Today’s New York Times has a fascinating article on the mostly European concept of practice firms. As the name implies, practice firms give people practice in doing work.

This seems to align well with the research on learning that suggests that learning in a realistic context, getting lots of retrieval practice and feedback, and many repetitions spaced over time can be the most effective way to learn. Of course, the context and practice and feedback have to be well-designed and aligned with the future work of the learner.

Interestingly, there is an organization that is solely devoted to the concept. EUROPEN-PEN International is the worldwide practice enterprise network. The network consists of over 7,500 Practice Enterprises in more than 40 countries. It has a FaceBook page and a website.

I did a quick search to see if there was an scientific research on the use of practice firms, but I didn’t uncover anything definitive…If you know of scientific research, or other rigorous evidence, let me know…

 

 

Microlearning and its more sophisticated cousin, subscription learning, are beginning to gain acceptance by regulators and those who credential.

Until recently, many regulators and credentialors would only accept traditional classroom and elearning courses as acceptable proof of competence or learning. No more.

As reported yesterday on the AccountingToday website, the "National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and the American Institute of CPAs are proposing to revise the standards for continuing professional education for accountants." More specifically, they are proposing that microlearning (or what they're calling nano-learning) be deemed an acceptable learning experience.

The Ohio Society of CPA's (OSCPA) got the ball rolling on this, quickly followed by Maryland's CPA group. OSCPA president and CEO Scott D. Wiley, quoted by AccountingToday back in March said, “The nature of professional education is changing…Studies show micro learning can provide the quick, focused education that CPAs need to stay current in the market place.”

If the stereotypically-stodgy accounting profession is credentialing microlearning courses, other organizations are likely to soon follow.

Evidence for the popularity of microlearning just keeps adding up…

 

I was recently interviewed for a German audience on subscription learning.

You can read the interview here in German.

Here is a rough American English translation:

Will Thalheimer as Interviewed by Andrea Sattler

What is subscription learning (how does it work, what topics does it cover, who is it designed for/ what’s the target group…)?

Thanks Andrea for inviting me! I’m delighted to talk about subscription learning because I think it offers us, as elearning developers, a powerful new tool in our elearning toolbox.

As I wrote on the Subscription Learning website, Subscription Learning, as its name implies, provides an intermittent stream of learning-related interactions to those who are subscribed. These learning-related interactions–called “nuggets”–can involve a great variety of learning-related events, including content presentation, diagnostics, scenario-based questions, job aids, reflection questions, assignments, discussions, etc. Nuggets are short, usually presented in less than five minutes. Nuggets are intentionally scheduled over time to support learning, often utilizing research-based findings related to the spacing effect. Learners subscribe (or are subscribed) to one or more series of learning nuggets, called “threads.” Learning threads can be predesigned, selecting nuggets based on anticipated learner needs or they can be dynamically created based on learner performance.

Why do you recommend the use of “nugget learning”? What is it based on (e.g., are there any studies that prove that learning in short sequences is most successful…)?

Subscription learning is not new, of course. People have been learning from the content of their magazine subscriptions for over a century. Apprentices learned their trades by working alongside master craftsmen, and getting short doses of instruction spread out over months and years.

The subscription learning idea occurred to me when I was researching the spacing effect in the learning research. The spacing effect shows that repetitions of content are much better remembered when they are spread over time. Every university student knows what happens when they cram repetitions to prepare for exams. The do well on the exam, but they soon forget everything. The spacing effect demonstrates the opposite finding. When we spread learning over time, we remember more and we remember for longer periods of time. Interestingly, the spacing effect (also called spaced practice, distributed practice, etc.) is one of the most robust findings in the learning research, but one of the least utilized in the workplace learning-and-performance field.

My research-to-practice report details over 100 studies from scientific refereed journals.

In addition to the spacing effect, there are other reasons that subscription learning is effective:

  1. Learners can engage learning nuggets on their own timeframes.
  2. Learners can keep their learning easily accessible in memory.
  3. Learners can relate their learning more easily to workplace issues.
  4. Learners are more likely to integrate their learning with workplace cues.
  5. Learners can be prompted to actions while at work.
  6. Learning is often more palatable in shorter chunks.

