Monday, March 25, 2013

Terms e-Learning Designers Should Know

This post was originally published on the Daily Mindflash blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

There are concepts and terms that are part of the every day life of the professionals within an industry. In order for a professional to be successful in one’s craft, a thorough understanding of industry concepts and terms is a minimum requirement. e-Learning professionals have their own set of terms that are vital to know and understand. Below is a collection of some of the most important e-learning terms. My aim is that these concepts will help you do your job better and inspire you to find other terms not included here.

Note: Instead of listing terms in alphabetical order, I have decided to group them together by relevance to each other. I thought this would help to better absorb the definitions than if they were in alphabetical order.

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The Future of Sales Enablement is (or should be) Social

According to ASTD, U.S. businesses spend $15 billion per year on sales training and that many sales people find the training ineffective or less than useful (Salopek, 2009). This is a staggering number all by itself, but when you combine it with the fact that people do not find sales training very effective, it has to scare the heck out of business leaders who are trying like crazy to grow their businesses.

Because of the large amount spent on sales training each year, there is great value in solving the problem of improving the effectiveness of sales enablement efforts in organizations. This very problem is what is driving my dissertation research project. My goal is to discover ways to improve the effectiveness of sales enablement in organizations.

In a 2012 article in the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Lassk, Ingram, Kraus, & Di Mascio suggest that the future of sales training must be individualized, jointly determined, voluntary, tailored to fit mutual needs and offered in various modes. The authors (2012) suggest that the use of technology should be a big part of the future of sales training and should be explored more fully in future research. In fact, the article points out that future research should explore different types of technology delivery methods, including social, that could help improve sales training effectiveness.

So the question is how can social technology play a role in improving sales performance in organizations? I believe there are four ways that social enterprise technology can help improve sales enablement in organizations.

More Self-Directed

In most cases, sales professionals know what they need in order to be more effective and each sales person likely has unique needs. Although there will always be a need for a need to training people on company sales processes, sales techniques, product and customer knowledge, sales people should have more say in the training they receive in terms of content and method. Cron and his co-authors (2005) sales training programs should be more individualized, jointly determined, voluntary, tailored to fit mutual needs and offered in various modes (p. 124). Enterprise social networks are well-suited to support this goal.

On an enterprise social network, sales people can share links to product specs, RFP language, articles on competitors, clients, and industry trends all in an effort to share and find current knowledge that will be useful in their job performance today.

Delivering Content at Lower Cost

Lassk et al (2012) write that technology can provide the sales organization with improved delivery options that distribute high-quality content at lower cost. By using enterprise social networks, content does not have to be limited to what is delivered in a formal training class. Conversations between sales people on an enterprise social network become content in the exchanges of ideas, solutions, stories of success and failures. Content also can come from outside sources that sales people find on the normal course of seeking information to help in their sales efforts. This content can be links to industry reports and articles in trade magazines. Content is now dynamically generated and can evolve continuously with the needs of sales people. These conversations can also be used for coaching or mentoring meetings on enterprise social networks when the sales person and mentor/coach are a distance apart (Rosenheck, 2010). More content that can be referred to later.

None of this content needed to be developed by full-time employees, which is expensive. The content is created in the normal course of conducting business, which is why it is high-quality content, developed at a relatively low cost.

Finding Expertise

Another way enterprise social networks can improve sales enablement is that social participation allows sales people to find expertise throughout the organization. No sales person can know everything, but they can and should be able to find people who do. Sales people can use enterprise social networks to seek the aid of sales engineers, marketing insight, answers to customer service questions, and effective sales techniques used by other sales people on their deals.


All training professionals (the good ones, anyway) spend a lot of time thinking about how the knowledge learned in training will transfer to performance on the job. In a traditional model of formal training, there is little follow-up or reinforcement of training content after a training session is complete, which begs the question, "How do we really know people are applying what they learned in that training class?"

