Archives for January 2017

5 Trends That Could Disrupt the Learning Industry

The world around us is changing so fast that we realize today is completely different from yesterday.

It’s not an exaggeration. I follow news feeds from TNW ( regularly—the quantum of disruptive technology being launched is mind-boggling. The learning industry has been like a good kid sitting in the “B” stand of the big stadium, watching the action on the field. I am not indicating that there isn’t any action happening on the ground, but the impetus is not there. I believe it is about time things change. So here are my thoughts around what the change should look like in the next 12 quarters:

1. Creation of a Learning marketplace: We will see the emergence of a marketplace like that of Netflix and iTunes for learning. This will make things easier for content creators to easily create content and generate revenue from them instead of depending on large providers that control this market today. These platforms also will perform the role of content aggregation and curation. Products such as Pathgather ( ), Degreed (, and Edcast ( are some early versions of this model. Many corporate universities, which support small and medium-size enterprises (SME), will benefit immensely from such a marketplace. SMEs then could compete with large organizations with respect to developing their workforce. 

2. Pay for development tools/resources and not for content targeted at knowledge creation: We soon will see a situation where content that is only focused on learning becomes free as this content would be created by community and crowd. The providers of content will start charging for the content that is aligned toward the application of learning and helping employees develop skills—i.e., capstone projects, simulated labs, performance support, mentoring, and on-demand support. Take the example of Udacity nano degree. Content is free, but you pay for the project and mentoring support. We can consider this as an early indication of what consumers are looking for. 

The content provider market must recognize this shift to stay relevant and protect their business. Current content providers are very much focused on creating and selling content that addresses the knowledge development. Making money in the content-for-knowledge space is no longer easy. 

3. Pay per drink: Many corporate universities are realizing that enterprises-level licenses are not paying off. Corporate universities are only able to leverage less than 20 percent of the available content that is directly linked to business-relevant learning. At the same time, employees use these licenses for taking courses that are aspirational in nature and do not have direct business relevance in many cases. These are the investments that do not have real ROI. 

CLOs are being questioned on every dollar of investment they are making, with the expectation that they are to get more for less. That’s because organizations are keen to put the money where there is a clear business linkage and relevance. 

I had a few conversations with Learning partners in which I asked them to present to me a model where I pay only for what I consume (pay per drink model). We pay for the minutes/hours of content we watched/consumed and not for the full course or all the courses in the catalog. It is a well-known fact that most learners do not go through the full content. They will only consume what is deemed relevant. 

Why should the corporate university pay for what their employees are not consuming? Bottom line: We pay for what we consume.

4. Algorithms will be the key differentiator of a corporate university: The power of the algorithms corporate universities use will decide if they are highly effective or not. We come in touch with the algorithms Netflix and Amazon use often. The use of algorithms in learning and development has been negligible. This situation will change soon. The pressure to create hyper-contextual learning that is linked to business outcomes are increasing. I believe we can meet the desired results by using algorithms. 

The power of the algorithms will very much influence the ROI of a learning intervention in the future. Who should learn, what should they learn, how much should they learn, how should they learn, when should they learn, with whom should they interact, who should they be mentored by, what projects should they do to improve retention of learning? These things all will be prescribed by algorithms in the future.

In the not-so-distant future, we will have a virtual self who will go through the training before we do. Guided learning provided to our virtual self under the supervision of an intelligent system will determine if we are the best person to acquire the skills. It also will identify gaps in the learning that our virtual self would have undergone. This diagnosis will determine how we would fare if we were to learn and apply the learning. The learning instruction would be tailored based on the learning that was obtained from the training provided to the virtual self. 

5. AI will take over the role of content curator and will do a good job: Artificial intelligences (AIs) such as Deepmind and Watson have competed against humans and have emerged victorious. These AIs have proven that machines can outperform humans. A few months back, we learned that IBM’s Watson (an AI) has created movie trailers. Watson did a great job. Also, we learned that AI has been trained to create a meaningful messages/image titles when presented with images. These are some examples of how AI is complementing what we do. 

