Much Ado About Microlearning

MightyMouseMicrolearning (1)Much is being made of the concept of microlearning these days, and perhaps rightly so. Microlearning products and collections, assembled and offered by learning and development organizations, fit into available time slots and busy work schedules. If available on mobile devices, they can also be used in performance support applications at the time and place of need.

From the producer’s perspective, they are also relatively quick to produce, and both easier to create and maintain then their larger, more complex e-learning counterparts.

But microlearning is not new at all. Countless how-to videos on YouTube have helped millions of people repair appliances or learn to better perform tasks or even hobbies. More interestingly, most of these products were created by people with no instructional design background, and yet we learn effectively from them.

So how can learning and development organizations use microlearning products to meet the needs of organizations? What can we learn from YouTube to encourage the participation of large numbers of employees? Discuss this and more about microlearning products in learning and development at #chat2lrn Thursday, 09 April at 16:00BST/11:00EDT/8:00PDT.

Challenging some L&D myths (aka fads and fancies)

L&D mythsThis week’s post comes from #chat2lrn crew member, Judith Christian-Carter. Judith is a Director of Effective Learning Solutions, a UK-based learning services company. You can find her on Twitter @JudithELS

Are we like moths to a flame?

What is it about L&D that makes it behave like a super-charged magnetic for attracting all manner of fads and fancies? I know that all learning sectors have their trends, but over the last 25 or so years it has never ceased to amaze me just how many L&D has managed to attract. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for advancement and for trying out new ideas in a sensible and controlled fashion, but the over-whelming tendency by many in the L&D profession to jump on any passing bandwagon and, seemingly without question, to embrace it whole-heartedly with an almost Messianic fervour, has always intrigued me.

Some examples

For example, over the years the conversations of L&D people have been peppered with references to and support of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), accelerated learning, brain-friendly learning, emotional intelligence, learning styles, leadership styles, Belbin, Myers Briggs, body language, un/conscious in/competence, Fish, Johari Window, role playing, transactional analysis, to name but a few. So many L&D ‘courses’ are now deemed to be incomplete without a dose of ice breakers, energizers, koosh balls and games. For some the road to success is paved by fire walking, outward bound courses, rope courses, embracing the theories of Maslow and Hertzberg, doing Brain Gym exercises, hypnotherapy, and using actors and music.

What’s the harm?

Whilst some of L&D’s fads and fancies wax and wane, like transactional analysis which was a big thing in the UK back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, others, like ‘learning styles’, seem to stick around for much longer, where their longevity is often a direct relationship to the number of advocates they attract. This is not to say that any of the above are dangerous, with the possible exception of fire walking, about which I have extremely grave doubts, it is more a matter of L&D professionals using them without question on a regular basis, simply because they believe that this is what L&D is all about and, perhaps more significantly, needs.

Harm to the L&D profession

Even when these fads and fancies are shown to be myths, eg learning styles, there still remains a hard-core set of believers who react in an absolutely amazing way and deny that what they hold dear could ever be questioned! This is where I get seriously concerned, because when an idea or theory is proved to be incorrect, then why continue to cling to it? Such a stance, I contend does great harm to the whole L&D profession.

If you have time, just Google any of these fads/fancies and check-out the evidence against them.

How do we challenge such L&D myths?

For me this is the essential question. If our colleagues believe in something which is subsequently dismissed as pure bunkum, then how do we go about helping them and supporting them to put aside what they once held to be so true and to move on?

So, where do you stand on challenging L&D myths? Join in the debate and discuss this and other questions on 26th March 2015.  09.00 PST 12 EST 16.00 GMT

The Business of Learning Evaluation

#Chat2lrn is delighted to have a guest post from @AjayPangarkar.  Ajay M. Pangarkar CTDP, CPA, CMA is founder of and He is a renowned employee performance management expert and 3-time author most recently publishing the leading performance book, “The Trainer’s Balanced Scorecard: A Complete Resource for Linking Learning to Organizational Strategy” (Wiley 2009), award-wining assessment specialist with Training Magazine, and award-winning writer winning the 2014 prestigious Readership and Editors’ Awards for the Top 10 most read articles. Help him start a, “Workplace Revolution” at

Learning practitioners are under tremendous pressure from business leaders to demonstrate that their learning efforts and initiatives are worth the budget they allocate. This has to be one of most daunting challenges facing those involved with any aspect of workplace learning.

