Lynda.com Raises $186 Million for Massive eLearning Takeover

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They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but try telling that to lynda.com. The 20-year-old online learning company just secured $186 million in private investments for their next round of site revamps, including a new catalog of technical offerings and business skills training courses.

Think of it as an investor-sanctioned shopping spree: lynda.com announced last month that, thanks to private equity firm TPG, the site would begin reaching out to other tech companies poised for acquisition. Three companies are already rumored to be in lynda.com’s crosshairs, with letters of intent pending.

Broadening the Scope

No one would ever fault the ed-Tech field for being unenthusiastic, which historic startup investment deals happening on the daily in a fairly young field. But a company that was founded in 1995 (and profitable by 1997)? It’s an anomaly among competitor sites. But the latest round of funding for lynda.com proves age ain’t nothin’ but a number—and in a field that promotes adult education, that message has never been stronger.

While lynda.com currently offers a catalog of 5,700 courses and over 255,000 classes in four different languages, the Lynda of the future will be less “Learning French 101” and more “Tech Skills 2.0.” A hefty focus on workplace training means the site hopes to become a destination for those looking to increase employability, as well as organizations who want their employees to experience interactive, media-friendly training.

To those with their fingers on ed-Tech trends and overall pulse, it’s hardly surprising news. The natural evolution of the workplace from a set location to a virtual space has effectively catalyzed the need for highly-accessible, highly-adaptive training for employees. At the same time, those employees are leaning more heavily upon technical skills, which may or may not be a strong point. Add that to the skyrocketing price of a traditional four-year degree (Some 30K+, according to the National Center for Education Statistics) and employees are looking to do more with less.

The Natural eLearning Shift

It’s no wonder more and more are being straight into the inclusive arms of eLearning. Whether as a supplement to an existing degree or a method of expanding tech skills, employees are simply responding to the increased demands organizations ask of them.

As lynda.com responds to the rising demand of an alternative method for learning, the entire field gets a major boost from this second successful round of fundraising. Proving that the need is great, the interest is high, and the investors are willing can be enough for startups, small businesses, and newcomers alike to gain some confidence and traction in their own quests for relevancy.

While you might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, that old dog might be primed to teach the eLearning industry a thing or two. And, with $186 million in support for one of the mothers of modern online learning, it’s probably a great time to start listening.

Be an eLearning Re-fashionista: How to Dress up Your Existing Modules

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Call it budget chic: Sometimes, you don’t have the resources to completely overhaul your closet just to match the trends. And when it comes to eLearning modules, chances are that working with a qualified instructional designer or e-Learning company has given you the good bones for a few updates, even if you don’t have the budget for something new altogether. A fresh look at what you already have (and a few accessories) might be enough to make you see your old module in a new, trend-forward way.

Playing Dress Up

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that modernizing your module requires a completely new one. By refashioning what you already have, you refresh your eLearning efforts without starting from scratch. Check out your graphics and images: Are there any ways you can “dress them up” with text, tweaking the photos or buying a few new images to replace outdated pictures? Even just adding images where there previously were none could dress up your existing module so it feels new.

Don’t forget to take a second look at your formatting, too. Large blocks of text or boring bulleted lists could be replaced with images or broken up with other media. Consider the module from the learner’s perspective: What are the least inspiring parts of the program and how could they become more engaging without a total overhaul?

Adding Accessories

A true fashionista knows that clothes are only part of the outfit: Accessories add the personality. And the same could be said for a woefully outdated eLearning program. Without the right accessories, you might be only doing half the job.

Think about ways to add some sparkle to your module. Like a well-placed statement necklace, better storytelling becomes the feature of the entire program. Even adding some stock animation or using templates for better formatting and flow finish off what might be a pretty standard module. Don’t be afraid to do a little bargain-hunting while you’re at it: Templates, quizzes and new pictures can be a cheap way to refashion and accessorize your current efforts.

Strut Your Stuff

Once you’ve added the right media and interactive components, try this trick: Film two videos – one for the beginning of the module and one for the end – as a way to “bookend” a drab module with a level of personalization. You don’t need a film team or a producer, just a clean backdrop and a camera to film a 30-second greeting to get learners engaged and a 30-second thank-you to acknowledge learners’ efforts.

Sure, you’ll probably need a new eLearning strategy in the future, but if you’re currently on a shoestring budget, you don’t have to resign yourself to an old, outdated module. Use your resources wisely and you’ll be able to refashion your program into something that’s totally on-trend.

Did Microsoft Buy Minecraft for eLearning?

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It’s officially a done deal: Microsoft has acquired Swedish company Mojang, developers of the wildly popular sleeper hit, Minecraft for $2.5 billion dollars. And while it’s unlikely that the acquisition will change Minecraft gameplay, there’s a strong case to be made for Minecraft application in an eLearning setting. In fact, Microsoft might be making a play for gamification as an education tool, both inside and outside the classroom. By getting their hands on Minecraft, Microsoft uncovers some of the ways the game can be used for eLearning.

