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elearning – Design4Performance

Category - elearning

6 Steps to Creating Learning Ecosystems (and Why You Should Bother)


Here‚Äôs a quick recap for those just tuning in…

70:20:10 has shone a spotlight on the limits of formal learning. In contrast, social and experiential learning continue to be veritable goldmines of productivity, placing learners at the centre of their story and demanding a major shift from Learning & Development professionals.

Skip ahead and we find ourselves faced with an amazing opportunity. We can shed our obsession with isolated formal learning and embrace the real question: how can we best support organisations and individuals to develop a culture of continuous learning and high performance. 

Central to this cultural shift is the understanding that learning happens bylearners, not to them. When we really let that sink in, rather than just forcing attendance at a workshop or completion of an elearning module, the focus becomes creating a context that will encourage and support learning and high performance.

That’s where learning ecosystems come in. More¬†than a fixed environment, the word ‘ecosystem’ implies complex interactions and continued growth which might¬†include:

  • a range of people (managers, peers, mentors, coaches)
  • just-in-time performance tools (checklists, quick reference guides)
  • social networks (yammer, chatter)
  • processes (six sigma, kaizen)
  • formal learning elements (micro videos, webinars, workshops)
  • technology platforms (LMS, wikis, intranets)
  • work based learning mechanisms¬†(action learning projects) and much, much more.

Such ecosystems represent rich, fluid environments that continue to develop and evolve based on peoples requirements and the needs of the organisation. The underlying aim is to help people develop in ways they need, when they need to, in the ways that are most effective to them.

Sounds idyllic, but even if it seems a distant dream we can begin to move in this direction with a few relatively simple steps.


“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.”¬†
– Katrina Gutleben

To embrace informal learning we must empower¬†learners to play¬†a central and proactive part¬†in the process. Particularly because this runs counter to our previous approach, we need to actively encourage intrinsic motivation via¬†a ‘positive marketing’ approach that establishes clear benefits and WIIFM (I like¬†John Keller’s ARCS model for formal aspects of this).

Beyond engagement, we can support a growth mindset (as per¬†Carol Dweck’s work) via a range of techniques including¬†‘learn to learn’ tips or by incorporating a sense of possibility¬†and progress into the reflection and coaching process.


“By putting a measurable business goal ‚ÄĒ a high-level evaluation ‚ÄĒ first and making it the center of everything we do, we publicly commit to improving our organization‚Äôs performance and demonstrate our value.”
 РCathy Moore

I still find myself using variations¬†of Cathy Moore’s classic¬†Action Mapping approach¬†to identify which¬†key levers¬†(knowledge, skills, motivation or the environment) will impact on performance and therefore broader change. Her system walks you through how to target real¬†outcomes rather than transferring knowledge for knowledge sake. As a result, it will often lead to creating¬†performance tools rather than courses.


“We don’t learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
 РJohn Dewey.

Reflection is an easy yet all too ignored tool that must¬†be¬†integral¬†to any learning culture and ecosystem. It can be supported via¬†journals, group/individual¬†coaching, mentors, ‚Äėwin/learn/change‚Äô processes or elements of¬†social¬†learning.

Charles Jennings recently identified three simple, powerful questions for reflection which were (paraphrasing) ‘what have I done?’, ‘what would I do differently next time?’ and ‘what is the key lesson from this?’


Scaffolding consists of less than 10% of a building but take it away too early and you’re more likely to be left with a rock pile than a building. Similarly, formal learning can help shape and direct informal learning.

Properly integrated into a broader journey, formal learning can prime learners by providing a WIIFM or context; focus attention on key aspects before and during an experience; flip content to efficiently deliver knowledge requirements; frame a learning experience; and provide micro learning just-in-time resources that can be accessed at the point of need.

Like scaffolding, the aim should be to use formal learning to encourage and support a culture of learning so when the formal elements are removed, learners still thrive through experiential and social learning.


If we accept that much of our learning happens on the ground and with people then it’s obvious that managers play a crucial role. In fact a much quoted figure is that effective managers can have a 25% impact on staff performance improvement.

An effective learning ecosystem must engage managers and arm them with toolkits and support structures. This might include just-in-time video guides, elearning simulations, communities of practice, group coaching, observation grids, checklists or debriefing sessions. Any investment here has a massive cascading effect to the rest of the organisation.


If you throw people into a¬†social environment it’s unlikely they’ll¬†click into a thriving and supportive community of practice of their own accord. Similarly, it‚Äôs not enough just to provide a social platform and sit back waiting for magic to happen.

We can’t structure or even schedule social learning, but we can seed it by providing real value on social learning platforms. This might include linking it to projects that participants care about; leading discussions that actually help address issues of concern; and using the platform to distribute key resources and information. Similarly, other events or tools can promote a social aspect (e.g. a just in time video explaining a communication technique can encourage learners to view and contribute to the discussion forum on the same topic).


