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!

In February I reflected on the Learning Technologies Exhibition 2014 with a post called ‘Design the complete experience’. Thinking about the end-to-end learner experience was a major theme of the show, and my title was inspired by the continuing relevance of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, which was first published in 2006 and republished in 2010.  The idea behind this book is to provide a toolkit for learning professionals who want to design programmes that make a genuine business impact, summarised in the six ‘Ds’:

  • Define Outcomes in Business Terms
  • Design the Complete Experience
  • Deliver for Application
  • Drive Follow-Through
  • Deploy Active Support
  • Document Results

Today I want to draw attention to the first ‘D’, looking specifically at how we define the problem which we are trying to solve with training. In an excellent, often searing, chapter on the necessity of defining outcomes in business terms (yes, that means monetary terms!), the authors remark that ‘in most fields of human endeavour, half the solution is defining the right problem’ (p. 34).

This is an insight which many of us would do well to remember. In an industry focussed on ‘solutions’, it is not surprising that few of us challenge some rather fixed notions of what the ‘problem’ is.  We tend to assume that most organisational ‘problems’ can be aligned to one or other of the established ‘genres’ of training. Revenues dropping? You need some sales training. Negative media coverage? Better roll out some more D&I training.

Typically, a lofty initiative or management vision sits behind well-funded programmes. Yet, however well-intentioned (and however specific it sounds) such an imposed ‘vision’ is often part of the problem. There’s no doubt that vision is hugely important, but the day-to-day realities of problems in large organisations can be obscured by a focus on the big picture.

What we forget is that problems are specific to circumstances and organisations. Whereas it is a truism that best practice looks boringly similar, dysfunction is unpleasantly diverse and varied. Why, then, do we expect the same (often generic) training content to solve a different problem every time? Prioritising content over tangible behavioural outcomes is the original sin of elearning developers. And as long as we refuse to distinguish one problem from another, this waste of effort will continue to be richly rewarded.

Take mental resilience, for example, which is a key training theme of 2013/14. The cost of stress, depression and anxiety is a growing issue, and there are many managers who would like a ‘quick-fix’: some off-the-shelf content which they can roll out to solve the ‘problem’ of stress in their organisation. But to assume that the problem of stress is similar is a fallacy. The causes of stress are rooted in circumstances. This means they are different in every organisation.

Explaining to middle managers at a global firm that working 14-hour days is actually less productive and more harmful to their mental health than the alternative is distinctly do-able. But providing a similar kind of resilience training to social carers who work alone, face difficult conditions and are paid the minimum wage is unlikely to be as effective.

The latter, as a group, face a set of very specific pain-points. To boost resilience in a measurable way, what you really need to do is ask them what the problem is and try to fix it. It’s rarely the case that a problem can be solved only by training. We know that, to a surprising degree, the right behaviours can overcome most obstacles. But behaviour must also be facilitated by the environment in which it takes place.

In this context, the kind of systemic issues – even crises – that training is expected to solve are simply astonishing. It’s not surprising that most employees are inherently sceptical. We have blurred the distinction between identifying a problem and inventing one. Wick, Pollock, Jefferson and Flanagan highlight the importance of asking. That is, the importance of conducting serious internal market research when designing a new training product.

They point out that successful companies do not define a customer by his or her demographic profile. Instead, they target products at specific circumstances or moments of need which are common to large groups. People may be incredibly diverse, but the situations and pain-points which they face on a daily basis in a given situation are consistent. Especially when it comes to technology, we’ve found that circumstance trumps demographic every time.

Tablet computers and big-screen smartphones seemed initially like a solution to a problem which didn’t exist. Actually, the majority are now mainly used for browsing the internet whilst sat on the sofa and watching TV. It’s not exactly inspiring, but I remember, pre-2010, sitting in a living room where everyone was watching TV at the same time as balancing a bulky laptop on their knees. Tablet computers wouldn’t have taken off if they weren’t a specific solution to a specific, albeit rather mundane, set of consumer problems. It doesn’t matter whether you are fifteen or fifty-five, you’re likely to face the same problem.

Conducting internal market research enables us to identify the highest-value needs in an organisation.  The authors provide a solid methodology for interviewing line managers in order to ascertain the problem – which I thoroughly recommend. However, in the recent years, we’ve gained increasingly powerful online tools to help us define the right problem. Survey Monkey collates data in seconds that used to take days. Internal social networking platforms will highlight pain-points and concerns in real time.

Most importantly, head offices now have access to a mass of business data which is yielded by the CRM and ERP systems now in place at almost every company. It’s not always clear to decision-makers how to use this data, but this is a chance for L&D to demonstrate some serious value. Data yields insight into behaviours, and training should be able to alter those behaviours in a specific and measurable way.  Combine those two, and you’ll find that your training spend goes a lot further than it did before.