How do learners benefit from this kind of learning? (if this is not already included in the answers to the above questions)

Learners benefit because they don’t have to sit through long and tedious classroom sessions or through similarly long elearning courses. They benefit because—if the subscription-learning is well designed—the learning will actually stick. It will be remembered. Learners benefit because the learning will be easier to integrate into their work.

How can subscription learning be integrated into corporate learning?

What’s fantastic is that we have arrived at a time and place where subscription learning can be utilized through both simple and complex technologies. Subscription learning can be as simple as a string of emails or as complicated as sophisticated decision scenarios triggered through software that highlights new learning nuggets on one’s mobile phone or laptop.

Subscription learning can be a standalone learning intervention or as an adjunct to traditional learning courses (or elearning). It can be part of a run-of-the-mill training session or part of a strategically-important initiative led by a company’s CEO.

Do you have any experience with subscription learning in companies? If so, can you give us an example of how this is used in the company, and what experiences they have had so far?

Although I am now a dedicated learning consultant, I once led a leadership-development product line and taught leadership to managers at large corporations. After my courses, I would keep in touch with my learners through email over the next several months, sending engaging and entertaining emails that reinforced key learning points. I still remember one comment from a learner that reinforced the value. “Hey Will, I didn’t read every email you sent, but the one’s I read, I really did get value out of. They reinforced what we learned in the training. Thanks!”

Subscription learning is erupting everywhere. Last year, a subscription-learning program used by people all over the world to learn languages won Apple’s App of the Year. Verizon, a giant telecom company in the United States is using subscription learning in many ways. A large financial services company used subscription learning to prepare their sales folks.

Any Final Thoughts?

Subscription Learning is here to stay. But here’s the thing. We’re just getting started with it—we have a lot more to learn. And I don’t want to be accused of adding to the hype cycle. Subscription learning, although it is an incredibly powerful tool that will transform the elearning landscape, won’t replace traditional elearning. We’ll still have relatively long elearning engagements. But in addition, we’ll now have another tool in our toolbox.

The key to success for organizations who want to use it today will be to follow research-based learning design recommendations and find innovative vendors who can have already captured lessons learned. It’s imperative on us all to begin experimenting and learning how to use the subscription-learning approach.

I was honored to be invited to write an afterword to 3rd edition of the classic text, Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning.

In my afterword, I noted the following:

"Roy Pollock, Andy Jefferson, and Cal Wick have provided a proven conceptual structure—the 6Ds—as a foundation. We’ve been shown how the 6Ds approach works in real organizations. We’ve been given practical tools that have been refined and updated. We’ve been privy to one of the best compilations of industry wisdom ever assembled in one book. We’ve been read the riot act, heard the gospel truth, and made to wonder why so many of us are failing on the fundamentals. This book lays it out for us, if only we have the guts and perseverance to do the right thing."

I've been following the work of Wick, Jefferson, and Pollock since 2006 when I awarded the very first Neon Elephant Award to Cal Wick. I love these guys! Their work has had a major impact on the field.

The book publisher, Wiley, has been nice enough to let me publish my afterword separately, so I'm going to provide you the link just below. In my provocative piece, I show how the workplace learning-and-performance field is poised for a transformation based on four vectors. It's good stuff!

And of course, I highly recommend their book, which you can buy by clicking on the image below.

 

 

Researchers at MIT have coined the term "Wait-Learning" — learning at a time when a person would otherwise be waiting, and hence wasting time… Their research work involves foreign-language learning.

They surmised that instant messaging provided an excellent application to test whether a program could enable wait-learning for language vocabulary. Often while chatting, conversations feels asynchronous; the person who just sent a message waits for a reply.

They built a program, called WaitChatter, that works in Google Chat. It's an experimental program, only able to teach Spanish and French vocabulary to English speakers. They experimented with WaitChatter and got positive results, which they published online in an ACM publication.

Here's what the authors said about the amount of learning:

"In just two weeks of casual usage, participants were on average able to recall 57 new words, equivalent to approximately four words per day."

TechCrunch has a nice article explaining how WaitChatter works.

