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A Decade in eLearning – Then, Now and Next

November 13, 2015

As LAS celebrate 10 years in business I find myself thinking back to what has changed over that Birthday Candlestime, what hasn’t, and what the future may hold. When I started LearningAge Solutions, it was as a jobbing contractor, working for a number of elearning development houses. Over time I started building content myself and soon needed to hire another developer. Now we have a globe-spanning team of about 20 people, a pretty stellar customer list and a good few awards under our belt.

So what’s changed?

  • Learning has gone mobile. Increasingly users and customers expect the content we produce to work cross-device.
  • Flash is dead. Back when we could author in Adobe Flash it was possible to create all kinds of cool interactive content. As long as the user had the Flash player, the content would work. Now HTML5 is the preferred form, however, it’s a step backwards in terms of what we can easily create.
  • Learning has become playful. As the gamers of my generation have moved into positions of influence, more game-like learning experiences are becoming accepted. We even have a new word ‘gamification’ – like it or loathe it; it’s this season’s buzzword (see below).
  • Learning is social. Because of the way we use social networks in our home lives, there is an increasing expectation that learning should be collaborative and social too. The trouble is, often organisations don’t have the best tools in place, or if they do, they’re not being well used.
  • Learning experiences have gotten shorter. Partly in response to mobile learning and partly because of the pace of change; learning interventions are now much more bite-sized, often down to five minutes or less.

What’s the same?

  • Our brains and how we form memories. The underlying structure of our brain is the same and it’s still just as hard to get anyone to remember anything. At least now a few more people are aware of this fact.
  • We still love our fads and buzzwords. It was ‘social’ a couple of years ago, it’s ‘gamification’ today. The buzzwords come and go, but our appetite for the ‘next big thing’ that will solve all our problems doesn’t wane.
  • Today for many people the course still is king. These tend to be those who have come from a traditional training background and who struggle to break free from the paradigm of ‘courses’.
  • We still love video. Because of increasing access speeds video is very popular, but then again – it always was – we can just consume it more easily.

What’s next?

  • The new Tin Can standards have started to become more widely adopted. This in combination with social learning can start to generate ‘big data’. Once we have a lot of data to play with we can start doing clever things with recommendations, like modifying learning paths and providing performance support.
  • Collective intelligence is the natural step after social learning. Now that more work and more learning is done socially the logical next step is to start harnessing the collective intelligence within organisations for specific business purposes. Innovation or problem-solving for example.
  • Entertainment and then learning will go immersive. The new batch of virtual reality headsets become available very soon. 360-degree camera rigs already exist. You can turn your phone into a VR headset with a bit of folded cardboard and an app. I see immersive films being the next big thing in entertainment and I hope it makes it as far as learning too.
  • Badges will become the new form of certification. With LinkedIn getting on board with Open Badges and huge amounts of content being made available online for little or no cost, badges will become widely accepted as a form of accreditation.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the job is still varied, diverse and challenging and that keeps it interesting. Technology is starting to take account of human behaviour and this enhances communications, ways of working and how we access learning. There is an explosion in tools, technologies and approaches to better working and forward-thinking organisations still need help negotiating and making the best creative use of them. That’s what we plan to spend the next 10 years and beyond doing.

The LAS blog is now also available at

The Advantages of Building Curiosity into Learning and 7 Ways to Do It.

October 14, 2015

by Tess Robinson, Director LAScuriosity

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” — Albert Einstein

Our youngest son (7) is the very definition of curious. Every day is a barrage of questions: “Can anything happen in a nanosecond?” “What would happen if we just breathed carbon dioxide?” “Does the toothpaste come out like that (red, white and blue) because it’s French?” His mind is a constant whirr as he tries to make sense of the world. I love that he is like this; that he makes fantastic and creative connections, and tries seemingly impossible things with no fear of failure (and often proves me wrong by succeeding).

Curiosity often gets overlooked in organisational learning but it is being talked about more and more. For example, Julian Stodd’s research on social leadership, gives the first tenet of this new leadership style as to ‘be curious’. He emphasises the importance of not doing something ‘as we have always done it’ but to question and challenge the status quo. But why is curiosity so important in learning? This is why…

This article on, sums it up nicely:

  1. Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive
  2. It makes your mind observant of new ideas
  3. It opens up new worlds and possibilities
  4. It brings excitement into your life


It’s really difficult to study curiosity, as it is such an individual phenomenon, so consequently there hasn’t been much research on the subject. However, a recent University of California study sought to discover what happened in the brain when people felt curious and what impact this had on their learning.