Is 2014 the year gamification can be taken of the ‘to do’ list and put into practice? While it has been a buzzword in the elearning industry for years now, it seems like this year the time has come for gamification to start delivering real benefits for online learning.

Gamification – the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications – promises much: an engaging, dynamic, memorable and rewarding learning experience. But it can be very difficult to know where to start. Most of us know and enjoy games, but how do those experiences relate to the elearning course that you’re working on right now? I’m a developer at Saffron with a background in games and app design, and so to help, I’ve compiled a list of my top five gamified elements that can help to improve ‘traditional’ elearning.

1. Dynamic storytelling

A common way to relay a subject to a learner is to put it into some kind of real world scenario the learner can relate to, then let them participate and observe the situation as it unfolds. To make a more engaging learning experience, multiple paths can be added to the scenario, with the user’s decisions carving out his or her own path through the content.

For example, in a course aimed at helping people to spot bribery in the workplace, a user may be presented with the option to take a client out to lunch at a fancy restaurant or to provide them with a takeaway sandwich. Both choices may be appropriate depending on the circumstances. The learning experience can now unfold into two very different scenarios, each with another range of options to choose from. The caveat to this technique will always be that content will have to be created that not all learners will see – is this a waste of time or worth it for each learner getting a personalised experience? You (and your budget holder) decide!

2. Exploration

Exploring is a key part of human nature; we were all born to explore the world we live in, and the joy of exploration is that we are all free to go about this in our own way and at our own pace. It’s an integral part of many video games. A great way to implement exploration in an elearning course is a set of 2D scenes the learner can navigate between, where each scene has a number of interactive elements the user can interact with to find out extra information.

These may be a photographic representation of a real world environment or they could be a cartoon/stylised version. It allows learners to familiarise themselves with a place or action and get as close to the real experience as possible. It’s also an easier way to personalise than branching scenarios. By allowing their own curiosity to guide them to areas they are interested in, learners end up finding the pieces of information most relevant to them.

Whilst an all-singing, all-dancing 3D environment for someone to walk around in on an omni directional treadmill wearing a virtual reality headset might sound appealing (now that it is technically possible) unfortunately the nature of most elearning projects – with a varied audience and modest budget – makes this a physical impossibility – for now…

3. Points systems and leaderboards

A points system simply gives us a method for measuring someone’s performance in a task or course. A way to bring the traditional points system to life is to include a social leader board: this can inspire healthy competition between individuals and get them to focus on becoming better at the process. Humans will always enjoy proof that they are the most knowledgeable or skilful in a particular area.

Of course, we are also usually sore losers, so in order to realise the maximum benefit from a leaderboard, it’s important that it is ‘reset’ after a given period of time, so that people struggling at the bottom of the board don’t get too disgruntled (and demotivated)!

4. Satisfying rewards

Reward systems are at the heart of gamification. Rewards trigger a rush of dopamine, and their effect is clear to see in early-adopters of gamification techniques, such as high-pressure sales environments. People are given a target and then rewarded for reaching or exceeding it, usually in some sort of financial way. Of course, if the reward is notional or not worth having, people don’t always try their hardest to reach it.

In the world of elearning we have the problem of providing a reward ‘worth having’ that cannot be financial or hold any monetary value. Whilst not everyone is financially driven, it is undeniably a key factor for most, so what other methods of rewarding are available? Games can tell us a lot about this, as they do not usually feature financial rewards but yet manage to provide instantaneous gratification on many levels. Here are a few methods:

  • One approach it to get people emotionally invested in the task they are undertaking, to a point where they desire to do better becomes so strong, simply completing the task correctly gives the reward they desire. This may be the sense of achievement after a difficult or stressful task is completed.
  • Leading on from point 3. Points systems and leader boards, the reward of being number one or even just one place higher than a friend or colleague can be a great motivator.
  • Achievements and badges. Let’s face it: we’re all secret hoarders. If there is a predefined set of locked achievements for a course, everyone’s obsessive hoarder inside them won’t be satisfied until they’re all unlocked.
  • Ranks. This method is very commonly used in video games and forums; the user starts as an “apprentice” and ends up a “grand master”, and each rank in between has a set of tasks that must be completed in order to progress. This gives the learner a virtual persona they can see improving over time, providing instant gratification for their actions.

5. Replayability

Repetition is something we would all like to avoid when picking up a new skill. While some seem uncannily able to see something done once and then have the capability to repeat the same process flawlessly, the vast majority of us need some kind of repetition in order to embed information into our brains at a more instinctual level. And as we all know, as necessary as repetition is for learning, the obvious problem is that it can be very dull. If something is repeated to the learner too many times, they feel patronised, spoon fed and, most of all, bored. None of these negative reactions provide any particular assurance that the learner has actually retained any knowledge, let alone changed his or her behaviour.