There are many reasons why learning practitioners are unable to connect their efforts with actual workplace applications. One that stands out is that learning practitioners focus on the “learning” rather than on how learning “results” impact business performance.

Reality Check

Learning practitioners like to talk about being ‘accountable’ but behind the talk is an unfortunate reality where, like the three monkeys, this pesky ‘accountability’ issue will go away if we do not speak, see, or hear it. What learning practitioners really want to say to business leaders is, “Leave us alone to focus on the learning and stop bothering us with your trivial business issues!”

Regretfully, many learning practitioners remain under the impression that if proper learning takes place then everything else will take care of itself. Intuitively, this makes some sense but this causal relationship is too weak to be effective. Following this logic is the same as saying that, if you eat ice cream you’ll be cold; possibly, but there are many other reasons that also apply.

“If proper learning takes place then everything else will take care of itself is similar to saying that if you eat ice cream you’ll be cold; possibly but many other reasons also apply.”

Those involved with learning discover early to integrate and apply Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation. Yes, your organization explicitly hires learning practitioners for their expertise with level 1 (develop effective learning) and level 2 (learning retention). There isn’t one business leader that expects anything different. What’s more, however, is that they also expect their learning practitioners to ensure that the first two levels contribute to improving job performance (level 3) that will lead to business improvement (level 4).

Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Here lays every Learning Practitioner’s challenge…getting employees to learn the right skills and, ultimately, apply these skills to the job, again, ‘accountability’. In an attempt to answer this need, there are those proposing what appears as relevant solutions to this dilemma including measuring learning’s “return on investment” (training ROI) and how well learning meets business expectations (ROE). Again, the shortsightedness of these methodologies is just like the analogy of “ice cream making you cold”. The causal relationship is too weak to prove and too often inappropriate or irrelevant.

These solutions fall short to actually measure and evaluate how well learning contributes to on-the-job effectiveness and its role to achieving business objectives. With a growing need for innovation, creativity, and managing continuous market changes, business leaders are also under tremendous pressure to foster a knowledge-driven business environment. Leaders are increasingly depending on organizational knowledge to develop a strategic and business advantage that will help them to maintain relevance, let alone survival, within their market space.

“Rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has quickly risen to the top of many business leaders to-do list.”

Rather than being viewed as a secondary role, workplace learning has quickly risen to the top of many business leaders to-do list. Furthermore, even though this is a learning practitioners dream, it also comes at a price…the need for accountability. So, what should learning practitioners do? How can they prove that their learning efforts actually improve employee and business performance? Is there anything currently available that works?

Let’s discuss these and other related questions to measuring and evaluating workplace learning impact at our next online gathering of #chat2lrn, Thursday 27 November at 16:00 BST / 12:00 EDT / 09:00 PDT. Come prepared, we look forward to seeing you!

Conflict traps for the learning and development professional and presenter

#Chat2lrn is delighted to have a guest post from @NeilDenny.  Neil is the founder of allLD LTD Learning and Development.  He is a speaker and presenter specialising in conflict leadership skills and dynamics, delivering workshops, keynotes and one to one conflict skills coaching across the UK, Europe and America. Neil is also the author of the conflict resolution book “Conversational Riffs; Creating Meaning Out Of Conflict”, you can download a free PDF copy by going to” . Neil can be contacted at  

A recent conversation on Facebook caught my attention. The original poster was explaining a challenge he was facing. He had recently delivered some leadership skills training. As part of the program he explored mirroring and matching as a way of building rapport.

He went on to explain that “Some of the more religious Christians” in the group fed back that they thought the methods were “Morally wrong, manipulative and deceptive.”

In summarising his post he asserted that he had always seen himself as being “A highly moral person” who “Believed in doing what is right for people” before inviting responses.

It has so far received over 70 responses!

The conversation covers various areas – the use of NLP, delivery techniques, framing and such like. In this article I want to focus specifically on presenters and trainers can encounter conflict in our work and how we tend to perceive, react and respond to conflict.

