Context is Crucial to Learning

Kurhan (2010)

“We should make context choices first to stimulate learning motivation and second to assist learners in transferring their newly learned knowledge and skills to real-world tasks” (Allen, 2003, p. 198).

I had the pleasure to tour the simulation lab at USciences in Philadelphia during a recent PADLA meeting ( These labs are used to train and assess physicians during the course of their training. If you are expecting a traditional classroom, think again! The designers of this space probably don’t know Michael Allen but they definitely took his advice!

Below are pictures of simulated patients that are available for treatment: one in an ER setting, one delivering a baby and another that simulates lung and heart sounds. Click here to see even more photos of these labs in action. All of these patients help learners properly diagnose and treat patients in an environment were the only potential adverse outcome is grade related.

USciences_ER Patient

USciences_Expectant MotherUSciences_Lung Patient

I felt like I was at my doctor’s office during the tour which, of course, is the entire point! The pictures really could not capture:

  • The spaciousness and high quality lighting of the learning spaces
  • The command center that controls the simulated patients well-being (or lack thereof!)
  • The video and audio pick-ups that allow instructors to assess their learner’s performance without being in the same room with them

The planners at USciences did an amazing job ensuring that the context provided to future physicians will properly prepare them for a smoother transition to the realities of their future workplace. Context is crucial to learning! What do you think?


Allen, M. W. (2003). Michael Allen’s guide to e-learning. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kurhan. (2010). Stock photo: Medical Doctor. Retrieved from

Learning Success Redefined

“As one might expect, aligning training initiatives with strategic business initiatives is imperative” (Berge & Donaldson, 2008). This brought me back to Wick, Pollock, and Jefferson (2010) who write that “Business leaders want learning professionals…who understand their specific business, who can clearly and succinctly explain the business model of their company or division and its more important business drivers and challenges” (p. 31).

6Ds encompasses a set of tools and philosophy of partnering with business subject matter experts to develop effective learning solutions (Wick et al., 2010). 6Ds to me is like ADDIE on steroids. You are defining not just the learning solution. You are articulating the concrete outcomes that the business expects as well as how improved performance as part of participation will be measured (Wick et al., 2010). 6Ds also redefines participation to include not just the design/delivery of events or courses but also what should happen prior to and afterwards (Wick et al., 2010). Prior to participation in the training, we need involve the learner’s management and the learner’s themselves to set the stage for success. Afterward, we need to provide performance support tools to help learners take the training out of the classroom and apply it to their jobs (Wick et al., 2010). One final thought: “To date, companies around the world have been able to demonstrate that adding a transfer management system to a learning or development program enhances participants’ efforts to use what they learned, facilitates interactions with their managers, accelerates performance improvement, and increase the return on investment in the program” (Wick et al., 2010, pp. 189-190).

I hope this brief discussion of 6Ds inspires you to learn more at


Berge, Z., & Donaldson, C. (2008). Cost-benefit of online learning. In W. J. Bramble, Panda, S. (Ed.), Economics of distance and online learning (pp. 205-224). London: Kogan Page.

Wick, C., Pollock, R., Jefferson, A. (2010). The six disciplines of breakthrough learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer

Allow Webinar Learners to Plug In

(Microsoft, 2014)

It’s 10am on Thursday. Your learner’s email is backed up. They have 20 windows open in their task bar. They are in the middle of an instant message with a colleague. A helpful Outlook notification opens up letting them know that the training webinar they must attend just started. They click the link to join the training and then dive right back into instant messager.

How much learning do you think is actually going to happen during this training session?

This is not a new problem. The attrition rate for online students is higher than for counterparts at bricks-and-mortar institutions (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007; Kanuka, & Jugdev, 2006). Two contributing factors are a lack of community feeling and social presence (Angelino et al., 2007; Kanuka, & Jugdev, 2006). In other words, learners were not engaged.

So how can we as webinar designers increase engagement? Let them talk to each other! “Distance learners who collaborate with others experienced higher satisfaction and performed better than cyber-students who did not participate in peer-to-peer interactions (Althaus, 1997; Hiltz, 1993; Kember, Lai, Murphy, & Yuen, 1992; Pychyl et al., 1999)” (Wang, Newlin, & Tucker, 2001, p. 223). For those who feel that this peer-to-peer interaction can be distracting, yes, it can. But this is a distraction that the 255 million monthly active users of Twitter are well used to handling (

In the scenario at the beginning of this post, there is still a good probability the people are still going to answer messages during learning events. But shouldn’t webinar designers try to stack the odds more in our favor by using chat to help learners plug more fully into the learning engagement?


