Recently, Toby and I attended the launch of AVA’s Digital Prevention Platform. The AVA Project is an online initiative aiming to keep education and social care workers informed about maintaining good practice when reporting disclosures of Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG).

As it was my first week on the job, the course itself was an education for me about what good elearning can do to change behaviour. Nowhere is this desire for change more crucial than in the fight against VAWG. This morning’s launch included expert speakers – frontline staff, campaigners, Girl Guides and the NSPCC.

The AVA Project works on the basis that preventing abuse is always preferable to curing it. We teamed up with AVA to educate teachers and set a standard of care and procedures that guarantee consistency amongst educators in all circumstances. It was wonderful to see the passion for change and enthusiasm for the project amongst experienced campaigners. Despite the often distressing subject matter, we wanted to assure practitioners that abuse is not something to be avoided; it must be addressed in order to be prevented.

We collaborated with the AVA Project to design a thirty minute elearning course to educate teachers about different types of abuse. It also provided them with knowledge about how to deal with disclosures of incidents, as well as a database to help workers share resources, expertise and case studies.

This is a project with real momentum. Everyone involved is deeply committed to the ‘prevention not cure’ approach towards abuse that AVA advocates. During the launch itself Holly Dustin, the director of the End Violence against Women coalition discussed just how acute the problem has become. She pointed to the social media backlash against Vanessa Feltz, who last week stated that she had been assaulted by Rolf Harris, as a shameful example of the vilification of the victim. For too long now, VAWG just hasn’t been taken seriously enough. Those at the conference wanted to see early intervention to shift attitudes and cultural values.

It came as a shock to me just how widespread VAWG actually is. Last year there were 1.2 million reported victims of domestic abuse. It is clear that all of the disparate targets and expertise need to be brought together to form one united strategy to fight abuse. The Digital Prevention Platform does just this. It speaks with one united voice to inform and advise those in safeguarding roles. Those at the event were clear; if we expect children to feel able to disclose abuse, it is a conversation we need to be having as a society first.

The course’s varied and engaging approach impressed those who had already taken the course, with the ‘real life’ scenarios proving especially helpful. In fact, a school in Cambridge has already integrated the course as part of an induction pack for new teachers starting work in September. The universal standards of good practice that elearning guarantees, along with the face to face aspects of classroom learning will ensure that the lessons from the course are embedded and put in to practise.

The development of a database to unify resources across the board is also incredibly useful in a sector often divided into boroughs and local authorities. Feedback from youth and social workers was universally positive and extremely encouraging for the future of the Project; we propose to eventually use the AVA site to map prevention projects so that experts across a wide area can share information and work together – starting a conversation that is open to all.

We were able to show clips of the course itself during the event, and teachers said that the combination of infographics, real life scenarios and handy pop-up tips would ensure that the common indicators of abuse remained at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is our hope that in the future, rather than having pockets of knowledge and understanding about different types of abuse, every safeguarder will have instant access to information, as well as an understanding of how to deal with disclosures of abuse

Natalie, a youth outreach worker, was also delighted that the course brings together expertise form so many areas. A common complaint this morning was that schools were simply not aware that instances of abuse were being missed out on because children felt that they couldn’t approach their teachers. Varied and inconsistent reactions to child abuse, as well as a lack of teacher training in this area have meant that sadly, pupils do not always feel able to approach their teachers. AVA’s Digital Prevention Platform aims to change all of this. The design of the database itself also ensures that preventing abuse will remain at the forefront of practitioner’s minds as they are able to edit the database, and include their own case studies in future.

Perhaps one of the most impactful moments at the launch for me was the realisation that this elearning course has the potential to affect real change in the lives of vulnerable women and children. Abuse is a sensitive issue, but feeling comfortable talking about it is a crucial first step. AVA’s change campaign means that teachers will feel confident recognising abuse and putting the correct safeguarding procedures in place to protect the children in their care.

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Missed Saffron’s free seminar at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum last month? Don’t worry! A full recording, with all the slides, has now been posted.

We explain how  the “LMS” is failing generation Y, and will certainly fail generation Z. Now, learners demand platforms that make a genuine emotional connection. Watch the recording to find out why a platform that puts learning into action is crucial to achieving a Return on Investment. We show how, using open source technology and a user experience based on the principles of NLP and behavioural science, any LMS can be transformed into an incredible launch pad for change campaigns. Find out:

  • Why the ‘enterprise LMS’ is a decade (or more) behind the sites which learners actually use
  • How dynamic dashboards press the neurological triggers that put learning into action
  • Why leveraging learner production (user-generated content) is the key to emotional investment
  • How Learning Experience Networks mean we can design the complete experience
  • How social network analysis enables us to identify leaders and launch viral behaviour-change campaigns

On seeing a link with the title ‘Ribbon Hero 2’, I thought it was an app which would spam all my friends. But the moment I saw Clippy’s Second Chance, I knew it was something related to Microsoft Office.