Enterprise social networks can be used to sustain learning through ongoing facilitated discussions. Sales professionals can ask follow up questions, share stories of success and failure, and even hold fellow attendees to a recent training class accountable to applying techniques learned in that class. These conversations can be facilitated by the trainer, a sales coach, or a sales manager until peers take over and facilitate their own conversations.


As much money is spent on sales training, a certain focus on ensuring that training sticks should be a concern for most organizations. Taking the recommendations of Lassk, Ingram, Kraus & Di Mascio (2012) that future research is needed to find our how social technology can be used to improve sales enablement, my research is designed to find out how enterprise social networks can be used to improve sales results.

What stories do you have of sales enablement success on enterprise social networks? Share your stories in the comments below.


Cron, William L., Greg W. Marshall, Jagdip Singh, Rosann L. Spiro, and Harish Sujan (2005), “Salesperson Selection, Training and Development: Trends, Implications and Research Opportunities,” Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 25, 2 (Spring), 123–136.

Lassk, F. G., Ingram, T. N., Kraus, F., & Di Mascio, R. (2012). The future of sales training: Challenges and related research questions. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 32(1), 141-154.

Salopek, Jennifer J. (2009), “The Power of the Pyramid,” Training & Development, 63 (May), 70–75.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When to Choose Self-Paced Learning Versus Live, On-Line Learning

This post was originally published on the Daily Mindflash blog. Included here is the lead and a link to full post.

As you begin to learn about the different ways to bring e-learning into your organization, you will invariably come across the question, “Which is a better option: self-paced e-learning or live, on-line training?” It is not an easy question to answer because there are benefits and drawbacks to both methods.

There is some good news in the pursuit of an answer to this question.

Study after study has shown that no matter what type of learning mode or technology is used, learning outcomes are no different. In her book, e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, Ruth Clark cites several studies that show evidence that, when it comes to learning outcomes, it does not matter what technology or learning mode you use. In other words, from the perspective of achieving learning outcomes, it does not matter which method you choose.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

The Practical Implications of Linking Social Learning and Performance

The practical implications of my research study include the potential for changing how organizations socialize new employees from formal, top-down, trainer-centered on-boarding to informal, participant-centered, social learning interventions using enterprise social networks (ESN). Organizations spend the majority of training and performance improvement budgets on formal training programs when evidence shows people learn through informal learning methods (Cross, 2006).

Furthermore, the basic premise of a social theory of learning assumes that people learn through participation in pursuit of a specific practice. As technology advances and empowers people to connect with each more easily, through enterprise social networks (ESN), it becomes easier for organizations to facilitate social learning in directed and productive pursuits of specific practices. Organizations could change the way training and performance improvement resources are allocated by tapping into how people naturally learn in pursuit of performance improvement.

Moreover, the study could inform organizations, through the application of the Human Performance Technology (HPT) model, with an organized, structured method of implementing social learning, which is inherently informal.


Cross, J.  2006.  Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco, CA:  Pfieffer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Theoretical Implications of Linking Social Learning and Performance

Traditional learning theory is based on individual learning from the teacher-centered perspective (Wenger, 1998). In an individual and teacher-centered paradigm, there is a foundational reliance on a top-down approach to instructional design. However, no individual learns only from a teacher, instructor, or coach. Wenger (1998) argues that a social theory of learning works because human beings are social by nature and learn through participating in groups pursuing a specific and common practice. Although Wenger (1998) states that a social learning theory does not replace traditional learning theory, there are implications that by testing the theory using technology designed to enhance social interactions and participation (an Enterprise Social Network, for example), that even more weight could be given to social learning as a means by which organizations could develop new employees.

Two main assumptions of a social theory of learning are that people are social beings and that knowing is a matter of participating in the pursuit of a specific practice (Wenger, 1998). My research study intends to extend these assumptions from a link between participation and knowing to studying the relationship between participation and performance. The theoretical implications are that my study could provide a link between a social theory of learning (an informal learning process) and performance (sales results).