Angelino, L. M., Williams, F. K., & Natvig, D. (2007). Strategies to engage online students and reduce attrition rates. Journal of Educators Online, 4(2), 1-14. Retrieved from

Blackmon, S. J. (2012). Outcomes of chat and discussion board use in online learning: A research synthesis. Journal of Educators Online, 9(2). Retrieved from

Kanuka, H., & Jugdev, K. (2006). Distance education MBA students: An investigation into the use of an orientation course to address academic and social integration issues. Open Learning, 21(2), 153-166. doi:10.1080/02680510600715578

Microsoft. (2014). Plugs [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Wang, A. Y., Newlin, M. H., & Tucker, T. L. (2001). A discourse analysis of online classroom chats: Predictors of cyber-student performance. Teaching of Psychology, 28(3), 222-226. Retrieved from

Spring 2014 Blog Recap

(Microsoft, 2014)

“Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy – Philadephia!!” from the musical 1776 sums up my current weather situation. So it’s nice to look back to Pennsylvania’s two memorable weeks of spring by gazing at the picture of this lovely daisy. And, of course, we’ll look back at Spring 2014 blogs (more than 2 weeks worth!). I am taking a break from blogging to enjoy the rest of the summer. Thanks for reading! Talk to you again in September!


Microsoft. (2014). A yellow daisy [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Cognitive Events and ApprenNet

(Microsoft, 2014)

In March there was a discussion of how ApprenNet ( is a great tool for motivating learners, something that all learning professionals need to address. Today’s post is an infographic of how ApprenNet fulfills each cognitive presence events of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model described by Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2000).  CoI events are listed in the blue tags ApprenNet functions are indicated by the red tags:



Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105. Retrieved from

Microsoft. (2014). Puzzled people standing on a large question mark [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

The Power of the Repeat

(Microsoft, 2014)

How many times have you asked someone to repeat something? My lifetime total is in the millions.

I had a project where we were developing an asynchronous (i.e., on demand) E-learning course. We had some subject matter experts that joined the project late into the development. They objected to some repetition we had built into the course. Cognitively, judicious repetition in learning is a good thing. Here are some starter ideas for building repetition into your learning solutions:


In synchronous events, this could be in the form of thought provoking questions to start the cognitive ball rolling. In asynchronous events, this could be in the form of quizzes to test for understanding. Per Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, & Willingham (2013) “testing… improves learning” (p. 29). Performance improvements ranged from 14% to 44% when using a practice test (Dunlosky et al., 2013). Anyone who has benefited from using flash cards or taking an online practice test before the real thing should already be a believer.


This is repetition where it does the most good, over time rather than during a one time learning event (Dunlosky et al., 2013). “The term distributed-practice effect refers to the finding that distributing learning over time (either within a single study session or across sessions) typically benefits long-term retention more than does massing learning opportunities back-to-back or in relatively close succession” (Dunlosky et al., p. 35). When you are back at your desk, trying to actually apply your learning to your job, post training job aids help the learners reuse & retain this information thus acting as another repetition of course material.

What other ways can you think of to build repetition into the design of your next learning solution?


Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266

Microsoft. (2014). Stars rainbows on blue pattern [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|

Abandon the Stage! Embrace Webinar Radio!

(Microsoft, 2014)

A fellow e-Learning colleague and I were commiserating this week about assumptions that can sometimes be made when switching from face-to-face learning engagements to webinar learning engagements.

For me, it is like asking an experienced Shakespearian actor to give up the stage and confine himself to being a radio announcer. We talked about how to address webinar mediation barriers earlier. This post addresses the mindset behind abandoning the stage and embracing webinar radio. We’ll be talking about the importance of design and delivery as well as webcam use.


When designing your webinar learning, you have to take into account that you audience won’t be able to see you during most or all of the learning engagement. You have to take into account that you won’t be able to see them. Using interactivity, expressing the clear logical flow of the learning from beginning to end, making learning as experiential and bite sized as possible while achieving learning outcomes is a tall order for any learning experience. It is especially crucial when designing your next learning event on webinar radio.


Great actors and great trainers are really good at using their voice and body language to impart energy and enthusiasm. In webinars, many times you voice is the only instrument that you can use to transmit your excitement or to convey your caution about a topic. Embracing webinar radio means you need to warm up your voice before you begin the webinar. Exaggerate your delivery when off camera as your voice will help communicate that body language of leaning in and gesturing.


While webcams can help bring you back to the stage, it needs to be used sparingly. Use webcams when you want to encourage dialogue and foster re-engagement. A good time to use webcams is to introduce the training session or to encourage dialogue as part of a training exercise. Even then, you only have your head and shoulders to convey body language. Flying hands can be distracting when you are on camera.

Webinars are all about reengaging your audience so don’t make your talking head something that blends into the background. Remember that webinars are mainly done in radio mode without you or the participants being able to rely on webcams. Don’t get me wrong, I love using webcams. They can enhance learning but can be distracting if they are center stage throughout the entire learning engagement.

Are you ready to abandon the stage and embrace webinar radio?


Microsoft. (2014). Radio [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|

More images, less words

(Microsoft, 2014)

A recurring theme about images keeps coming up in conversation and sticking in my mind. This week, a colleague who attended a workshop shared about the fact that images play an important role in educational content. A few months ago, I attended a talk about social media trends were it was shared that images are fast becoming the new social media currency, not text. Look at the evolution of online education, computer mediated communication (that is posting threads similar to what you do on Facebook or email) appears as dated or antiquated while video chat is more 2014.

