Here's another example of short videos being used to share content.

It's called 10-minute insights, and it was created by Edcast, a platform that enables folks to create micro-learning platforms.

Here are some examples:

These are bare-boned videos, some more successful than others, some with reasonable production values, some with some serious degradations in lighting, etc.

Interestingly, Educast says they use "bite-sized content curated from thousands of high-quality sources using AI-based algorithms."


The 10-Minute Insights website is about content and seemingly about celebrity. There are no supports for learning — no practice, no feedback, no support for remembering or application, no metrics for evaluating learning results. It's just content. That can be okay…but it's usually not sufficient…


Okay, it's official. Microlearning has arrived. The Wall Street Journal says so…

Yes, of course, they oversimplify, they misrepresent lots of learning stuff, but still… time to pay attention…

Check out the Wall Street Journal article.


Check out this article about how a public radio station in New York City (WNYC), is using a week-long subscription-learning immersion to help people deal with information overload.

Here's the article:

Sign up for this subscription-learning experience:

I've signed up and will let you know how it goes for me.

Here is a nice blog post by Ellen Burns-Johnson, of Allen Interactions, Instructional Writer/Designer (@EllenBJohnson).

It gives five examples of microlearning. Note how some are subscription learning — they engage learners over time — while some are single-event interactions.

And here is another, debunking the myth that millennials are especially in need of microlearning:

Microlearning, the unruly kid sister of subscription learning, is apparently a topic of great interest for associations, according to Association Learning + Technology 2016, a report published by Tagoras, Inc. ( and sponsored by YM Learning (formerly Digital Ignite).

Click here to see their press release…

Here's a great subscription-learning intervention for kids (well, maybe not just kids) — to help them learn chemistry.

A group of self-proclaimed science-and-technology geeks got together to help kids learn science. They've got a wonderful learning model, providing kids science experiments delivered three a month for a year. In addition to the science experiments themselves, they also provide a mobile app that explains the science behind the intriguing experimental results. They also encourage kids to take pictures with their phones to share with others.

Here's an NPR radio show — Here and Now — introducing the subject:

To learn more:



In the last few years, the research on the spacing effect has become more widely known in the workplace learning field — perhaps, maybe a little, from my translational research work, particularly the research-to-practice report I wrote back in 2006. Even more importantly, subscription-learning authoring tools have emerged (e.g., QMINDshare, Cameo, Mindmarker) that enable learning nuggets to be spaced over time.

But a story told to me by Bill Welter of Adaptive Strategies made me realize that the underlying need for some sort of long-term learning engagement was really a timeless need — based on the fundamental components of the human-learning architecture.

Bill’s Story

A few years ago Bill was approached by a senior executive at a large corporation with a request to help her “improve strategic thinking within my team.” Unfortunately, for all involved, there were severe time and distance “issues” so a workshop (either face-to-face or online) was ruled out.

Bill suggested that she have her team read Joan Magretta’s book, Understanding Michael Porter: the essential guide to competition and strategy, and that he (Bill, not Michael) would provide commentary and “points to ponder” for each of the chapters. She liked the idea.

So, for a couple of months, Bill sent weekly e-mails to her team with commentary and questions for each chapter in the book. The client was happy and need was fulfilled, but Bill looks back on the experience with some regrets — regrets that recently came to light as he learned about the power of new technologies to keep learners engaged over time. One of Bill’s major frustrations was that although he invited feedback and comments, the engagement turned out to be mostly a one-way communication. Bill sent reflection prompts, but he had no way of knowing how engaged, interested, or committed his learners were. After the fact, he had people tell him that they liked the book and his comments, but he didn’t have access to today’s social-learning tools nor to subscription-learning.

When Bill told me the story, I immediate thought of my own work as a leadership trainer back over a decade ago. There was something that made me realize that my learners needed more learning after the formal training had ended. I sent them emails for a month or so after the training. Like Bill, it was mostly a one-way line of communication. I sent nuggets, and I got responses from a few of my learners (very positive comments as I remember), but I wasn’t really able to monitor progress, provide feedback, or modify my content/delivery based on new insights about how the learning was going.