WaitChatter is not ready for prime time. It's an experimental program and it only works in Chrome and only if you disable Google Hangouts and go back to Google Chat. Still, several concepts about WaitChatter and the concept of wait-learning are intriguing:

  1. Wait-Learning, though not an original concept, is a good one…We learning professionals ought to figure out how to maximize efficiencies in this way. Of course, we'll want to make sure that the additional learning doesn't compromise the main task. We know multitasking is illusory, often hurting one task or another, so we'll need to be careful.
  2. Embedding learning opportunities in other applications may enable such efficiencies, if we do it carefully.
  3. Part of the vocabulary learned was learned based on the words that came up in the chat. So for example, if the word "dog" came up in the chat, WordChatter might focus on the Spanish equivalent "el perro." We know from the general research on learning that alignment between the learning context and the performance context produce learning and remembering benefits, and the authors cite research that such contextual learning benefits language learners as well.

 

For years I've been telling clients they ought to use more video in their learning programs, especially their elearning offerings. My arguments have been as follows:

  1. People react to well-crafted videos and audio with increased attention.
  2. The storytelling often inherent in video is powerfully seductive.
  3. Video is now fairly cheap; you don't necessarily need high production values, expensive equipment, or professional help.
  4. Nothing persuades our learners better than seeing real people who are like them — giving testimony, telling their stories, giving their lessons learned.
  5. Video can utilize scenario-based decision making, which we know from the learning research is a powerful tool to support comprehension and remembering.
  6. More and more of our learners are everyday video watchers; their expectations for media consumption are more visual, less textual.

Video is the New Text

Today's headlines hint that video on the internet is the number one draw. Certainly, some of these are silly cat videos, but now serious sources are turning to videos. Take for example the TED videos, the New York Times, The Economist. Even National Public Radio (whose life blood flows through a non-visual medium) has a YouTube channel!

Video is here to stay. As of this day in 2015, more and more elearning is utilizing good video; but still more can be done. Still too many instructional designers don't have video skills or even knowledge. Still too many opportunities are lost for getting employees on video telling their stories and lessons learned. Still too few scenario-based decisions are wrapped in a video context.

But Isn't Video Hard to Do?

It's NOT easier than writing text, especially since most of us have more text-writing experience than video-creation experience. But it's not that hard and it doesn't have to be expensive.

My confession is that even while I was imploring my clients to use video, I rarely used it. So, six years ago I began to learn about video. I put in some time to learn it. I bought myself video equipment. I produced a few videos. Here's a sampling:

I still don't do very many videos. As a consultant I can't really afford to take the time, but I create them occasionally because of the value they provide. 

If you think you can't do video, check out the second video I ever produced (the last one on the list). As an on-screen presence, I was terrible, but overall the video is pretty good.

My List of Equipment:

So you can learn from my consumer research, here is the list of video equipment I use in my videos.

  • Consumer HD video camcorder. NOT a professional video camera. About 7 years old, so not the latest technology.
  • Inexpensive wireless microphone. (something like this)
  • Inexpensive tripod (something like this)
  • Inexpensive lighting (something like this, and this)
  • Inexpensive video-editing software (like this)
  • Inexpensive audio-editing software (like that included in most video-editing software).

I also endeavor to use some aesthetic sensibilities; developed over the years regarding audio, music, visuals, cinematography, etc. based on who knows what (going to art museums, listening to music, playing music as a kid, observing the craft while watching videos, movies, TV, etc.). I really don't know what I know or what I lack, but I do know that some aesthetic sensibility is important. I also know that real video pros have more of this than I do…so there are definite advantages to getting help from the pros.

One of my mentors in video production is Jason Fararooei of Yellow Cape Communications. I first met him at an ISPI conference where he talked about how he and his team created a video for a client learning engagement. I liked his thoughtful approach to the aesthetics and potency of video. I'm pretty sure the following video is from the talk I saw him give:

Jason's in the business of creating videos, so my videos certainly don't come up to his standards, but he does seem mindful that shooting on a budget can still produce good results. Here he talks about recording a conference session, but the idea can be used for recording short snippets from training as well.

