I created a list of eLearning Paradigms to talk about subscription learning, but I think the list could stand on its own–and I'd like comments to see what I've missed.

Our Thinking on eLearning is Still Evolving 500px

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.

What are your thoughts on the dominant elearning paradigms?

If you want to learn more about subscription learning–offered as an additional paradigm for elearning, you can do that at SubscriptionLearning.com.

If you're going to the eLearning Guild's Learning Solutions Conference this coming week in Orlando, come join me–and say hello!

I'll be speaking in three sessions:

Featured Session (F2)
Subscription Learning: A Fundamentally Different Form of eLearning

Time: Wednesday March 19, 10:45AM

Details on the session

Slides for the session

Over 300 people are expected to attend. Get there early for a good seat!

Concurrent Session (105)
Serious eLearning Manifesto (Also with Clark Quinn and Michael Allen)

Time: Wednesday March 19, 1:00PM

Details on the session

We will hand out paper version of the Manifesto at the session (there are no slides)

Morning Buzz (MB31)

Time: Thursday March 20, 7:15AM

A casual conversation about the eLearning Manifesto and Instructional Design

Note: Look for Clark Quinn, or Michael Allen's name (as mine is not listed), but I'll be there!


Yesterday March 13, 2014 (25 years and 1 day after the internet was born) the Serious eLearning Manifesto was released. As one of the "authors" of the Manifesto, I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of passion around the issue of elearning's unrequited promise. Below I will share some of the endorsement statements so that you can see first-hand the dedication of folks in the elearning field.

Manifesto Overview Graphic

The Manifesto

The Manifesto is an attempt to provide people and organizations in the elearning industry a lever to radically raise the effectiveness of elearning.

  • Helping elearning buyers (CLO's, training managers, CEO's, Deans, School Superintendents) demand better elearning, by pointing to the Manifesto's 22 principles as ideals to be achieved or worked towards.
  • Helping elearning designers and developers by providing design and deployment guidance.
  • Helping elearning vendors guide clients to better elearning designs.
  • Helping elearning shops find the leverage to get resourcing and support for truly effective elearning.
  • Helping graduate schools provide guidance on curriculum decisions.
  • Helping trade organizations develop credentials, provide workshops, and make programming decisions.


To read the manifesto or to become a signatory and endorse it:



To see the Manifesto release video:

Manifesto Release Video


First-Day Endorsements by Signatories


You can read these and more–and see who wrote them–by clicking here.

"I wholeheartedly agree with, and endorse this manifesto.  This is what is needed to turn the eLearning industry around and on it’s head, so that eLearning can be meaningful and appropriate to meet the needs of users and their educational requirements."

"This Manifesto finally puts what the eLearning professional strives for into a concise format that can be used as a daily commitment to quality."

"It is important that each of us, in our own organizations as well as our own personal commitment, strive to improve our industry and set higher standards. The Manifesto is a step towards this goal."

"What really speaks to me are the principles that have been outlined. There are many ideals here that I have tried to live up to, then there are those I want to live up to, and a few that I haven’t yet thought of to explore. In a time when budgets often are the first thing that matter in organizations, it’s more and more important to prove and show your worth and value to an organization.  Implementing these principles into each of the solutions that we create for our organizations will and can only solidify our true value."

"The work we do in helping people learn is ‘sacred’ work. If we just create content heavy, learning poor courses we fail in our responsibility."

"The manifesto is based on solid, empirical evidence that supports what we should be doing when we build our e-learning."

"It’s not about training – it’s about performance. I agree with the manifesto."

"People know what lawyers and accountants do and how to buy from them as providers of professional services. e-learning is a younger and far more misunderstood industry. The manifesto codifies what good practice looks like and I hope that we can build from this to giving learners great experiences that shift organisational performance."

"I commit to developing eLearning that falls in line with the Serious eLearning Manifesto. I also commit to encouraging others on my immediate team and in my organization to commit to these principles."

"I endorse the principles of the eLearning Manifesto and believe the importance of using these principles to ensure eLearning meets the amazing potential available for real learning to solve real problems."

