Great Reads: Stephen J. Meyer, CEO @rlinstitute, explains paradigm shift to better #elearner engagement.

As I research interesting companies in my region offering innovative eLearning solutions for corporate clients or educational institutions, I often come across powerful ideas that offer important insights on some of the biggest challenges for eLearning developers.

This illuminating interview is with Stephen J. Meyer, the CEO of Rapid Learning Institute. His ideas are born out of corporate soft skills training, but they are clearly applicable across the eLearning industry. I know that I will apply his thinking about “thin-slicing” educational content videos to my future Udemy courses.

Here are some highlights from the interview  and a link to the entire talk is found below.

So, back to what instructional designers missed for three decades. They were applying legacy instructional design principles to video – the wrong thing to do. At the same time, learners’ brains were being re-wired and their attention spans shortened (at least when learning on electronic devices). This double-whammy is what created the horrendous utilization rates that defined the first three decades of e-learning, and still define much of the e-learning consumed today.

So there are two answers to the question “What’s the alternative?”

  • First, from the perspective of the e-learning developer, when you create a soft-skills e-learning module, your point of departure needs to be that you’re creating a video, and that it’s competing against all the other videos (mostly 5 to 10 minutes long) and distractions that are available on the Internet.
  • The second answer is where the learning paradigm shift comes in. In the early days of e-learning, a lot of people naively believed that technology could reduce or eliminate the need for humans in training. If you think I’m overstating that, answer this question: “Why else would learning professionals spend half a million dollars a year to offer thousands of employees access to an enterprise e-learning platform and expect them to actually use it?” Fact is, you can’t eliminate humans from training and shouldn’t want to. E-learning should be thought of as an adjunct, a tool that can be deployed by trainers and managers, not as a solve-all-your-problems learning vehicle.

He makes this point in reaction to the industry norm of companies buying often expensive eLearning training solutions and simply expecting the employee to complete the modules without guidance, coaching, or mentoring.

Meyer goes on to offer suggestions for a paradigm shift in eLearning content development to provide a far more compelling learning experience and to improve utilization by the eLearner.

That is, if you want a good ROI. I see two approaches to help make it happen.

  • One, single-concept learning, is pretty straightforward.
  • The other, getting managers involved, is more complex, but maybe not as hard as people think.

Let’s start with single-concept learning, or what we sometimes call “thin-slicing.” It’s a radical departure from linear-logical-complete instructional design. Instead of taking a lot of learning information and presenting it at once, or even chunking it into smaller units, “thin slicing” is about isolating a single learning concept that’s designed to change one behavior and achieve one desired outcome.

“Thin slicing” is a term used in psychology to describe how human beings can perceive a narrow window of experience and from very limited information draw very powerful conclusions. This is what Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” is about. We’ve hi-jacked the term and applied it to learning. We believe it makes sense to isolate “thin slices” of learning and with very limited information provide powerful learning experiences.

One big obstacle to manager engagement is the way they frame their talent development role. A sales manager who frames talent development through a wide lens and thinks, “My task is to teach my reps ‘to sell’,” will feel overwhelmed. Most managers have neither the time nor the expertise to accomplish that task.

Fogg’s model suggests we should make the task seem easier by framing it through a narrow lens, as in “I’m going to teach my reps to handle the first 20 seconds of a cold call.” That, you’ve probably recognized, is a classic example of “thin slicing.” The task of teaching a narrowly defined cold-calling skill seems doable to most managers. And if you provide managers bite-size e-learning modules, you’ve given them practical tools they can use to train their people.

Meyer’s ideas relate closely to various vague assumptions I made when authoring my first Udemy course, “Your Writing Process”.  When I was teaching the Media and Pop Culture course at AIPH, I had my students read the essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid” by Nicholas Carr, to help them see how media reshapes us over time. It turns out Meyer’s ideas are born from a similar source as Carr later wrote a book that Meyer refers to in the interview, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

I was calling them micro lessons and my idea was informed by my knowledge of working with college students over ten years and with being a deep user of technology. I know that learners have very short attention spans, and they need to believe there is an immediate utilitarian purpose for the knowledge they are acquiring.

For my next course, I will adopt Meyer’s use of thin slicing. Each of my videos in my upcoming course, The Persuasive Toolbox,  will offer a single concept designed to change one behavior to arrive at one desired outcome.

