Archive for the ‘e-learning’ Category

Getting E-Learning Right – Building Adaptive E-Learning Programs


LinkedIne-learningconceptHuman beings, unless they engage in the careful, systematic work and thinking that is the backbone of modern psychology, basically understand others by thinking others are like themselves. We project our inner experience on those around us. Our internal experience is what is most readily available to us. It makes most sense to us. Believing that others experience things the same way we do follows straight forwardly.

Modern psychology has shown that this “others are like me” approach is in many ways successful at letting us get on with the business of daily life. The only time this approach gets us into trouble is when we interact extensively with another person. During such complex, lengthy interactions, the other person will communicate and behave in ways that may or may not line up with how we think they will. When the person does not, we learn that this person experiences things internally in ways that are different from our own.

So how is this relevant to learning? Well, educators do the same thing. They project their learning styles onto their students. If I want to know an educator’s learning style, I look at the way they teach. Educators teach the way they personally learn. Unfortunately, not all of their students learn share their personal learning style.

E-learning most do better than this. An e-learning program can potentially reach thousands of individuals. So how we, as e-learning designers and creators, get around this normal human tendency?

The best way is to use a model of learning that provides you with an explicit design framework that keeps you from doing this. I use one of the following two models in my own work.

David Kolb’s learning style model [1]


I use Kolb’s model as my guiding framework whenever I am designing e-learning programs that will be used by individuals. I explicitly include elements in the program that cover all 4 kinds of learning. I started to do this years ago, when building conventional learning programs. My practice simply migrated to my e-learning design work.

In some ways, this is a “shotgun” approach. But since I have been doing this, my learning material received far higher ratings it did in the days when I simply projected my personal learning style onto people. I used to design learning material in a way that stressed my personal “concluding / learning from the experience learning (Abstract Conceptualization)” learning style preference. I am no longer this naïve[2].

My Development Styles Model [3]


I use the Development Styles framework whenever I am designing professional development programs that will involve individuals interacting in groups. I explicitly include activities that allow participants to engage in all four of the behaviors (Clarifies Verbally, Clarifies Reflectively, Validates Against Experience, Validates Through Consistency) that define these 4 Development Styles. Each person gets an opportunity to do what works best for that individual as a learner. I use this model because professional development normally includes know how to and know why elements as well as know that[4] material.

My goal in developing learning material is to maximize the “skill transfer back to the job” for each individual. Without the ability to “do what I am learning in a way that makes sense to me”, individuals may not transfer their learning successfully. If my professional development designs were limited to my personal development style – Conceptual Active, I run the risk of missing this goal for all those participants whose personal development style is different from my own

My goal in all my learning design and development work, whether or the web or for face to face programs, is first to create a great learning opportunity. But that is only a means to an end. My real goal is to get my participants to take it back to the job, even if that job is simply the day to day business of living life.

The Future of E-Learning – Dynamic Adaptive Presentation of Content

Just taking this simple step – consciously designing and including material that covers all of the learning dimensions in one of these two models will go a long way to increase the effectiveness of your e-learning programs. But this is only a first step. Whenever we have the budget, we need to do more, particularly if our learning objective is changing behavior on the job – whether that job is income oriented or just living day to day life.

We need to structure our e-learning content delivery in a way that explicitly matches each e-learner’s learning style. When we do that, we achieve the following.

  1. We maximize this person’s engagement during the time they are working on the program, which will lead to improved speed and ease of learning.
  1. We deepen retention, meaning that it will be easier for this person to take what they are learning and apply it back on the job.
  1. We increase their fun and enjoyment during the learning experience, energizing them to work through the strangeness that always accompanies learning new ways of doing things, and leaving old ones behind.

Determining a person’s learning style is not that hard to do. By using one of the models above, presenting participants with a few short scenarios based on it, and asking them to indicate which choices best describes how they like to learn, we can rapidly determine that individual’s learning style.

Once we know that, with a bit of background programming, we can present our learning material in a way that has been explicitly created to match this person’s learning style.

Of course, the cost during the development phase of our work will increase somewhat. But if we are already using a “shotgun” approach in our e-learning design and development, this increase will not be dramatic.

The day will come when this way of delivering e-learning will become the norm. It maximizes the value of the learning experience for the learning. This is learner centric, rather than educator centric learning. Educators will stop projecting their personal learning style onto their e-learning program participants, and become true learner-centric educators.


[1] McLeod, S. A. (2010). Kolb – Learning Styles. Retrieved from Kolb’s model has been available since 1984. It is widely used and referred to. Google “Kolb learning styles” to find thousands of Internet references.

[2] See my voice over presentation on making E-Learning content choices or the PDF version of the supporting paper for more on this. Both are available on the Internet.


