Size Matters: Your Brain on Microlearning

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We’ve long expounded on the virtues of microlearning for a bevy of reasons: It’s super-efficient, effective, and learners love it. But what’s really happening to your learners’ brains when they experience bite-sized pieces of information?

Even the most sophisticated onboarding system in the world is bound to leave a few things out. Microlearning makes space for some of those smaller, need-to-know bits of information, whether it’s a quick product refresher or in-the-moment compliance training. Reading Tweets; watching a Facebook video; checking out a quick article: It’s all microlearning.

By understanding how the brain responds to information based on context, topic, and yes, even length, the value of microlearning becomes clear. It’s not just an accessory to eLearning, but can become an integral part of a blended eLearning strategy.

Just Keep Swimming

Thanks in part to the rise of social media, humans are less focused in general. In fact, the average human attention span (the time for which a human can focus on non-changing stimulus) is only eight seconds. That’s one full second less than goldfish.

Consider this: The average office worker checks his email 30 times every hour, and the average mobile phone user checks his iPhone 150 times per day. Sound like a lot? It is. But humans are able to participate in those tasks literally hundreds of times every day because they’re quick: A precursory glance at a few updates is all that’s required for the brain to process email alerts or a new like on Instagram.

Reading tweets, watching Vines, and hyper-absorbing media has made it so that humans are trained to look for the fastest path to the answers they need. While attention span has steadily declined over the years, the brain’s capacity to consume and process information has actually increased. Therefore, if your information doesn’t really merit paragraphs of text, or even long videos, microlearning can frame that info in the way your learners are already trained and comfortable using. Anything longer, and you could get a goldfish-blank stare – what were you talking about again?

Staying Alert

Interestingly enough, the timeline for alertness is a little longer. Humans can stay alert and engaged on a topic (with the right stimulus) for about 20 minutes, after which neurons require a two- to three-minute break to recover. It’s possible to utilize traditionally lengthier methods of delivery, so long as they aren’t too long – and there’s plenty of time for breaks in between.

Still, it’s microlearning that has the largest capacity for changing the eLearning game. By respecting the neuroscience behind learning, information consumption, and attention span, it’s possible to design an eLearning curriculum that takes different learning styles into consideration. Size matters: Delivering smaller bites of information allows the learner to experience, absorb, and move onto the next task before losing interest.


The CIA Creates New Plan of Attack for Recruiting, Training, and eLearning

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It sounds like an initiative even Jack Bauer could be proud of: CIA Director John Brennan announced via internal memo that the Agency would overhaul its existing digital arms, including a new plan to institute more sophisticated recruiting, training, and performance management structures.

As threats to national security make the shift from physical terrorism to that of the cyber kind (see also: the Sony hack and Edward Snowden) the CIA has no choice to create the precedent by which all cyber threats are monitored and handled. As arguably the most advanced (and the most forward-facing) agency, the CIA has to position itself as the world leader – from foreign intelligence to HR.

Making the Change

It’s not often that one of the government’s most vital agencies undergoes a complete digital overhaul, but Brennan believes that the change was a necessary one. “The initiatives… are driven by fundamental shifts in the national security landscape,” he says in his March 6th, 2015 agency-wide memo. “The first is the marked increase in the range, diversity, complexity, and immediacy of issues confronting policymakers; and the second is the unprecedented pace and impact of technological advancements.”

From monitoring social medial to evaluating current and future threats, the new digital-centric CIA hopes to first, recruit the most brilliant minds in cybersecurity, and second, focus more heavily on cyber threats and intelligence that can be gained from digital sources.

“The CIA has to stay ahead of the curve,” says Jack Mahklouf, Chief Learning Architect for eLearning Mind. “They set the standard for dealing with the ever-changing digital world.”

The Spy Who Trained Me

It’s true that most organizations are dealing with issues that are decidedly not of the life-or-death variety, but that’s not to say that recruitment and training strategy is any less important. Note that the CIA’s first initiative is to hire the right people, and then use those people to extend the agency’s technological reach. Through the natural evolution of digital communication, recruiting the right candidates and successful onboarding could make a life-or-death difference for your organization.