They asked participants to rate how curious they were to learn the answers to more than 100 trivia questions. During the study MRI scans were carried out to observe what happened in the brain when a participant felt particularly curious about one of the answers.

Charan Ranganath, a neuroscientist involved in the research said that curiosity seemed to be piqued when people had some knowledge of a subject but were then faced with a gap in their understanding. He describes curiosity as the drive to fill that gap – ‘like an itch you just have to scratch’. This chimes with George Loewenstein’s earlier research on the Psychology of Curiosity which also identified that curiosity arises from an information gap.

The scientists involved in the University of California study found that people are better at learning information they are curious about. Interestingly, curiosity also appears to prepare the brain for learning – once curiosity has been piqued, participants were not only better at learning the information they were curious about, but also at remembering unrelated information that had been presented to them in their ‘curious state’.

The MRI scans taken during the study showed that curiosity triggered increased activity in the hippocampus – the region of the brain involved in the creation of memories and that is also related to reward and pleasure. Igniting curiosity releases dopamine and gives us a ‘high’.

So curiosity makes learning more effective and also more pleasurable. Sounds fantastic, but how do we weave this into learning interventions? Undoubtedly it’s a tricky thing to do, as people are curious about different things, although there are some basic lessons we can draw on:

  1. Expose the knowledge gap and give learners the opportunity to fill it. This might be through a scenario-based pre-test where learners apply their knowledge in a situation and get feedback on the gaps.
  2. Use an engaging storyline that unfolds as the learners progress. Include characters leaners can relate to and want to help. Use cliff-hangers at the end of a section to make them want to continue.
  3. Use a guided discovery or exploratory format for the learning, so the learners must seek out the answers themselves. Don’t spoon-feed them – treat them like adults.
  4. Allow learners to ask questions – of each other, of experts. Create an environment where learners are safe to challenge and be challenged. This might be through social learning systems or networks.
  5. Introduce games into your learning. Play naturally builds interest and curiosity and makes learning active, rather than passive. Who doesn’t like to have a bit of fun whilst they’re learning?
  6. Include an element of surprise – uncertainty can engender curiosity and give us a thrill as we wait to discover ‘what happens next’.
  7. Curiosity and creativity are inextricably linked. If you want your learners to come up with creative solutions to problems build in things that will grab their interest and make them want to know more

Curiosity is the brains way of encouraging us to expand our knowledge, understanding and skills – so stay curious and help your learners do the same.

This blog is now available at

How does responsive design impact learning culture?

October 13, 2015

responsive designBy Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

Lately I have been spending a lot of time on Webflow, a responsive site builder, redesigning our company website. As the number of devices, platforms and screen sizes grows it’s becoming more important to be able to provide an optimal viewing experience in terms of reading and navigation’ whatever the screen size. Responsive design allows you to build sites which can adapt their layout according to screen size, platform and orientation by using fluid grids, flexible images and media queries and means that you don’t need to develop different sites for every gadget.

If you google responsive web design you will get plenty of results talking about how it is not just about adjustable screen sizes and images that automatically resize but that it also represents a whole new way of thinking about design. If you want to get into the nitty gritty, Smashing Magazine has a great blog post on it (Responsive Web Design: What it is and How to Use it).

Whilst this is certainly true, it also represents a much deeper shift in the culture of learning. When a client asks us to create a responsive site for them, for example, a job aid or a resources hub, they are not simply asking for a well-designed product that will look nice wherever it is accessed, they are asking us to help them embed learning more thoroughly into workflow and into the everyday life of the organisation.

You no longer have to wait for a training course or have to be at your desk to learn, you can do it via your phone or tablet on-the-go. You can undertake your learning on the job, on the train, whilst waiting for your kids to finish at a club, even when in the bath if you so wish (though we’d recommend a waterproof cover for your device!). Although there are limitations in content, responsive design allows you the flexibility to undertake your learning when and how you want to on a number of different devices, by having appropriately formatted content and resources at your fingertips. Thus making it easier and more cost-effective for learning to be continuous, flexible and up-to-date.

It’s really interesting to see how the ability to design responsive learning influences learning culture within an organisation; particularly what learning looks like, what its purpose is and how and when it is delivered. We’re firm believers in learning and resources being accessible when and where they’re needed. Responsive design is one great way of doing this.