I also remember a military intelligence expert who taught a course and offered his learners the opportunity to subscribe to his email blasts after the course. He wasn’t a learning expert, but he figured that since he was collecting and curating this information anyway, that his learners might be interested. He not only got about 95% of folks signing up, but his emails often got lots of responses from folks who found them valuable.

Long-Term Learning Engagement

There are many examples of long-term learning engagement besides these. For at least a century, colleges and universities have had 10-15 week sessions, engaging with learners over time. Many leadership programs I’ve been involved with teach stuff in the classroom, then have the learners go back to the job for a month or so, then go back to the classroom, then go back to work, etc. Religious congregations have meetings once a week — sometimes more often. Parents inculcate values and life skills everyday over many years.

What Makes the Need Timeless

It’s clear from these examples that engaging learners over time is a powerful learning approach — probably even a NECESSARY one.

What makes this need timeless is the human cognitive architecture itself.

  1. First, there’s often a lot to learn.
  2. Second, repetitions support learning because people often need repetitions (a) to fully understand something, (b) to learn the information they missed earlier, (c) to remember things they’d forgotten, and (d) to strengthen and reinforce what they already know.
  3. Third, spaced repetitions strengthen long-term remembering, and can minimize forgetting.
  4. Fourth, human beings are more reactive than proactive. They may need prompts to remember to engage in a task — to put their learning into practice.
  5. Fifth, humans may need motivation to engage in learning or engage in learning application — motivation that can be supplied by prompts and/or by human connection.

When we know the learning research, the need for long-term learning engagement becomes a no-brainer. Subscription learning just makes sense!

Technology Helps

In Bill’s story — and in my leadership development story — both of us were frustrated because we didn’t have all the tools we needed to fully support learning.

Fortunately, today’s technologies are making it easier to engage with learners in a way that better supports them.

Here’s some of the crucial functions that subscription-learning tools should supply:

  • Delivery of information.
  • Delivery of questions.
  • Ability to provide scenario-based questions.
  • Ability to provide learners with feedback.
  • Ability to monitor learner actions, engagement, decision-making, etc.
  • Ability to utilize rich media (e.g., video, audio).
  • Ability to deliver nuggets through PCs, phones, tablets, etc.
  • Ability to encourage social learning.
  • Ability to prompt and monitor tasks.
  • Ability to include ad-hoc learning nuggets.
  • Ability to re-use content.
  • Ability to track learning variables.
  • Ability to provide effective schedules of spaced content.
  • Et cetera… There’s much more, but these are some of the most critical…

Unpacking the Title

Someday I may come to regret the choice of terminology in the title (so much coinage you probably think I own a mint!). And yet, hating the term “informal learning” because it connotes a fuzzy haphazardness, I had to create some clarification—thus the distinction between learning that learners direct themselves and learning where learners are nudged toward learning events.

Still, the most important terminology in the title is “subscription-learning web,” as it describes an inspired confluence of reinforcing learning components—that, taken together, boost learning beyond normal levels.

JD Dillon and Kaplan’s Problem

This story is about JD Dillon and his virtuoso turn at conducting the Kaplan Higher and Professional Education orchestra of learners. Kaplan, a world-leader in educational-support services, had a big problem. Dillon noticed it, but before he spoke up, no one at Kaplan thought much about it.

Just like all organizations, Kaplan employees were proactive in trying to do their jobs well. They went to training, they learned from their day-to-day experiences, and they learned from each other. The trouble was, Kaplan employees were human; they forgot stuff. So they got smart. They started creating job aids for themselves and documenting their knowledge to help themselves and their coworkers. They captured and curated their insights into separate SharePoint sites, helpful for colleagues within their work units, but completely estranged from others throughout the company.