Hey, if the CIA thinks that eLearning should be part of an operations overhaul, we can’t help but agree. While the CIA’s approach might be a little more sophisticated (we’re predicting biometrics security, engaging content, and more than just a precursory check of a candidate’s Facebook page), but it doesn’t mean any company should be less vigilant in recruiting, onboarding, and consistently training those who have the best chance at making a difference at work.

It might not be a matter of national security, but there’s something to be said for following the lead of one of the most technologically advanced government agency. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time they were onto something.


There’s Always Next Year Comcast (How Can eLearning Fix Bad Customer Service)

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The latest numbers from Temkin Ratings are in, and it doesn’t look great for Comcast. Out of the 293 companies that were included in the customer service ratings poll, Comcast TV service ranked 291st, and Comcast Internet service squeaked by at 289th.

But here’s the thing: When it comes to customer service, TV and internet service providers are consistently ranked the lowest for experience and satisfaction—even worse than airlines and insurance companies, which rank third and fourth for disappointing industry-wide customer service. So what’s the deal? Are consumers just doomed to wait on hold and receive bad service?

We hope not. And, were insurance companies, airlines, and TV and Internet service providers willing to address the main pain points affecting customers via eLearning, they could be on their way up the ratings scale.

Customer Service Poison

There are a few theories as to why internet, insurance, and airlines are the worst for customer satisfaction. And usually, when you’re on the phone with someone who can’t (or won’t) help you with a problem, your own theories are anything from incompetency to conspiracy.

But we think it boils down to two key problems in the industries: First, a lack of organization-wide training programs. When each call center is trained and managed by a different team, you could either end up on the phone with the best customer service agent you’ve ever talked to or someone who seems like they’ve never even actually used a phone before.

The second issue is sheer complacency. Customer service agents in these industries aren’t pushed to be better at their jobs, and finally accept the fact that customer dissatisfaction is simply collateral damage for punching their time cards.

eLearning to the Top

In order to rehab almost laughably bad customer service experience in these industries, it would take a drastic shift in the way Comcast, TimeWarner Cable, Spirit Airlines, and Coventry Health Care (all in the 290s for customer satisfaction) think of onboarding, training, and rewarding their customer service agents.

By adopting a blended approach to training, organizations with traditionally poor customer service rankings could give agents a one-two punch in how to ensure a better experience. By using a face-to-face or mentoring approach, agents could learn the right way to interact with customers from in-house managers.

Pair that approach with customer service simulations—in which agents could practice interacting with customers in a simulated scenario before putting their skills to work—and even game-based learning apps that allow agents to test their knowledge and level up, and you’ve got a recipe for an organization-wide attitude adjustment.

By certifying (and rewarding) those agents who are willing to improve their skills and undergo intensive customer service training, even the worst industries for customer experience could help motivate agents and employees to do much more than just the bare minimum. By increasing training efforts, recognizing effort, and rewarding results for employees, customers are the real winners in the race for the top of the polls.

U.N. Unites the World One eLearning Course at a Time

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When the U.N. offers a giant catalog of e-courses in many languages, it’s a certainty that eLearning is here to stay. The U.N.’s Institute for Training and Research is where diplomats, NGO employees, public policy bureaucrats, U.N. employees and others go to learn. The institute is also open to the public. Anyone willing to pay the price (starting at $800 per course) can enroll.

Why on Earth Would You Take a U.N. Course?

Suppose a company is considering negotiations for a joint venture with a company located halfway around the world? The “Financial Globalization” course would be a good starting point to help determine if the idea is feasible before sinking time and money into the idea.

