Learning Technologies

Learning Technologies 2018 in Review: Microlearning, Video & Social Focus

After working with a much more diverse range of clients during 2017 and having felt my outlook as an Instructional Designer change, I was very intrigued to see what the atmosphere would be like at Europe’s leading L&D exhibition for 2018.

One thing was for certain – I did not expect the level of turnout that greeted me as I entered the Olympia centre. Everywhere I looked I could see bustling crowds of people listening to a wide range of speakers from different nations and business backgrounds; sharing their most important messages for the industry going forwards into the new year. But just what exactly were these messages? Maybe more importantly were any of them worth paying attention to?

Well the short answer is yes, but it may not be the ones you think. As I walked around trying to find the most controversial or up and coming trend, keeping one eye out for unexpected or unusual topics, I couldn’t help but notice how popular the tried and true discussion points were still, despite their relatively aged positions in the industry.


Learning Technologies


Microlearning still retained a solid and noticeable position, with multiple speakers dedicating their stage time to the deeper application of its potential. For me, and the rest of the team at WillowDNA, this proved just as exciting as any of the more fringe discussions like the role of AI chat bots in elearning and so on. It showed just how innovative and pioneering WillowDNA was over a decade ago when it first emerged on the organisational learning scene.

If microlearning is still being discussed and explored in 2018, then it is definitely a mode of learning that is here to stay. This is good news for our business as microlearning was a founding tenant of our cloud based LMS Pathway.

But it wasn’t just microlearning that retained its relevance in the 2018 conference. Seminars related to social learning technology generated a fair amount of interest, with the fostering of a user driven learning culture seemingly tapping into the ascendancy of social media within the wider world.

Ease of access and consumption convenience are facets that bleed over between social and microlearning, which could explain microlearning’s impressive buoyancy in contemporary debate. While social learning as an industry term is not a new phenomenon, by the sounds of it, the true potential and scope within elearning has yet to reach its peak. While being fairly circumstantial from business to business, social learning still has a place at the forefront of L&D debate.

Video based content also boasted a healthy contingent of speakers, who focused on angles from knowledge retention and inciting culture change to instant gratification through bite-size knowledge clips. Video as a content medium is incredibly potent, but similarly to social learning assets, it must be rendered and deployed carefully and conscientiously. We will cover the details of its effectiveness in the near future, looking into research conducted by the Fosway Group, but being emphasised within several talks indicates video based learning is still growing into its role within L&D.

These well-known L&D topics are apparently still at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds despite newer terms such as Alternate Reality and AI starting to establish beach heads in wider discourse.

I am by no means writing off these fledgling additions to the L&D arsenal, but with WillowDNA’s decade-long championing of microlearning being a case in point, things take time to emerge as dominant learning solutions. Whether that’s because the sceptics amongst us demand rigour and endurance from hot trends before accepting them or some parts of the industry arrive later to the party, the same will apply to these emerging sub-fields.

I suspect it will be some time before we see them being discussed as confidently and vigorously as the big three, Micro, Social and Video – which for me, the 2018 Learning Technologies exhibition seemed to confirm.

Rory Birch – Instructional Designer, WillowDNA 


Contact us to find out how at WillowDNA we capture social, video and microlearning within the heart of our learning solutions.

eLearning Advice from Cambridge University

What’s next for e-learning?  Short and sharp is the view from Cambridge

Commentators at Cambridge University published an article earlier this year exploring the future of e-learning and role of short snappy content, supported by the guidance of an expert tutor.  This would shape the future delivery model for students.  Back in 2013 we published a White Paper exploring exactly this concept of created and curated content that powers our learning path design concept.  

It’s a model that our clients have used across the globe to deliver more impactful learning experiences and ensure collaboration and application are sustained.

eLearning Advice from Cambridge University

More and more, our team are working with clients to create short, high impact content, from animations and quick how to videos through to game style challenges and scenarios.

Debbie Lawley, MD at WillowDNA says ‘It’s great to see the recognition that content can inspire and start a learning journey but is recognised as part of the process.  Our role as learning content and technology suppliers is to help organisations set the scene for great performance through engaging the audience and inspiring change’.

