the monthly eLearning challenge (Check out this month’s challenge here )
  • Experts – Articulate formed a global team of leading expert eLearning developers and designers to contribute to the community. They are all over social media which makes them accessible to all and run community events in cities around the world. Here are a few you can find on twitter – Tom Kuhlmann, David AndersonTrina Rimmer, Nicole Legault, Alison LaMotte, Nicola Appel. We have our own eLearning Hero at B Online Learning – Matt Guyan.

So not all support is created equal, and it really is your call as to what your expectations are around support. But once you have truly experienced the superior level you will never want to go back.


LMS Customisation vs Configuration

At B Online Learning we are continually demonstrating LearnFlex LMS to prospective clients including displaying various pieces of functionality. After informing them that the areas could be configured in a variety of ways to better suit their business needs, the inevitable question is asked: but what is the cost for those changes? You see for their current or previous LMS those kinds of changes would require development from the software vendor. Configuration shouldn’t be considered a billable service, outside of possibly some extreme circumstances, so in response to those questions I’ll try to hopefully clarify some of the differences between configuration and customisation.


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