Paging Emily Post

Etiquette and protocol are as important as what you bring to the table when negotiating internationally. Recall the scene in the HBO documentary Too Big to Fail when Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld broke into the boardroom making demands of the Korean suitors. He sent his only hope of saving Lehman packing—right there, on the spot. Had he taken the course “Cross Cultural Negotiation,” the entire course of history might have changed. The course could help executives navigate through the maze of protocols and etiquette in advance of wading into unfamiliar terrain.

Evangelize a Brand

Author James Altucher classifies a company of fewer than 30 people as a tribe or a family. At 30 people, leaders can interact with everyone, building trust. At 150 people, stories build trust among the group.

When a company goes global, courses such as the U.N. course “Innovative Collaboration for Development” might fill the gap for directors and managers until the company can expand its eLearning offerings to encompass the new challenges of the global enterprise.

When a company needs to train only a few people to deal on the international stage, it makes sense to turn to the U.N. courses. Once established in the global marketplace, the company can rely to Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and in-house social learning or Facebook @ Work until it can implement or update its in-house eLearning program.


C’mon, Get Appy: What eLearning Pros Can Learn from App Developers

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pandora spotify

What did we ever do before apps? Whether they’re helping us plan our monthly budget, run a presentation, or kill some time at the airport, we love ‘em. And, according to the numbers, so does everyone else: TechCrunch estimates that app purchases will generate around $26 billion in revenue in 2015, with an additional $14 billion in in-app purchases.

Of course, we know that apps are about way more than crushing candies and sharing filtered photos: They’re addictive by design. The next time you download a new app, pay special attention to your first interaction with that game or tool and you could learn a thing or two about creative, effective, and fun eLearning.

App eLearning

App users don’t automatically identify their first interactions with a tool as eLearning, but that’s exactly what it is; and exactly why it’s so effective by design. When you first open a new app, most will lead you through a quick tutorial to show you how to get started, right?

But here’s where app developers get it right: When guiding users through tutorials, they offer two benefits. First is brevity: They give you the bare bones rundown on how to get started and don’t inundate users with a ton of information, even when there’s more to explore. The second benefit is choice. By giving users a chance to stop the tutorial, skip ahead, or save it for later, app developers respect the fact that different users will learn in different ways.

Being able to control the eLearning throttle means users who want to get started can do so quickly, while learners who want a more in-depth tutorial can take their time.

Something to Learn

Starting to see the picture here? When eLearning design is executed with the user in mind, it becomes simpler, more effective, and—dare we say it?—even a little fun in a gamification form. Take a page from the app developer’s playbook and see how you can adopt some of the techniques used to train new users as you develop training for your own learners.

By breaking down training modules into a need-to-know versus nice-to-know structure, your learners can score the necessary information to get started and be effective, and then come back for more information later. What’s more, smaller chunks of information are easier to digest and customize based on learner preferences, so each learner gets the experience he or she needs (and wants).

So, the next time you load up Snapchat, take a minute to appreciate the way app developers have effectively revolutionized the way users learn on the fly. Small, digestible, customized learning modules make the difference between today’s fad and tomorrow’s must-have app.

3 Reasons Laid-Back Learning is Perfect for Your Team

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We don’t dispute that for some topics, classroom-based, blended learning is best. But not all learning merits the same approach and sometimes, a more laid-back attitude can permit more communication, quick access, and even better recall.

Take care, however: Laid-back learning isn’t all Casual Friday. Instead, harnessing specific tools to help track learning and save communication is what makes a casual conversation into an opportunity to share and learn with your team members. Lace up your Chucks and consider some of the most compelling arguments for a more informal approach to your learning strategy.

1. It’s Faster

The scheduling headache that often comes along with more formal learning is just one of the things that can slow down your progress. When looking to coordinate schedules and devices of multiple people, you’ll end up putting off even important training and knowledge sharing. But informal learning happens fast; blink and you’ll miss it. Whether it’s shooting off a quick, knowledge-rich IM or having a one-on-one with a new recruit, you don’t need to clear your schedule for a session.

The digestible nature of informal learning also acts as a bridge for more formal learning strategies. Small, shared nuggets of knowledge mean learners are better able to absorb the information and put it to work almost immediately after.

