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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.