Archive for June, 2012

What does innovation in e-learning really mean anymore? Is it merely a buzzword, just like all restaurant cuisine is ‘authentic and made from fresh produce’ all e-learning is ‘engaging, interactive and innovative’?

A few weeks ago I went to the opening of the Heatherwick Studio design and architecture exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibits pay tribute to Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘extraordinary form-making’ and include the surprisingly elegant Rolling Bridge, which draws back in a caterpillar motion to provide access. You can also find out how the team designed the new London buses, reintroducing the much-loved ‘hop-on hop-off’ service harking back to the 1950s.

My most memorable piece was one that you could try for yourself: Spun, designed in response to the intriguing brief ‘Could a completely rotationally symmetrical form make a comfortable chair?’ and you can see me here having a go (after a few gin cocktails).

The chair’s seat, back and arms are all the same profile and it looks a bit like a bobbin. It’s not hydraulic, space travel ready and made from titanium so light it’s used in the production of the queen’s cakes. It is, however, lovely looking, comfortable to sit in and very fun to spin around on – it works, meets its brief and surprises the user… it’s innovative.

So what can we take away from this? There’s a message here about the ways in which we strive to deliver innovative e-learning. Yes, augmented reality apps open up exciting new avenues but what can we do to make smaller budget projects and those with technical constraints innovative? I don’t think that innovative e-learning should be reliant on expensive new technologies – we can achieve innovation in e-learning by being creative in our approach to instructional design.

For example, where we don’t need to formally assess learners, why not scrap the ‘learning objectives’ screen and instead issue the learner with a ‘mission brief’, unlock all the units and allow the learner to explore the e-learning course, collecting clues and solving problems? This instructional design concept, married with a film noir inspired look and feel creates a compelling and immersive learning experience suitable for topics such as bribery and corruption and business ethics.

I’m not recommending we regress back to basics and restrict our e-learning to static screens and images of corporate norms in dodgy suits. All I’m saying is that learning technologies aren’t always the only or best way to innovate and reinvigorate our e-learning.

Try to think about fresh and creative ways in which you can meet your brief. Sometimes it’s just about doing something different with the wheel, rather than reinventing it.

The Heatherwick Studio exhibition is on at the Victoria and Albert museum until 30 September, go here for more information.

“The Sage of Paradox”

Brian Sutton
MD Learning for Leaders

We remember 10% of what we read, by contrast we remember 90% of what we teach others. Think about the last training you received or attended… chances are it was a ‘formal’ activity that was heavy on the reading. You were trained, but did you learn?

Learning is something that people do; training is something that is done to them, as a result of which learning may or may not take place. Training produces conditioned response and can only ever anticipate a limited subset of possible situations, whereas learning produces discriminating behaviour, which can be adopted and adapted to suit changing circumstances. We are interested in learning in the workplace because this is the mechanism through which people attain new levels of performance. Most learning at work happens informally and collaboratively, yet most corporate investment in learning is directed at facilitating formal activities.

In this instalment of Advance Brian Sutton examines these paradoxes and shows the Corporate Education world how to build learning programmes that reward and foster informal learning.


A couple of months back I made the decision to delete my LinkedIn profile, a decision greeted with incredulity from all quarters. The most memorable criticism came from my friend Tom when we were in the pub. “You idiot!” he gasped, before exclaiming “IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE!

By “one”, Tom was referring to LinkedIn’s classification as a “social media” platform, lumped in with Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster and the rest. What sets LinkedIn apart is that it’s considered to be the professional network; a platform you can use to build your career, not your social life. You’re encouraged to develop “connections”, not friends, and there are forums and messaging capabilities to develop cross-collaboration with your network.

Sometimes we seem to forget that at their heart, many social networks are primarily public directories; they hold, and give access to, information on their users. The vast amount of user information they hold have meant that social networks are seen as the oil fields of the 21st century, offering unlimited reward for prospectors should they strike it rich.

But a user can also choose to reclaim that data should they wish to, and people are getting wiser to that fact. We’re seeing a growth in a movement championing the “right to be forgotten” in the third decade of the age of information.

What this means is that before signing up to a service or platform, more and more users are performing a simple cost benefit analysis. “What features does this service give me, and what am I expected to offer in return? How transparent is the service being on how they’ll go about using and storing my data? Is my information safe with them? Will my boss get to see my drunken photos?”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll published last Monday showed that 34% of Facebook users surveyed were spending less time on the website than six months ago, whereas only 20% were spending more. The suggestion is that users are displaying a reluctance to access a service whose growth model is built around the premise that they should in some way pay to host their personal content.