2. Better Documentation

Just because a learning method is informal doesn’t mean it’s disorganized. All-in-one collaboration services (Think Slack) make it simple for users to share information back and forth while retaining excellent documentation in the process. That means no more sifting through email to find an attachment or wondering who had that amazing marketing idea. It’s all there, in one spot, for your entire team.

3. It Enforces Workplace Culture

You might talk the laid-back talk, but if your casual office suddenly goes corporate every time you have a training session, you might not be walking the walk. Think about it: If your organization is super tech-savvy, then why not use the apps and services available to you to streamline training, too?

Remote teams can especially benefit from informal learning opportunities when not operating in the same office. By adopting a super-efficient attitude toward open communication, information sharing, and tech usage, your team doesn’t need to be in the same room to learn from one another. Services like ScreenHero (as a way to share screens and collaborate) make laid-back learning both effective and ideal for enforcing your workplace culture, regardless of the workplace itself.

Sure, some topics aren’t ideal for informal learning. In-depth sessions and compliance training may still need a more formal approach, particularly if certification is required. But for the everyday, informal learning can become part of your workplace culture. By adopting the right tools and encouraging team members to loosen their ties, casual learning could be just as effective as some of your more formal strategies.

NASCAR Gets the Green Light for eLearning

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Breathtaking speeds; world-class sportsmanship; millions in sponsorships… and eLearning? It might not seem like the first connection NASCAR fans make when screaming their drivers to the checkered flag, but it takes way more than a driver and a great pit crew to make America’s second-most popular spectator sport go from 0 to 60. In fact, NASCAR relies heavily on eLearning applications as a way to train track personnel and officials so that every hairpin turn aligns employees with the overall mission and brand of NASCAR. And, when you take a closer look at NASCAR’s needs and challenges, eLearning makes up part of the perfect pit crew.

Speedbumps Ahead

When brought onboard from her past position with US Airways, NASCAR Director of Training and Development, Karen Masencup, accelerated fast: She immediately moved the bulk of NASCAR’s track personnel training online. Because personnel spend more time in the field than they do in offices, a traditional classroom-based approach simply wasn’t appropriate. Instead, Masencup instituted training that was superfast, highly mobile, and tailored to region and track.

The Association’s mantra of “Learn, Grow, Accelerate” has never been more apparent than with the big push from traditional training to a blended eLearning approach. Both employees and officials alike have been given access to an entire library of training materials, available anytime, anywhere.

Checkered Flags

In 2014, NASCAR’s track safety training was awarded as one of the top five training programs in the United States, as decided by a panel at eLearning! Magazine. “By providing our track services workers with a more flexible online learning method and an increase in real-life training scenarios at track, our online training system ensures that our workers maintain their training and the highest level of integrity to be part of our team,” said Masencup at a Q&A panel following the eLearning! Media Group’s Learning 100 Awards in Anaheim last year.

Even if your job is slightly less heart-pounding than working the track at Daytona, there’s something to be said for an accelerated pace and practically immediate access to training materials. With over 6,000 employees accessing training each year, NASCAR has managed to streamline what could have been a challenging setback for some of their most important crew members.

Future applications could go as far as to allow drivers and pit crew members to participate in simulations through eLearning, using actual track footage, as a way to improve time and get to know track terrain long before the big day. But for now, Masencup & Co are content to allow eLearning to work its way through the ranks as a viable solution to something that could stop NASCAR in its training tracks.

Et Tu, Edinburgh? From Land of the Misty Cloud to Land of the MOOCs

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’Round about the time Europe was switching from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and Newfoundland became the first English colony in North America setting the stage for the British Empire, the University of Edinburgh opened its doors in Scotland. Edinburgh is more likely to land in a sentence with “hallowed halls” than with “massive open online courses (MOOCs)” or “eLearning,” but hang onto your hat because the University of Edinburgh has gone modern and joined the land of eLearning.

