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Don’t forget the rules of learning with the introduction of new technologies


Guest blogger: Sally-Ann Moore, Director and Founder of iLearning Forum

The hammer and the nail:

As a founder and director of a leading e-learning event, I have the chance to discover and appreciate all the new tools and the wonderful technologies in our industry. Mobile learning, serious games, social learning, collaborative tools, all show great opportunities for learning. But sometimes I fear that the technology is diverting us from the main objective and that we are in the process of putting the cart before the horses.

Looking at various e-learning projects around the world in 2013, it sometimes seems that there is a misplaced emphasis on how we can use the technological innovations for learning, rather than how we solve economic problems related to learning. What I mean by that is that when the only thing you have in your hand is a hammer, all around you everything starts looking like a nail! Remember the learner! Let’s not forget the fundamental rules of learning when introducing new learning technologies

Back to Basics:

Although new technologies offer interesting approaches to help introduce, reinforce, or continue enriching learning experiences, they have not changed the way we fundamentally learn. When we design courses with the latest tools we have, we should keep in mind which models of learning have proved their worth. Sam Herring, author of “Moving Toward 2020: The Learning Decade”, recently wrote (In an article published by the ASTD) some key points to keep in mind when creating Learning solutions. They are the following: design, application and enhancement

Here are some key ideas on these three foundations:


In 2012 and 2013, we have seen an increasing number of research reports, books and lectures on cognitive science and the neuroscience of learning. We know much more about how learning takes place and we should use this knew knowledge in the design of innovative learning solutions. John Medina, in his book “Brain Rules,” explains that from a cognitive point of view, being “multitasking” is ineffective for learners. Medina shows that our brain needs “time-out” to stop focusing on a task before switching attention on another, so that the time taken to change one’s attention of a task, subject or software application seriously compromises our ability to perform anything. Ouch! How many multitasking applications have been designed in mobile and social learning programs? Our work as learning professionals is to ensure that the course design be improved so that learners are fully committed to doing only one thing at a time. This implies that we must make the content quite relevant and catchy, and that we must organize it in several “micro-learning” modules.

This also implies that learners must be able to direct their own journey to their specific and immediate needs; and not via a pre-established path done by someone who might not be familiar with their professional activity or the needs generated by their daily lives.

  1. The Application

In his book “A Whole New Mind”, Daniel Pink highlights the synthesis between learning and performance, designating today’s leaders as “the creators, the emotional intelligent ones, the savvy’s of motives and the synthesizers”. These leaders can converge and synthesize ideas from different fields, putting aside classical learning manuals for creative thinking that is out of the ordinary and innovative. Learning solutions that stem from this leadership style enable the best performers to become CEOs of tomorrow. As training professionals, we should anticipate that today’s students are the leaders of tomorrow, and indeed include them in these innovative experiences that will help them grow and respect their talents.

In terms of application, our training solutions must respect learners by assuming that they bring their own experience, intelligence and history to the learning experience. So we have to set high expectations for learners and challenge them to combine new learning method with past experiences.

What does it look like in practice? For example, in many large organizations, new managers who are barely promoted are sent, during their first months to their new position, to training in “management fundamentals” in order to acquire relevant managerial skills, and to practice them through workshops and role plays. Following these workshops, they can apply newly acquired skills in an online environment with shared resources; A peer-to-peer competition is established to encourage collaboration among colleagues, implement newly acquired practices, and maintain a strong commitment to quality.

This approach is an excellent way to mix not only the real and virtual worlds, but also to enhance learning within the workplace in concrete and real-world situations

  1. Reinforcement:

Reinforcing newly acquired skills is a third key pillar in the design of a compelling learning and this is precisely where new learning technologies are particularly promising. There are many examples to show how technologies can generate reinforcement and help learners integrate what they have learned into their daily work: assessments, peer or mentor feedback, self-reflection exercises, Simulations, and more. The checklist, although old and already proven, is a very safe method for an effective reinforcement of learning.

In his book “The Checklist Manifesto,” surgeon Atul Gawande is mounting a solid record in favor of using checklists to simplify difficult tasks into several components to ensure consistent processes across large, complex systems. His book inspired performance improvement measures through checklists in North American hospitals demonstrating the incredible impact of coding and adherence to best practices.

Of course, there are many applications for critical checklists outside of health care: all airlines that operate in the US are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to certify all the special skills of employees annually. For example, employees in charge of stairs must demonstrate by their practical assessment their ability to perform effectively a series of staircase-related tasks for a variety of different types of aircraft.

While the assessment is valid from a compliance perspective by automating a manual task and by creating a skills inventory, it can also provide a valuable learning experience by reinforcing gaps highlighted by the evaluation

As a matter of conclusion:

So what is the lesson to be learned from this reflection and how to successfully integrate technology-based learning with work experiences in the real world? It’s simple: technology has evolved a lot in recent years and will continue to evolve rapidly, but the way we learn has not fundamentally changed. So it is important for us to remember to continue to put forward sound principles of pedagogical design proven when it comes to designing new learning solutions with new and innovative technologies

In short · Designing technologically compatible learning environments that engage the learner with content and experiences that are deeply focused on their needs while remaining easily accessible as part of their daily work while maintaining their curiosity and interest · Provide opportunities to integrate learning with practice in real life and the application of new skills through creative approaches that help motivate and engage learners · Strengthen new skills through one of the many approaches to support continuous learning such as checklists that can be used for both evaluation and performance support.

By keeping these concepts in mind when designing new e-learning solutions, you can create inspirational solutions that will get what new technology has to offer, while still focusing on improving performance.

Sébastien Lebbe

Sébastien Lebbe

Sébastien CEO & co-founder at Wooclap, a collaborative tech solution that boosts engagement in class and training