I hope these steps help you move your organisation away from a passive culture and towards one that empowers learners to embark on their own learning journey.

Which ones resonate for you? What other steps would you recommend or have you had success with?

Please add them to the comments.


This post was first published on my LinkedIn site in August 2015.

eLearning Modules will Die… and 70:20:10 will hold the Smoking Gun


When talking¬†about¬†technology and learning it’s hard not to think about elearning modules. They’ve been the bread and butter of digital learning solutions¬†for decades and the industry behind them has helped many, including myself, feed our families.¬†So I take no joy in predicting that elearning modules will inevitably be murdered.

‘Who would commit such a horrific crime?’ I hear you yell as one… well, I’m sure one of you at least thought it… maybe.

Anyway, lets start our investigation with the unassuming victim.

eLearning Today

The best of today’s elearning modules have learnt from past excesses.¬†They still embrace an engaging, highly visual approach¬†but¬†also incorporate recent¬†understanding of¬†cognitive load, strategically combining text, audio and images for greater effectiveness.

From an instructional perspective, they use¬†knowledge checks, scenarios, branched narratives and gamification. They extend¬†rapid elearning tools to the limit so they can increase interactivity and reduce the dreaded ‘Next’ button¬†fatigue. Some even allow learners to assess¬†first, so they can access the support they actually need rather than going through the entire ‘sheep dip’ experience.

In effect, elearning modules have¬†matured through their heady ‘Flash driven teenage days’ and are in the prime of their life… which makes their inevitable demise even more tragic.

Enter 70:20:10 Stage Left (Armed and Dangerous)

When we get past the distractions of debating ratios, we can focus on the fact that 70:20:10 is essentially a mindset change, championed by the likes of Charles Jennings and Jane Hart.

It¬†represents a growing understanding that learning is not something that primarily happens to people at events or in front of elearning modules, it’s something that people own and experience¬†continuously, with other people, in their life and work.

New Challenges for L&D

Learning and Development professionals are beginning¬†to support this¬†change¬†‚ÄĒ¬†creating learning ecosystems that¬†empower learners¬†by¬†deepening experiences and reflect on them, while encouraging¬†rich interactions with¬†peers/ mentors/ and coaches.

Many in L&D have¬†embraced the fact that formal learning¬†doesn’t do the heavy lifting in learning, but let’s not swing the pendulum too far because formal learning still has an important role to play.

In part, formal learning must become the scaffolding to support learners as they develop the mindset, skills and culture to be continuous learners. But more than that, the real challenge lies in how we can liberate formal learning from its existing confines (in an LMS or classroom) and allow it to seep into the moments and places where learners actually learn: in their workplace, with their peers, and in the time of need.

Done right, formal learning can add tremendous amounts to a blend, including:

  • Priming mindset and/or directing focus of learners;
  • Introducing high level core concepts or frameworks (possibly through case studies or worked examples); and
  • Providing just-in-time & just enough performance support.

Those of you paying attention might have noticed the clue to our murder case… we now have motive.

eLearning¬†Modules are Dead… they just don’t know it yet

Consider your own experience. You’re about to do something new or challenging – where do you go for help? Maybe you’ll ask a colleague? More of us would Google it. From there we’d seek out summaries, tips or even short instructional videos.

Have you ever, in your life, used an elearning module as a just-in-time resource? Have you ever voluntarily gone back to do an elearning module just to reinforce its learning? I’ve been asking these¬†questions of clients and I keep getting a resounding ‘no’.

It’s not the elearning modules¬†fault, it’s hard not to look¬†cumbersome and tired in a world where:

Having rattled off those amazing advances¬†I’m going to highlight¬†the obvious pitfall: we won’t¬†create 70:20:10 experiences by focusing on¬†technical fixes, but they’ll certainly play their part in supporting the required changes.

From the Blended Learning Trenches

From a personal perspective I’ve found that my work designing digital elements of 70:20:10 inspired blends at DeakinPrime has begun to lead us down the path of¬†mobile apps rather than traditional elearning modules. But even from a low tech perspective, I’ve found myself focusing on¬†creating online checklists, cheat sheets and short videos.

An elearning module might serve¬†as the¬†initial container of these resources ‚ÄĒ¬†providing¬†context, motivation and a demonstration¬†of how they might be used¬†via an engaging scenario¬†‚ÄĒ¬†then, like cracking an egg, the module is¬†disposed of and the assets become part of the learner’s ongoing toolkit.

eLearning modules, despite their many strengths, seem too ‘closed’ and inflexible to fit into the more pervasive learning era¬†we are striving towards. They’ll probably live forever in small pockets¬†such as compliance, but for large blended programs that support 70:20:10 I’m starting to think that the trigger has been pulled¬†and their days are numbered.


This post was first published on my linkedin site in June 2015