Founded in 1583 (over 400 years ago for the math challenged), the University of Edinburgh is an ancient university—one of four in Scotland—a world-renowned center of higher education with an impeccable reputation. The university offers 300 degree programs offered in 21 schools and three colleges with an enrollment of 27,000+ students, 6000 of which are international students representing more than 130 countries.

The Road From Edinburgh to Coursera

As a major research center with an international outreach, it was a matter of when, not if, Edinburgh joined the digital revolution in education. In the age of ubiquitous technology and the move to educate the masses through digital learning, Coursera was a natural next step in Edinburgh’s journey. If Edinburgh is the pinnacle of learning, Coursera is the pinnacle of MOOCs, an educational platform that collaborates with top universities across the globe to make courses available to the public free of charge. It’s a perfect interim landing spot on the way to developing a corporate library of MOOCs for career development.

One Small Step for Edinburgh.. 

…one giant leap for MOOC credibility. Today, the University of Edinburgh offers courses ranging from “Critical Thinking in Global Challenges” to “Artificial Intelligence Planning” and everything in between including several veterinary, philosophy and clinical psychology courses. The most important course that portends the future of eLearning is their course “eLearning and Digital Cultures,” specifically designed for educators, learning technologists and anyone with an interest in digital learning. The course synopsis states, “The course is about how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through ‘narratives,’ or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology.”

A Sneak Peek Into the Future

With the University of Edinburgh acknowledging the importance of eLearning, we can disavow ourselves of any thoughts we might have had of the digital platform as a fad or some transient stop en route to the next educational fad. eLearning is here to stay and it’s spreading its wings into social learning. Get aboard or get left behind.



How Sony SmartEyeglasses Plan to Succeed Where Google Glass Failed

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Sony Glass

Not with a bang but with a whimper: It’s how Google Glass quietly stopped selling units as part of the Explorer program and developers headed back to the drawing board in January. It’s not that the venture was entirely unsuccessful, but rather that it operated the murky space between plenty of interest, but not enough commitment. For tech monolith Google, sales were dismal. While the actual sales numbers have been kept quiet, industry estimates range anywhere from 200K to 800K units.

But Google’s relative failure and subsequent abandonment hasn’t scared off Sony: Now available to developers in Japan, the U.K., and Germany, Sony Smart EyeGlass is planned for widespread consumer launch in 2016. As Sony attempts to capitalize on the areas in which Google missed the mark, Smart EyeGlass may be able to tap into niche markets that were overlooked by Google in the design, development, and marketing of Google Glass.

Sony’s Opportunistic Play

Like Google, Sony’s initial target market has been developers. For $840, first-run market developers received the glasses, plus a developer kit to enhance the development of apps. But, unlike Google, Sony plans on an open source development model that allows app developers more freedom in essentially crowdsourcing functionality for the glasses.

Another place where Sony will learn from Google’s mistakes is by creating clear niche markets for Smart EyeGlass as work. By focusing on app development in industries such as health care, industrial, and even action sports, more consumers will be able to identify how and why wearable tech actually fits into their everyday lives. Proving that smart glasses can make an individual more efficient at work might be the key to unlocking what will be the next great tech market.

It’s no secret that smart glasses have a variety of applications, from simulations to augmented reality. Sony hopes to capitalize on business-based applications and is poised to improve on slow starter Google Glass.

Not There Yet

The glaring issue, however, is the wearability of the glasses themselves. Those who utilized Google Glass complained about their design more than their functionality: The glasses aren’t sleek or particularly stylish. Unfortunately, the first Sony Smart EyeGlasses suffer from the same design issues.

It’s becoming clearer that consumers prefer wearable teach that integrates seamlessly with their current style statements. A low-key smartwatch, for instance, garners more interest than bulky glasses. Because the technology still seems intrusive, Sony Smart EyeGlass could be the ideal launch pad for wearable tech, or it could be another case where a great idea fails to find its footing.

Either way, the race for market share is on.