A great example of this was our work with Mediabrands on a new tools launch back in 2016

As well creating formal performance content, a key element of the programme for their new tools launch was high impact comms content, designed to feed curiosity about the new tools and start conversations throughout the business:

To accompany the formal content and encourage independent research and application of the knowledge covered in the e-learning modules, e daily google quiz, developed using Articulate Storyline was released every day for a fortnight, encouraging learners back to the LMS to take part in daily challenges and win prizes.

Online quiz

YouTube Challenge

YouTube Tools

As a compliment to this, each global office were encouraged to upload video case studies of how they were using the campaign planning cycle in new work pitches and discussing the revenue generated.  Top case studies as rated by their peers won prizes for their local office and provided useful content for the business as a whole.

Getting to know you – a video on delivering what people really need

Our head of learning solutions, Lisa Minogue-White recorded a quick video on why we need to work harder to get to know our learners and what will really make a difference.

In this 2 minute piece, she explores;

  • how to make best use of technology to help create and share resources
  • why we should create a choice architecture rather than invest in big budget programmes and,
  • how we can really make a difference through focusing our time on helping people in the application of learning

CIPD L&D Show preview – times are changing

Next week, London Olympia will be host to the annual CIPD L&D show and a read through of the conference and seminar agenda reflects the state of the nation for learning and where emphasis will be placed moving forward.

From ‘Innovating and Upskilling the Learning Organisation’ to ‘Learning and the Future of the Professions’, the event is taking a decidedly future scoping view. There are a range of practical how to session covering video, microlearning, coaching and analytics which always prove popular. But there is no doubt that over the next year, we’ll see the conversations continue to focus on the shape, direction and focus of the new learning professional.

Lisa Minogue-White will be reporting from the event so check back for her report coming soon.

Will Virtual Reality enable a truly global economy?

Listening to the latest episode of the From Scratch podcast, my friends Nigel Paine and Martin Couzins were discussing the new report from Maisie VRLearn report, focussing on current uses of Virtual Reality (VR) in learning. What struck me whilst listening to the examples Martin and Nigel shared were the opportunities of social mobility and opening of a global market for skills and capability in a VR enabled world.

Given the current political landscape, with many countries taking an isolationist stance in international relations, its an interesting juxtaposition. If larger companies can use a VR enabled recruitment process to attract the best talent from an international pool of resource, it opens access and opportunity for individuals to access a global employment market.

Currently, widespread use of Virtual Reality for recruitment, virtual team working and education may be limited to the larger organisations and providers. But in comparison to the operational costs to provide these services or support global working on a global scale, the savings make the development investment worthwhile. Connectivity and accessibility to appropriate hardware have a way to go to truly make this a global playing field, but it could indicate a direction of travel. There is certainly still huge disparity in access to good quality data networks.

However, organisations such as Learn Appeal are rolling out devices to bring connectivity to once remote communities and mobile data networks continue to drive an increase in global internet use (sources such as the 2015 Internet Usage report from the World Bank and the International Telecommunications Union report make interesting reading). It could be that we see technologies such as VR and better support for virtual working actually driving further investment into connectivity as companies fight for the best global talent.

As the report is grounded in current uses of the technology, it also helps to bring Virtual Reality into the general narrative rather than a new or emergent approach. So it helps Learning and Development, Organisational Design and Business Process Improvement and many other business units have sensible and grounded conversations on enabling technology and its impact on the business. There are economies of scale that are pulling many technologies that may have felt out of reach onto the solutions menu.

It highlights yet again the importance of learning professionals embarking on true business engagement, analysis of key business processes, associated costs and current performance measures. VR will not answer all performance issues but an informed, agnostic approach which enables true business analysis supports the future of the professional and ultimately the success of the organisations we support.

Human curation – the story continues…

Following the seismic political events of 2016, I posted a piece called ‘Human Curation – Important Now More Than Ever’.  I focused on the importance of curation to ensure we don’t become myopic and why we need curators to ensure we have as much input as possible to make full rounded and aware decisions:

“open-mindedness, curiosity, a willingness to bring the unsaid stuff out onto the table and being able to listen are critical”.

