Archive for August, 2013

The ‘endowment effect’ is the well-known theory in behavioural economics that a sense of ownership makes a big difference to how we think and act. On a transactional level, it means that people will pay more to retain something they already own than to obtain something similar which is owned by someone else even when there is no real cause for attachment.  Put simply, a coffee cup becomes more valuable when it is my coffee cup.

Experiments demonstrate that such an endowment, or sense of ownership, can be established in just a few moments. Once it is, people cling on – and for economists, that is expressed in monetary value.  So for those of us in the business of changing behaviour, how can we express the endowment effect in terms of performance, rather than pennies?

Firstly, on a large scale the endowment effect translates into long term emotional investment. This stuff is the glue which binds large communities together in the pursuit of common goals. It’s almost self-evident that once we have a certain store of feelings about a person or a group of people, it’s hard to let go.

And when an organisation can achieve the emotional investment of its employees – and it isn’t easy – they start acting funny.  The sense of attachment means that, when faced with an unwelcome change or difficulty, they embrace it – they even become emotionally attached to the unwelcome change.  Why? They’d rather keep a hold of the existing emotional stockpile than go out to hunt for a new one.

An example of this is Arthur Andersen’s employees.  The conduct of just a few people in the Enron scandal brought the company down, but its demise didn’t divest its thousands of employees from their sense of ownership and emotional bond with the organisation. Ten years on, the Andersen alumni community is alive and well (in Canada, for example, they established the Arthur Anderson Legacy Scholarship Fund to help vulnerable young people get into university). What is holding this community together? It’s certainly not a monthly pay cheque.

Or how about when fans club together to buy back a favourite club that has gone into administration (such as Portsmouth FC  earlier this year)? What this proves is that the endowment effect makes us incredibly resilient to change.

The effect is clearly a hugely powerful tool. And it has big, if unexplored, implications for people development and talent practice. It demonstrates that a sense of ownership is at the heart of the engagement problem. When we say that learners are ‘hard-to-engage’, what we really mean is that we don’t know how to get learners to take ownership of new behaviours and learning outcomes.

‘Engagement’, then, is not about buckets of branding, messages from the MD and a snazzy design (although those can all help). It’s about the emotional nuts and bolts of the trainee / trainer relationship. And currently, the transaction taking place is the wrong way around.

The typical model is as follows: L&D produces training content, and the learner consumes that content. L&D is the marketplace and the learner is the customer. This is okay when your training product is an envied five day leadership course in the Swiss Alps that only the lucky few get to go on every year. But when you want to do something serious, like get thousands of people to become more mentally resilient to change, stress and disruption, the product is less appealing.

Instead, we need to reverse the order of the transaction. The learner should be the producer, and L&D should be the consumer.

Within the context of a single learning intervention, it means starting from what the learner already has and finishing with it too. They produce, we ‘purchase’. This is why attitudinal diagnostics are so effective: by asking the learner to volunteer opinions and using those opinions to form the learning outcomes, we change the order.  Suddenly, those outcomes become the property not of L&D, but of the learner.

The result? Real engagement and a real motivation for campaigning change.  In the case of mental resilience, this means that learners will actively seek to make the changes that only they are capable of making.

There are other techniques, but that’s for another post. Soon I’ll also be looking at what flipping the L&D / learner relationship means for learning platforms, and why the self-organised learning environment is the ultimate way of exploiting the endowment effect…

By the way, we’ll be exploring how emotional investment and the endowment effect achieved such impressive results in a mental resilience course developed with Transport for London in an LSG webinar on 19 September.  I hope to see you there.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer (1900–1944)

So you don’t believe me when I say that design is more about taking elements away than adding new ones? Try taking a look at the evolution of the Starbucks logo. The concept of ‘less is more’ may be a little clichéd, but you can see how powerful it is here: the simple, clean image is instantly recognisable and familiar; nothing is extraneous.