Soon we will have AIs that will search content sources and curate content, along with a quick summary. AI-based systems will recommend sections of content that could be viewed/accessed by learners to get specific information. Such curated content will be hyper-contextual, and we will be able to cut down on time to train on skills and help employees stay relevant. 

In short, corporate universities need to transform themselves into digital-centric organizations to stay relevant in the coming years. 


AUTHOR:  Krishnan Nilakantan has more than 21 years of experience in the education and talent development space. He works for Cognizant Academy as director of L&D. Training magazine named him an “Emerging Training Leader” in 2014. He has a proven track record in learning strategy development, performance consulting, learning impact measurement, designing learning solutions, learning transfer management, and leading large talent development change programs. 


Pets in Your Workplace? Assess the Risks and Draft a Policy

A reader recently emailed the following question:

Some people need service dogs to get to work. But many more simply want to take their dogs to work. What is the protocol? What are the HR rules on this? And what are the penalties for illegally taking a dog to work?

Are you thinking about opening up your business to employees’ pets? You will find very few resources on the internet to help. And, you will need a written policy before you allow pets in. Here are some considerations:

People come first. Despite your desire to allow pets — whether as a perk, a recruitment tool or both — your employees still make up the core of your enterprise. If you have to choose between an employee or a pet, you should always choose the employee.

One of the biggest legal risks is the Americans with Disabilities Act. If an employee is allergic to animals, pet owners must understand that they may have to leave their animals at home as a reasonable accommodation. Other possible accommodations include creating sufficient separation between the allergic employee and the pet, segregating the pet to a specific part of the facility, or improving ventilation. Ignoring the pleas of an allergic employee, though, will open you up to potential ADA liability. On the converse, in all but the most extreme circumstances, you are likely required to allow a service dog (or miniature horse) as a reasonable accommodation, even if you prohibit all other pets.

Remember: Pets are cute, but it’s people first in the workplace.

Animals must of “office broken.” Animals with any bite history should not be permitted. Moreover, any aggressive behavior, such as growling, barking, chasing, or biting, should result in the animal’s expulsion on the first complaint. Animals should also be house broken, friendly towards people and other animals, and not protective of their owners or their owners’ spaces. Finally, you should define when animals must be leashed or caged, and what is expected of employees when they have to leave the workplace during the work day.

Respect for property. Designate a specific area outside for animals to go to the bathroom (preferably away from the entrances), and make sure pet owners understand that it is their responsibility to clean up messes outside and accidents inside.

Licenses and vaccinations. Before being permitted to bring animals to work, owners should verify that vaccinations are up to date, and that the animal licensed and free of parasites and insects.

Liability. Employees should verify, in writing, that they have sufficient home owners’ or renters’ insurance to cover any damage to person or property caused by the animal. You should also consider indemnification in case your business gets sued, and a written paycheck deduction authorization for any damage caused.

If you are considering having a pet-friendly workplace, I recommend contacting employment counsel to walk you through the risks and to assist in drafting an appropriate policy.

AUTHOR:  Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email Follow Hyman’s blog at

Reprinted from WORKFORCE

Are Your Employees Really Learning?

“Instead of relying on dated training techniques and wondering about the productivity and knowledge of employees, businesses need to restructure training programs to effectively educate their staff. This will not only encourage employees to stay and grow with their companies, but also promote a sense of brand loyalty and drive greater retention and profitability.”

US companies invest a significant amount of money, time, and resources into training their employees. In fact, Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost US businesses up to $550 billion annually in lost productivity. A new approach to learning and training should be at the top of employers’ to-do list. Yet many companies are still using stale, one-size-fits-all materials that do little to inspire retention or performance.

It’s often hard to know how much of that information is actually being effectively retained and put to use. You may have insight into training compliance, but there are few means of measuring absorption. And according to a host of new data, if companies want to identify the source of profitability bleeding, it lies with lack of retention.

Cutting through the clutter

Training methods need to evolve with the times in order to keep personnel productive, engaged, confident in their knowledge, and adamant in their pursuit of learning. Businesses must understand that with their employees, they’re up against fragmented content consumption, increasing distractions, and greater control by the consumer. Training and learning materials are struggling to cut through the clutter, and employees ultimately are disregarding them.