This blog can now be found at

How interactive should your elearning be?

October 12, 2015


by Tess Robinson, Director, LAS

These days it’s widely accepted that learners don’t really learn much from just sitting passively in front of a screen. It’s all too easy to switch off whilst you’re supposed to be concentrating on what’s in front of you if you’re not required to be an active participant, I’m certainly guilty of popping off to make a cup of tea or feed the cat in the middle of a webinar.

But what if there is a need to just impart information, with compliance issues for example? Is there a place for click-to-continue elearning? Maybe; if you really need to use it, stick to the essential messages and keep it short – let’s face it, no one wants to sit and be lectured at for an hour. Consider using videos and animations and mixing delivery up a bit. This can be more impactful and interesting for the learner than straight text and audio but still needs to be used shrewdly and kept short. Design in repetition and reinforcement of key facts and always keep in mind that most people can hold between one and five pieces of information in their working memory at a time. How many pieces of information are in your module?

But what about the nitty gritty that you won’t have time to cover? Well you could create a resources hub or section and provide the detail as documents that learners can access in their own time and at the point of need.

We often find it useful to think in terms of a suite of interventions with varying levels of interactivity. You have your short information-giving piece, your resources, your way of practicing what you’re learning through scenarios or goal-based real-world tasks, and a way of keeping that knowledge accessible and fresh, for example through a job aid that can be accessed on a mobile phone to help people put their learning into practice. All this needs to be balanced against the budget that you have available. Looking at what you want people to do, the behaviours that you want to influence and change and the characteristics of your audience – when and how they will access the learning, how technically competent they are etc.. – will help you narrow down the best approach.

We’re fans of giving the learner autonomy over their learning through an active learning experience. If they feel more in control, they’ll invest more in it. After all, it’s usually more important that learners know how to put their learning into practice than just ‘knowing stuff’.

This blog is now available at

5 Ways to Inject Magic into Digital Learning

May 8, 2014

By Tess Robinson, Director, LearningAge Solutions

My favourite teacher from my high school days, Mr ‘Geography’ Jones, died recently. I remember his enthusiastic anMagicd, at times dramatic teaching style as if it were yesterday. He brought Geography alive for us and his theatrical demonstrations of a glacier powering through a valley have stayed with all of us – we will forever know our terminal from our lateral moraine. I’ve pondered on what made him such a great teacher and after watching a TED talk by self-styled Education Pioneer, Christopher Emdin, recently, have come to the conclusion that it was the magic that he injected into lessons. He employed subtle but effective techniques to keep us awake, listening and most importantly engaged. He made us feel excited about Geography – no mean feat when dealing with a bunch of teenagers.

Christopher Emdin argues that educators are not taught to ‘perform’ in a way that will really engage their audience. Instead, he suggests that they should learn from watching hip hop or going to, what he terms, a ‘black church’. The magic for him is all about body language, inflection and participation. It’s certainly true that many of the most memorable performances I have seen have, the ones you could truly call magical, have not been in school or in a training session, but when some of the techniques Christopher mentions are employed in those settings, they can be very powerful and can stay with you for 20 years or more.

What has all this got to do with digital learning? Clearly, with digital learning you rarely have a ‘trainer’ or ‘teacher’ standing in front of an audience, unless you are doing something like a webinar, so how can we inject the magic into online learning?

  1. It is worth investing in beautiful graphics. As humans we are a superficial bunch and we will automatically make assumptions about content as a result of how it looks. A well designed piece that looks fantastic and resonates well with the audience will automatically be better received.
  2. Be playful. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun. Fun can be extremely memorable. Mr Jones once delivered a whole lesson on how they were breeding multi-coloured sheep in New Zealand without any of us batting an eyelid. He even had photos and graphics. His (very well made) point was to encourage us to question things, to develop critical thinking and not to take things at face value.
  3. Encourage participation. This might be through networks, wikis, peer support or through asking questions or contributing ideas during a webinar. It’s the equivalent to Christopher Emdin’s preacher asking for an ‘Amen’ now and then in terms of waking the audience up. It also has the added benefit of making them feel that their opinions are valued and that they have something worthwhile to contribute.
  4. Mix up the learning. For example, have your high impact ‘arm-waving’ scenario-based learning but combine it with the ‘hushed voice’ of resources.
  5. Include the WOW factor. Don’t be afraid of being creative with your learning design. As long as you include users from the beginning and make sure you build user testing into your project plan, you can ensure that it will be well received.