[3] Roelf Woldring “Development Styles: A Competency Styles Skill Development Workbook” available through contacting me or from

[4] See my previous writing on the differences between knowing that, know how to and knowing why – and how they impact developing learning programs on Linked In or on my website.


E-Learning and Knowing – Or Why the Classroom Lecturer Will Rapidly Become Extinct?


Let’s really simplify a complex topic – how we as human beings know – by creating a model of knowing that says there 3 ways that we know.

We Know That – this is the world of facts and ideas. We know these things as chunks of knowledge we can repeat and share with others. This kind of knowing is tested in the academic world by asking us to respond to multiple choice questions and questions that require short essay answers.

We Know How To – this is the world of skills and techniques. It ranges from the simple (e.g. how to add 2 plus 2) – to the complex (e.g. how to lead an organization through a period of profound change).

We Know Why – this is the world of valued consequences and moral understanding. It is as important for giving us insight into why NOT to do things as it is for helping motivate us to do things. It also ranges from the simple (e.g. why not to touch the hot stove) to the complex (e.g. why not to abuse those we love and those we live with). It requires us to have as much insight into consequences as it does into facts and techniques. (1)

Can e-learning address all three kinds of knowing? The simple answer is yes. The more thoughtful one is yes, but how, and with what price and effort?

Here is what I believe.

  1. With 25 years, all Know That learning will be delivered via e-learning.

Today, we can already build e-learning programs that rapidly figure out the learning style of the person currently using the program, and dynamically adapt the delivery of learning material to best suit that person’s learning style. It is not the norm yet, but it soon will be.

Once that starts to happen, the classroom lecturer will become extinct. Unfortunately, practically all university professors are still not really clear about this. But then, the non-adaptive ones, who depend on the traditional power structure of the classroom and the punitive power of exams, deserve to become extinct. Bored students, who only pay attention because of the power of these exams, will cheer their demise.

  1. Know How To learning is a more difficult issue. The answer is yes, but ….

We are already seeing the spread of how to e-learning programs in the areas of programming and computer use. As the technology evolving in the computer gaming world becomes more readily available, we will see this technology spread to how to e-learning. Computer simulated application environments will become the norm in how to e-learning.

Real time computer simulated environments coupled with responsive programming that dynamically adapts what is presented to the learner based on the learner’s immediate performance in a simulation are not simple to create. They require combining the skills that make movies with the skills that program computers. It will take talent and money to develop such e-learning programs. They will have to be used by hundreds, even thousands and tens of thousands of users, to create reasonable per delivery unit costs. That can only begin to happen now that the Internet as a delivery tool has become socially pervasive.

Flight simulators are an already existing example of where this kind of e-learning is going. Computer games, whose users rapidly learn the in’s and out’s of the game environment, show us what is possible. All that is missing is teams of creative educators and gaming programmers with the budgets to make this promise real.

Some how to learning will never migrate to e-learning. Skills and competencies involving physical motor skills will always require real world training. Surgery is an example. The perquisite know that learning will be delivered via e-learning. That includes learning the “steps” involved in the applying the skill. But the skill of surgery will be acquired through actually doing it in a closely supervised environment. This will be also be true of other complex skills that combine cognitive knowing with physical doing. Such learning will always require a dynamic “in the moment mentoring / coaching component” that depends a great deal on the personal relationship between learner and teacher.

Instead, once perquisite know that and know how to learning is delivered by e-learning, the role of mentor / coach in such learning will become more dynamic. Guiding learners who already know a great deal is a different job from guiding learners who are acquiring know that and basic know how to learning at the same time as they are developing physical doing skills. The power dynamics between learner and mentor / coach will shift dramatically. Instead of being role based, successful mentor-coaches in this new learning world will be individuals who have great self and other insight. They will also have the personal confidence that comes having “done it” in a large variety of situations. The importance of role based dynamics, buffered by the traditional structure of universities and the like, will fade.

  1. Know why learning is not straight forward. The answer is yes, but involves sorting out complex issues about who ….

Know why learning requires that the “learner” respect the “teacher” in a very unique way. People are motivated to do things, and even more importantly, motivated NOT TO DO things, because they respect the person who is providing them guidance. Respect is a complex interpersonal dynamic. It involves personal component originating in the learner, not the teacher. It is not created based on a power dynamic that derives from stratified organizational roles.

Know Why learning involves morality and ethics. There is no doubt that people often learn why they should or should not do thing from being exposed to stories with a moral component. But this only works when the learner extends respect to the story teller. E-learning can be used to deliver stories. But the story teller must still be someone to whom the learner extends respect in order for know why learning to occur.