Next question: When you set about designing the visual elements for an e-learning course, do you think booting up the computer is the first step?  If you’ve answered yes, think again. The first step is to think about something simple that inspires you.  A visual motif for your e-learning design can come from many places: a photograph, a film trailer, a blog post or a magazine.  Squirrel these references away so you can pull them out for future use.  Now, motif in mind, start sketching your wire frames, experiment, try out new things and don’t be afraid to do things differently.

When you come to create your screen design, choose carefully what elements you use and where they’re positioned on the screen. Every element must be present for a reason. We all want courses that are visually stimulating and engaging, but we don’t want psychedelic wallpaper that distracts us.

Grabbing the attention of the learner is not about filling the screen with as many images as possible – something that many e-learning courses are guilty of – it is about making an emotional connection.  And what you remove from your design is equally as important as what you add.

Now you’re in the mood for minimalism, try the following four tips to create the kind of captivating graphic setting that is essential for a successful learning experience.


  1. Stay on the grids

Organisation is the key for creating a minimalist structure.  Use a grid to carefully plan the arrangement of graphic elements and avoid clustering.


  1. Tie down the typography

Typography is about legibility and readability. It feels as if you’re paying a visit to the optician there’s something wrong! Pick one main font in the right sizes.


  1. Make some space

Keep it uncluttered! A lack of space around text blocks and in your design in general can cause elements to blend into each other and become unclear.


  1. Control your colors!

With small pops of color, your visitors’ eyes will immediately know that the area with color is important. Use this to your advantage by using it to paint a path for the eyes to follow.


It may sound like a tall order to for e-learning designers to compete with the likes of Starbucks marketers, so here’s a very simple way to prove that less really does mean more in e-learning…. The next time you are wondering what is missing from an e-learning design, try pressing ‘delete’ instead of ‘insert new’! You might be surprised by the results.

Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) works with education and youth practitioners around the country to develop and deliver prevention education programmes. Now Saffron Interactive, a bespoke e-learning provider, is helping AVA to create a new digital prevention portal. This will give practitioners the tools needed to increase the number of prevention programmes delivered to children and young people. 

Last year over 1.2 million women were the victims of domestic abuse and every year more than 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and up to 95,000 women are raped in England and Wales. Over a third of rapes involve a victim under the age of 16, and more than 20,000 girls under 15 are at high risk of female genital mutilation in England and Wales each year.

‘AVA is committed to working with practitioners and policy makers to create a world where women and girls are free from violence and the fear of violence.’ says Hannah Wharf, a women’s rights consultant who is leading the project for AVA. ‘Teachers have a crucial role to play in ending violence against women and girls. Around the country they are delivering lessons, and running campaigns. Teachers are safeguarding children from harm and stopping the violence before it starts.’

‘We are working with Saffron Interactive to create an interactive and exciting digital prevention platform to help them do that. This will share good practice, guidance and tools. It will enable practitioners to create comprehensive programmes to prevent violence against women and girls and safeguard children and young people.’

Funded by Comic Relief, the digital hub will promote minimum standards and enable professionals to facilitate discussion around the issue. It will compile the findings of research undertaken during six on-going projects in schools across England, and be piloted in educational institutions later this year.

To make it happen, Saffron is building a sophisticated content management system using HTML5 coding. Professionals will be able to register and access a personalised array of resources and guidance on facilitating discussion and developing effective education programmes.

The portal will also include a high impact e-learning experience to deliver safeguarding awareness training to a wider audience who come into contact with vulnerable children and young people at work.  The aim is to produce a measurable increase in disclosure rates, and protect children and young people from violence against women and girls.

‘Violence against women must end,’ says Noorie Sazen, CEO at Saffron, ‘This platform will be a powerful tool for AVA to help put a stop to this social evil, and I’m pleased that Saffron is able play a role in creating it.’

