To put it simply, subscription learning is a radical new paradigm in elearning. It enables us to think about elearning in new ways–in ways that challenge our old mental models of elearning.

Elearning is still a relatively young field, having its start in the 1960’s during the advent of the computer age and gradually gaining a critical mass after the internet became a mass phenomenon. Because it’s a young field, we are still learning how to think about elearning. With each new paradigm, we think more deeply, more fully about what elearning is–and can be. Below is my categorization of the most important elearning paradigms as of 2014.

eLearning Paradigms 2014

  • Content Presenter (enables content to be presented to learners)
  • Comprehension Tester (enables learners’ knowledge to be tested–and feedback provided)
  • Practice Provider (enables learners’ decision-making to be tested–and feedback provided)
  • Performance Supporter (enables performers to be prompted toward action)
  • Reminder (enables learners or performers to be reminded to learn and/or take action)
  • Social Augmentation Provider (enables learners to learn from and with each other)
  • Gamification Provider (provides motivational incentives and behavioral prompts to action)
  • Mobile Learning Provider (provides learning and/or performance support through mobile technology)
  • Data Utilizer (enables data collection and data-based interventions)
  • Video Provider (enables video to be utilized in various ways)
  • Learning Organizer (provides organizational structure around learning opportunities)
  • Personalizer (enables content or prompting to be individualized or tailored)
  • Learning-Delivery Augmenter (enables easy delivery of content or prompting)
  • Context-Based Triggerer (enables content or prompting to be delivered depending on context)
  • Cost Saver (enables learning to be delivered at a lower cost)

I’m sure that I’m missing some elearning paradigms. You might have noticed that I’m only listing elearning memes that have a positive connotation. I am not mentioning such things as boring, trivial, poorly-designed. Also, some of the list may not be true, or may not always be true. For example, I’ve recently read research that shows that elearning is not often a cost saver. The bottom line, however, is that the list above represents a good number of the ways in which we tend to think about elearning.

Here’s the thing: The paradigms listed above represent the dominant mental models we use when we think about elearning. As Thomas Kuhn wrote many years ago, paradigms are a double-edge sword. On the one hand, they help us think. On the other hand, they put boundaries on what we think. For us in the learning field, we get both benefits and costs from our elearning paradigms. They help us consider ways that we might design or utilize elearning. On the darker side, they constrict our thinking. One of the reasons we created the eLearningManifesto was to get the field to think beyond some of its weaker paradigms.

Our Thinking on eLearning is Still Evolving 500px

The Subscription-Learning Meme

I am pushing the idea of subscription learning not just because it is aligned with the learning research on the spacing effect, but also because it gives us a completely new way of thinking about elearning. It opens elearning to new possibilities.

Where we often think of elearning content delivery as requiring relatively long events of 30 minutes or more, subscription learning lets us think of much shorter events spaced over time. Where we often think of performance support as being delivered through a single-focus system at a time of known need, subscription learning can prompt a series of thoughts or actions even when learners don’t know they need to know. Where we think that learners have to seek their own learning nuggets, subscription learning can push learning to learners to better support learning as a process.