As advertising placements get more prominent, expect user engagement figures to start falling further. I’d argue that it’s only right that users should offer some kind of financial contribution to maintain access to functions and features of a platform that they use, but there will come a point of advertising saturation which will ultimately prompt users to turn away and curtail Facebook’s ability to turn a profit.

Facebook may fail to make good gains because, fundamentally, there’s something slightly repressive about being forced to sit through adverts every time you want to see those photos from your university days. I’ve created that content – so why am I expected to pay over the odds to see it?

LinkedIn proved to be the wrong tool for me at this point in my career, and to put it bluntly, I felt that information I was offering outweighed the benefits that LinkedIn had to offer me. What I was looking for was an immediate exchange of information with likeminded people, or checking out links to other people’s work – rapid networking, if you like – and I already get that from Twitter.

However, I could see myself returning to LinkedIn again – provided that they innovate and introduce a new learning and development platform where you could learn skills from the website itself. Surely it makes sense for a professional networking service to align itself more closely with professional growth, teaching and certifying skills taught through its platform?

We can already see examples of this with Code Academy, a privately funded learning service that is free to access and teaches you the basics of HTML5 and JavaScript using bite size exercises based on real world uses. If LinkedIn concentrated on development content that could help users gain qualifications, then it would elevate it to another level. It wouldn’t just be a networking platform; it would be the most effective social learning platform we’ve ever seen.

The Point-of-Need: where effective learning really matters

Charles Jennings
Global Head of Learning, Reuters

Reuters is the world’s largest multimedia information company, publishing more than 8 million words in 18 languages every day and maintaining more than 200 million data records used by the world’s financial industry. This financial data is updated 8,000 times a second, increasing to 23,000 times a second at peak times. The volume and change rate of this data is such that the half-life of the information used by financial professionals to do their jobs is measured in milliseconds. So Reuters is one company that knows better than most how rapidly the nature of information and how we use it is changing.

Information, and the knowledge, skills, capability and innovation that are derived from it, powers the world’s economic engines and forms the fundamental particles of every business, every government agency and every economic entity, whatever their nature. What’s more, information is not in short supply. We live our lives in a world awash with it. In fact, the problem that the twenty-first century worker faces every day is not one of a lack of information, but one of having the right information at the right time.


Imagine a world in black and white. While it might appeal to some, it definitely doesn’t sound too exciting to most of us. And that’s because colour plays an important part in our lives. Every colour has something to say; your brain reacts differently to different colours. Colours create ambiance, catch and maintain our attention and stimulate us.

Here’s a question for you: what kind of customer base do you think a company whose website uses predominantly pink colours has? Are they targeting male teens, young women or male senior citizens? My money’s on young women. And though it isn’t always the case, the cultural associations with the colour pink tend to classify it as a quintessentially feminine choice.

So, when designing a user interface design for an e-learning course, I like to start with the client’s customer base. I look up the demographics of its customers and use that as a starting point to shortlist some colours.

The next step I take is to refer to the client’s websites, print materials and any other resources that showcase their brand. You don’t want to re-invent the wheel… a client with an existing customer base will more than likely want to use and develop their existing branding rather than changing it completely. So, a design needs to be created that harmoniously blends existing colours (the client’s brand colours) with new ones (the colours used in the e-learning to engage the learner). A well thought-out combination can add that ‘wow’ factor in the design and complement the instructional design approach. You can use a colour wheel to help you choose complementary colours, or to determine whether you should use warm colours (red, yellow, orange shades), or cool colours (green and blue shades).

Having determined the colours, it’s important that we use them in a consistent manner; if you decide on green as your choice of colour for instruction text, then don’t use it for any other on screen elements. A good way to manage your use of colour is to categorise text elements into four basic types: headings, body or copy, learner instructions and links. Then decide on a colour for each type… and stick with it!

Bear in mind that some colours have taken on an almost universal significance thanks to how they have been used over a period of time. For example, a learner sees blue text which is underlined and will assume that it’s a link. Similarly, using green crosses and red ticks in feedback will leave your learners completely befuddled!

If you’re just starting out – maybe you’re developing your own e-learning using rapid tools – there are plenty of useful online resources and references that can help you. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Wikipedia (Colour theory)
  2. Adobe (Combinations and themes)
  3. Colour scheme designer

Lastly, tailor your colour choices depending on the learning solution that you’re working with. You don’t want to detract from video scenarios by providing a gaudy and potentially distracting background, nor do you want to use a lurid green as your core colour across every element of a 12 hour solution. It’s important that the colours you choose work with your client’s branding but it’s equally as important that they work for your learner and enhance their learning experience.

These tips should help make your e-learning a bright, colourful and engaging experience. Just remember when it comes to good learning design choices are never as black and white as they seem!

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