E-Learning Award Winners 2014

first for effortA great evening was had by all at the 2014 E-learning Awards Gala Dinner in London on 6th November. Sponge UK took the E-learning Development Company of the year award on their 10th anniversary which was really great to see. For all the other winners see E-Learning Age magazine (the award organisers). Entries for the 2015 awards open from February 2015. Now what project could I enter I wonder?

All the winners here: E-Learning Age list of winners 

Judging the E-Learning Awards 2014

e-learning awards

This year as vice-chair of the E-learning Network I thought it only natural to volunteer as a judge for the annual E-learning Awards organised by E-learning Age magazine. In 2012 I played an active role in two winning projects so I was keen to see behind the scenes and get an appreciation of what it’s like to be an award judge.

Having made it onto the judging panel at the beginning of August I was allocated two categories Best e-learning project: Private sector and also Best LMS Implementation. I was chair for the LMS category which means I was responsible for collating results and guiding discussions on the final short list.

There were a lot of entries this year, over 250 in all, with 20 entries in Category C (Best e-learning project – PrivateSector) and 12 entries in Category O (Best LMS implementation). Our initial task was to review each entry and award marks across a range of key attributes and then to use this marking scheme to arrive at our short list. Generally the submissions were excellent but there were large variations in how clearly the organisations described the work they had done. This lack of consistency made judging tricky but it is immensely rewarding and enlightening to see how people are using e-learning in all sorts of interesting ways.

Once we had arrived at our short lists we had to dig a little deeper and this is where the short listed companies presented their projects to us either at the two day face to face event at the Oval Conference Centre in London or alternatively online via Adobe Connect.

A key focus of the judging is an evaluation of effectiveness of the e-learning project. This is always tricky and traditionally L&D can sometimes be weak at measuring effectiveness beyond Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 (Reaction – the happy sheet). E-learning often benefits from a check of understanding via a multiple choice quiz so technically it makes to to Kirkpatrick’s Level 2 (Learning), but evaluating effectiveness at Level 3 (Behaviour) and Level 4 (Results) is much harder and many entrants struggled to find reliable evidence at these levels.

Following the presentations and some additional deliberating amongst the judges we selected three award winners (Gold, Silver and Bronze) from each category. Keeping these winners secret has been pretty easy for me (my mum thinks I should have worked for MI6 because I tell her so little) but on the evening of Thursday 6th November the results will be revealed to all at the awards dinner in London. I’m looking forward seeing the smiles on the winners faces and hope that those that missed out will also take comfort from the fact that simply making it onto the short list was an achievement in itself!

Interested in being a judge next year? Judging is open to all – the only qualification you need is to be passionate about e-learning! Now where is my dinner jacket?

Serious about e-Learning?

serious elearning manifestoLast week saw the launch of the Serious eLearning Manifesto. Its themes are ones that I’m familiar with having been working at the e-learning coal face for the past 10 years. Its basic premise is that most e-learning is ineffective and rarely improves performance. To take e-learning to a new level we must do more (actually a lot more). This is a valid viewpoint but the manifesto is vague about the ways in which things should be improved on a practical level.

Now part of me agrees wholeheartedly that e-learning is capable of much greater things and with the appropriate vision, budget and skills I believe we should all strive to push e-learning much further but there is a large group of people who are only just getting started with e-learning and for them a simpler (but hopefully still effective) approach is going to be just fine. Horses for courses as they say.

Now I also understand where this e-learning snobbery comes from. A lot of e-learning isn’t brilliant and in my work in getting clients started with e-learning I sometimes come across the dreaded 100 slide page turner, but there are also a lot of people out there getting up to speed with tools like Articulate Storyline and who are exploring what is effective and what is possible as they begin to transition from classroom to online. But not every SCORM module can be a tour de force of deep behavioural performance improvement. Sometimes you just need 10 minutes on getting started with the company timesheet system. Deep learning it may not be but unlike a static web page or PDF file the e-learning option should at the very least give you a starter for 10 (literally).

