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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.

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.

 

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.

 

A little while ago, I wrote an article for my newsletter about how Subscription Learning might be used in Leadership Development.

I’m still a big believer, and I’m looking for organizations who want to pilot test the concept. Let me know…by clicking here.

ATD liked the article and asked if they could post it. Click to read the article.

If you want to sign up for my newsletter, click here.

Yesterday, #chat2lrn, a bi-weekly twitter discussion, delved into the concept of microlearning. It was an interesting discussion.

You can view the tweets by clicking here (thanks to Martin Couzins).

Here are my takeaways from engaging in the discussion:

  1. There was no consensus on what microlearning entails.
  2. There was no consensus on how long a microlearning engagement might take. Indeed, there were estimates that ranged from 5 minutes to 1 hour!
  3. There was a strong suspicion that “microlearning” was a buzzword, perhaps one created by “evil” marketers.
  4. There was no consensus on what microlearning might be good for.
  5. Many saw microlearning as information-presentation only, not considering that a microlearning nugget might also prompt action.
  6. Many saw microlearning as something that regular learning-and-development folks would not be involved in. Indeed, many seemed to see microlearning as a way to subvert the ineffectiveness of L&D departments.
  7. Many saw microlearning as just-in-time learning, almost as performance support.
  8. Very few folks considered threading microlearning nuggets together in a subscription-learning manner.

“Microlearning” is now in the infosphere. The genie is out of the bottle and we better be ready. “Microlearning” is coming to a senior manager near you!

 

Tom Spiglanin has a nice blog post on Microlearning, in which he has generated a great discussion as well.

  • tom.spiglanin.com/2015/03/microlearning-fab-or-fad/

I commented on the discussion and am copying-and-pasting my comments here:

=============

Tom, glad that you’re pushing this important discussion!

You say, “Microlearning products usually need no navigation, and there is no inherently complex structure. Each microlearning product serves but one objective and is tightly focused on that objective.”

I think this is too restrictive. Please check out my work on the Subscription-Learning Website (defunct as of December 2017).

On that website, I describe subscription learning (the use of small nuggets spread over time) as a way to create meaningful learning interactions. Indeed, subscription learning can go way beyond “learning” to provide prompting mechanisms, calls to complete tasks, feedback, etc.

The problem with the way many are thinking of microlearning is as a content-delivery system for folks with short attention spans. Unfortunately, we know that content presentation is a poor method. To really get folks to benefit from learning we need to ensure that we provide learners with at least the following (from the Training Maximizers model https://www.worklearning.com/2015/04/08/training-maximizers/):

A. Valid Credible Content
B. Engaging Learning Events
C. Support for Basic Understanding
D. Support for Decision-Making Competence
E. Support for Long-Term Remembering
F. Support for Application of Learning
G. Support for Perseverance in Learning

So, if microlearning only gets at A, B, and C; it will not create meaningful learning benefits.

Subscription learning can deliver isolated nuggets of information, but it can do much more as well. For example, one of the most important learning factors (based on the scientific research) to support remembering is the spacing effect (spacing repetitions of learning concepts over time). If you take a nugget-by-nugget approach, you don’t get the spacing effect.

Bottom line is that microlearning without intention, without scientifically-based learning design, with only isolated nuggets — will be a FAD.

Microlearning that utilizes learning factors that help us reach the requirements of (D) decision-making competence, (E) long-term remembering, (F) application of learning, and (G) perseverance in learning will be FAB.

The swell of interest in short learning nuggets has another article touting its benefits, this one from Training Industry Magazine and Manjit Sekhon (of Intrepid Learning).

The article makes no mention of the spacing effect, but it does talk of threading nuggets in an intentional sequence. The article emphasizes shorter attention spans of learners, and the benefit of keeping people on the job.

More evidence that subscription-learning and shorter learning in general is on the rise.

 

Kerri Simmons, Director of Solution Architecture at SweetRush (a learning and performance vendor), wrote a nice set of 10 recommendations about using learning in small chunks…

Check it out by clicking here.

The one thing I noted from her description is that she seems to be referring to more of a pull strategy than a push strategy, which tends to be less effective unless learners are highly motivated or required to complete the learning nuggets.

I'll reach out to her to see if she'd like to provide additional reflections…

They seem to be using the term "microlearning" for much longer chunks of learning time than that imagined in subscription learning's short (less than 5 or 10 minute) nuggets.

Still, the article makes the case that people just don't have the attention spans that they once had, and that the shrinking attention span is only going to get worse.

Click here to read the Guardian article.