Some individuals already extend respect to “automated teaching tools”. Such people may acquire “know why” learning from e-learning programs. Perhaps this will become the norm some where in the future. But I do not believe it will be. I believe that the real value of the Internet in know why learning comes from its ability to expose people to the individuals whom they respect in a way that transcends the limits of space and time.

When I design e-learning programs with a know why component, my first question is always – “Who will these learners extend respect to – who can motivate them to do or not do?” Then I find ways to incorporate these people into the e-learning program though quotes, pictures, short video clips and so on. I also look to provide follow up connections to these people that allow the learners to interact with them through their writings, through their Internet presence, or even face to face.

Let’s sum it up.

E-Learning takes over Know that learning and makes the classroom lecture model of learning extinct.

E-learning delivers Know how to learning by incorporating more and more gaming and simulation techniques. It supplements and supports complex Know how to learning that involves the whole body by ensuring that the only people who succeed as coaches and mentors are great doers who also have superb interpersonal skills.

E-learning facilitates Know why learning by providing more direct connections between learners and the people who they respect to motivate them to do and not do.

That’s my vision of the future of e-learning.


  1. You can see much more about this model of knowing in two publications of mine available at the following places on the Internet “The Know That / Know How To / Know Why Model of Knowledge” and “Making Effective Decisions About E-Learning Content”.

Ask e-learning clients 3 questions or pay the price!




Great, you got an opportunity to propose developing an e-learning program for a new client. They like the examples of e-learning that you have up on your website. They know that you have up to date skills in the major e-learning software development platforms. They are thrilled about the possibility of working with you.

You are getting ready for the project scoping meeting with the senior client representatives. What should you ask them? Here are the three critical core questions you must ask at this stage, and the reasons you need to ask them.

  1. How long do you expect this e-learning content to remain current?

Some clients know the answer to this question. Others may not. But the expected useful life of the program is one of the key things that you need to know. Some things, like a technical skill, may only have a useful lifetime of months. Other skills, like soft or people skills, might have a lifetime of years.

Content with shorter lifetimes must be addressed with smaller program development budgets. What was true in one client’s circumstances may not be the same as in this new client’s. Don’t assume or guess, know. Ask so that you can properly scope your development proposal.

If your new client representatives does not have an immediate answer, take the time to explore the issue with them and develop it together.

  1. How many people will potential use this e-learning program?

The economics of e-learning are very different from the economics of traditional learning or professional development. The single most important element in e-learning economics is the “unit cost of delivery” – how much will it cost to deliver a single instance of this program to a single learner.

An e-learning program, especially when delivered over the Internet or an learning management system, can potentially reach thousands of people. This means that the cost of developing the program will be spread over many, many people. When this is the case, you can make a business case for more room in the development budget.

More room in the development budget means money to pay for things like video components, interactive menus, and even – adaptive content delivery that takes different paths depending on each learner’s personal ability, learning style and background.

When the potential individual delivery numbers are large, you must discuss these alternatives with your potential client. Each of these can increase individuals’ learning engagement. Increased engagement means greater transfer of skills back to the job. A well used, larger e-learning content development budget will pay off in increased productivity for your client.

In contrast, when the number of anticipated users is small, you will rapidly want to focus on including the simplest version of the one or two techniques that maximize engagement for this client’s learners in your proposal.

  1. What is the one critical thing that you expect people to do differently back on the job when they finish this e-learning program?

Clients expect results. That is why they are paying you. You might think that the results they are paying you for is the e-learning program that you will deliver. But it is not. For most clients, your hard work is a means to an end. You need to know your client’s ultimate end in order to properly develop first your proposal, and then eventually the content you will deliver.

For most clients, the ultimate end is a change in the way that the people who take the program behave on the job. You must know precisely what change in behavior your client wants to achieve. Knowing this will drive all of your content creation and delivery process design decisions. You can’t put together a correct development proposal without insight into this client goal.

If you don’t know this, you will fall into the trap of projecting such an ultimate requirement onto your client. You may be aware that you are doing this. You may not. But all professional training, including e-learning, is about changing the way that the people who take the program behave on the job. You can’t properly develop any professional training program without having such a goal, whether it is explicit or implicit.

If you don’t ask this question, then unless you are lucky, and your projected change lines up with the client’s need, you are not going to have a satisfied client.

What do you risk if you don’t ask these three questions?

These three questions are core to e-learning project scope definition and client expectation management. Nailing the answers early in your dialog with your potential client’s representatives underlie developing an effective proposal. You will use that proposal, and your client’s belief in it, as the foundation on which you will build the e-learning program.

Not knowing the answers to these questions mean you run the risk of building great e-learning content that does not meet your client’s needs. Do that a few times, and you will pay the price – a poor reputation and a lack of future business, no matter what your skill level as an e-learning content creator.