Adding gamified elements can help to liven up a repetitive subject. It could be some sort of memory game where the learner has to remember and relay a certain order of tasks, with the game restarting each time the wrong order is selected. Or maybe a frustratingly gratifying minigame in which the learner has to quickly respond to instructions. Games have taught us that, actually, frustration does not have to be a bad thing and is enjoyable to a certain degree. Take the recent hit mobile app Flappy Bird, arguably the most frustrating experience available – yet it has over 100 million downloads!

Have you implemented any of these methods in a recent course? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

In the past year at Saffron we’ve formed key partnerships to extend our graduate scheme to encompass university placements and apprenticeships. It’s part of our commitment to people development and the community, which is recognised by Investors in People. This is a post by Chandni Shantilal, who is completing three months at Saffron as part of an apprenticeship programme, about her experience.

Everybody needs to start off somewhere in life, and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity at Saffron Interactive. I have been training for the role of an administrator at Saffron Interactive and I can say I’ve enjoyed myself every second of the way. I had been placed at Saffron for three months.  As I have no experience working within an admin team, I have learnt so much: from little things like how to greet clients professionally, to working with the Learning Technologies show 2014.

Learning Technologies was due to take place on the 29th/30th of January and I worked with the sales and marketing team during the first month. I was working on managing the collateral we had from the previous year but also assigned to contact several printers to obtain quotations for new print jobs. This was where I feel I had to use skills such as negotiation to find a competitive price but also to get the job done accurately and to more than our satisfaction.

I also worked with our team in Pune, India, when I and a graphic designer produced signage for the office in order to keep it up to Saffron’s standards. For this, I also had to give a short presentation about the signs during our monthly team meeting and, as I’m a very shy person, this was terrifying for me (!) but the team at Saffron were understanding and patient, which gave me the confidence to continue.

I also organised a few events and client meetings. This was where I found myself out of my comfort zone: interacting with clients and using my communication skills to make the clients feel welcome. I also had to use my organisational skills to make sure the office was presentable and the meeting room was ready.

Overall, I feel this was an experience that has taught me several skills that I can carry forward and use in the future. This role has taught me how vital it is to pay attention to detail no matter what task you are working on.  This role has shown me how important it is to use communication skills to interact with others. This has also taught me how to look, communicate and behave professionally.

At the heart of any great organisation is its people. It’s by far the greatest asset any business can have and those businesses that choose to ignore their people’s development can only be doomed.

That’s the kind of hyperbolic statement business managers tend to make in an effort to rally the troops by proving that they’re caring and sharing and really do value the contribution of the employee.

Messrs Shepherd and Taylor appeared to debate the oft-used, albeit over-used, statements back in 2007. But I did rather like Don’s conclusion:

‘We value our people. Our value comes from them’

Values are hard to measure, but there are external organisations that can help businesses to do this. Since 2004, Saffron’s accrediation by Investors in People has sought to evaluate, cross reference, and check that Hanif before, and now Noorie, really do value their people.

During our accreditation renewal process this year I likened the review to one of the team as my report card. Was I still upholding the principles on which Saffron was founded? Was I delivering the vision of the CEO? Is the Saffron Academy still alive and kicking?

Through a series of interviews with randomly selected members of the team, myself, Annar our CTO, and Noorie our CEO; our assessor felt that yes, Saffron had continued to earn its core Investors in People standard and is in fact performing to the Bronze standard.

The review looked at three areas of the business to check that we plan, that we do, and importantly that we review. As we know, it’s only through review that we learn and as a learning company if we didn’t do as we say you should, there’d be somewhat of a problem.

This wheel shows the stages of planning and implementing a people development strategy.

Of course, there is room for improvement – what report card would suggest otherwise? But what was interesting for me was that our assessor saw these potential improvements as opportunities we’d already highlighted internally.

I’ve always said that given our award-winning history, the awards that stand out for me are those related to people; whether they’re Young Professional of the Year 2005 or Instructional Designer of the Year 2010 and 2013, these awards are recognition of the people development framework that Saffron has successfully embedded within our organisation. Investors in People through its accreditation process validates that this framework is indeed being applied.

Historically these frameworks were geared towards graduates, but today this includes placements for masters and bachelors students from partner universities in Europe; and those from traineeship and apprenticeship programmes. Our programmes are open to all and we welcome applications from candidates from all walks of life as long as you can demonstrate the passion, enthusiasm, drive and determination to deliver outstanding learning solutions for our clients.

Happy tenth Investors in People anniversary Saffron!

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