Here's a great blog post I just found on micro learning. Those interested in subscription learning will definitely want to check it out.



The "Learning Benefits of Questions" is a research-to-practice report on how to use questions to boost learning results. First published back in 2003, and partially funded by Questionmark (to whom I am still grateful), the Learning Benefits of Questions was inspired by fundamental learning research, provided a practical perspective, and even provided a diagnostic to help readers determine how well they understood questions for learning.

Still getting requests and seeing people refer to this research-to-practice report, I've decided to reissue the report, with a few minor improvements. You can download the report using the following link:

Download Learning Benefits of Questions 2014 v2.0

You can also see our other papers, articles, and job aids at the Work-Learning Research catalog.

Michael Sunderman, Executive Director, Verizon Training and Development, is a big believer in subscription learning. In Verizon, they've got dozens of subscription-learning threads in use at any one time. They call these threads "campaigns" using the language of QMINDshare, the tool they use to deliver their subscription-learning nuggets.

Most often, Verizon uses subscription learning to reinforce previously-learned content. So for example, in a training program on Change Leadership, the learners were given a one-day workshop where they learned about change leadership and developed their own change-management plan. The workshop was then followed by a campaign of learning nuggets, reinforcing the key points and spurring further change-leadership actions.

Verizon has also recently begun using subscription learning nuggets to deliver new content as well. In one such campaign, they are teaching how to manage cross-functional projects and teams. Nuggets include content delivery, short videos and other interactions. Sunderman, who might have been a bit skeptical about using subscription learning to deliver content, has been pleasantly surprised by the result–an 89% participation rate.

What drew Michael to the use of subscription learning? He knew that creating learning alone is not enough. He had an interest in taking initial learning, making it stick, and enabling learners to put what they learned into practice in their work.

Verizon has all levels of subscription-learning campaigns. They've got some that are accessed by 2200 learners, some as small as 24 people. They often have participation rates in the 90th percentile. And, just like the rest of us who are using subscription learning, they are developing a list of lessons learned. Here is a small selection of what they've learned:

  1. Keep content nuggets short. Ideally, to keep them under 2 minutes, UNLESS the information is particularly critical or engaging.
  2. You must respect every second of your learner's time. Every piece of content must be relevant and needed. Every interaction must be meaningful.
  3. When your organization has lots of subscription-learning threads deployed, you have to be careful not to overwhelm any one person. We do this by knowing our employee groups and by having people consider who a proposed subscription-learning campaign might impact.
  4. Because subscription-learning is new, there are not a lot of expert developers of subscription-learning nuggets in the marketplace. This is probably our biggest challenge right now. We are developing our own expertise through repeated experience and my monitoring our results.
  5. Before deploying a subscription-learning thread, write all of your nuggets. If you don't, your initial enthusiasm may wear off, and you may struggle to develop nuggets as the thread is deployed.

Michael sees subscription learning as a new technology the way elearning was a new technology a decade or two earlier. The biggest mistake the field made when it started using elearning was that it tried to use classroom methods in elearning, when such methods weren't always consistent with the technology. He worries that we'll fall in to the same trap, using elearning methods when we really should be using specialized subscription-learning methods. Therefore, the key is for subscription-learning developers to think beyond the old models, be open to experimentation, and to learn from each other.

Kudos to Michael and his colleagues for seeing the need for learning that sticks and for taking the lead in innovating with this new learning methodology.

Eric Mazur, who I had the pleasure of meeting several years ago in his on-campus office, won the Minerva Prize, which is dedicated to rewarding "extraordinary innovation" in teaching.

Mazur, a professor of physics at Harvard University, developed the peer instruction method out of frustration with his students’ erroneous conceptions of physics. Too many of them utilized naïve mental models about the physical world in thinking about physics. Mazur wanted them to think like physicists. Unfortunately, his early attempts to improve their physics thinking had failed. He found that just presenting correct concepts was not effective in modifying his students’ faulty mental models.

Mazur’s Peer Instruction method begins with a question designed to surface misconceptions. Learners answer the question, and then talk with their classmates, before a class-wide discussion is engaged. By recognizing and confronting misconceptions, Mazur is better able to help his learners build correct physics conceptions.

To learn more about peer instruction:

  1. Read Mazur's Book (which is focused on how to teach physics)
  2. Look at some research
  3. Read about it on Wikipedia
  4. See Mazur on YouTube (this is very funny at times!)
  5. Read about the Minerva Prize on the Boston Globe
  6. Read Peer Instruction Blog by Julie Schell


I just read a vendor blog post that lists the pros and cons of gamification.

