Axonify Review: An Effective Model For Online Learning

The failure to achieve sufficient learning transfer through formal workplace training has many learning professionals scrambling for effective remedies.

The intense debate within our community highlights the importance of this issue. It seems as though there is consensus on one idea, however: whether formal or informal, learning is a process that naturally takes place over time through adequate practice and application.

This is why I was intrigued by Axonify, an online learning tool released this month. It incorporates an individualized learning map, repeated retrieval-based learning, short bursts of spaced learning, and gamification (in terms of earning points for rewards).

Underlying Learning Theories

In case you’re not familiar with some of the underlying theories mentioned above, retrieval-based learning refers to the repeated recall of newly learned information in various situations or study sessions. It’s been shown to be much more effective than study without recall practice. (See more on Retrieval-based Learning.)

Spaced learning involves learning or studying the same information over intervals in time, rather than all at once, which is known as massed learning.

Gamification applies game design principles and mechanics to non-game experiences to increase engagement. (See more on the Gamification of Learning.)

Now on with the review!

Getting Started with Axonify

The Axonify software installs on an organization’s Intranet. There are two views: one for the administrator and one for learners. The admin user interface is friendly and intuitive. You access functionality through the toolbar shown below. To start working with content, select the Content button.

The hierarchical layout makes it easy to find existing content or to add new content. It’s organized by Category then Subject then Topic. You add content by clicking the + sign. Part of the paradigm is that you can start all learning initiatives with a question first or with a training snippet, called a “training burst.”

In this sample Content dashboard below, administrators select specific content through the hierarchy at the top and the corresponding questions for learners display at the bottom in blue.

Content Panel

By selecting the Training Modules tab (in blue above), you can also add small SCORM files of mini-lessons. There is a default upper limit of 20MB, though this can be raised. Keeping the limit at 20MB forces you to chunk learning experiences into discrete small learning objects. Learners are bound to appreciate this. (You may not want to mention that the limit can be raised to certain verbose people.)

Programs and Learning Paths

Using the toolbar for access to Groups, you can create groups of learners from all the users. You then select Programs to define which content will be sent to each group. It is here that the type of program, start and end dates and frequency are specified. This creates a learning path for each group, which becomes individualized as the system pushes out content (questions and training bursts) based on how each employee performs.

Gamification

A company or organization can tie employee performance in the Axonify system to an existing or new rewards program or to an internal competition. There is flexibility in the set up of how points accrue and how learners use them. For example, employees can receive points for mastering content and cash the points in for a gift card or an extra day of vacation.

Reporting

Axonify’s analytics and reporting provide some reports in a data table view and some in a data visualization. Their reporting makes it easy to see the effectiveness of various learning experiences and what might need to be corrected. Reporting functionality currently includes: data on participation, areas of knowledge, summaries of completion and success by topic and summaries by user. See a few reporting screen shots below.

Data Table View

Data Visualization View

What is the user’s experience?

Now here’s how it works from the user’s perspective. Employees are notified through email when they have a micro-learning event to complete. When they log in, content related to their individualized learning path displays. It may be a question or a training burst (which can be authored in any SCORM-compliant tool), depending on how you choose to configure the experience.

Although questions are repeated at intervals, you can structure them so they are worded differently. See below for an example of how a question may appear to a learner. There are several formats for questions, including puzzle formats. When learners answer a question incorrectly, they are given feedback and possibly a training burst.

Sample question screen for a learner

I think it will be important to avoid the trap of using this type of retrieval-based learning to only test lower level factual knowledge. To make learning most meaningful and challenging, designers will need to make the effort to question higher-level thinking and problem-solving skills through scenario-based questions whenever possible.

You can also add puzzle-type bonus questions to your question bank (see below). These add to the gamification ambiance of the system.

Sample bonus puzzle-type question

Summary

I found Axonify’s approach compelling, the user interface clean and simple and I liked the fact that it worked with authoring tools we already know. I think it will meet the learning needs of many but not all audience groups and industries, though currently they are focusing on the retail environment.

Axonify seems to be flexible enough to bend to varied learning philosophies. And it seems to be what many practitioners are clamoring for—a move away from lengthy eLearning courses toward small snippets that can be remembered. You can find out more about the product at the Axonify website.

 

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Comments

  1. Gaurav says

    Thanks for the overview Connie. This looks like a comprehensive training tool. What were your findings on the “ease of keeping information fresh”? Looks like it will take considerable time to get an organization started. Are companies willing to invest in that upfront cost or do they need a quick start solution?

    - Gaurav

  2. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Gaurav,
    I’m not sure I understand your question as it relates to this tool. I do know that anything that is effective in the world of formal training takes time. Perhaps you can be more specific so I can understand what you’re getting at. Thanks.
    Connie

  3. Gustavo Banderas says

    Connie,

    Great review. It’s the only information out there that is not produced by Axonify. When I read your review and spent time looking at the Axonify website, I was very impressed. The audience I work with, retail employees, seems to fit well with the model. I have little doubt that the employees would “know” the content with regular use of the system and well-designed questions and training bursts.

    Here’s the issue that’s gnawing at me: Even if the employees “know” the content, does that mean their behavior will change? The Axonify positioning speaks of results on the job, but the tool only seems to ensure that employees can demonstrate that they know information, or, as you suggested, how to make appropriate decisions given a scenario. It’s a jump to say they will apply it, is it not? Or is that where performance management and coaching come into play? I’m very intrigued, but a bit hesitant too. So many of these vendors paint a rosy picture and disappoint in the end.

    Do you know of any clients that can speak to behavioral change since implementing the platform?

  4. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Gustavo,
    I think you raise a point that is of general concern in the training industry–how much does training transfer to the real world? I don’t know the answer to your question, in regards to Axonify. But the fact that their tool is based on methods that improve retention, such as spaced learning, is certainly a good sign. I would check with them and see if they have any data on measuring real-world change or if you can speak to some of their customers.

    Of course, for many learning goals, observation by a supervisor could be the only form of measurement, which is partly subjective. Other approaches could be: self-assessments (again somewhat subjective) and workplace data related to the training goal. For example, if training a retail workforce on how to reduce theft, you would look at data before and after training and see if there is improvement. Good question!
    Connie

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