"Bravo!  Finally an ‘agile manifesto’ for the eLearning community.  These principles will help all of us focus on performance rather than design ephemera…and stay relevant."

"These principles and guidelines are helpful to not only remind eLearning designers and developers of the important aspects of creating effective eLearning. It also helps us by providing support when we need to explain our new designs to clients."

"The eLearning Manifesto represents a step forward for the field of eLearning.  It accurately reflects the vision we, as eLearning developers,   need to adopt in order to move away from ineffective practice and towards the realization of eLearning’s full potential."

"Exquisitely concise and pragmatic! Implementing even a fraction of the ideas in the Manifesto will make a dramatic difference in the kind of eLearning coming into the world."

"I heartily endorse this manifesto. It supports the research that is available and the 22 guiding principles will definitely lead us as practitioners to develop higher quality learning events."

"I’ve been frustrated with bad eLearning for years.  If clients, stakeholders and subject matter experts agree to follow our lead and accept these principles we can finally improve performance.  Furthermore, my hope is that the authoring tools we use adopt these principles in the development of their software."

"I’m a TV producer new to the eLearning industry and every single point you’ve made is exactly what we’ve been saying to our clients.  It’s fantastic to see these values backed up by industry heavyweights who have done the background research to prove their points. The eLearning industry SO needs to be disrupted because so many content suppliers seem to have an attitude that says, "Hey, I know the courses we’re building are based on tech levels from the 70s but that’s what the buyers want.  And we’re making pretty good dough, so ix-nay."  Really? Thank you so much for calling out the complacency in the eLearning industry. Long live the Manifesto."

"The eLearning Manifesto provides a solid foundation on which all eLearning content should be created. If you’re wondering why your eLearning is not producing positive results – odds are you are not following the guiding principles in the Manifesto."

"I am a television and online video producer and new to the elearning world. My first task was to investigate current standards and what I found transported me twenty years into the past to the dawn of Power Point. The manifesto is clearly needed for learners, the end users, the audience, those that are here to be engaged by the content we design and create for them to improve their lives. Thank you for your dedication to a positive  elearning experience and creating a manifesto that puts elearning on a new path to a bright and exciting future."

"I vow to hold the Serious eLearning Manifesto as the new standard for all eLearning modules produced by our eLearning team. We are committed to interactive, real life scenarios and simulations for improved performance on the job.  Now, the Manifesto will help us make our design and development more powerful in our workplace!"

"It is tremendous that four great practitioners took time to formulate these principles and best practices! In addition, the list of Trustees is a "Who’s Who" of eLearning. This initiative will be a great boon to set standards of quality in our field!"

"The Serious eLearning Manifesto says in writing what we’ve all been whispering to our industry peers for years: eLearning is broken! We’ve had the awareness, knowledge, and skills to fix it for some time, but this coordinated effort and the Manifesto’s principles will boost our desire to act through shared accountability and best practice."

"I have longed to see some recognition of the sorry  state of current eLearning. Certainly there are shining examples of what it can be, but so many examples exist that illustrate how utterly woeful the norm has become. We can do better in meeting the promise that online technology presents us with. The Principles associated with the eLearning Manifesto reflect what we need to start implementing if eLearning is to reach it’s potential. Performance, not content; context, not generic; and consequences, not canned feedback are some of the principles we need to start incorporating as best we can within the constraints imposed in work and education. I wholeheartedly endorse this effort for the sake of this profession."


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


MOOC's don't have to suck. The 4% to 10% completion rates may be the most obvious problem, but too many MOOC's simply don't use good learning design. They don't give learners enough realistic practice, they don't set work in realistic contexts, they don't space repetitions over time.

But after reading this article from Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, you will see that there is one thing that MOOC's do really well. The get learning content to learners.

Really, go ahead. Read the article…


Why is "Exposure" one of the Decisive Dozen learning factors?

Many people have wondered why I included "Exposure" as one of the most important learning factors. Why would exposing learners to learning content rank as so important? Friedman's article makes it clear in one example, but there are billions of learners just waiting for the advantage of learning.