Some may argue that this isn’t e-learning at all but performance support but for me the application of basic instructional design to a defined learning need effectively moves us into the e-learning space.

Of course e-learning is capable of much more than this and the growing raft of technologies at our disposal opens up innovative new ways to learn online. But doing things at the cutting edge requires more skills, more budget and invariably more risk so not every project will be a candidate for the high-end approach. Indeed one could argue that the manifesto is really describing the wider landscape of online learning rather than e-learning specifically but that’s a subject for another post (see Defining e-Learning in 2013).

I’m serious about the future of e-learning but let’s be pragmatic about its application at all levels of need. Sometimes a five minute Storyline module will be enough – seriously.

More comment here:

Clive Shepherd on the Manifesto

Donald Clark on the Manifesto

Sam Taylor on the Manifesto


Sign-up to the Serious e-Learning Manifesto here:

The Serious eLearning Manifesto



Learning Technologies 2014

Learning-Technologies-2014 I just completed two very long days at Learning Technologies at London’s Olympia. I wasn’t at the conference but spent a couple of hours on both days on the Elearning Network’s stand in my capacity as ELN Vice-chair. I also did an Ignite session on ‘Teaching Sells’ where my tech failed me completely but I did manage to recover after losing a precious minute. The lesson – practice with the tech before you rely on the tech! I also joined in the fringe event in the Beaconfield Pub on the Wednesday evening. I’m a sucker for anything fringey or anti-establishment – must be the Celt in me!

The show seemed pretty busy and I had lots of good conversations on the ELN stand – primarily with those e-learning newbies struggling to make sense of the multitude of different approaches to learning online. I’ve been in e-learning a long time and have grown up with it all but anyone new to the scene can easily find themselves overwhelmed. Of course that’s where a group such as the ELN can help – guiding people through the various approaches, exploring the different tech solutions. My most used one-liner at the show was that ‘we are a self-help group for those just getting started in e-learning’. That seemed to strike a chord with most of the people I spoke with.

Some other show highlights in no particular order:

A new cloud based e-learning authoring tool from elearning 24/7 looked really user friendly. Had a great quick tour from Joe Jarlett (Tech Director) and looking forward to having a play myself (blog to follow). Sadly it doesn’t use responsive design principles so isn’t really mobile friendly but it will work just fine on tablets (I’m guessing it publishes to HTML5). Link: NimbleAuthor

Responsive Authoring Tools
This is an area of particular interest for me. I’m loosely involved in Adapt (the Kineo open source initiative) so am keen to see what approaches other companies are taking.

GoMo (Epic)
Epic have completely re-designed their GoMo tool and it now looks and works a lot better than Version 1 (M-Learning with GoMo). And to underline their commitment to the tool they have recruited Mike Alcock (of Atlantic Link fame) as GoMo MD. I’m on the Beta test programme so looking forward to having a play (blog to follow of course). Link: GoMo

Linestream (Line)
I watched a demo of this neat authoring environment where they made an app in 15 minutes (clearly they did some preps before they started in the best TV cookery tradition). Looking forward to comparing this with the GoMo tool. Link: Linestream

The Death of the LMS
One theme that seemed to weave its way around the show was the realisation finally that the LMS as we know it doesn’t really work for learners. I’ve always maintained that the LMS is designed primarily for managers not for learners. Little ‘L’ big ‘MS’ not big ‘L’ little ‘MS’. Toby Harris from Saffron started his talk on their Learning Experience Network with some interesting research from behavioural science and behavioural economics. The key point is that learners don’t learn in isolation and what they learn, or more importantly what they are motivated to learn, is shaped by the behaviour of others. A new manager will be more motivated to learn about a project management methodology if she sees that other managers have been doing the same thing. This of course is not how the world looks when you log-into an LMS as a learner. All you see if what you have been allocated to do by your manager or by HR. Other managers may also be doing the same stuff but you have no visibility of it – you are effectively learning in a silo of one. Anyway I don’t want to go too deep on this topic here but I am really keen to explore Saffron’s LEN which attempts to combine a socially mediated approach to learning with user generated content. Of course the death of the LMS may also result in the death of the conventional e-learning module, and even the instructional designer! Toby is clearly in the  Jeff Bezos camp in that to be really innovative you should  try and kill your existing business model!

