Love Your Learners - eLearning Blog

We bring you the most eminent thought leaders in their fields, from leaders in the tech and nonprofit sectors to one of the founding fathers of eLearning. Get engaged & love your learners!

To “e”, or not to “e”, That is the eLearning Question.

e-Learning: the 'e' is for Everyone!

e-Learning: the ‘e’ is for Everyone!

Well, at the very least, it’s a question I see from time to time. There is a short clever answer, and a longer answer. Let’s start with the former.

The “e” is for Everyone.

I believe everyone is both student and teacher. Of course this has always been the case, but our institutions and systems of “learning” have formalized too much of what is simply part of being human (please consult your local anthropologist for more information). With technology EVERYONE is empowered to not only search and consume, but to engage, collaborate, and reflect. I believe everyone has something to say and to teach.  Before the internet only special people could be teachers.  With the internet we are all teachers. And there’s never been a better time to enjoy learning.

The long answer isn’t so clever. When we talk about learning we’re really talking about biology and how our brains deal with our surroundings…and how we survive those surroundings. So, conversations around learning can be applied to both academics and corporate training. eLearning is a little more complicated.

I think most people will not argue that eLearning is technology supporting or enhancing teaching and learning.  However, some might argue that TV is a technology and so why didn’t we have eLearning back in the 60′s. Or radio even. Why stop there, let’s go with the pencil as technology while we’re at it.  And this is where the argument gets buried in…well….argument stuff. And this is where I lose interest in the conversation most of the time.

The reality is that there is a market for eLearning. Even moving the old model of classroom style teaching to an online version of exactly the same thing is considered eLearning. And reading a .pdf in a web browser and then taking a multiple choice quiz on the content is considered eLearning. Our industry has a tendency to get concerned about this. But the reality is that there is no right or wrong answer. The word “eLearning” has meaning no matter what you think the “e” stands for. In schools, eLearning is any technology based alternative to showing up in the classroom. Most of the time it’s self-paced or self-study, but it doesn’t need to be anymore.

We should be less concerned about the “e” and more concerned about how technology can help our kids, and how technology can provide business value in the form of corporate training.  This is where the true split happens. What does eLearning mean in corporate training versus K-12 and high-ed? While there is some overlap of applications, development processes, and tools, there are some significant differences.

But that’s a conversation for another blog post. But before I write it, I want to get your feedback.  Do you think there is a difference in eLearning between corporate training and education? If so, what are the biggest differences you see?

The LMS is Evolving…not dying!

litmosblog-laptop-coffecupI’ve written about the death of the Learning Management System, or LMS, in the past, and I’ve read others discussing the death of the LMS. I’ve been a firm…um…disliker (I know it’s not a word)…of LMSs for most of my career.  That is until 2007 when I first saw  Now it seems a bit ironic that I would be working for and promoting an LMS company. But the LMS of old is already gone. The first generation LMS born in the ’80s was well into retirement as we entered the 21st century. Many of the old systems still exist, and much of their still needed functionality has been reborn in newer systems. But the LMS of old no longer exists.  It didn’t die. It evolved, and is still evolving, into something better.

What the Evolution of the LMS Looked Like to Me

At the end of 2011 I was looking back in much the same way I am now. I, not so boldly, announced 2012 – The Year of the LMS. As the internet was evolving from what it was in the ’80s to what we use today, the eLearning industry was trying to keep up. Some of the old systems did their best to bolt on new functionality. Other new companies were launched and created new products…but they didn’t include some of the still needed basic functionality of an LMS. I watched many attempts by vendors to keep up with the new internet. Some were interesting and others were gimmicky. Everyone was searching for something new that would somehow make corporate training cool for the first time since…well…ever.

Yes, social collaboration is an important part of learning.  And yes, making learning fun is important as well. But I think we’ve all now experienced an implementation, or 2, of enterprise social tools with high expectations falling into the realm of total disappointment. And until we truly understand what “fun” is (please read “A Theory of Fun“) corporate training will fall considerably short of a good time. Your internal social enterprise system will never be “Facebook inside the company”. And corporate training will never be addictive fun, like Flappy Bird. So what happened?

The LMS: Beautiful Design, Ease of Use, Flexible and Extensible

After so many years of being angry at the LMSs in my life, it’s really nice to finally see all those words connected to the letters L – M – S.

The real success stories of Web2.0, or whatever you want to call the internet’s evolution, had a few things in common. The most important commonality, in my opinion, was the almost universal shift from “more is better” to “less is more”. The reality finally hit that there was too much unnecessary functionality in tools like MS Office. And that a better office suite could be successful if it focused overwhelmingly on making the few functions required by the major of users incredibly simple…and FUN to use. And similar stories are playing out across the entire tech industry. But it doesn’t mean that these tools are weak and limited. No. Exactly the opposite. Besides beautiful design, and ease of use, new internet tools are flexible, extensible, and connect seamlessly with other tools.