Video IS the New Text…Sometimes

I don't really think that video will replace text, but it will replace some text. And remember this. In evaluating video vs. text, you can't just look at the costs. It's the cost/benefit that matters. In some sense you may have to do a comparison like the following (note the numbers are pulled from thin air as examples):

  • TEXT PASSAGE that only 20 out of 100 people read.
  • VIDEO SHORT that 70 out of 100 people view.

Your numbers will vary…but the point should be clear. Where video gets more eyeballs and more mathemagenic processing (learning-generating processing), it may be worth the extra investment.

Many times, you and your team will be able to create the video. Sometimes you'll have to get help from a professional.

Large organizations, or vendors who produce lots of instruction, should consider developing video capability in-house.

For all of us who call ourselves instructional designers, we ought to dive in and learn some video skills. If I can do it, you can too!

Dr. T, What Are You Thinking?

And, just to avoid 100 snippy comments, let me anticipate your next question…Hey, Dr. T, why did you use TEXT here, NOT VIDEO?

Roll the credits…SMILE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Pilot is Over… Post kept for historical reasons only…

 

Organizations Wanted to Pilot Leadership-Development Subscription Learning!!

I am looking for organizations who are interested in piloting subscription learning as a tool to aid in developing their managers and energizing their senior management’s strategic initiatives.

To read more about the benefits and possibilities for subscription learning and leadership development, read my article posted on the ATD (Association for Talent Development) website.

Potential Benefits

  • Reinforce concepts learned to ensure remembering and application.
  • Drive management behaviors through ongoing communications.
  • Utilize the scientifically-verified spacing effect to boost learning.
  • Enable dialogue between your senior leaders and your developing managers.
  • Inculcate organizational values through scenario-based reflection.
  • Prompt organizational initiatives through your management cadre.
  • Engage in organizational learning, promoting cycles of reinforcement.
  • Utilize and pilot test new technologies, boosting motivation.
  • Utilize the power of subscription learning before your competitors do.

Potential Difficulties

  • Pilot efforts may face technical difficulties and unforeseen obstacles.

Why Will Thalheimer and Work-Learning Research, Inc.?

  • Experienced leadership-development trainer
  • Previously ran leadership-development product line (Leading for Business Results)
  • Leader in the use of scenario-based questions
  • Experienced in using subscription learning
  • Devoted to evidence-based practices
  • Extensive experience in practical use of learning research

Why Now?

  • Subscription-learning tools are available.
  • Mobile-learning is gaining traction.
  • Substantial discounts for pilot organizations.

Next Steps!!

  • Sorry, the pilot is over…

 

Organizations Wanted to Pilot Leadership-Development Subscription Learning!!

I am looking for organizations who are interested in piloting subscription learning as a tool to aid in developing their managers and energizing their senior management's strategic initiatives.

To read more about the benefits and possibilities for subscription learning and leadership development, read my article posted on the ATD (Association for Talent Development) website.

Potential Benefits

  • Reinforce concepts learned to ensure remembering and application.
  • Drive management behaviors through ongoing communications.
  • Utilize the scientifically-verified spacing effect to boost learning.
  • Enable dialogue between your senior leaders and your developing managers.
  • Inculcate organizational values through scenario-based reflection.
  • Prompt organizational initiatives through your management cadre.
  • Engage in organizational learning, promoting cycles of reinforcement.
  • Utilize and pilot test new technologies, boosting motivation.
  • Utilize the power of subscription learning before your competitors do.

Potential Difficulties

  • Pilot efforts may face technical difficulties and unforeseen obstacles.

Why Will Thalheimer and Work-Learning Research, Inc.?

  • Experienced leadership-development trainer
  • Previously ran leadership-development product line (Leading for Business Results)
  • Leader in the use of scenario-based questions
  • Experienced in using subscription learning
  • Devoted to evidence-based practices
  • Extensive experience in practical use of learning research

Why Now?

  • Subscription-learning tools are available.
  • Mobile-learning is gaining traction.
  • Substantial discounts for pilot organizations.

Next Steps!!

  • Contact Will Thalheimer, PhD to arrange an online discussion of the possibilities.
    • email: info AT work-learning DOT com.