I started using subscription-learning nuggets in the mid 1990’s when I ran a leadership-development product line for the Strategic Management Group. I did a little experiment in teaching some of my courses on change management. What I did was simply send a series of emails in the month after my courses ended. My learners loved them. They said stuff like this: “Well Will, I didn’t read every email you sent, but I did read some of them—and I got a lot out of them. They reminded me what we learned and nudged me to put stuff into practice.”

Since those early efforts, I’ve created subscription-learning threads for clients and for my Work-Learning Research learners. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things over the years—so I make fewer rookie mistakes now. First, instructional-design still counts. Subscription learning still must have great content. It must still engage. It should follow research-based principles to support remembering.

While more and more sophisticated subscription-learning tools are available, let me highlight the fact that subscription learning can be done in a low-budget way with tools everyone is already familiar with.

For example, even in a regular email, we can prompt learners to engage meaningful decision-making scenarios, providing them with retrieval practice opportunities, feedback, spacing, etc. Second, emails can be sent in a coordinated fashion from email-marketing autoresponders. I use iContact, but most email marketing tools have this capability. For example, I can write 20 emails that are carefully crafted to get across a short set of learning points. I can schedule these emails to maximize the use of spaced repetitions. Once a person signs up for a thread, they automatically get the emails—I don’t have to do a thing.

Note that even though these budget-conscious methods can be effective, they do lack a clear feedback loop that more sophisticated subscription-learning authoring tools can provide. If you want to ensure engagement or require completion of learning segments, you’ll need a dedicated subscription-learning authoring tool. But if you want to get the benefits of subscription learning on a shoestring, it's definitely doable. Or, if you want to experiment, you can start by using the delayed-send feature of your email program.