This results in a disengaged and disenchanted workforce, decreased loyalty, lost productivity, and, in the end, lower profitability.

By their nature, trends like these should be encouraging employers to rethink training for new hires; yet Rapt Media’s recent survey data on the American workplace shows that employees are disengaged and disappointed with training techniques used by their employers and are not actually absorbing the information required to perform.

The survey shows that the majority of employees (65 percent) feel their company could have done a better job of onboarding them. In fact, three out of four employees (74 percent) said they’d forgotten some or all of the last mandatory training they attended, while more than half (57 percent) completed the training only because they had to.

This data highlights the difference between compliance and absorption in the workplace and, when deconstructed, pinpoints effectiveness, growth, and engagement of employees as a key indicator of success. It is increasingly difficult to present information in ways that capture attention and stimulate learning, but investing in effective training has proved to be essential to success.

Driving more effective training

So what does this mean for businesses? In order to create sustainability, profitability, and a productive environment, leaders need to reevaluate their training practices and utilize new research to build communication between employers and employees.

According to Rapt Media’s survey, the vast majority of employees (82 percent) learn better from visual content like video than from static content like PDFs and other documents. More than half (60 percent) are bored by their company’s internal communications.

Companies have to: move beyond traditional, one-way training techniques that seem to inhibit absorption of information; reimagine internal content; and turn to new technology tools and platforms that will engage workers in a personalized way, including interactive content that promotes two-way engagement with training and learning materials. With only 32 percent of employees saying they are engaged in their workplace, it is apparent that companies need to take action.

The good news? Your employees can help. Research has found that 73 percent of employees have suggestions for their internal communicators and one in four would like more humor and entertainment, highlighting a greater need for companies to seek out feedback from their workforce and actively take notice of what their employees say will drive increased engagement.

Reimagining content

Meeting this need for greater engagement also requires a complete reimagination of content and an effort to invest in tools that are driven by personalization and two-way interaction. An investment in these kinds of tools will also offer companies valuable understanding of content engagement and behavioral insights.

If a company is unable or unwilling to change to improve outdated techniques, it’s not a question of whether its employees will leave, but when. And in the rare cases that they do stay, employees will be much less productive than they could be.

Instead of relying on dated training techniques and wondering about the productivity and knowledge of employees, businesses need to restructure training programs to effectively educate their staff. This will not only encourage employees to stay and grow with their companies, but also promote a sense of brand loyalty and drive greater retention and profitability.



Recognition Benefits Reduce Turnover, Boost Engagement, Recruitment  

Everyone enjoys a little employee appreciation, and it is no surprise that when employees are rewarded for their good work they are more likely to stick around at a job. A recent study by Globoforce and SHRM, “Employee experience as a business driver,” confirmed this notion.

The employee recognition survey found the top three workplace management challenges faced by organizations are retention, engagement and recruitment. If businesses can dedicate 1% or more of payroll to values-based rewards and recognition, they are more likely to perceive greater positive impacts on retention and financial outcomes.

“In order to be successful, organizations need to win the hearts and minds of employees,” says Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce. “A more human-centric approach, where employees are treated not as human capital, but as people fosters greater humanity and creates more positive employee experiences. It’s also crucial for HR leaders to take a fresh look at compensation structures and evaluate the value they bring to employees and their respective companies. As our study shows, social recognition can directly impact employee experience and financial outcomes.”

For the second year in a row, retention topped the list of HR challenges at 46%. Keeping talent from leaving companies has nearly doubled as a concern over the years, with only 25% of businesses listing it as a top challenge in 2012.

The ratio of unemployed persons per job opening was 1.4 in September 2016 — nearly the lowest since January of 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This ratio peaked at 6.6 in 2009 and has been steadily declining ever since.

Because of this shrinking number, workers are less likely to tolerate a less-than-satisfactory experience at work for the sake of job security. This means that workers have more confidence — and more options — to look at better opportunities outside of their current employer.

The financial implications of voluntary turnover cannot be overlooked. The true cost of voluntary turnover not only involves direct costs, such as cost per hire and first-year orientation and training, but also includes the interim reduction in labor costs and lost productivity costs, according to a report by research firm Bersin by Deloitte.