I got the idea of the importance of exposing learners to valid content by noticing in many a scientific experiment that learners in the control group often improved tremendously–even though they were almost always outclassed by those who were in the treatment groups.

By formalizing Exposure as one of the top 12 learning factors, we send the message that while learning design matters, giving learners valid content probably matters more.

And yes, that last sentence is as epically important as it sounds…

It also should give us learning experts a big dose of humility…


MOOC's will get better…

Most MOOC's aren't very well designed, but over time, they'll get better.



Cammy Bean interviews me in regard to the three most important e-learning design flaws in today's e-learning. I discussed three—and then two more!! Five design flaws in all.

How's your e-learning?

Check out the interview here.

You can also download the segments as podcasts.

Is this effective e-learning?

Click here to see e-learning using only audio and photographs.

Sure, it's missing interactivity, retrieval practice, and a focus on application; but it does hint at the emotional power that can be created with good simple design.

Last year I was asked by Michael Allen–one of our industry's most influential creators and most successful entrepreneurs–to contribute a chapter to his first e-Learning Annual, which Pfeiffer had urged him to manage and edit.

Michael introduced my chapter as follows:

"In this article, one of the learning and performance field’s leading
visionaries looks back on his twenty-two years in the field with both love
and regret, while looking forward to the future by challenging all of us in
the field who see ourselves as learning-and-performance professionals.
Dr. Thalheimer’s challenge is simple. He asks every person in the field
to understand the forces that control their thinking and influence their
decision making. It’s as if the author wants to say: the unexamined
profession is not worth having."

I'm still thrilled to hear Sir Michael call me a visionary–though I'm sure he was talking about hallucinations of some sort. Because the article still resonates for me, I thought I'd share it with you.

Download We_Are_Professionals_by_Will_Thalheimer_

I encourage you to take a look at the whole book. Michael Allen’s 2008 e-Learning Annual does a great job covering the historic and institutional foundations of the learning-technology field–with chapters from more than 20 luminaries who have been at the heart of the learning field for a long time, including folks like Thiagi, David Merrill, Allison Rossett, and Greg Kearsley, and so many more.

Here are some of my conclusions in the chapter:

  1. Our graduate schools prepare
    technicians, not thoughtful
    scientist-practitioners who
    understand learning, think
    critically, and build wisdom over
  2. We don’t measure the outcome of
    our work in ways that enable us
    to build effective feedback loops
    and make improvements that will
    lead to better learning, on-the-job
    performance, and business results.
  3. The work pressures we face
    (for example, Internet-induced
    information overload and business
    demands for cheaper, faster
    results)—combined with our
    tendency toward professional
    arrogance—don’t predispose
    us to keep learning, to test our
    conjectures, to build a rich and
    complex knowledge base over time.
  4. Our trade associations, magazines,
    and conferences provide us
    with information that sells, not
    information that necessarily tells
    the truth of how we should better
    design our products and services.
  5. Our consultants and vendors are
    a large source of our information,
    and we tend to think uncritically
    about their offerings.
  6. Learning-and-performance
    research is not utilized when it
    might provide substantial benefits.
  7. Industry research is severely
    flawed, but we rely on it anyway.
  8. Contests, awards, and best-of lists
    grab our attention and distort
    our thinking about what is most

Okay, those were the list of our failures. I also add a list that begs for hope for our profession.

What do you think of our current practices?

Of our future?

This article in Slate suggests that new fonts are coming to the web.

This opens up new territory for web designers and perhaps e-learning designers as well. Many e-learning designers think of web design as the default design for e-learning. Maybe the new web will usher in a new era of e-learning design as well.

One thing to watch out for: Do you or your team have the aesthetic training/empathy to know how to use fonts to set a mood, convey a meaning? Ahhh, something more to build.

At the recent eLearning Guild conference in Orlando, I was asked to lead an Espresso Cafe roundtable discussion on a topic of interest.

My topic: The Pluses and Minuses of Social Media and User-generated Content.