Since publishing this, I came across a fascinating article from the Harvard Business Review written by researchers at Microsoft Research, which broadens the discussion still further.  I suggested that the role of curator could be of real significance and importance to organisational adaptability and survival, so we should nurture, support and value it.  Of course, much of the work of research, data analysis and synthesis is why there is such huge investment in AI (Artificial Intelligence).  So is curation necessary if IBM Watson and the many engines that drive services from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Microsoft and make more can take care of that for us? The reality is that sat behind the algorithms are many contract staff making decisions on content and filtering, censoring, removing or adapting content.  The ‘judgment call’ is so contextual to contemporary circumstances, trends, social norms and events that it relies on a combination of technology and human action.  So rather than replace the curator, its shaping and forming a new role and skill set.  One worrying aspect of this in its current guise is the importance and support given to those who are providing these services.  The article describes a fairly negative picture of the conditions, remuneration, standards and support for those who are conducting what is a fairly sophisticated editorial role. Its worth reflecting on this in our organisations – curating the information, research, data, stories, insights and content needed for our context as well as exposing the organisation to insights of which it may be unaware takes time, business insight, rigour, curiosity and skill.  If done well, the value it will deliver to the organisation will be self evident.  So as investments go, in time saved, ideas generated, new options made available, efficiencies, improved market awareness etc its worth giving the role proper consideration, development, support and reward. I’d love to hear from anyone who works in an organisation where they can share insights into the practice on the ground.

Apprenticeships and why technology enabled learning matters

We recently published a paper on the impact of the apprenticeship levy. It is possible that Brexit will delay the launch of the levy but organisations with a wage bill of more than £3m are certain to be asked to contribute to the investment in apprenticeship schemes in the near future. The aim is to create more than three million new ‘high quality’ apprenticeships. So what will be the hallmarks of a high quality programme? How will it engage and support young people in obtaining the requisite work experience and access to great quality training that they’ll need to thrive? The levy works two ways; to fund the schemes and to incentivise companies to make use of their investment by appointing Apprentices themselves as part of their recruitment strategy. Companies as diverse as PwC and Penguin[1] have announced their intention to scrap their graduate-only recruitment schemes.  Conversely, the apprenticeship schemes themselves are increasingly including this as a route to highly-regarded degrees without the debt burden.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The Department for Education needs to chart and follow a course from having a lot of apprenticeships to having the right apprenticeships in order to help improve the UK’s productivity and achieve value for money, in return for the costs of the programme.”

Increasingly, quality is seen as the most significant feature and there is considerable emphasis on standards and the Trailblazers. But having created the standard, enabling companies to work seamlessly with educating bodies and awarding organisations with the apprentice at the heart is key to this. Having apprenticeships working in diverse locations with tailored programmes is not easy. The original quality of each apprenticeship is fundamental and so is the ability to structure the learning with the working environment. Equally, apprentices need to know how they fit, how they are doing, to be able to collaborate with other apprentices potentially in different locations and to be able to tap into help as and when needed. Features to look out for in enabling technology: A common interface for the apprentice, the training organisation and the line manager.

  • Clear steps for the apprentice to follow as their journey to qualification unfolds
  • An ability to seed the learning paths with assignments that reflect their learning in the workplace.
  • Assignment capability that allow the apprentice to upload evidence in any format for review, feedback and assessment
  • Capability for the End Point Assessment (EPA) body to evaluate the outcome
  • Opportunities for apprentices to collaborate with others

The reality for many FE Colleges and others is that the internal software used on campus  is fit for that purpose but does not necessarily translate well when used across different companies. Those that adopt software that bridges that gap will stand out. [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35343680

Conversations on AI can take you anywhere, including Austin TX!