In total, it is estimated that organizations lose more than $100,000 for every employee who leaves, and this does not include other indirect costs such as lost client relationships, institutional knowledge and pervious training for the employee leaving.

As for engagement, At least 36% of businesses surveyed see engagement as a top challenge. Highly engaged organizations have lower absenteeism and turnover, according to a separate meta-analysis by Gallup of more than a million employees.

In 2016, recruitment topped succession planning as the third-most cited organizational challenge at 34%. This means advisers and HR professionals are finding it difficult to fill open positions. The number of job openings in the United States peaked at 5.9 million in July 2016 and saw little change in September 2016 at 5.5 million, according to the study.

Recognition and organizational values

Since Globoforce and SHRM jointly initiated the survey in 2011, there has been a steady increase in the number of businesses with value-based recognition programs — where employees are given recognition for specific actions that demonstrate a company’s core values.

In 2016, 60% of organizations had a values-based recognition program, up from 50% in 2012. Conversely, there has been a steady decrease in the number of organizations with recognition programs not tied to values, down 21% from 27% in 2012.

Recognition programs outperform other programs on every metric, according to the study. Results showed that clients are more likely to report impacts such as:

· 32% more likely to deliver a strong return on investment

· 31% more likely to instill and reinforce corporate values

· 31% points more likely to maintain a strong employer brand

The results also showed greater perceived impacts on learning and development, sustainability, culture management and financial results.

Companies that spend 1% or more of payroll on recognition are nearly three times as likely to rate their program as excellent, compared to companies that spend less than 1%. In contrast, companies that spend no budget on recognition are five times more likely to rate their program as poor.

Clients with value-based programs at 1% or more of payroll are 3.5 times more likely to say their program helps attract new job candidates. They are also nearly two times as likely to report it delivers a strong return on investment and two times more likely to help retain employees.



Strong Infographics Start with Design

People remember pictures. Several research studies have demonstrated this to be true (for example, see Grady, et al, in References). It’s especially true that, when a person sees something briefly, that individual is more likely to remember a picture than words or text.

Learners’ affinity for visual images provides a convincing reason for eLearning designers to incorporate lots of visuals into their content; infographics are a great way to do this. But it’s also true that learners are increasingly likely to access eLearning on a plethora of devices—including smartphones, which offer a small screen and thus a difficult canvas for infographics. 

Meeting these conflicting goals—providing visual, engaging, and memorable content, and offering that content in ways that more learners can and will use—calls for a careful design strategy.

Designers need a three-pronged approach to creating successful eLearning infographics:

  1. Be judicious in choosing topics for infographics and other visuals, and have a clear goal in mind
  2. Use an appropriate format to meet that goal
  3. Apply responsive design and other best practices to ensure that the infographics are useful to mobile learners

Create compelling infographics

Since humans are so strongly wired to process visual information, infographics can be a powerful way to teach some concepts or present some information. According to Eugene Woo, founder of and Venngage, using more infographics can dramatically increase website traffic and engagement.

So, when should designers add an infographic—or even substitute an infographic for a text-heavy explanation? Woo recommends a goal-focused approach to creating infographics, and he uses what he calls the “ICCORE” method to identify the goal of the infographic. A clear understanding of the goal leads the designer to choose the best format. His question—“What do we want readers to achieve when they see the visual [the infographic]?”—can be answered with one of six possible goals, whose initial letters form ICCORE:

  • Inform: Convey message or data point
  • Compare: Compare parts or things
  • Change: Show changes or trends over time or space
  • Organize: Show groups, patterns, rank, or order
  • Relationships: Show relationships between things
  • Explore: Engage readers in exploring data and figuring out insights

Choose the most appropriate format

Understanding the goal of the infographic is essential to choosing the most appropriate format, Woo said. Some visual presentation formats, like charts and graphs, are ideal for comparing or showing relationships or presenting survey data. Venn diagrams, scatter plots, and word clouds also show relationships. To convey information, Woo suggests using large titles with pictograms and labels; maps or timelines compare data or illustrate change over time. Use a pyramid to show hierarchy; a bubble chart can illuminate relative size or impact. A series of panels can demonstrate the steps of a simple process, and a labeled diagram can teach the parts of a whole while showing learners how those parts fit together. To get learners to explore a topic, Woo suggests interactive maps or diagrams or “layered” graphics that allow learners to drill down—for instance, presenting national data on the top layer, then state, then county or city data, as the learner clicks on deeper layers.