Minecraft in eLearning

Minecraft as a learning tool isn’t anything new: Many educators have adopted the game as curriculum in their classrooms. And why not? The game, which pushes players to complete tasks and build worlds based on 3D cubes teaches everything from problem-solving to spatial reasoning. The game’s interface and social capabilities mean players can work together while utilizing critical thinking skills. And, since young students are already playing the game, there’s virtually zero resistance to the material. But consider Minecraft from an L&D perspective: Sure, it’s popular in schools, but can Microsoft configure a way to use Minecraft for more than just K-12 applications? With the right development and application, Minecraft might make the leap from classroom to board room.

Development and Implementation

Before Minecraft can be used as a comprehensive tool, however, Microsoft needs to create some type of working learning management system for the game to be considered a viable training and education resource. When used in conjunction with an LMS, facilitators are able to see which users are playing, the skills being built and areas which need improvement. Without this significant piece of the L&D puzzle, Minecraft remains just another time-waster. With the addition of an LMS, the desktop, console and even smartphone version of the game becomes a tool in the hands of educators and L&D pros. Here’s the thing: Microsoft is already a big player in the education system—perhaps the largest player of all. After all, most kids learn digital technology on a Microsoft machine. By acquiring Minecraft (and learning how to use it for eLearning design and development within applications) Microsoft increases their grasp on the education system.

Microsoft’s Wide Open eLearning Future

It makes sense from a business standpoint to further solidify the educational grasp by marketing Minecraft as an eLearning game that can teach kids and adults alike about teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking skills at school and in the office. As of today, the acquisition is new and the ramifications can only be predicted. But you can be sure that Microsoft will max out the possibilities as they forge ahead with Minecraft now safely ensconced in their wheelhouse. It’s a major coup for an educational giant looking to expand reach for a new generation of learners – no matter what their ages.

3 Secret Benefits of Custom eLearning Course Development

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You already know the facts: Custom eLearning is superior because it increases user engagement and offers the most control and creativity when it comes to content. But while those are definitely vital and worthy goals, there might be a few hidden benefits of custom eLearning that you’ve never considered. Besides the obvious increase in training and development efficacy, you might be surprised at benefits like brand alignment and reusable assets. The bottom line? Custom eLearning is the gift that keeps on giving.

1.  Reusable Assets

Reduce, recycle and reuse: It’s the chant used by the environmentally conscious. But it could become the new motto for eLearning development, too. It’s true that most of your eLearning investment will come at the start of the project, but assets, templates and media can be used again and again, reducing your overall training costs.

Whether it’s a new template used for various training topics, or a stock photo library pulled together from your organization’s databases, custom eLearning lays the groundwork for a more automated, inexpensive process in the future. Unlike traditional courses, which require live teachers and near-constant restructuring, your custom eLearning templates and lessons can be used again and again to cut costs and create a smooth and constant experience for learners.

2. Renewed Interest

Some organizations believe that if it isn’t broken, you shouldn’t fix it. This attitude is applied to eLearning, resulting in heritage training programs being used for years with little more than quick updates. But what these organizations don’t understand is that while the subject matter and delivery system might be solid, it’s their user engagement levels that are broken.

When the same training modules are used repeatedly for years, it creates a disconnect between learners – particularly those who have experienced the material before. Instead of engaging with the module, they click through without really absorbing the information. When presented with better-designed and more engaging eLearning, learners are apt to sit up and take notice, increasing their absorption and renew their interest in the subject matter.

3. Brand Alignment

Consider a glossy fashion brand: The marketing team goes to great lengths to present the brand as high-end, polished and trend-forward. Advertisements and social networking reflect that image. But somehow, when creating training materials, the same high-gloss fashion brand offers a lackluster PowerPoint presentation for their learners. The brand and the eLearning don’t add up.

Custom eLearning means the ability to ensure that your outward- and inward-facing reputations align. With a more tailored experience, your internal training matches your external investment to protect your brand integrity and create a seamless transition from marketing materials to training and development throughout the organization.

Custom eLearning means the ability to address your organization’s unique needs. Unfortunately, heritage or one-size-fits-all solutions don’t always give you the control over user experience, brand alignment and media that you could have with custom eLearning. An investment well worth your time, you’ll be surprised at just how far custom solutions can reach.

A la Mode: Designing Individual eLearning Based on Learning Styles

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Any good instructional designer knows that learning is a personal experience. But the process of learning isn’t just about what someone sees or hears – it can encompass everything from energy level to posture and even eye movement. With these factors in mind, the idea of creating a truly personalized module based on learner behavior and individual learning methods sounds practically impossible. And, since you don’t have time to create a from-scratch personal module for every learner, you’ll need to offer a personal experience by finding out how individuals learn and creating a module with customization in mind.

Types of Learners

Technically, researchers have identified some 30-odd different types of learning styles. But to keep your sanity, focus on the four main methods for learning: Visual, auditory, verbal, and kinesthetic (hands on). It should also be noted that most learners may have one method that they gravitate toward, but nearly all use a combination of several styles at once.