We learned a lot from the first generation of LMSs but it’s taken the industry a while to understand what the rest of the tech world knows. Tools that make work easier are delightful to use. is a delightful product. Before I joined the team I was a delighted customer.  And before I was a delighted customer, I was a delighted fan boy seeing Litmos for the first time. I have very high expectations of the technologies in my life, and while I’m still delighted, I’m even more excited about the future of the LMS than ever before…okay, ever. Period.

The term Learning Management System still exists and it’s not going away. It’s not dying. The tool and it’s most common functionality is still needed in the enterprise, and in SMBs around the globe. But the LMS has DEFINITELY evolved into something better, and I can assure you that the evolution will continue.

Congratulations DevLearn! 10 Years of Awesome!

ACTIONCongratulations to The eLearning Guild for 10 years of DevLearn!

DevLearn has been the most influential event in the eLearning industry for a decade, and most people probably couldn’t tell you who the 2 brilliant minds are behind the DevLearn curtain. That’s by design. And it’s only one of reasons why The eLearning Guild is so loved and why DevLearn has had such enormous success. DevLearn is all about the community!

David Holcombe and Heidi Fisk succeeded at creating the ultimate professional development one-stop shop for the Learning & Development industry with DevLearn as the flagship event.

DevLearn is, and always has been, about the community. The community is DevLearn and DevLearn is the community. It’s that simple. The same philosophy applies to The eLearning Guild as a whole, but DevLearn has a unique community of passionate professionals striving to improve everything they do.

Brent Schlenker and The eLearning Guild

I joined the eLearning Guild in May 2007 and loved every minute of it. David and Heidi took a chance and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime programming DevLearn. I can’t thank them enough for their patience, friendship, and mentorship, during my 5 years working with them.

Seriously! I’m not joking about taking a chance on me. I didn’t have ANY event experience and was more than a little freaked out…at first. And I totally sucked at it. But they stuck with me. My favorite advice from Heidi was to “just create the type of event I would want to attend”. And so with that, I set out to add my personal touch to the industry’s largest and best eLearning event. It was without question, the most fun I’ve had in any job so far in my career. (DevLearn is also where I met the founders of Litmos which is a story for another time.)

David taught me the secret sauce of events is in providing a physical space that encourages attendees to interact with each other. Even if you’ve never been to DevLearn, you’ve no doubt heard about the “buzz”, or the “vibe”, that exists.  It’s something very special and unique to DevLearn. That’s something I’ve noticed other events can’t duplicate. Other events may have some of the same speakers, and vendors in the expo, but they’ve just never figured out how to foster that feeling attendees get from being at DevLearn. And I had nothing to do with that. That’s all of what DevLearn brings out in the community.  And what the community brings to DevLearn.

Congratulations to Everyone Making DevLearn Great!

So, when we congratulate DevLearn on 10 awesome years, we’re really congratulating the eLearning community for being the vibe that makes DevLearn buzz.

(I know that’s what David and Hiedi would want me to say, but let’s face it, we’re really congratulating them on having the vision to create an incredible event. So kudos and congrats to you both.)

5 Non-eLearning Books for eLearning Professionals

5 non-eLearning

I’m not sure why, but reading about eLearning has never really interested me. I enjoy having conversations about it, but reading about it just doesn’t seem right. There are a lot of great books out there on eLearning and there are good lists as well to help you choose the best.  However, for this post, I’d like to just highlight and recommend a few non-eLearning books that I believe can improve your career in corporate learning and development.

The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman 

This is a classic and should be required reading for any industry or job title with the term DESIGN in it. I am a strong believer in design and reading this book early in my career was the best thing I ever did.  On several occasions in my past I’ve told engineering teams that the mere fact that I am needed means they haven’t done their jobs very well. I’ve even pleaded with them to put me out of a job: Design something SO amazingly simple and intuitive that NO training is required. Today I’ll settle for products only needing minimal training that can be accomplished in several short online, mobile-enabled, instructional videos. And thankfully, I’ve found exactly that at Litmos.

A Theory of Fun – Raph Koster 

I love this book SO much. It feels like every page has a powerful message directly related to what we do. In interviews this book is the answer when I get the standard question, “What book do you recommend most often?” I find myself recommending it a lot to people who are new to the eLearning industry and want a fun quick read that’s intellectually stimulating but not deadly boring. One of my favorite quotes, and there are many, from the book is this:

“There is a difference between designing the content and designing the end-user experience.”

Mind you, he is referring to game design.  But I would argue the same applies to instructional design. Please read it. You will not regret it.