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Getting Organized When Launching Large-Scale E-Learning

One of the most intimidating things in the learning and development field is launching your first large-scale e-learning initiative to your entire company. So many things could go wrong. People might not be able to log in. If they can log in, the right course might not be assigned to them. Learners might not be able to find the course. Course completions are not tracked properly causing re-takes and frustration. Worst of all, senior leadership may come to you because they are getting so many complaints.

Ah, the joys of e-learning.

The good news is that these mishaps can be avoided with some forethought and planning. So in this post, I will share with you a few things you can do to get organized and avoid most of the major frustrations that can ruin a large-scale e-learning launch.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

How Linking Social Learning to Performance Advances Scientific Knowledge

Organizations spend billions of dollars each year on formal training programs, yet research shows that people learn how to do their jobs through social learning methods (Hunter, 2010; Hashim, 2008; Blair & Sisakhti, 2007; Cross, 2006). A social theory of learning demonstrates that people are social beings who learn through participating in communities in pursuit of a common domain (Wenger, 1998). Although communities of practice have existed for many years and are nothing new, little research has been conducted that links participation in communities of practice with job performance. My dissertation seeks to investigate the relationship between participation of newly hired sales professionals in communities of practice and sales performance. Moreover, I endeavor to explore and understand how participating in a community of practice can help a new sales person learn job skills necessary to achieve sales goals through meaning (experience), practice (doing), community (belonging), and identity (becoming)?

HPT Model
There are very few studies that have investigated the relationship between participation in communities of practice and performance. Exceptions include research that found that the frequency and quality of the interaction an individual has with specific communities of practice is related to his or her individual-level performance (Teigland, 2000). A second study found that communities of practice led to improved performance through "decreased learning curves" for new employees, faster responses to customers, and reduced rework (Lesser & Storck, 2001). Even in the Lesser and Storck (2001) study, which provides a link between communities of practice for new employees and improved performance, performance of new employees was defined as “decreased learning curve,” which many not necessarily mean improved job performance.

Further research is needed to improve understanding about how participation in communities of practice can help newcomer sales people improve sales performance. Therefore, my study seeks to investigate how newly hired sales people learn through participating in communities of practice, and provide a link between a social theory of learning and job performance by studying the relationship between participation in the community of practice and sales results.

To further advance scientific study, I will bring a formal and systematic process of linking business goals with an otherwise informal intervention in the workforce, a community of practice (Van Tiem, Moseley & Dessinger, 2012). The HPT model is such an approach. I intend to apply three of the steps in the HPT model (design, implement, and evaluate) as a means of linking an informal learning process to business goals. The key to the study advancing scientific knowledge is to bridge the gap between an informal learning method (participation in a community of practice) and sales results. Applying the HPT model is the means for studying the gaps and to answering the research questions in my study.


Blair, D., & Sisakhti, R. (2007). Sales tranining: What makes it work? Here's a hint: Money and metrics play their part. T+D, 61(8), 28-33. Retrieved from

Cross, J.  2006.  Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco, CA:  Pfieffer.

Hashim, J. (2008). Competencies acquisition through self-directed learning among malaysian managers. Journal of Workplace Learning, 20(4), 259-259-271. doi:10.1108/1366562081087111

Hunter, C. P. (2010). Ways of learning in the pharmaceutical sales industry. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22(7), 451-451-462. doi:10.1108/13665621011071118

Lesser, E. and Storck, J. (2001), "Communities of practice and organizational performance", IBM System Journal, Vol. 40, pp. 83

Teigland, R. (2000), "Communities of practice at an internet firm: netovation vs on-time performance", in Lesser, E.L., Fontaine, M.A. and Slusher, J.A. (Eds), Knowledge and Communities: Resources for the Knowledge-based Economy, Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, MA.

Van Tiem, D. M., Moseley, J. L., & Dessinger, J. C. (2012). Fundamentals of performance technology: A guide to improving people, process, and performance. Pfeiffer.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Great Social Learning Requires Great Design

Designing for social learning does not mean you simply combine a Twitter #hashtag with a training class and call it a day. There is much more to it than that. If you want to properly design a social learning intervention, you might consider looking into the foundations of communities of practice, a social theory of learning.