We really have no idea why certain individuals prefer to learn in a specific way. In fact, a group of psychologists at UCLA concluded that the evidence for learning styles was so weak that the idea of concrete learning styles is probably just a theory and nothing more.

Still, there’s something to be said for respecting your learners’ preferences to make your module more enjoyable and impactful. With the main learning types in mind, your course can then be designed around offering the most inclusive experience for learners, incorporating components such as videos, simulation, podcasts and of course, text.

Using Multimedia

Consider multimedia your best friend when it comes to creating modules that satisfy every type of learner. Which presentation would you rather experience: One that offers a wall of text, or one that offers a video and a post-experience quiz? The second one engages more learners, while the first only takes one type in mind. Multimedia is the simplest way to take all types of learning into account with one module.

Individualizing eLearning Modules

Customization options can make learners experience a more individualized approach to learning – even if they’re all experiencing the same module. When designing a program, keep choices in mind: While all learners are undergoing the same process, their experience doesn’t have to be the same.

An option to skip or repeat certain chapters, for example, can help create a customized module for students who learn differently than their colleagues. Or, offer options for practice: Some learners might appreciate reading a case study, while others prefer a simulation. Making sure you have at least two ways to practice or absorb the material means you can cater to more than just one type of learner at a time.

Of course, solid feedback in the way of in-course actions and post-course questions might be the best way to see if you’ve covered all of your bases. By creating modules with options, media and the potential for customization, you respect the learner – and let him lead.

The Big Data Revolution

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They say that knowledge is power, but when it comes to analyzing your learners, knowledge is more along the lines of being able to predict the future. Thanks to the ability to better track your learners through big data, a strategy often used for marketing can also work in predicting learner behavior and matching each person to their perfect eLearning module. By recognizing the limitations of typical programs, you can wipe out some of your biggest challenges with the sheer power of information.

Potential Problems

While conventional eLearning modules have their strengths, they aren’t perfect – yet. With traditional programs, you typically apply the same medium and material to learners, regardless of their personal tastes, strengths and weaknesses. The same program also assumes that all learners have access to all the same devices, which can be a huge miscalculation.

Making eLearning a more personalized experience for your learners can make all the difference in increasing motivation. After all, when a module is hard to access and plays against a learner’s weaknesses, he or she is hardly itching to log on and start learning. Therefore, to drill down on a learner’s access points and favorite method of learning – and even predicting how well a learner will interact with the module – you can better tailor each module to suit a variety of learners’ needs.

Big Data to the Rescue

Big data – huge super-sets of uncategorized information – is usually used in the realm of marketing. Firms use big data to deliver the right message, through the right medium, to the right individual. Now, think about how powerful that ability could be in the area of eLearning. Instead of applying the same module to all learners, you could use information about a person’s likes, dislikes, hobbies and even family life to tailor the program that suits each learner best.

Take learning styles, for example. Big data can show you how a learner has fared in past programs, as well as display information about social media usage. When you note that a specific learner has a high propensity to use social media and traditionally does with using multimedia modules, you can offer him a microlearning platform that plays to his strengths and likes.

Personalize eLearning with Big Data

Big data can also help you predict how a learner will react to material. If you have a learner who has a history of attending live courses to good results, you might predict that a hands-off, mobile-heavy module might not be the best fit. Changing to a flipped classroom model will probably work better for those who prefer traditional training.

Big data offers you the opportunity to take a peek into your learners’ lives and create a more personalized experience for training. Maybe knowledge is power – but it’s also an effective way to increase learner motivation, too.

Casual Friday: Informal mLearning

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Everyone loves Casual Friday: A chance to loosen the tie and reduce the formality of a traditional office setting. But what if that feeling you get when you swap heels for flip flops could be translated into a learning experience for employees? Mobile learning is an ideal way to promote more organic, casual learning – even when employees are away from their desks. Take your cue from other companies that have successfully integrated laid-back mLearning into their strategy.

Case Studies (RBS and Microsoft)

When confronted with the challenge to educate employees on the go, the Royal Bank of Scotland developed an iPad app so learners could access material anytime. By creating a branded experience across resources like an employee library and peer-to-peer communications, RBS was able to enhance use and give learners a portable, casual way to stay in the know.

Microsoft has also implemented mLearning, particularly for business conduct training. A companion piece to other eLearning modules, employees can download an app on their devices for quick access to reminders and materials to help them better integrate successfully into office culture.

Why mLearning Works

Mobile learning trends have shown that mlearning is the future, and that more and more users will be connected. Mobile learning gives learners the 24/7 ability to educate themselves. And, because everyone has a phone and/or tablet, it drastically increases accessibility. Of course, it’s not perfect: mLearning really works best when used in conjunction with other delivery methods and is ideal for “just in case” or quick information and reminders.

Workplace Applications

You don’t have to be a huge corporation to utilize mLearning. Whether it’s sending a quick, three-minute video via text or creating a deck of flash cards, viewable on mobile devices, you can start today to incorporate mLearning into your current learning strategy. By making learning accessible and casual, you might just find your learners more willing to loosen their ties, kick off their heels and actually get into the subject matter – anytime and anywhere.