Here was my original response:

You know there could be some neat conflict dynamics at play here but then I would say that; some delegates report that they find a technique – not you, a technique – to be manipulative and possibly immoral. You respond by defending your own character not only as a moral individual but, look, Highly Moral. Are you sure you were ever being criticised? We then also see a degree of fundamental attribution against the critics – you attribute their criticism, it seems directly to the fact that they have not only a Christian faith but, again, the inflated characteristic – the *more* religious Christians. So some folk don’t like mirroring and matching and feel uneasy about using it? Some folk didn’t like a part of what you presented? That too is just fine. Keep going.

Transference of criticism

Note how the feedback is seemingly against the content but it has been interpreted as an attack against the individual.

Concerns are expressed that the techniques are dubious and that has been acutely felt as a personal attack.  In an instant the criticisms levelled against the content have been taken on by the presenter.

And note the response – a reflex defensive counter assertion and that delightful over assertion at that.

See how language very quickly becomes exaggerated and inflated.  We often use this inflated and absolutist language (always/never) as it seems to make our positions clearer and more immune to attack. 

The invocation of indignation

I love the invocation of indignation.  We can recognise it very quickly in the utterance “How dare you!” and it is brilliantly demonstrated in that classic adolescent educational video Withnail and I.  Here’s a clip which is always worth shoehorning into any article (warning: its potty mouthed stuff)

The invocation of indignation is a neat device by which the indignant speaker can snatch back momentum and forces the recipient onto the defensive.  The result is that original complaint is quickly lost by the effective distraction created by the vehement indignation asserted by the other.

In fairness the post did not assert “How dare they call me immoral…” but you can see that it is intimated.

Attribution Bias

Attribution error or bias is a recognised cognitive dysfunction.

It sees us, when conflict arises, explaining the actions of another person by attributing motives or characteristics to that person.  These motives and characteristics will usually be unattractive or malevolent.

In this article an attribution appeared to have been made as follows:

“The reason they were objecting to the material was because of the characteristic of being “The more religious Christians in the group.”

When we attribute characteristics in this way then we explain away the feedback or incident.  We also risk dismissing the protagonist along with their concerns.  This can be very difficult and create seriously soured relationships between you and your delegates.

When we attribute characteristics then we create a sense of “Otherness” between us and them.  We render them as being different to not only us but the rest of their group and peers.  A very high risk strategy.  You will either successfully isolate them from their peers causing acute embarrassment and distress or their peers rush to their defence and reclaim them as one of their own… and you as the outsider.


The very posting of this discussion was also interesting.  It can be seen as an attempt to recruit likeminded people to our side of this conversation.   Note the role of the language used in doing – the over assertions as to morality, the designation of tribes based on characteristics as discussed above.  The 70+ responses then become fascinating in their own right.  Many commentators are happy to play out that invitation, supporting the original poster in a possible desire for affirmation that “It’s not me is it?”

This recruitment technique can be seen in presentations and live events when the presenter looks to the delegate group to back her or him up, again with possibly disastrous results.

5 tips on receiving challenges

  1. Be clear on what is being challenged. Chances are it is your content, not you.  Hold your content lightly.
  2. Be mindful of conflict dynamics. Particularly watch out for attribution bias – the impression you form of them in that split second after they have given their feedback or asked their question.
  3. Know when the knife goes in. Acknowledge to yourself that the comment made by the other person hurts or, at the very least, feels uncomfortable. Doing so will put you on guard that you need to be really careful right now. Try making your discomfort explicit, calling it out to the rest of the group. Some of my very best experiences come from doing just this.

    “Oh, ow. That’s an interesting point isn’t it?  So what I’m hearing is that this might not actually work here, is that right?  In what ways might it not work or not apply here? What would make it work or what would need to change?”

    These responses are key facilitation skills and also invite the delegates to build upon their existing knowledge, building your new content upon the platform of what they already know, believe and experience in their own context… and how valuable is that

  4. Smile to yourself as you recognise the temptation to invoke indignation.  And then choose not to!
  5. Give up on your need for them to learn.  Your need is to deliver the very best that you can and to make the learning (by them) possible or even, heck, likely.  The learning is their responsibility and choice.  You cannot make them learn.  I think there is something in always aspiring to deliver brilliant work that will enlighten, equip and enable others.  As long as you know that you have acted out that intent honestly then we can start to let go of our dependency on them blessing us with their learning.  The funny thing is that when we stop pushing the learning and instead join them in wrestling with the material (“Heck, this is really difficult isn’t it…?  I didn’t explain that very well did I?  Somebody help me out here… what am I missing do you think?) then the learning experience flies – even after it has just crashed and burned after a particularly barbed response.