Conversations are everything – whether they are short and action focussed or long and exploratory, stories kick start the new.  It’s a conversation that has started a new adventure for me, a conversation with Myra Travin, Educational Futurist for Learning Now Radio on AI and the future of learning that could take me to SxSWEdu in 2017.  It is one of the most enjoyable episodes I have recorded so far, because it tackles a seemingly complex subject from a highly pragmatic perspective. Learning and development is a profession that has been accused in the past of just looking for the next shiny thing;  AI, data analysis and learning could just be resigned to another passing phase.  But if you are in that camp, then there’s another great conversation in this past week on Radio 4 in the excellent and very funny Simon Evans Goes To Market that may help change your mind.  In this episode, they demonstrate that Mathematics is the surest way to secure a good job and earnings prospects as the nature of work changes and data drives our world. Numbers  can no longer be ignored, even if you did struggle with long division at school or don’t know the airspeed of an unladen Swallow (I’ll accept answers for either African or European Swallows, Monty Python fans). For learning, the impact of data and artificial intelligence could be profound – one of the challenges that limit organisational success is not lack of information, but the ability to put it to work.  The ability to draw on and learn from information to make decisions and test hypotheses has been transformed through AI. The hours of trawling through case law in legal services companies, cross referencing medical data and treatment outcomes in medicine, the change is happening now.  Soon the availability of systems that can utilise AI engines will help us organise, process and draw well-researched conclusions to help inform decision making will permeate the way we learn and work. There are some concerns about this and questions raised on the future of roles in organisations, but that’s why it’s so important we get talking about it now and understand how we can build a great future in this new context.  This takes me back to that great conversation that started this all off.  Myra has a gift of making the topic accessible and motivating you to go off googling for the latest stuff on AI and trawling through back issues of Wired Magazine!  She also laid down the gauntlet to me to think about the role I can play with helping others understand how AI will shape the way we work, learn and innovate. But rather than keep with in the realms of conversation, we want to take action – so having Mark Sheppard on the panel, a man of learning action who’s actually getting on with this stuff is fantastic.  His experience within the xAPI community and developing the Learner Experience (LX) model with Myra will bring a real grounding to the topic.  So here’s three of us, an educational futurist, Human Capital and EdTech expert and a knowledge management and learning strategist, putting our heads together, looking at the emergent picture in organisations and taking these conversations and turning them into practical steps. That’s what we’ll be sharing with you at SxSWEdu 2017 if you help making it happen. Please vote for our session at the SxSW PanelPicker and in the meantime, keep watching for more on the topic in the coming months.  Thanks for voting!

Learning Live Preview – a conference where you can get stuff done

leanring liveSummer time and the livin’ is easy?  Well being specialists in the tougher L&D challenges, we aren’t ones for the easy life!  A good creative and intellectual challenge is what we prefer and the issues facing the changing face of learning and performance in organisations required some rigorous thinking. That’s why I would encourage you to get along to Learning Live on the 7th and 8th September, as its a departure from your standard conference.  The format is lecture free, which makes the event by its nature, highly collaborative.  For someone attending, its means you can come along with questions and expect to leave with practical answers. It can be difficult to find the time and the budget to get out to events but because the LPi have worked so hard to make these sessions to participatory, you can expect to leave with some of your strategic to do list ticked off. Some of my essential sessions include:

MICHELLE PARRY-SLATER: The value of free: creating fantastic learning assets

NICK SHACKLETON-JONES – Redesigning Learning

JOE TIDMAN: Delivering an agile Global Learning Strategy

ANDREW JACOBS: Developing the L&D professional to be relevant to the business

TOM SPIGLANIN: Personalised learning in unusual places

CATHY HOY: Embedding Learning – Maximising the role of the Manager

BRENT SCHLENKER: VR isn’t the future – it’s the past & present (and future)

Oh and of course my session 🙂

LISA MINOGUE-WHITE: Learning where it really matters – a practical guide to understanding the business through value chains


CIPD L&D Show Preview

Take a quick look at the conference programme for this year’s CIPD L&D show and the key theme becomes clear – transforming learning. future for learning In previous years, the major of the conference has been typified by presentations of specific L&D projects, from organisational wide transformation, through to specific interventions for key areas of the business (such as new approaches to sales academies, leadership programmes or innovative use of learning technology).  This year, heads of L&D and CLOs are going bigger – sessions such as ‘How L&D Can Lead Digital Transformation in 2016’ and ‘Removing Organisational Barriers to Empower your People’ to ‘Influencing Business Leaders to Embrace the Modern Learning Agenda’ typify the agenda. I’m looking forward to reporting back from the event, to see how this transformative theme is received and some of the highlights from the session.