Sponge Cake and Champagne
Sponge celebrated their 10th birthday with a sponge cake (naturally) and some champagne (happily). Julie Dirksen of ‘Design for How People Learn’ fame was the guest cake cutter.


Julie Dirksen cutting Sponge cake!

Julie Dirksen
Had a nice chat with Julie while drinking champagne and eating sponge cake. She is considering a refresh of ‘Design for how People Learn’ but there is also the tantalising possibility of a second book on learning and behaviour change. You heard it here first (probably).

Interactive Learning Maps
One interesting new content authoring tool that I came across was Learning Map from Edynco (from wonderful Slovenia). This tool allows you to create a learning resource using a kind of mind mapping approach. It supports text, images, links, audio, video and even includes a question and feedback engine. It facilitates a much more exploratory approach to learning and is a refreshing change from ‘click or scroll to see the next  bit of content’. Link: Learning Map

The LT14 Fringe 
Martin Cousins organised the friendly intimate fringe event in the Beaconsfield Pub behind Olympia. A number of ‘conversation starters’ moved around tables stimulating conversation around different topics while we all drank free beer. Not a bad format for a Wednesday evening. My fave session was with David Kelly from Elearning Guild in the US where we talked wearable tech and all tried his Google Glass glasses.


Me wearing Google Glass at the Fringe event in the pub.

I contributed an Ignite talk on ‘Teaching Sells!’ I also enjoyed Dipesh Mistry’s’ talk on ‘The Value of Paper’. Videos to be uploaded soon!

Overall a great show and a real buzz for the future of learning technologies!

The Golden Moment

The Golden Moment Is ignorance really bliss? An article in New Scientist back in the Summer (30 July) suggests that too much knowledge can be a bad thing.

Almost anytime you are explaining an idea to a less informed person, a dash of ignorance will help you judge their knowledge and abilities more accurately.

Why is this? Apparently a teacher is much more effective if they don’t know their subject too deeply. This reflects my own experience at school – my physics teacher had a PhD and was incapable of seeing things in the same way as his class of struggling A level students. But my chemistry teacher was fresh out of teacher training and was brilliant at making chemistry accessible. In addition to different levels of knowledge they both took a different approach to the science of teaching but my physics teacher’s depth of knowledge actually made it really hard for him to help us understand some of the basic concepts.

When I meet with a new e-learning client one of the things I often get asked is ‘Do I know the subject matter?’. My stock answer is: ‘You are hiring me for my ability to design effective online learning not for my subject matter expertise.’ Now clearly it helps if we know a little about the subject already but the last thing we really need to be is an expert.

In practice most e-learning is aimed at foundation level knowledge so the amount we need to know isn’t too onerous. Nevertheless, approaching a new subject with a fresh and open mind really helps when designing an initial learning experience. If we are working with a subject that is totally new to us then we do have to catch on pretty quickly if we are to design some useful learning within what is usually a pretty tight timescale. And that brings me to the key point of this article.

When researching and learning about a new topic there comes that ‘Golden Moment’ where we know just enough to create an effective learning experience but not so much that we miss the tricky parts that learners might encounter. You’ll intuitively know that Golden Moment when it arrives – savour it because at some point down the line you’ll wonder why everyone is finding it all so hard!

I think this playful definition sums up the situation nicely:

What’s the definition of an ignoramus? Someone who doesn’t know something you learnt yesterday.


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