Clippy (an animated paperclip who was one of the Office Assistants included in Microsoft Office 97) had helped me with tips and tricks when I first started learning the software. When I downloaded the game and saw that, as the story unfolds, Clippy is in need of some help, I thought I should return the favour.

Learning Microsoft Office is not exactly the most fun thing to do, but as I played the game, I saw that there were three main elements which kept me glued to the screen. I thought I’d share them, as each one helps us understand how we can gamify systems training to get better user engagement:

How do you gamify systems training1. Leveling up

The first interesting thing about the game was the different levels it had to offer as I completed tasks. Each level was designed differently, and you get to explore each level, with challenges you have to complete before you move up.

People using a new system may have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or don’t want to do things in a certain way, and to overcome those feelings we have to reinforce learning with strong, simple motivators. Levels are everything in gaming: enabling learners to recognise their own progress through incremental accomplishments is vital to sustaining interest.

So how about renaming your modules as ‘levels’? It’s a lot more satisfying to know that you have reached level five, rather than starting yet another module! Also, remember to include scenarios (like Clippy’s story!) which explain WHY they should be doing this. Every organisation has an interest in people knowing how to use their software better, so involve learners in a different scenario during each level that explains those benefits.

2. The ‘What You See Is What You Get’ factor

The tasks in Ribbon Hero 2 were beautifully overlaid over the software and hints help you overcome the hurdles. Since everything happens ‘in-application’ there was nothing left to my imagination: I knew what I had seen and how to use it in real time. There is something addictive about a realistic environment because it lights up neural connections which already exist, so the detailed graphics used in games help players feel truly engaged (especially when the game is about something that could ‘happen’ in real life).

It’s really important that systems training replicates this by including real screenshots and, most importantly, real and believable data. The success which Saffron had with Hilton International when we developed system simulations to capture and replicate every function of the system was partially because of the WYSIWYG factor.

3. Performance indicators 

The game progresses based on a variable number of points awarded for each task. For example, if you don’t use the tips for a task you get the maximum points. And, focussed on winning points and level ups during the game, unwittingly I was mastering the features of the software.

These performance indicators are not difficult to build into elearning – it’s all part of giving learners strong and positive feedback when they complete tasks successfully. In systems training, we have additional scope to use devices like countdown timers and optional tips, which contribute towards variable points for the same task. This variety gives learners an extra incentive to apply more brain power than they usually would to a task!

Final thoughts 

As Sara Faulkner, from the Office Labs team, says, based on early usage data, we know that 60% of Ribbon Hero users who completed two challenges then went on to play all ten, and 80% of users agreed with the statement that Ribbon Hero is a ‘great way to get familiar with the new version of Office’. User feedback like ‘I learned three new tasks in just five minutes’ and ‘I feel that I have learned quite a lot about Office’ also demonstrates the success of the game.

What did you think of Ribbon Hero 2: Clippy’s Second Chance? Did you play it at the time, and if so, would you recommend it as a training tool? I’d be interested to find out what you think.

2014 is the season of systems training. As we emerge from a period of economic difficulty, companies are finding the confidence to invest in new infrastructure and make acquisitions. This makes systems training a flaming hot topic – and an opportunity for all kinds of training devils to resurface!

To help you and your project team avoid spending a season in the abyss, I’ve put together a list of the ‘seven deadly sins of systems training’, drawing on my own experience. Which ones are you guilty of?

1. Lust

A lot of hopes and desires get pinned onto new systems, creating a sense of urgency which can be dangerous: “This new integrated CRM system will revolutionise our sales cycle and save our business…it’s make or break… there’s no time to spare! Let’s get the training out there now.” This kind of passion is great, but don’t let your passion overcome a sensible, cautious approach to the change programme. Rushing the pilot or training prematurely will lead to dire consequences later.

2. Gluttony

It’s a sin if someone’s excessive desire for food causes the needy to go hungry. We should remember that some roles have bigger appetites for training than others, but the programme needs to be inclusive. The loudest voice doesn’t always imply the biggest need, and even the most irregular users of a new system can create big problems if their training needs are not catered for.

3. Greed

The general rule-of-thumb is that a training programme should account for about 10-15% of the total IT budget for a systems roll-out, a figure which most organisations underestimate. If you get greedy and try to spend less by picking a poor quality generic solution or squeezing your supplier, the end result will be a less effective implementation and a failure to realise productivity gains.

4. Sloth

This is (hopefully) an obvious one! Sloth means neglecting to do the things that you know you ought to, or failing to make the best of your talents. For example, it’s tempting to compromise on quality when developing hours upon hours of simulations, or to defer key improvements to a later date (which might never arrive!). Sloth is the gravest of the deadly sins of systems training!

5. Wrath

It is quite likely that things will get heated during the development of the training programme. A systems roll-out puts everyone under extreme pressure, so when the red mist starts fogging your vision, just hold your breath and count to ten before firing off that email. If you need to vent, buy a punch-bag!