About AVA

Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) is a national second tier service working to end all forms of violence against women and girls. AVA provides a range of services to organisations and agencies working in the voluntary and statutory sector as well as to individual practitioners. AVA offer consultancy, training, resources and guidance. To find out more about AVA please visit

The HTML5 mark-up language has now been around for about three years. It’s not yet fully recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) but, as of last December, it’s well on the way. Some of us have already embraced the change, thrown out Flash and welcomed HTML5 into our e-learning content. But what does HTML5 actually deliver above and beyond Flash? Is it right for you?

This post takes a look at some examples from a recent Saffron course to offer some guidance.

Firstly, a warning: HTML5 may not be right for you. In plenty of corporate contexts the standard browser is still Internet Explorer 8 or lower, and HTML5 in these environments can either be more trouble than it’s worth – often requiring a Flash back-up for video content, for example – or simply impossible. And whilst we know that Flash won’t be supported forever, the rumours of its demise are very much exaggerated. Consumer tech is usually several steps ahead of corporate and public sector infrastructure. Look at how long the dreaded Internet Explorer 6 has stuck around!

It’s also worth questioning the reasoning behind any potentially disruptive change before diving in. For example, whilst HTML5 is a must-have for smartphones and tablet compatibility, an informal survey on Training Zone recently found that 80% of corporates still aren’t using mobile learning.

So what should drive adoption (aside from wanting to sit with the cool kids)? Chris Milk is a filmmaker and storyteller, using HTML5 not just for its technological functions but as a creative and collaborative tool. In a recent interview, Milk spoke about the possibilities of using HTML to make films, but cautioned that the creative heart of a project should be established first.

“……the project had to tell a story or have an emotional core. It has to start with the human, emotional place, because if you start with the tech, you’re basically building a tech demo.”

A new course produced by Saffron for Amnesty International – Human Rights for Mental Health Professionals – is a great example of how we use the improvements created by HTML5 to better establish this ‘emotional core’ in e-learning. The development of the Amnesty course, which aimed to challenge deeply held practices, was led not by the technical build, but by the creative solution used to explore the issue. Really, it’s about using new technology to win emotional engagement with difficult content.  And, in this case, HTML5 had benefits at all stages.

HTML5 helps to get learning moving

Throughout the course we use video and animation as a storytelling device. We chose to merge line-drawing animation with real video case studies to create a compelling and relevant content experience. HTML5 supports embedded multimedia without using a proprietary external plug in like Flash. It also supports scalable vector graphics, which means that all the content on the screen can scroll, adapt and respond to the learner. Using these properties brings out the human face of HTML5.

HTML5 is (usually) better at getting learning out there

The course is going out to an extremely wide population of mental health practitioners, all over theRepublicofIreland. That means they’ll be tapping into it from a variety of consumer tablets and desktops. Whilst it’s true that HTML5 is not supported by some browsers still in organisational use, browsers that officially support full HTML5 features now include, IE9+, Firefox 3.5+, Safari 4+, Silk 4+, Opera 10.50 and Chrome 4+.  If that profile fits, then HTML5 removes the necessity to produce a different version, or an expensive set of apps, for different browsers or devices. That made it ideal for winning over this audience.

There’s other cool features too: unlike Flash, HTML5 translates easily into readable text-based output, so screen-readers are better supported. That also means with a little tweaking, learners can simply hit print to save course screens as a PDF. Which leads on to our next point…

HTML5 can store far more than before 

A vital part of the Amnesty International course is a ‘take-away’: a personalised action plan that is created as learners move through, the content is saved and edited within the course, and then printed. Allowing learners to take ownership of action plans in this way is a key emotional motivator.

HTML5 makes this possible with an enhancement of web storage that surpasses anything made possible by cookies. Whereas cookies store just 4KB of data, HTML5 web storage captures at least 5MB per URL, and more for other browsers. All this data can be stored without affecting the website’s server performance. It gives us far more scope to start transforming e-learning courses into editable toolkits, unique to the learner and available both offline and online. And that’s the music of the future.

If you want to see the full capabilities of this HTML5 course in action, why not register for our webinar with the Learning and Performance Institute on 23 October?


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