To read the rest of the interview go to the Rapid Learning Institute Website.


Panel: Do you even need to go to film school? Conclusions! (Part 5) #elearner #Pi8 #PTW15 #onlineeducation

And finally that dreaded question all tech-savvy self-guided learners are asking with the emergence of online education:

Will film school become obsolete as all the skills and tools are available for free or low cost online?

Here are some highlights:

  • There will always be people who need the structure of a film school; they will need the guidance of an instructor.
  • Film schools teach within the parameters of the skill. If you go to light a scene and you don’t have the 6 ton truck of lights, you still need to know how to light the scene.  Through school you learn there are many ways to skin a cat.  It is about learning to understand where and when you are in the situation. A film school education can lead you to this understanding.
  • eLearning offers the place where theory and concept are delivered at your own time and at your own pace and the classroom and the field will be used for doing and making and getting teacher and peer feedback.
  • The eLearning massive open online class and highly populated communities are great for the mere numbers. In a class of 20 you may have 3 or 4 highly motivated students, but out of ten thousand students, 2000 are superstars. You are more likely to build a network with many more highly motivated filmmakers. Instead of spending a year trying to figure out an answer, you can just ask someone you met online that knows the answer.
  • Every lesson you can think of is online. At first as a teacher, I was worried that they don’t need me anymore.

I realized that people don’t  necessarily know what that thing is that they need to know right now.  They know there are 10,000 things they can go learn how to do. Without someone experienced seeing what they are doing right now and saying this is your next step. I’ve been there before.

  • Film schools offer that mentor or curator role to professionally guide a student’s education.
  • Online education will not do away with traditional educators, but it should free them up. The role will change.  They must know who the students are and know where they are in their knowledge and experience, so they can work as a guide and give the students a little nudge to move beyond each individual’s developmental level.


Yes, there is still a need for film school, both artsy and technical. It also seems very clear there is huge value in these traditional institutions embracing and helping cultivate online learning resources to work as supplemental education, so the students have a complete education. They should additionally move towards the flipped classroom model so students can use the time in the classroom for primarily doing and making, and teachers can become guides, curators, and mentors.

Will Online Education Transform Filmmaking? Brittany Rafalak (Part 3) #elearner #Pi8 #PTW15

Brittany Rafalak addresses the question–from your experience using online education to learn about filmmaking, what has been helpful and what education technology has really missed the mark?



On the positive side, working adults can do complete or partial online program and continue to work and provide for themselves and their family while finishing a degree.  Fully online programs allow students who are half-way across the world to get a degree from a program without having to relocate. They can get a degree from a prestigious university without having to move to the city.

On the downside, students of partial or fully online programs do not have the same in person connection with their peers. Second, faculty are not always easily available, and they may rarely respond to emails.

Another benefit is it is easier for everyone’s voice to be heard in the discussion groups on an online platform like Blackboard and Canvas. The teacher will ask a question related to reading of another media and students will have to answer the question in the discussion group and peer review two other people’s comments.

Brittany agree that the film business is often not taught at film schools. She gives an example of some popular misconceptions.

People say if you use 15 seconds of a song it is not illegal, but it is.

The moderator makes the point of how Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs are having a very hard time getting students to complete courses,

Between 3-6% of people who enroll complete the courses. Can you Imagine running a class, a live class at a university where 3% finish.

Possible Conclusions: The accountability piece is one of the biggest challenges and this issue really separates the hybrid or mixed eLearning film school classes that are tied to a college degree from the Massive Open Online Classes (MOOC),  asynchronous courses that are completely self-guided, and the students has no clear consequence or reward.

At this point, the most proactive, hungry film students are finding additional education from websites, blogs, and online courses. These are the most likely students to find, sign up for and complete these asynchronous online courses.

Asynchronous film courses will be established only when the mainstream film school buy-in and adopt MOOCs and other independent online education as valuable resources that complement and supplement what the schools are not covering in the classroom.

Brittany Rafalak is a filmmaker and a graduate student in the Media Studies Graduate Program at The New School. More than half of her course work was online and she served as the Teaching Assistant for online courses. Brittany recently finished a short film, Consumption, which premiered in March 2015 and was accompanied by a live, improvised musical score.

Part 4 will be published soon!  Open discussion questions.