ReD is Dead

May 8, 2014

This month we bid a fond farewell to our much cherished and long-running Rapid eLearning Development (ReD) course. BacMID Crestk in mid-2009 the concept of a fictional Ministry of Instructional Design with a secret mission became an itch that I had to scratch.

It consumed me and I loved it. Jane Hart, Clive Shepherd and Patrick Dunn all helped to shape ReD in the early stages. It included eccentric characters (a hell-raising brain in a jar and a thespian pirate, amongst others), 3D games in tombs and deserts, collaborative mindmaps, videos, rapid elearning, interactive webinars and more, all accessed from a social network. It was ahead of it’s time and also a heap of work – eight assignments over 12 weeks, if you did everything!

Over the years we’ve had hundreds of people from all over the globe pass through the (virtual) doors of the Ministry of ID, many of whom keep in contact. On several occasions people have come up to me at a conference or event who are ReD Alumni.


Screen Shot from the MID Network which hosted the ReD Course

Screen Shot from the MID Network which hosted the ReD Course


So why did we retire ReD? Technology has moved on and so has my thinking on design. Plus I wanted to develop another open course (or two) in a goal-based learning format. ReD will eventually have two children; Digital Learning Design (DLD) and Digital Learning Production (DLP).

In Digital Learning Design I want to cover the strategic design of a learning or performance solution – essentially, what I do when we’re commissioned to undertake a project. My ideas are beginning to crystallise and as I analyse what I do it’s part process and part art. Too much process and you squeeze the creativity out of a solution, too much art and nothing ever gets built. Strike the right balance and you design something exceptional. This is where I want to help people get to.

We offer courses for free as a way to get our name out there and to upskill and enthuse the elearning community for the greater good, particularly those who are new to it. We’d much rather create something of genuine use to people rather than spend a load of money on Google ads or exhibitions. However, the trouble with things that are free is that people don’t value them. Subsequently a lot of people sign-up but then don’t complete the course. We’re toying with the idea of charging a small fee, 100% of which would go to a selected charity. That way, participants will be more committed, plus they get to feel good about giving to charity.

You can sign up for the Digital Learning Design course by emailing

Don’t use the G-word!

April 3, 2014

Gaming Buisness Man

There are some words that it is not good to use in polite conversation; the F-word and the S-word for example, are generally best avoided. In Learning and Development we also have the G-word, by which I mean “gamification”. The unrestrained use of this term tends to provoke strong reactions:

“Games? My kids play games. I’m an adult and learning is a serious business.”

“What can a game teach me? Just tell me what I need to know!”

Gamification (like ‘social learning’) is a term I tend to avoid unless the other party uses it first. The reason is that it leads to the common misconception of “So you want to make a game?” Gamification is simply the application of gaming techniques to encourage people to adopt certain behaviours.

We don’t have flip-top heads. We can’t absorb large quantities or information. We commit things to memory that have great meaning for us, or that we repeat multiple times. Any approach that encourages a user to repeat and reinforce the right behaviour is a good thing and many game techniques mimic the way we as humans naturally learn – through trial and error;

  1. We try something – we get an outcome.
  2. We try again, adjusting our approach – we get a different outcome.
  3. We repeat and adjust until we achieve the outcome we desire.

Here are some examples of how we’ve used concepts from games in our work:

  • Rewarding people for completing their profiles.
  • Recognising their effort or success with a badge.
  • Giving people a sense of progress towards a goal (and no, a progress indicator Page 23 of 231 doesn’t count!).
  • Rewarding the right behaviours or decisions with points.
  • Reducing the score for multiple attempts.
  • Having users indicate their confidence in their answer and this acting as a multiplier to their score.
  • Tasks that must be completed against the clock.
  • Tasks that encourage repetition.
  • Making assessments visual and competitive.
  • Having different outcomes depending on the decisions made.

These examples come from many projects but very seldom have we explicitly discussed the idea of games. Game techniques, as with social learning functionality, should be designed in to the solution only where they help the user achieve what they, or you, want them to achieve.

On your current project consider the behaviours you would like people to adopt. How big or complicated a change is it for them to make? What might motivate the users to make that change? Are there any techniques from games that might encourage them to do so?

The black listing of the G-word may be changing. Recently we’ve been approached a number of organisations who, much to our blushes, confidently and repeatedly use the G-word. This is very refreshing and I hope a change across our industry.


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