Re-Imagine! – Tom Peters 

Tom has written a lot of books. But if you are going to start somewhere then Re-imagine is the one I’ll recommend. I can without question pin point the change in my career path, and personal motivation, to seeing Tom speak for the first time in 2000. As far as I know, he invented the idea of your personal brand. Nowadays every social media guru pontificates about building your social media presence and your personal brand.  But Tom talked about it before it was cool. He talked about having a personal web page. Back then, there was no Facebook, Twitter, or Linkedin.  Many consider his delivery a little over the top.  I love it! And I NEEDED it back in 2000.  He was the adrenaline shot I needed to get off the sidelines and get in the game.  Everything that is @bschlenker today started in 2000 after seeing Tom Peters and reading all of his books.  Yes! All of them.

Brain Rules – John Medina 

John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules are so good and relevant to elearning that he is the only speaker to keynote twice during my time programming events at The eLearning Guild. The book is a really fun read, and all 12 rules can be applied to your life. I’ll let Dr. Medina tell you all about it.

Welcome to Brain Rules from Pear Press on Vimeo.

A Whole New Mind – Dan Pink 

If Tom Peters was the beginning of my professional transformation, then Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind solidified my drive to continue on.  It’s no coincidence that I finally started my blog in 2005, the same year as the book’s release. The book covers what Dan calls “the six senses”: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning. I don’t just have a feeling about these things being important. I’ve lived them all. My best work has been done when these 6 elements are present. I can look back with clarity and say, “yea, hey, that Dan Pink guy was really onto something.”

Those are my 5 favorite non-elearning books that I believe are important books…and just fun to read and have near by when I need a little motivation.  What’s your favorite non-eLearning book about elearning?

Top 5 Corporate Training Department Guiding Principles

Corporate Training

Does your training department have a list of guiding principles? If not, then you can have mine.  Well, at least it’s a place to start.  You may end up with something different, but it will get you and your team thinking.

Sometimes documenting high level thoughts, ideas, or principles, can feel like a waste of time. I’ve been in more than one company spending way TOO much time trying to get the wording just right.  And then at the end of it, once the final draft is approved by everyone, it’s never talked about again.

Yes, I was one of those people early on in my career that could not see the value in the exercise.  But, like any other tool, you need to figure out how to use it within your own context of work. If you are a learning leader you should refer back to your guiding principles often.

I think the most important purpose of listing your principles is to improve communication within the company. Anyone new to the company can very quickly know quite a lot about who you are, and how you run your training department by simply reading your principles and understanding your values, and goals. Let’s take a look at these a little more closely.

In my personal corporate training slide deck I also have a sentence or two defining more clearly what these principles mean. I’ve listed those as well below.

We are knowledge brokers.

We build expertise in those who need it, by leveraging those who have it.

This is a big deal for me.  After 20+ in the learning industry, in one way or another, the real business value comes from being the middle man.  The training department is our home within the organization, and with that comes certain expectations, but overall nothing is more important than simply helping people do their job better by connecting them with knowledgeable peers and/or convincing the knowledgeable ones to share their expertise.

We put People first–Technology second.

We recognize the best training is often 1:1, but that doesn’t scale.  We strategically  use technology to amplify, and efficiently scale up, the human element of training.

This is an extension of the first, but no less important. Technology is cool but sometimes our use of learning technologies can get in the way of simply being an effective knowledge broker.  Sometimes two people just need to meet.  In some cases a simple paper checklist can solve a business problem. The idea is that we should be more interested in supporting people, and less consumed by what technology we want to use.

We build as we deploy.

At the speed of business, we iteratively develop scalable solutions while meeting current and immediate training needs.

This is something that has only recently been seen as an acceptable practice. I’ve written several posts about delivering a minimum viable training product and then evaluating it and then quickly adapt it based on your findings.  And then to continue this process as often as the solution is needed. This is painful for many in the learning industry to accept, but I can assure you that the business LOVES it.

We see learning as a long-term process.

We believe training events are only a part of the journey towards expertise.  We  leverage multiple content delivery channels to make content more readily available on demand in real-time.

This extends the previous item, “We build as we deploy”. Since we know that our brains required a long period of repeated exposure at certain intervals, it’s more important that we create learning processes than learning products.  To be clear, we still create learning products. They are just developed differently and iteratively developed and delivered over time to our learners.

We measure to evaluate success.

We ensure the effectiveness of training solutions by linking desired outcomes to business performance indicators, and tracking and evaluating results.

And last but certainly not least, we must prove that we are having a positive impact on the business. In some cases butts in seats is a valuable metric to know, and adds business value.  Other cases require us to measure successful business practices and make connections to sales. There is a lot to choose from.  The idea here is that whatever we decide to measure, it’s important to someone in the business and seen as a valuable addition to the business…and you can prove it.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Can your current training team hold up under these principles?

I’d love to hear your feedback. And remember, you are welcome to use these with your team. Let me know if they are helpful to you.