Design Shortcuts for Surviving in the Real Worldcuts

Whechallenge1n we study design, we learn rigorous methods based upon sound research and elegant theory.  Then we hit the real world and are faced with deadlines, limited resources, and unrealistic demands.  How do we cope?  We generally choose some design shortcuts,

We generally choose some design shortcuts, heuristics, that give us what we believe to be suitable approximations to what we’d prefer to do in a perfect world.  These heuristics, experience-based solutions which may not be optimal but are often good enough to get the work completed, are often unexamined.

Our major steps in designing learning, whether ADDIE or SAM, still (or should) require determining meaningful objectives, creating essential practice, providing conceptual guidance and supporting examples, and creating a learning experience.  However, we might not do the full cognitive task analysis, simulation-based practice, model-based concepts, story-based examples, etc.  Some of our shortcuts are well-founded, yet some might also preclude us from exploring more effective alternatives.  Still, we need to be conscious of the tradeoffs.

For example, rapid e-learning tools make it easy to capture knowledge, present it, and test it.  Yet how often is knowledge the real barrier to success in performance?  Most of the research suggests that, instead, the emphasis should be on the ability to apply knowledge, not just recite it.  Knowledge alone isn’t sufficient for the ability to use the knowledge to meet workplace needs.  Do we find effective ways to even use these tools or are we just putting content on pages?

We need to be conscious of the shortcuts we take, the tradeoffs they entail, and reflect from time to time on where our practice in regards to where it could, and should, be.  What are the shortcuts we’re taking, and what are the assumptions they encompass?

This post was written by Clark Quinn, who is directing this week’s #chat2lrn tweetchat. Thank you, Clark, for your contribution!

Dear Phil: A letter to a colleague about Design Thinking and L&D


Mark Sheppard is the Training Coordinator for Northern Lights Canada in Oshawa, ON. Learn more about Mark at

Originally posted on The Hitch Hiker's Guide to Learning:

Dear Phil:

Always great to hear from you, and I’m sharing some of my thoughts and findings from the Design Thinking MOOC I tackled a little while back. I’m glad you asked me to do this, and I hope you don’t object to the approach, but I figure this “letter” will let me get into a little more detail and spark a some Q&A.

So, here goes.

As you know, particularly in our time on that joint ID project in 2011, I’m a big fan of rapid, and flexible, processes. Yeah, I know that I was a little platform focused at the time, but I really wanted to get away from that slow, deliberate, linear design process that just doesn’t play nicely with the complexities of online asset development.  The rapid prototyping model I espoused was, on reflection, good for sparking some thoughts about different ways to do things, and…

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eLearning Trends: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Today’s post comes to us from #chat2lrn crew members, Andrea May and Lisa Goldstein. Andrea is the Vice President of Instructional Design Services for Dashe & Thomson in Minneapolis, MN and Lisa is the founder of and currently works for Nielsen. You can find Andrea and Lisa on twitter at @Andreamay1 and @LisaAGoldstein

Happy New Year!Happy-New-Year-Copy

It is the start of a new year and we would like to spend a little time looking back at what we learned in 2014 and looking forward to what we hope to learn in 2015.

As we first look back at the year that was, some of the most common trends we saw discussed included MOOCs, video, performance support, social learning, adaptive learning and the science of learning. Read more here:

Learning Technologies 2014: Eight Key Trends for Learning and Development

Learning Technology Trends in 2014

As we look forward to 2015, some new trends on the horizon seem to be wearable learning, School as a service (SaaS), Microlearning, Personalization and Minimum Viable Courses (MVCs). Read More Here:

Top 8 eLearning and EdTech Trends for 2015

What will be big in workplace learning in 2015?

Technology-Enabled Learning: What Will 2015 Bring?

Join us on January 15th for #Chat2lrn to discuss what we learned and accomplished in 2014 and what we hope to achieve in the coming year.