I recently talked with Dennis Rees, CEO of NexLearn, about his company’s use of “Micro-Learning Objects”—subscription learning nuggets used to reinforce previously-encountered learning objectives. He told me about a program NexLearn helped develop that focused on stroke prevention and atrial fibrillation, delivered to board-certified family physicians. By providing subscription-learning nuggets starting four weeks after an in-class learning experience, learning results improved dramatically.

Here’s how the program worked. Physicians would come to a classroom to learn concepts in a three hour session. About half of the session was devoted to using scenario-based questions presented through two video-based cases. The facilitator, a nationally-recognized expert on atrial fibrillation, introduced concepts and took people through two cases.

At various times during the video, the facilitator would pause the action and present learners with multiple-choice questions asking for their recommendations on the case situation. The participants played the role of a doctor taking over an ongoing practice. They were coached in the simulation by the practice’s soon-to-be retiring doctor.

The in-class portion of the learning was co-developed by NexLearn and its partner Edumotion and delivered using Edumotions’ Ambient audience-response technology. The program captured learner data that helped assign subscription-learning nuggets based on each learner’s performance in the classroom cases.

After the initial three-hour learning session, the physicians returned to their regular workplaces. Depending on how they had performed in the classroom cases, the doctors were assigned to one or more micro-learning objects. As reflected in the graphic below, the MLO’s (micro-learning objects), were delivered every two weeks starting four weeks after the end of the classroom sessions. Some learners were assigned with all three MLO’s, some got two, and some got one.

As you can see in the graphic, the pretest to posttest improvement was 38.5%, raising performance from about 40% to about 80%. Obviously, this result is due to the whole learning experience—not just the additional subscription-learning nuggets. Still, the relatively short micro-learning objects (about 5 to 12 minutes long) seem to have supported the initial 3-hour classroom experience in helping learners remember.  Consider that 10 weeks after the classroom experience (and two weeks after the final micro-learning object, learners understood and remembered very complex drug recommendations and other complicated information at a very high level.

To create these micro-learning objects—and the web-based portion of the program—NexLearn utilized its proprietary simulation authoring tool, SimWriter. One of the benefits of SimWriter is that it can publish its programs to the cloud—thus enabling it to create subscription-learning nuggets (or what NexLearn calls “micro-learning objects”).

One of Dennis’s lessons-learned in building learning programs and authoring tools over the years is that there is value in being a “Master Mechanic.” While he reads ample amounts of stuff based on research and the insights of other learning practitioners, he and his colleagues have also learned a ton by simply being reflective practitioners—that is, trying things out that seem reasonable based on research and best practices, measuring learning results in relatively rigorous ways, and making improvements based on their findings. More elearning companies should do the same—elearning is a technology that enables data-gathering. More of us should collect data to help us build virtuous cycles of continuous improvement.

While subscription learning nuggets are typically less than five minutes long, the program Dennis shared with me shows that rigid assumptions about timing don’t necessarily apply. Indeed, the complexity of the content and the use of contextually-appropriate scenario-based decisions required that each subscription-learning nugget took more than five minutes of learning time.

The bottom line thing we have to remember in any learning program is that we have to provide learners with the right level of scaffolding (1) to motivate them to apply what they’ve learned, (2) to build correct mental models of the content, (3) to support learners in remembering, and (4) to enable after-learning follow-through. The NexLearn program did an especially good job of providing the three most critical factors in supporting remembering. It provided the learners with retrieval practice, aligned with meaningful performance contexts, and spaced repetitions of realistic practice over time. To provide such strong support for remembering, a little extra time was needed—a very smart tradeoff!


NexLearn (disclosure: which has invited me to keynote and teach workshops at its Immersive Learning University conference), is known for its simulation-based elearning programs, its simulation authoring tool SimWriter, and its custom elearning-development services.

Andy Jefferson, Roy Pollock, and Cal Wick have done it again–written a book on how to ensure training transfer and business results–and they're going to preview their book (AND OFFER A 20% DISCOUNT) in two webinar's next week.

Book details:

This all-new book was developed in response to readers' and participants' requests for additional cases, tools, and "how-to" guides for maximizing the value of training and development.  It contains 43 cases from a wide range of industries and training types from five continents.

More information and the table of contents are available on Amazon.

No-cost webinars:

March 17th at noon EST and March 18th at 9:00 pm EST.  

Register here –> https://the6ds.webex.com

Attendees will receive a 20% discount code on the book from Wiley.

I've been an observer of elearning for almost 30 years. I've seen brilliant, compelling, effective elearning. I've built some pretty damn good elearning too. And yet, after four decades of human effort to improve elearning, there's still way, way, way too much mediocre elearning created each year.

A lot of us have been grumbling about the sorry state of elearning for a long time. Michael Allen, Clark Quinn, and Julie Dirksen and I have had numerous discussions through the years. Finally, having become so uncomfortable with the unmovable status quo of elearning–and feeling a responsibility to do something, anything–we got together last year to strategize on how we could bend the curve of elearning, to help elearning fulfill its promise.

Next Wednesday, we will reveal the result of our efforts.

You can get a little hint of what we've come up with by the name of the effort's website.


In a very real sense, Michael, Julie, Clark, and I are mere compilers of the research and work of many. What we've done is to channel the wisdom of scientific researchers, world-class elearning designers, and elearning thought leaders. We have developed a set of values and principles that great elearning–what we're calling Serious eLearning–should possess. We've reality-checked these principles through the feedback of a representative sampling of the world's best elearning–and learning-and-performance–advocates.

Below, I will share our list of Trustees, but let me conclude by sharing my hopes for this effort:

  • That a serious, persistent, and meaningful conversation begins.
  • That more-and-more of us take responsibility to improve elearning.
  • That elearning developers have a guide for elearning design and deployment.
  • That elearning buyers have a set of guidelines to help them procure effective elearning.
  • That graduate schools emphasize the highest levels of elearning design principles.
  • That trade organizations certify at the highest levels of elearning competency.
  • That elearning lives up to its incredible promise for transforming the lives of students, employees, and citizens of the world.


Trustees: (listed in alphabetic order)

Clark Aldrich
Managing Director
Clark Aldrich Designs, LLC

Cammy Bean
VP of Learning Design

Mohit Bhargava
LearningMate Solutions (Canada) Ltd.

Tony Bingham
President and CEO

Jane Bozarth, PhD
ELearning Coordinator
State of North Carolina, USA

Bryan Chapman
Chief Learning Strategist
Chapman Alliance

Tamar Elkeles, PhD
Chief Learning Officer

Joe Ganci
eLearning Joe

Judith A. Hale, PhD, CPT
The Institute for Performance Improvement, L3C

Jane Hart
Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies

David S. Holcombe
President & CEO
The eLearning Guild

Larry Israelite, PhD
Vice President & Manager
Corporate Learning and Development

John C. Ittelson PhD
Professor Emeritus
CSU Monterey Bay

Philip G. Jones
VP, Managing Partner
Training Magazine

Karl M. Kapp, EdD
Professor of Instructional Technology
Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg, PA

Tony Karrer, PhD

Connie Malamed
Learning Strategy Consultant
The eLearning Coach

M. David Merrill
Emeritus Professor
Utah State University

Cathy Moore
Training Design Consultant

Bob Mosher
Chief Learning Evangelist
APPLY Synergies

Koreen Pagano
Learning Consultant

Marc J. Rosenberg, PhD
Marc Rosenberg and Associates

Dr. Allison Rossett
Professor Emerita, Educational Technology
San Diego State University

Roger Schank
John Evans Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University
CEO, Socratic Arts

Patti Shank, PhD, CPT
Author, President, Learning Peaks LLC
Director of Research The eLearning Guild

Eric Shepherd

Clive Shepherd
Learning Technologist
Onlignment Ltd

Roderick Sims, PhD
Design Alchemist
Knowledgecraft, Australia

Brenda Sugrue, PhD
Chief Learning Officer
Kaplan Performance Solutions

Donald H. Taylor
Learning and Performance Institute

Sivasailam Thiagi Thiagarajan
Resident Mad Scientist
The Thiagi Group

Reuben Tozman
SlideJar Inc.

Ellen Wagner
Partner and Senior Analyst
Sage Road Solutions LLC


The Edgar Dale Myth recently resurfaced in a TED Talk, indicating that TED talks–though doing a great job preparing the speaker to be engaging–don't fact check.

Here is the offending TED Talk, with the erroneous information starting at 5:48.


As chronicled on this blog since 2006, and on a precursor website since 2002 (12 years ago), the Edgar Dale Myth is pernicious, dangerous, and seemingly immortal. See the following link for the original post:


Special thanks to JC Kinnamon, PhD for pointing out the offending video to me. JC has been a long-time compiler of the Edgar Dale Myth, and I thank him for his continued efforts!

Crazy Thought

Perhaps there is a silver lining in the continued resurfacing of these myths. For years, I've seen these myths as completely detrimental to our field–something to squash with crusader-like zealotry.

But the speaker in the TED video got me thinking. Perhaps these myths have social value. Perhaps when a myth surfaces, we are receiving an important signal that the conveyor of the myth is a lightweight–that it is very likely that he or she (or they) really don't understand learning at a deep level.

One of the things I hope everybody in the learning field understands is that, first, there is good research and there is bad research; and second, that people who cite research fall into two categories. Some people seek the truth in the research and report what they find. Other people seek research to prop up their previously-held beliefs, to "demonstrate" the benefits of their products or services, or to cast themselves in an aura of credibility.

Beware of People Citing Research

Yes, it's complicated! And everybody suffers somewhat from unintentional confirmatory bias, but caveat emptor, we as professionals have to be careful in assessing research claims. Science is built on skepticism. Professional practice should utilize a healthy dose of skepticism as well.

The speaker at the TED talk showed that he couldn't be trusted to know learning at a deep level by his use of this phony Edgar Dale "research." And then he double-confirmed it by asking his audience to play word bingo. He gave everybody a bingo card with words on it. Then he had people keep track of the words he was saying. When someone got all the words in a row, column, or diagonal he had them stand up and say BINGO, with applause from the audience. Anybody who knows learning knows that his word-bingo game distracted the audience from the main points of his message, hurting learning.

The use of the Edgar Dale myth by the speaker was an accurate portrayal of his lack of deep knowledge. He may have had some valuable things to say otherwise, but how could we be sure–indications were not good.

Is there a silver lining in the re-occurance of these myths? I've tried to convince myself in writing this that there might be some benefit, but the benefit comes only to those who know that the myths are myths!!! And, for the benifits to accrue, those of us who are out there trying to squash the myths must continue to proselytize and educate. Indeed, for our field to maximize its positive influence, each and every one of us must be hungry hunters of good research, skeptical assessors, and eager communicators.

So, send this blog post to those who are open to continuous improvement. SMILE