Thursday, April 4, 2013

Learning tech dies. We don't have to.

Rest in peace QR codes. You had great potential for informal and on-the-spot learning, but you’re no longer needed. And you’re ugly. You’ve been rendered moot by mobile browsers like Layar[1] and Aurasma[2] that recognize the item itself; no “barcode” necessary.

Typically, learning technologies perish not because they’re ugly like QR codes, but because they require too much work for too little performance or monetary return. Serious games, immersive learning simulations, gamification, learning content management systems (LCMSs), virtual worlds, virtual reality, haptics, and even custom Flash interactions get heavy scrutiny from learning & development managers interested in ROI; the payback often isn’t there.

Another cause of death for learning technologies is the realization that formal learning is, quite literally, “old school”. (Isn’t it ironic that serious games and virtual worlds might be considered old school?) In other words, learning researchers and practitioners[3] are confirming the notion that most learning – as much as 90% – is informal; talking to people, heading out to YouTube, Googling, etc. 

Some people call it the 70/20/10 learning model[4]. Some people don’t believe such a model exists[5]. But whether the model exists is inconsequential. We all know that informal learning outweighs formal learning through empirical evidence. Think about your own job – do you spend more than 10% of your time in formal training events? Probably not. But you do learn things – probably every day. Therefore, if you’re an instructional designer, media developer, or learning & development manager spending most of your time building formal training, you’re wasting quite a bit of that time.

So what learning technologies do I think offer a good payback in terms of time, money and informality? 1. Augmented Reality, 2. Video, and 3. Performance Support Systems (PSSs) that are easily searchable and deliver mobile-friendly information. Notice that I didn’t include company-wide social networks; they’re very tough to search.

Augmented Reality (AR)
AR offers information on the spot through your phone or tablet. It puts the information in context perfectly. And, right now, it’s free to build using Hoppala[6]. It’s also fast to build as long as the content you want to link to already exists. You might link to Wikipedia, YouTube, or your PSS. Once you’ve built it, deliver your AR through Layar, Junaio, or Aurasma. I’ve built AR “apps” in half a day.

The trouble with AR is that we L&D folks might end up sending it to its grave if we try to get too fancy with it. We have a tendency to do that: “The learner needs to be more engaged.” “We need to include more interactivity.” When you utter these phrases, ask yourself, “Am I just trying to show off, or does the learner really need it?”

Video is potent for learning; plus, it can be very quick and cost effective. I made the argument here:

But, again, the danger is if we get too fancy. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Performance Support Systems (PSSs)
This is where I spend most of my working day – putting more content into the PSS and making sure it’s easy to find –.pdf files, Word documents, instructions, FAQs, or anything that will help people on the job. You can use your LMS for this as long as it’s easy to search and delivers mobile-friendly content. If that’s not an option, start your research into a PSS here:

The point is that L&D won’t go the way of the QR code as long as we:
  1. Pay attention to shifts in technology that change the way learners learn.
  2. Spend most of our time on the projects that give us the most bang for our buck.
  3. Don’t get too fancy. 


Brian is the Practice Leader of Workforce Performance at virtualwirks. email him at if you want to: 
  • Roll out a virtual workforce, but your internal training department is not familiar with multi-week virtual training programs
  • Create a more efficient internal training department
  • Implement training programs that exceed performance goals in minimum time
  • Meet or exceed predicted L&D ROI

[3] Godwin-Jones, R. (June 2009). Emerging technologies personal learning environments. Language, Learning & Technology, 13(2).
Levenberg, A. & Caspi, A. (2010). Comparing perceived formal and informal learning in face-to-face versus online environments. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects, 6.
Manganello, F., Falsetti, C., Spalazzi, L., & Leo, T. (January 2013). PKS: An ontology-based learning construct for lifelong learners. Educational Technology & Society, 16(1).
[5]Howe, N.J. (May 2010). Let’s kill a few learning holy cows – 70:20:10 is dead (or at least seriously ill). Retrieved April 3, 2013 from

Monday, April 1, 2013

eLearning cuts costs? Should I care?

I’m a big believer in the power of eLearning, but I get tired of hearing that eLearning cuts costs in comparison to face-to-face instructor-led training (ILT). Put quite simply, that’s not a reason to use it. Heck, you can cut costs by 100% if you eliminate training completely.  So it’s important to establish that the eLearning you deliver is at least as effective as the ILT it replaces. Only then can you use cost savings as a benefit of eLearning.
Can you honestly say your eLearning is at least as effective as your ILT? How do you know?

Start by collecting performance data on the people who went through the ILT. Then, pilot the eLearning. Check the performance data from the pilot group. Compare the two sets of data.

Is there a statistically significant difference?*

If there is no significant difference between the two sets of performance data, your eLearning is just as good as the ILT (or your learners aren’t paying attention to either the ILT or the eLearning). The cost savings you’ve achieved should be added to your salary.

In most cases there will be significant differences. That’s because ILT has its advantages, eLearning has other advantages. In other words, learners might absorb specific pieces of knowledge better in the classroom; other pieces of knowledge might best be delivered via eLearning.
So what do you do if there are significant differences in several performance statistics?
  1. Label the positive differences as either ILT or eLearning.
  2. Rank the differences in order of importance to the company’s strategy. For example, ILT might result in speedier troubleshooting, but the company gets paid by the hour. As a result, speed might not be high on the list of priorities.
  3. Determine which delivery method accounts for greatest number of differences in the top five according to your ranking.
If eLearning wins, you’re doing great because you’re getting better on-the-job performance out of your learners and you’re saving money. Your next step is to make the eLearning even better by improving it in the performance areas where ILT won the battle.

If ILT wins, your eLearning cost savings argument is moot.

*If you need to brush up on your business statistics, start here: