Two of the main hot topics at the moment are L&D capability and MOOCs.  I wanted to share some of the work I’ve been doing where we’ve used one, to help solve the problem  of the other.

Towards Maturity’s Modernising Learning, and Kineo’s Learning Insights are just two of a number of recent articles which refer to a skills gap in learning – for both traditional L&D skills, but also in creating blended and digital content.

There’s also an acknowledgement that a lot of what gets built as eLearning isn’t very good (okay, most of it is probably rubbish). And, that we rarely have the time to invest in our own development.

Take that issue and put it into my organisation.  We have the challenge of designing, pretty much from scratch, operational training for all the business functions.  There will be a whole new group of people with limited or no L&D experience, looking at not only how to identify the performance and skills gaps, but also selecting and designing the appropriate solution to fix these.

So a colleague  and I have been asking how we can help them.  How can we upskill these colleagues to create blended learning and design great solutions? How can we help them do this quickly, learning at the point of need, and ensure that we get quality learning for the business?

Linda and I’s answer has been to pull together a Trainer excellence programme that focuses on scoping and design of learning.  Core to this design has been a desire to practice what we preached.  To look at resources not courses.  To deliver a blended programme to help colleagues learn for themselves, and to reduce the face to face style typically used internally.


Heavily influenced by the great experiences I’d had last year on the #dcurate and #learnov8 MOOCs run by @MOOCpro, we wrapped our programme  in a MOOC format, using curatr.

Through this platform, learners can access elements of games based learning (points and badges), a self-directed and social platform to access resources and a format which can support their learning as they design materials for their audience.  This gives them exposure to the different elements of 702010, looking at the social and on the job opportunities for the business, as well as formal interventions.

We ran each topic – scoping, design, and evaluation – over a month, run largely online but with webinars and face to face when it fit with the content.

inclass                                                                                  curation2

Is it a true MOOC? Probably not.  It’s not massive.  We’re deliberately limiting the audience size, as there is still some face to face  and webinars where we want to encourage synchronous social interaction,  and because as we contribute to the discussion thread, we need to manage the amount of time we spend on it!  Our content is split into sections or levels, each of which must be passed with an activity that pulls together what the learner has been covering (usually in the context of the project they are working on), which we are also assessing – so we  need to be able to manage marking the homework!

It’s not open either; it’s by invite only at this stage, so we can monitor (loosely, it’s not about tracking) which of the operational trainers have been through the content.

But it is an online course which encourages learners to dip in and out, and provides certification at the end of it, if that’s a driver.  The course is driven by the learners and their social interaction; our comments are there to support and coach.

Our initial pilot ran from July to September with 10 L&D colleagues.  Most were experienced facilitators, but who had never designed training from scratch.  We had some great conversations taking place on the site, and some clear changes in behaviour with those who really took the programme to heart.

Lessons learned:

Motivation.   50% completed the course.  Those who finished did seem to be more motivated.  I’m not sure that all on the pilot wanted to learn more about these skills, as some were volunteered for it.  With some of the facilitators (where it was all they knew), there was a clear resistance to doing anything differently.  Despite the fact it be more effective, and could save time and money.

Style: MOOCs are a step change in learning practices for a traditionally face to face organisation. It was clear that a couple of colleagues didn’t seem to embrace the concept of self-directed learning, and still would rather have had it delivered in a classroom.  It’s also why we still factored face to face and webinars as part of the blend, to keep this connection to the traditional, but putting it into a more “modern” learning blend.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those who were less motivated, who struggled with this self-paced learning, also are continuing to design poor, dull, (face to face) learning.

Competition: Games based learning elements definitely added something to the learning experience.  When we kicked off the session many of the pilot group expressed reservations that points seemed mercenary, and that they weren’t a driving factor.  As soon as they started the course that did seem to change, with flurries of interaction as their competitive streaks came out and tried to get to the top of the leader board.


My favourite story is about the person who embraced the course the most (and came top of the leader board).  At our kick off session, there was gentle ribbing of one of the training managers, who was deemed the “dinosaur”, technophobe and the person least likely to complete it.  The fact was that person embraced the course, was consistently at the top of the leader board, beating her co-workers. She was motivated.


So what next? 

We’re reshaping the content to try and make it work even better with the next group who will be starting at the end of January (we’d have run it sooner, but life/work got in the way).

We’re also looking at getting the course accredited so that there’s an extra motivational factor and some tangible reward for colleagues going through this.

We’re going out to the next group of keen participants.  We can still cover more colleagues than with traditional classroom based learning but demand will continue to outstrip our ability to run the programme alongside our other work.  We’re going to focus on the most motivated colleagues first, and alongside the other changes we make to the programme, try and work on the scarcity factor.

We’re also factoring in more set up work around what participating on the programme means in terms of self-directed learning, but also we’re going to grow the group size.

Finally the programme will ultimately be broadened to also look at trainer delivery skills and eLearning design, for those who are tackling that internally.

If you want a quick performance support aid, that actively engages colleagues on mobile devices, consider a brief animated video.

We’ve used these a lot in the business over the last 6 months, they’re perfect to brush up your skills just before a meeting, or as part of a team building exercise, or sharing over a mobile phone. It’s possible to create these animations externally or, if you’re feeling creative,  use the tips in the video below to create something in an afternoon.

Originally posted on 24 tips December 2013

This first came to my attention through Donald Clark’s blog post last week .  I hadn’t heard or seen anything else about it, so the notion of a serious eLearning manifesto came and went, and then Clive Shepherd blogged about it on Thursday. Then my twitter time line exploded with the launch of “The serious elearning manifesto”.

Strip away the word serious and the word manifesto and I agree with the underpinning principles of good design, but I won’t be adding my name to the list of pledges. The more I read, the more I saw, the more something niggled at the back of my mind.

Why?  Because I don’t like the hoopla around it.   I don’t like the word serious, or the word manifesto – needlessly politicising something which shouldn’t be politicised.    I didn’t much care for some of the slightly aggressive tweets in the surrounding twitter time line about people being unprofessional if they didn’t follow the manifesto.

Why else? Because despite the fact I’ve been pushing for any content I’ve been involved in designing over the last 5 years to be designed well, to be engaging (for years my internal work mantra has been “scrap the crap”), I think it’s not looking at the root cause.

Let’s take a step back.  Are we focusing on the right issues and audiences?

1)       the need to stop looking at the components and think generally about learning differently – there may be no need for (e) learning at all (may have just done myself out of a job. Again.).   As Lesley Price said on twitter – it isn’t just about eLearning, or learning technologies, the core principles – cover all learning.  Let’s stop focusing on one particular medium and view it as a whole.

2)       Who really is creating eLearning these days? The initial supporters of the principles are well known industry names, but sadly as I find on a daily basis those names are pretty much unknown outside of our circle. The bulk of the population creating the “not so good basic information” content won’t ever hear about it.  Most people creating content for their organisations don’t have an eLearning background. Some of them don’t even have a learning background.  They have been tasked with turning out something online in a couple of weeks. Some of it’s rubbish, some of it is okay.   And you know what?  Many of their audiences who’ve never seen any eLearning still think the not so good stuff is great.  (Probably totally ineffective, but still better than what they’ve had)

3)      The people we really need to target are those commissioning the learning in organisations, who ask for it to be developed in a couple of weeks, the “we need a course” brigade.   They might be in the learning department (even leading it) or it might be the business itself. These are the ones who demand the “information-giving-not-performance-related” content.

I have lost track of the time that I have spent trying to get to the root cause of a perceived training need. Sometimes you win the debate, sometimes you still need to buckle down and make the best of a bad situation, as you’re being paid to design.  Here you just have to make the learning as sound as possible and fit for the need, making incremental changes to our designs.

4) Andrew Jacobs raised an interesting point. Some eLearning vendors do need to step up more (not all, it’s not a moment for vendor bashing). I’ve had conversations with vendors before who themselves have admitted that as an industry they may have got complacent; just churning out the usual “click next” material.  We saw last year at the eLearning age awards that the usual stuff wasn’t winning awards. I’ve seen it in the tenders I issue.  Over half the returned submissions parrot back a version of my scoping document.  No calls to question, dig deeper, or clarify.  Literal interpretation. If that’s what happens in the tenders, what chance does the eLearning have of being any good? Maybe I’ve seen too many eLearning projects now, but half the initial scripts I get are all carbon copies of one another.   Lather, rinse, repeat. Perhaps this will be the lasting legacy of the manifesto.

Although this manifesto has it’s heart in the right place, it feels as if it’s used the wrong language and targeted only a tiny part of the audience. That feels like a design fail to me.

Ultimately, I don’t need to sign my name to something; I am and always have been committed to sharing my knowledge and the best practice I’ve learnt to the people I engage with in both my business and my network.

I enrolled onto the University of Edinburgh Digital Cultures MOOC to see what all the hype has been about. I wanted to find out more, and, typically me, dissect what they had put together to see how I might use it back in the workplace.

I’ve gone into this with an open mind, and I have to say, disappointingly I’m underwhelmed.  As a learning experience I’m finding it lacking. I don’t know yet what I attribute this to, self-directed study is nothing new for me, so is it the size, the structure, or the content? (I’m beginning to suspect it’s the latter, video critiques never have floated my boat).

My key impressions:

They’re nothing new. I did a similar style course through Barnes and Noble’s e-university back in 2000-2001. All we have here are a few more articles to read and the inclusion of video.  I certainly feel like I learnt more on those courses a decade ago, skills I still use today.(Again I come back to the content question)

It’s more interesting reading the general discussion and support boards than the course content threads.  Quite a few of the learners are still enrolling and expecting the same, traditional educational model – that is direction from the lecturers – rather than the fact that it’s about self-study.  Clearly there’s a need for some more information about the course upfront, possibly before the main course opens.

M for Messy.  It’s too massive.  There are supposed to be 40K learners enrolled though I’d guess the 1-9-90 rule is in play because the number of posts seems to work at around 1% of that audience.

The number of posts is almost impossible to track, even in the first week. There was a tweet earlier this week from someone in another MOOC which put learners into groups of twenty for discussion boards who much preferred being in a smaller group.  I think there are pros and cons for this. The more reticent learners could be more inclined to post in smaller groups, learners might feel less overwhelmed, but will you miss out on some of the “good” thoughts and ideas from other groups?

It’s not feeling that collaborative. There is a lot of activity, but possibly because of the volume of posts (those background forums are full of learners feeling overwhelmed), possibly as a result of the technology deployed, many of the posts are people saying the same thing one after another.  The linear layout makes it hard to track and recall what you have seen.  Do you go in with your own post, or do you trawl through 300+ posts to find the one which you can hang your own remarks on the back of?

The technology lets it down. Click to go to the page with the weeks resources. Click on the navigation to go to the discussion boards.  Scroll and click to find the relevant post. Read and scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll to find the bottom of the thread or a post to comment against.  There are too many steps to be able to comment and add to the conversation.  It either leads to the independent posts mentioned above or could lead to 90% never bothering to post. Those background forums are full of learners wanting to learn offline/during their commute asking for materials in different formats.

There’s no searching. There are no keywords, it’s purely linear, which adds to the time to try and get anywhere. It seems odd, when we live in a Google culture that we can’t perform a basic keyword search on this course. It’s also slightly ironic that in a week where the learning topic is “technology’s impact on society and to a lesser extent learning” that the deployed solution is a hindrance to my learning experience.

Have I learnt anything at the end of my first week?  Yes.

Is it related to the course material? No.

But it has achieved my learning objective.  I can see the value in MOOCs.  I can see how they could work well using curating technology to help the learner find what they want to learn about. It could be a great personalised learning experience – the bones of the content are created or curated by the learning team, based on learning objectives.  The learner picks and chooses the content that is relevant to their learning experience, instead of being sheep dipped. At #lt13uk Dr Chris Paton stated that “learners shouldn’t even really need to register – learners should just be able to dive in” and learn what they need/want and then leave or ‘drop out’.  They will have achieved their aims (thanks for the summary @kategraham23).

But you do have to be able to find what you are looking for first.

When many of us talk about accessible eLearning, we think of low-res text only versions, or separate word documents.  There are no real defined accessible elearning standards, so many of us may feel that we want to make something accessible, but don’t know what that entails, or what to ask for.

What’s it all about:

Accessibility is about making learning content available to everyone.   For many years the Learning department has provided the “accessibility document” to support those learners with a visual, learning, physical or auditory impairment.  Until recently, that’s been deemed “enough” for many organisations, but the  Accessibility Technology Charter from BTAT, and Saffron’s recent article on a need for a common standard are challenging organisations (and developers too) to say “let’s do more”.

But there’s also an interesting connection that many things we can do to make our learning accessible, if done well,  also serve to make our learning more usable.

Here’s my list of simple, practical things you can do to create accessible and great learning:

Think legibility.  The easier it is to read, the more all learners can focus and pay attention to the content

–         Do not use text effects – do not add shadow, reflection etc. It makes it harder to read the text

–         Do not use images to convey large amounts of text, they pixelate easily and are hard to read. Buttons are okay, but don’t use a text box to hold more than a couple of words

–         Don’t use watermarks or images as backgrounds. This impacts legibility and may distort words

–         Ensure you use a good font size  – 12-14pt (or equivalent ems) and a Sans serif font – preferably Verdana.  These are easier to read onscreen.

–         Ensure that there is a good contrast between text and colours used on screen.e.g. black on white is good, but white on light blue isn’t a great contrast. The less the contrast, the harder it is to read.  You can use contrast checkers such as


Think Ease. The easier it is to understand or navigate, the more the learner can concentrate on the content, the classic “Don’t make me think”

–         Enable keyboard navigation for all screen elements – not everyone uses a mouse, and sometimes it’s easier to move around the page using a tab key

–         Ensure consistent navigation throughout the content, e.g. key buttons should remain in the same place.  It’s easier to move through the learning, and your learner isn’t distracted figuring out what they need to do next

–         Don’t use colour to convey meaning alone or to identify any elements on the screen (e.g. ‘click on the green box’) – learners who are colour blind won’t necessarily know what you are referring to. (There’s some great guidance on how colour blindness affects web users here )

–         Write in plain English, using simple, clear wording. Keep sentences short and to the point

–         Limit the use of acronyms or abbreviations where possible


Think “Choice”. Is there an alternative to audio, image or text?  As well as supporting learners with disabilities, it presents learners with an alternative too.

–         Provide a Transcript of Audio/Video clips. Not only does this aid the hearing impaired, other learners may not have audio enabled, be unable to use it in open plan offices or just prefer to read content.

–         Label your key images using the ‘alt’ attribute  – this  enables understanding through screen readers or if a page is slow to load.  This is really important for a summary of graphs or process flows

–         Ensure that the learner can control the speed at which text builds in animations or teasers. There’s nothing more annoying than being half way through a sentence and it …………………….(moves on before you can complete it).  As ell as being irritating for most learners, it’s not an easy or positive experience for those with visual or learning difficulties.

–         Create an accessible document.  These are still useful.  Use properly formatted headings in MS Word or equivalent so that screen readers can put the right emphasis on content.  Use images wisely to support content, and ensure images are ‘meaningful’ not just there for effect.  Accessible docs work well for those with Learning Difficulties or who simply struggle reading content online.

Accessible learning doesn’t have to mean reducing the effectiveness or quality of your learning. By making these changes you can make your learning more effective for all learners.  Content will be better presented, easier to navigate and simpler to take in.

But finally, a word of common sense.  Whilst we should make our materials as accessible as possible,  elearning is a delivery method, not the learning itself.  It may still be a better learning experience to have a 121 session with a line manager to support the learner further.

You can keep an eye on the progress of accessible elearning standards on twitter by following the hashtag #accessibleel

I usually forget where I’ve left this, but thought it would be a useful online resource for those wanting to know more about elearning and learning technologies in general.  It’s a starter for 10, things I have used read, or studied as part of my continuing professional development.


Follow and nose through follower lists. Start small, be selective and look for “new tribes”, people outside your network

Professional Networks:

eLearning Network:

eLearning  Guild:

Thought leadership, blogs & expertise




Learning technologies – go for the free exhibition, free seminars and good to get a general insight

Formal courses:

I often work with SMEs to review content that’s being designed internally, or using external developers.  There are always a number of areas that I feed back on which can improve the experience if addressed, and I try to get them to consider when writing future content.

Here’s a list of the top things I look for:

In the scripts:

Any objectives which mention understand.

I work on the principle that, really, if it says the learner should understand, it should be a piece of comms, not learning.  Make the objectives more active – what will learners be able to do at the end?

 Is it relevant ?

Make sure the content fits the objectives – it keeps to the point. If it dilutes the message or doesn’t even belong, it shouldn’t be there.

Does it make sense?

Can you read the sentence without thinking you have stumbled into an episode of Yes, Prime Minister?  Could it be said in a shorter, clearer way?  Remember to review the learning as an expert and as a learner.  Don’t make assumptions with jargon – add a glossary if necessary.

Redundant padding words or phrases

This has to be my biggest pet peeve when reviewing content:

  • “It is essential to remember” or “it is important to remember that”– if it wasn’t it shouldn’t be in the elearning!
  • Therefore (just padding)
  • “As you are aware” or “as you are may be aware”… you’re going to tell them anyway, why have it!?
  • “Hopefully you should”– doesn’t inspire confidence – ditch the hopefully
  • It is mandatory (in a mandatory module.  Said several times)
  • Inter alia (or other latin phrases which won’t suit your audience!)
  • In this regard…
  • “When you are ready click next to continue”… delete the first part

You get the picture! Just delete them – it’ll save space.  Space and a learner’s attention are precious – don’t lose it unnecessarily.

 In the elearning module:

The visual stuff:

Does the text sit right on the page?  Is there too much or not enough – are you running off the page or is there just a sentence on the page?  Too little content on the page is just as bad as too much on the page before.

Does the next button work?

We’re providing learning for adults.  Give them the choice – they may know some of the content already, don’t force them to complete anything.


Is the contrast right – use white text on black backgrounds sparingly – some people get migraines from this.  Have you used too many colours on the page – does it just feel too much – do you need a pair of sunglasses to read the page?

As I said, this is just a starter for ten, there are many other things to consider – you might have a brand guidelines checklist you can also use that directs font or imagery.  From the content perspective, you’ll develop a feel for what will work with your learners.  Spend the time, be thorough – you’ll get better content as a result.


Originally published for the eln’s 24tips December 2011


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