Kaplan was growing too, causing inevitable growing pains. People would get promoted out of their areas, taking their institutional memory with them. More student requests came in, more student questions, more need for everyone at Kaplan to be able to respond quickly with correct information. The isolated SharePoint sites just weren’t cutting it. Employee knowledge wasn’t cutting it either. eLearning programs, as designed, were boring ineffective page turners.

JD got wind of the problems when the elearning guy quit and JD was elected to take his role. As JD searched the organization for information he could craft into solid elearning, he hit roadblock after roadblock. He couldn’t find the right information. He had difficulty locating those with the best expertise. He figured if he couldn’t find the information—as a guy who was tech savvy and bulldog persistent—certainly others at Kaplan were having the same problem.

JD Dillon

First Building a Central Repository

The good news for Kaplan was that JD had been given a fairly long leash. He could try things. So, working on a limited budget, without asking permission, Dillon and his team worked with front-end users from throughout the company to build a relatively small 500-page wiki (using software called Confluence). Where other similar projects have crashed and burned due to lack of user participation, JD and his team acted aggressively as community managers of the wiki to encourage use, to promote dialog and discussions on the wiki, to smooth out rough spots, and generally, to ensure the wiki was actively used, updated, and understood.

To make a long story short, it worked! Within one and a half years, SharePoint was gone. Within five years over 70,000 pages had been created on the wiki!

Using a wiki alone wasn’t enough. First, not everyone was an everyday user. Second, even though knowledge might be captured on a centralized wiki with great search capabilities, often employees aren’t in a situation to stop what they’re doing and do a search. Employees who get phone calls from students simply can’t look everything up. A ton of important knowledge must be quickly available from long-term memory.

Targeted Knowledge Reinforcement Over Time

Fortunately—or maybe wisely—Kaplan’s new-venture funding had supported a startup called Axonify, and JD had been asked to utilize their tool. He took a look and decided it might work great to reinforce learning and extend employees’ ability to remember what they learned. Axonify is a subscription learning tool that provides people with questions wrapped in a gaming environment. As people play fun games, they are asked questions. Successful answers get more time or points that can be traded in for prizes. Although there were pockets of resistance due to the gaming element, a considerable percentage of targeted Kaplan employees joined in—on their own initiative. Fully 70-75% of employees consistently stayed engaged, continuing to strengthen their learning over time.

Of course, there’s a backstory. When the team first attempted to launch Axonify, the effort failed – quickly. With lessons learned, JD didn’t just roll out the typical questions and interactions on Axonify’s learning threads. He and his team developed rigorous rules for the way questions were designed. They limited engagement to five minutes and two or three questions per day. They focused on key information of the kind found in compliance training and product knowledge. They tied back the answers to the wiki pages that had been developed, pointing people to the wiki pages of relevance.

Perhaps more importantly, they didn’t just willy-nilly send learning nuggets to learners. First, they started with organizational management—to get buy in from important stakeholders. Second, they only sent questions that were relevant to the employees who were targeted. In fact, after the initial kickoff, they allowed employees to pick their own topics of interest. They also plied the organization’s political web, ensuring that people from up and down the organization were engaged.

JD’s team didn’t stop there, they developed new questions on new topics by diagnosing learning needs. The community managers from the wiki looked for confusions, intensive discussions, areas of clear need. The team looked at student support data to determine where students needed the most assistance. They reached out to different teams, asking them to identify the most critical information.

As the question-streams grew, a buzz was created, with people talking about the questions and the games in the halls, at lunch, and on breaks. JD was a bit surprised by the overwhelming response. When users were asked why they engaged, the answers varied. Some liked to see their name on the leaderboard. Some liked to get all the answers correct. Some liked to win swag, including things like office supplies, mugs, or an hour with the CEO or another organizational leader, etc. Some liked to take a break and reset before getting back to their regular tasks. Some liked to learn information to help them to do their job better. Wisely, JD’s team captured testimonials about why people liked to play. They had VP’s and new hires; folks up and down the line. As the persuasion research makes clear, people are more persuaded by people like them, rather than from someone unlike them (i.e., someone in training).