You can present the same data in different ways, but each sends learners a different message or emphasizes different aspects of the data. This series of infographics on military spending from The Guardian shows how to use a single data set to focus on several different details. For example, if two populations share some characteristics but differ on others, a Venn diagram can emphasize areas of overlap, while a chart is useful to highlight contrasts or areas of disagreement.

Design for mobile

Learners are bombarded with information and often have to absorb new material quickly. This is an area where visuals are particularly helpful. A neuroimaging study tested participants on images and text that they saw quickly, without the opportunity to think about it or relate it to other knowledge; they remembered pictures better than they remembered words. Thus mobile environments—more conducive to performance support, reference materials, or “job aids” that learners reference on the go—could be an area where infographics would be useful to learners.

When seeking to present information visually while also ensuring that eLearning is mobile-friendly, designers must acknowledge that not all infographics will work on mobile. That said, “mobile-friendly infographic” is not an oxymoron; in fact, careful design can result in effective, engaging infographics that work on many platforms, including smartphones. 

All infographics, for any medium, start with the basic elements: a great topic, solid data, and strong visuals. When designers create responsive designs, their infographics will adjust for display on any platform without forcing learners to zoom or scroll. But, responsive design or not, designers creating infographics for mobile devices must pay extra attention to details, such as:

Grid-based modular design: Anticipate mobile use by creating a design in blocks that can appear horizontally or stack vertically—when learners view the infographic on a smartphone, they will view the blocks in sequence. It might help to think of each block as a panel, as in a comic strip. Design each block to be appealing and legible at the size of a typical smartphone screen; many templates exist to help designers get the correct size and proportion. Remember that each block is, essentially, a separate infographic that will scale as a single unit; elements within a block will not be resized individually or repositioned for display on a mobile screen.

Minimal text: Using templates or mock-ups designed for smartphones can help test the legibility of text at small sizes. A responsively designed infographic will scale—as a block—to fit the display; if this results in six-point text, the infographic is not mobile-friendly. Limit the number of words per screen, and add more blocks or panels if needed.

  • Appropriate fonts: Use no more than two typefaces, and choose clear, simple, scalable fonts that complement each other. Fonts with serifs or other decorative elements are hard to read in small sizes.
  • Icons: Add icons to enhance text—or replace text with icons in scaled-down versions of an infographic. Building the design so that some elements and text are removed when the display shrinks makes an infographic more mobile-friendly.
  • Color: Choose colors wisely; the combination and contrast of colors affects learners’ comprehension. Color and contrast can strengthen the visual impact; changing one line of a chart to a contrasting color effectively highlights important information, for example.
  • Breathing room: Don’t crowd the elements; leave space in the infographic and around the margins. Woo recommends at least 30 percent “negative” or uncluttered space.

A designer who struggles with one or more of these guidelines might rethink the approach: Can the infographic be used to represent a smaller part of the data? Can multiple panels or infographics be used? Is this concept better taught using text or a different format, like flash cards or a game? Is it possible to swap the infographic for text or a different set of visuals for mobile learners?

The bottom line is that the eLearning is only effective if learners use it. And, while more learners want to access eLearning on their smartphones, they are unlikely to engage with content that forces them to squint and scroll to decipher it.



Anderson, Monica. “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.” Pew Research Center. 29 October 2015.

Grady, Cheryl L., Anthony R. McIntosh, M. Natasha Rajah, and Fergus I.M. Craik. “Neural correlates of the episodic encoding of pictures and words.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 95, No. 5. April 1998.

McCandless, David. “Information is beautiful: war games.” The Guardian. 1 April 2010.

Woods, Bianca. “Telling Your Story with Infographics.” Learning Solutions 2014 Conference & Expo. 20 March 2014.


Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

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