Source: Meeusesen & Berends, 2007
A social theory of learning is based on a series of trade-offs between the following elements:

Participation and Reification
Designed and Emergent
Identification and Negotiability
Local and Global

Participation and Reification: In order for learning to occur, there needs to be both conversation and available resources. According to Meeuwesen and Berends (2007) communities of practice (CoPs) involve a continuous interplay between participation and reification, which is called the ‘negotiation of meaning.’ Participation refers to taking part in communication, activities, or events and applies both to individuals and groups. Reification refers to the process of giving form to experience by  producing objects to signify that experience. Reification is about the crystallization and realization of ideas.

So...make sure you are designing the ability for people to both participation on conversations and to access, share, and create resources.

Designed and Emergent: CoPs involve an interaction between design and emergence. Although many do not believe it. CoPs can be designed. Many, including Wenger (1998) believe CoPs are emergent, can cannot necessarily be created, controlled and managed. However. the structural elements and the balances can be designed for, but they can only be realized emergently from the interactions of the community members (Meeuwesen & Berends, 2007). can design a CoP and for that matter, a social learning intervention, but not so tightly that the community cannot take it where it thinks it needs to go. Participants have power to decide where to take the CoP within the context of the domain and practice, and management should not try to control that.

Identification and Negotiability: Participation in CoPs involves the creation of identities for individuals through an interplay between identification and negotiation. Identification is responsible for creating different forms of membership. It allows one to associate oneself with events, groups, and things. Negotiation refers to the degree to which persons are able to reach an agreement on what value a given event, group, or thing has for them (Meeuwesen & Berends, 2007).

Like the trade off between designed and emergent, participants must be able to decide for themselves the level and nature of their membership in the group and also to determine for themselves the value each participate gains for themselves. In the end, participants, not the designer or management, is in control of interactions and what they mean.

Local and Global: CoPs interact with both the local and the global, which means they interact with members of the community (being co-located or geographically dispersed) but also interact with elements outside that community (Meeuwesen & Berends, 2007).

One practical manifestation of this trade-off is a private group on an enterprise social network (ESN). A private group can be created in which participants can discuss issues important to the group only. Participants can also have access to the greater organization ecosystem of individuals, groups, and communities in which and with which they can interact.

Good Social Learning Requires Good Design

All I am saying is that social learning is not a discussion group after a class or following a #hashtag on Twitter or any other permutation of using social media. In fact, none of that is any different that just picking up a book to learn something about a topic, which is a fine enough way to learn something. But if you want to create a learning environment in which people can interact with each other and learning something meaningful that can be put into practice, I suggest you consider using solid design principles that make for successful CoPs.


Meeuwesen, B., & Berends, H. (2007). Creating communities of practices to manage technological knowledge. European Journal of Innovation Management, 10(3), 333. doi: 10.1108/14601060710776743

Wenger, E. (1998).  Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

Three Benefits of Quizzes in e-Learning

When it comes to testing, training professionals have a dilemma. “With all the focus on determining whether training helps people perform better, do we really need to include multiple choice quizzes in our e-learning? Don’t multiple choice quizzes insult the intelligence of our learners who are experienced, smart, adult learners who do not want to be treated like school children? I mean, I know that we want people to learn what is in the training and testing is a way to do that. But do these quizzes really do anything for anyone?”

The answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How to Sell Training Internally

Learning professionals spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince management that the training ideas we have are worth doing. Whether it is that new conflict management training or switching to e-learning for the first time, we too often run up against blank stares or direct rejections. We know our ideas will make things better, but often have a hard time convincing others. 
Why is this, you ask?
One reason is that we are just not speaking “their” language, that is, the language of our stakeholders. For example, let’s say you want to switch some or most of the training you do to e-learning. You know it will help you deliver a more consistent message to a more global audience, but the executive team says, “But what’s wrong with the way we do it now?” Or “What will improve if we switch to e-learning?”