The subscription-learning questions and the wiki became self-reinforcing. The more questions were asked, the more people used the wiki. The more the wiki was fleshed out with information, the more the subscription-learning interactions could be developed.

Prompting Additional Employee-to-Employee Learning

Based on these successes, JD and his team went further. They wanted to change the culture—to encourage employees to learn more and more from each other. They did two things in this regard. They began using an online social workspace (Cornerstone) as a way to get people learning together.

Second, and again working under the radar, JD’s team began capturing informal video with folks in the organization. They had two goals. One goal was simply to get people talking to each other and learning from each other. For this, they began creating short 15-minute web shows, where a host would connect and facilitate discussion with folks from throughout Kaplan. In one telling incident, management found a disparity between expected process and the workplace reality while previewing an upcoming webisode. Based on this information, the process was simplified, clarified, and improved.

The second goal was more complex. Sometimes there are skillsets or procedures that don’t lend themselves to one right answer—or to a discrete algorithmic process. When you work closely with a wiki, you begin to notice what information is stable, certain, and clear and what information is fuzzy, contingent, and/or controversial. By getting people to answer simple questions about how things work on camera, JD’s team could get 15 viewpoints on an issue. They’d then put these 90-120 second answers on the wiki—so again, the wiki became a central repository.


Logistical difficulties made it prohibitive for JD and his team to measure the impact of their interventions on critical learning results and on-the-job success. As JD reflects now, while he wanted to use stronger metrics, he had to be satisfied with anecdotal evidence, data on learning engagement, and management feedback.

The End State

When JD left Kaplan recently to take the next step in his career, he felt good about what he and his compatriots had accomplished at Kaplan. Sure, there is more to be done—there always is—but they’d accomplished a great deal. They virtually eliminated page-turning elearning programs. They stopped defaulting to a training-first approach to learning. They got rid of isolated islands of knowledge and created a vibrate repository for institutional know-how. They created methods and practices that encouraged people to learn from each other. They developed an effective reinforcing mechanism to help employees keep key information top of mind.


Many Affordances for Repeating Sustainable Learning

I started this piece by critiquing the term “informal learning.” The Kaplan story shows why the term is so inadequate. There was very little that was haphazard. Nor was the learning initiated solely by learners. Indeed, it took a very active group of learning professionals to create the structures that enabled learning. They utilized new tools, they created rigorous rules-of-engagement, they played a beautiful game of stakeholder management, they aligned their practices with the learning research, they prodded and nudged and cajoled.

By combining the potency of a managed wiki, a social workspace, video, user testimonials, ongoing needs assessment, and a dedicated subscription-learning tool; JD and his team created a web of learning affordances that made it easy—if not irresistible—for people to learn from each other and help others learn; all the while sustaining their knowledge and creating a culture of learning.


Lessons Learned

To me, the major lessons learned are these:

  • It takes a team of dedicated learning professionals to create the structures and impetus for improved on-the-job learning.
  • A dedicated subscription-learning tool can support and integrate with forms of social learning. It can also support on-the-job learning as well.
  • Learning tools will ONLY be successful IF (a) they align with the human learning architecture, (b) they are actively supported by a team of folks, especially in their inaugural stages, (c) they are supported by stakeholders with political power, (d) instructional-design wisdom is utilized to use the tools in a way that boosts learning, engages learners, and supports remembering, and (e) they are not used in isolation but are instead utilized in an intentional web of learning affordances.

Here's a blog post on making short videos for microlearning:

Julian Wragg, EMEA Director for Pluralsight (a provider of online learning for IT professionals) makes the case that IT professionals will find value in shorter, more targeted learning nuggets.

Click to read the article on Computer Business Review Online…