Otto Peters (2010) commented on our hunger for digital images: “We accept and even demand this type of visual support because the influence of television has greatly altered our visual habits” (p. 144).

So what can you do to bring the “audiovisual land of milk and honey” (Peters, 2010, p. 143) to your learning solutions?

Here are some thoughts to start your brainstorming:

  • In PowerPoint, use SmartArt to replace bullets points to better express concepts that include elements of direction or hierarchy
  • Add a small image to each page of an upcoming project
  • To introduce a new topic in the learning, use a page with relevant images to intrigue your audience rather than explicitly spelling out the topic
  • Check out the concept of PechaKucha of 20 images shared with 20 seconds of audio for each page at

The printed word will still be an important part of learning solutions. However, with awareness of the impact images can have and a willingness to try something new, we can deliver even more to our clients.


Microsoft. (2014). Remote control pointing at TV [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|mt:2|

Peters, O. (2010). Digitized learning environments: New chances and opportunities. In O. Peters, Distance education in transition: Developments and issues Vol. 5 (5th edition, pp. 141-153) [Adobe Digital Edition]. Retrieved from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg website:

Overcome Two Mediation Barriers

(Microsoft, 2014)

This week I want to talk about two barriers we encounter with webinars and two strategies to overcome these barriers. I am working towards my Masters of Distance Education and there is a fascinating amount that has been learned in the last 150+ years about teaching and learning at a distance.

Webinars have a distinct advantage over historical distance education as they are synchronous or live events. But they do encounter some of the same barriers encountered by distance education. In this post, we’ll be discussing the two common barriers of disembodied learning participants and constrained communication channels that are encountered by both distance learning and E-learning.


Peters (2010) discusses how “Non-verbal communication cannot contribute to learning. Relations between persons of flesh and blood are not possible” (p. 54) in distance education settings. The same barriers can be true of webinars as well.

Using webcams can help tear down this barrier, giving participants an opportunity to see at least the instructor’s face. Not all webinar tools support this feature. However, this is something to consider if yours does. We spend our lifetimes reading other’s facial expressions and body language. Webcams bring human faces back into the webinar learning experience.

Another tool that helps participants is chat. I have yet to find a webinar platform that doesn’t support chat. Encourage chats between the instructor and between participants to enable them to see each other as human beings, not as disembodied objects. Chat can build a temporary village creating a short term but vital community experience to an audience learning together at a distance.


“Students in distance education and online learning are deprived of the experience of direct group communication” (Peters, 2010, pp. 54-55). This can also be an issue with webinars but does NOT have to be with careful planning.

Instructors should pose questions to the group throughout the webinar. Students can respond either verbally or through chat. My experience has been that more experienced webinar learners prefer chat. So I always give participants the option to respond either way.

Another commonly available feature that can encourage group communication is polls. Instructors can pose multiple choice questions or open ended questions to their participants. The separation in space can actually be an advantage here. Responding to webinar polls is not as threatening as in a physical class because your response is generally private.

Even though webinars can pose barriers to learning, with careful planning and understanding of the available features, these are barriers that can be easily overcome.


Microsoft. (2014). Demolition [Digital Image]. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|

Peters, O. (2010). The revolutionary impact of distance education In O. Peters, Distance education in transition: Developments and issues: Vol. 5 (5th ed., pp. 43-56) [Adobe Digital Edition]. Retrieved from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg website:

Webinar Myth #4: The Eager SME Myth

(Microsoft, 2014)

When going over projects that called for webinar delivery at kick-off meetings, I would explain to my clients, “A week before the first webinar, we should schedule an hour for a dry run.” Cries of “Why do we need to do this?” and “I don’t have time to work on this project as it is” are typical responses. I would explain how we would run through the features they would need to know about for the training session, discuss how chats would be handled and the order of the presenters. If we didn’t need the rehearsal, the meeting would be cancelled and everyone would get “back” some time.  There would be reluctant agreement.

Then hits what I call the “two-weeks-out calendar effect”. Have you ever noticed how appointments on our Outlook calendars are just amorphous objects, kind of like mythical figures from a long forgotten book we read in elementary school? They are there, in the background, lurking until the clock strikes midnight and our carriages turn back into pumpkins. Then reality hits when we are looking at our schedule for the next few weeks and find our first webinar on our schedule as a tangible, immovable object that must be dealt with!

The dialogue with my clients is much different once the “two-weeks-out calendar effect” strikes. “When are we going to discuss the order of the presenters?” “When are we going to figure out how to use the webinar features?” My reply is always the same: during the hour long rehearsal I scheduled right after the kick-off meeting. I have never given back that entire hour’s worth of time to even the most reluctant Subject Matter Expert (SME). Every SME expressed their gratitude for this preparation and webinars went as smoothly as advanced preparation could make them.

Having been on both sides of the training desk as both a SME and as a learning professional, I understand how precious everyone’s time is. If you are getting reluctance for webinar rehearsals, maybe you should forward this blog 🙂


Microsoft. (2014). Tragedy drama mask from the theater [Digital Imag. Used with permission from Microsoft. Retrieved from|