PLEASE, let us be smarter than this!

Gamification is NOT a THING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There can be NO pros and cons to gamification…

Gamification is a label for dozens of specific factors, each of which can be used or not used, or used alone or in concert with other gamification learning factors.

Here is a small list of gamification factors (just off the top of my head):

  1. competing against a standard
  2. competing against others
  3. being given some sort of non-tangible "award" for perseverance
  4. being given some sort of non-tangible "award" for some level of success
  5. being given some sort of non-tangible "award" randomly as you "play"
  6. working on a team
  7. escaping a threat
  8. working toward a specific goal
  9. performing with a time constraint
  10. et cetera (ad infinitum?)

[Hey, if anybody has published a list of gamification factors, let me know and I'll post it.]

Seriously, when we oversimplify, we not only show our ignorance of the magical complexity of human learning and cognition, we also hurt our own thinking and problem solving and those of every person with whom we are communicating.

Sure, some vendor wants to sell gamification. I get that. But what is really being said is: some vendor wants to sell gamification to the most vulnerable within our profession (newbies, etc.) and even to the less vulnerable and even to the best-and-brightest who may have a temporary brain freeze from such miscommunication.

No, no, no! Sorry! That's too cynical, right! Probably the vendor honestly thinks that their list of pros and cons is being helpful. Probably the vendor doesn't really understand that all of us must look more deeply than our industry's surface ripples.

How to end this blog post? Hmmm. This is difficult. I'm not sure. Okay, I got it.

Final advice:

  1. Evaluate the labels used in the learning industry.
  2. Seek the constituent factors.
  3. Get data on their causal effects.
  4. Hire learning experts from time to time to reality check your learning designs.
  5. Give yourself a gold star for reading this blog post to the end.
  6. You have reached WAWL Level 2, performing better than 92.4% of your colleagues!
  7. To get to WAWL Level 3, do a Google Search of Gamification, find a list of Gamification Factors, and send me the link.
  8. To get to WAWL Level 4, create your own list, reflect on what you discover, post it somewhere, and send me the link.
  9. May the forces of the Neo Elepha keep you safe on your journey. WHO-LA!


Robert Slavin, Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, recently wrote the following:

"Sooner or later, schools throughout the U.S. and other countries will be making informed choices among proven programs and practices, implementing them with care and fidelity, and thereby improving outcomes for their children. Because of this, government, foundations, and for-profit organizations will be creating, evaluating, and disseminating proven programs to meet high standards of evidence required by schools and their funders. The consequences of this shift to evidence-based reform will be profound immediately and even more profound over time, as larger numbers of schools and districts come to embrace evidence-based reform and as more proven programs are created and disseminated."

To summarize, Slavin says that (1) schools and other education providers will be using research-based criteria to make decisions (2) that this change will have profound effects, significantly improving learning results, and (3) many stakeholders and institutions within the education field will be making radical changes, including holding themselves and others to account for these improvements.

In Workplace Learning and Performance

But what about us? What about we workplace learning-and-performance professionals? What about our institutions? Will we be left behind? Are we moving toward evidence-based practices ourselves?

My career over the last 16 years is devoted to helping the field bridge the gap between research and practice, so you might imagine that I have a perspective on this. Here it is, in brief:

Some of our field is moving towards research-based practices. But we have lots of roadblocks and gatekeepers that are stalling the journey for the large majority of the industry. I've been pleasantly surprised in working on the Serious eLearning Manifesto about the large number of people who are already using research-based practices; but as a whole, we are still stalled.

Of course, I'm still a believer. I think we'll get there eventually. In the meantime, I want to work with those who are marching ahead, using research wisely, creating better learning for their learners. There are research translaters who we can follow, folks like Ruth Clark, Rich Mayer, K. Anders Ericsson, Jeroen van Merriënboer, Richard E. Clark, Julie Dirksen, Clark Quinn, Gary Klein, and dozens more. There are practitioners who we can emulate–because they are already aligning themselves with the research: Marty Rosenheck, Eric Blumthal, Michael Allen, Cal Wick, Roy Pollock, Andy Jefferson, JC Kinnamon, and thousands of others.

Here's the key question for you who are reading this: "How fast do you want to begin using research-based recommendations?"

And, do you really want to wait for our sister profession to perfect this before taking action?