6. Envy

The worst way to pick a technology or technique is to try to emulate that cool, expensive gizmo you saw at Learning Technologies, but with less time and less money to spend on it. Envy can lead us to make poor decisions, and trying to compete too much with another organisation’s programme will cause you to lose focus on your own.

7. Pride

There are many manifestations of pride or hubris in systems training. One problem is expecting every learner to complete every module when only two or three are relevant. The system might be at the centre of your world, but to learners it’s not. Another example of pride is assuming that the benefits of the system are so obvious that they don’t need to be ‘sold’ to learners. In fact, the benefits of a new IT system look very different from an end-user’s perspective, so putting the time into winning emotional investment is useful.

Do you have any more deadly sins to add to the list, or an anecdote to share? Leave a comment and let me know.

More and more often, a website is part of the blend for a successful change campaign. The most obvious example is a learning programme which engages with a wide, public, audience. This will require a place to host elearning which also performs a few other functions: links to resources, news updates and contact details. A website is the logical solution.

Websites are also invaluable for internal campaigns if you need to host a repository of resources and make it easily searchable. This is particularly important when users will be accessing learning resources on a bitesize basis, as and when they need them, rather than completing an hour of elearning. Most companies nowadays create portals on large and complex topics, like diversity, sustainability and leadership, for example.

Above all, websites are great when you have a clear call to action that you want to build a community or movement around. An effective site allows you to gather pledges of support, and it also makes it easy to gather comments and drive social sharing.

It’s more than likely that you’ll be involved in building a learning website of some kind in 2014. To help, the Saffron team has drawn on its hard-earned experience to put together 10 tips for building a learning website in a reasonable timeframe… and on a reasonable budget!

1. Decide on the content first

You need to understand more or less exactly what is going on the website before you start thinking about the technology or the design. If there’s lots of content to be created, get your production line in place before you even consider the build. Make sure to have a complete site map before starting the wireframes and the mock-ups. Otherwise, don’t expect anything meaningful from your graphic designer!

2. What’s your call to action?

To make sense of your content, you need to understand what the user is expected to do as a result of visiting your website. Do they need to access a resource, submit some details, or share with others? Understanding the potential call to actions will give you an understanding of the structure and scope of the site and its supporting technologies. The more potential actions, the more difficult the build will be.

3. Use an open source CMS

Just as Moodle provides provides a great starting point for an effective learning management system (and can be used ‘out of the box’ for hosting one or two courses), open source content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress are the place to start for most website requirements. At Saffron we love WordPress! It’s extremely well-supported, and provides most of the admin functionality required ‘out-of-the-box’.

4. Buy a theme

For a project with a moderate budget, there really is no point in creating a bespoke theme when so many fantastic themes are available online. is a huge repository to try out. There are free options, but for less than $60 you’ll find yourself in possession of a powerful set of templates to perform most of the key functions for your website.  Get to know its features and how much can be customised from the front-end before you start producing mock-ups. Avoid custom development unless you absolutely have to!

5. Make it mobile responsive

If you want your website to reach the biggest audience, it’s inexcusable not to make it mobile optimised. Many WordPress themes are responsively designed straight out of the box, so it needn’t be a development challenge. But you also need to test your website with a smartphone. Does the flow make sense? Is your call to action clear?

6. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Once you know what you want the website to do, look for plugins or add-ons which are already available and suitable to your requirement! If you need to get people to sign-up to a mailing list, use a free service that generates the form for you, such as Mailchimp.

7. Create a pixel perfect website

For a polished and professional result, always apply the basic rules of typography to make the website look clean, professional, user friendly and easy to read. Make a clear distinction between the different areas of a page and follow the principles of Consistency, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. Think usability before design, and you’ll be on the right path.

8. Follow accessibility standards

Make sure your website adheres to W3C accessibility guidelines, so it’s works available to screen-readers and to those with visual impairments. This includes including sensible alternative text for all images and allowing keyboard navigation. Following these standards will ensure a better user experience for everyone! Find out more here.

9. Don’t design it for yourself, design it for the audience

Your audience knows the websites they like and is familiar with how they work, so there’s no point in doing something that’s totally different. Reinventing the web is a risky business, so leave it to the professionals. Instead, ensure the design makes sense for a completely new visitor with very simple navigation. Every extra click required will lose your visitors, so avoid nested pages and menus.

10. And finally, don’t forget to…

  • Turn off search engine indexing and restrict the website to your IP address whilst it’s in development, – you don’t want others to view your website before it’s complete.
  • Be aware of the latest technology on the market (e.g.: responsive, retina display) but also make sure it is compatible with old technology (Internet Explorer 6, 1024X768 resolution.
  • Make sure to have smart keywords in your metatags for the best Google results
  • Give meaningful names to pages and URLs to avoid confusion when you want to edit it after few months.

Hopefully these tips have made your learning website idea less daunting and more like any other learning technology project. And, of course, many of the same tips apply to building a simple smartphone app. So what change are you hoping to achieve with a website? We’d love to hear about your next project.

Happy Easter everyone!

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