I promised folks from my three sessions that I'd post all the results. Here they are:


  1. Users engaged.
  2. Relevant to the users.
  3. Not-distracting, real-world.
  4. Enables learning when training experts not available.
  5. Can augment online courses.
  6. Can capture water-cooler talk (that would have happened anyway).
  7. Opportunity to debunk inaccuracies.
  8. Capture institutional knowledge.
  9. Enables the use of internal experts for informal learning.
  10. Because informal, can be more comfortable to use for people of different languages and/or cultures. Or different socio-economic groups as well.
  11. More of an equal exchange. Leveling the playing field. Creating more democratic or egalitarian organizations.
  12. Novel, interesting.
  13. Quick feedback on what doesn't work.
  14. Not corporate-down, so more likely to be attended to without skepticism, jadedness, etc.
  15. Opportunity to connect with customers.
  16. Keep up with younger workers coming in.
  17. Headquarters experts may not be as trusted as those who work on the ground.
  18. Timely, instant updates.
  19. Get details from someone who actually does the job.
  20. Emotional connection.
  21. Convenience.
  22. No geographic boundaries.
  23. RSS feeds enables more targeted info.
  24. Employees may be able to affect policy.
  25. Could make us improve our policies for fear of law suits. (Like this: stuff that's posted can be used in court. Organization then has impetus to make changes quickly).
  26. Questions coming first is a good learning design.
  27. Can give organization more of a sense of what's going on in the field.
  28. Cheap.
  29. Builds community if people are tackling serious issues together.
  30. Feeling engaged.
  31. Employees have instant access to experts.
  32. Another data source.
  33. Develop connections. Know who knows who AND who knows what.
  34. Enables virtual relationships.
  35. More reflective–learners have to reflect to write, to learn deeper.
  36. Wisdom of the crowd.
  37. Opens up links to other things. Sets agenda, letting people know that there are other things.
  38. Generate buzz.
  39. Smile sheets shared. (Rate my teacher. Rate my professor).
  40. Best practices are distributed.
  41. Will make things easier. Info at fingertips.


  1. Might have to get used to it.
  2. How do you make it usable?
  3. Duplicate information.
  4. How to make pertinent information instantly accessible.
  5. Opening up floodgates.
  6. Cultural hurdles and disconnects.
  7. Competes with other channels of information.
  8. Perhaps top-level buy-in is required.
  9. A big distraction. Time user.
  10. Productivity drain.
  11. One more thing to do.
  12. We are still learning how to utilize wisely.
  13. May need support, maintenance, and the resources thereof.
  14. Information may not translate to behavior without directed support.
  15. How to confirm validity of content.
  16. Info can be used in lawsuits.
  17. Is the time beneficial?
  18. Danger of noise. Hard to get to best information.
  19. Time to create.
  20. Hard to measure. Maybe we're fooling ourselves.
  21. Could be incorrect/bad information.
  22. Could be offensive information.
  23. Must bring people up-to-speed on technology.
  24. Can create cliques.
  25. Time suck–filling up on candy.
  26. Dangers of giving censors power.
  27. Do these media self-select different types of people, biasing information gathered?
  28. Time is our most limited resource. The key organizational-productivity leverage point.
  29. Often implemented without planning, no marketing, no preparation, etc.
  30. Sometimes systems have no purpose. So costs/time not parlayed to maximum effect.
  31. Unnatural groups may not work, may have difficulties.
  32. One or a few can take over.
  33. Example: General in military told story of how soldiers posted how to defuse an IED. Info was wrong. 2 died. Enemies can use information too.
  34. Many see this as the be-all end-all, creating big blind spots, overzealous implementation, poor planning, poor focus.
  35. Potential permanence of information and/or systems.
  36. Personal vs. work issues may arise.

Thanks to all the folks who contributed to my discussions. It was kind of hard to hear, but here are the names to thank: Nancy, Leslie, Terra, Pat, Sonya, Betsy, Michael, David, David, Ann, Joyce, Nancy, Chris, Chris, Richard, John, Susan, Paula, John.