Elliott Masie on user experience, global learning and sharing our turf

Posted on Feb 10, 2016

Learning strategies

Elliott Masie talks to us about elearning

Elliott Masie is probably the world’s most influential learning expert, not to mention the most entertaining and inspiring.

For more than 25 years, he has asked the most important questions facing learning professionals and explored the new challenges thrown up as the industry changes and evolves.

He’s an author, conference host, learning researcher and thought leader…and he still finds time to produce musicals on Broadway!

In this exclusive interview for Sponge, Elliott Masie shares his views on video learning, personalisation, the core skills of a learning professional and the global learning landscape.

Is it easier or harder to be a learning professional today than it was 25 years ago when you held your first Learning conference?

I think it is way more complex today.

Twenty five years ago, I was teaching a course on how to be a learning professional and back then we taught three things: how to deliver classroom instruction, how to do instructional design and how to deal with assessment.

Today, classroom still exists but now a learning professional might need to know how to do a digital interview with a subject matter resource, how to build some form of elearning activity, they need to know much more around assessment and performance support, and I could keep going.

But the other thing that makes it more complex and challenging today is that in the old days everybody relied on the training professionals. Now many of the activities around learning can be built, not only by learning professionals, but by subject matter experts, managers and even by learners themselves.

So it’s a bigger world, there are more skills to master and as learning professionals we have to share our turf.

Is it more interesting now? You bet!

What’s the most important skill L&D professionals themselves need to master to be successful today?


I’m going to answer this differently to how I would have answered it 12 months ago.

A year ago, my whole conversation would probably be around the process of creation of content. Now, I am convinced that learning professionals need to look at the user experience.

The average learner has an over-abundance of content. What they are looking for is the really good piece of content, which could be a three minute video clip, a 200 page book or an app.

What’s critical for us though is that content creation is easy, anybody can create stuff. What is challenging is to create content and experiences that make users say “wow, that’s spot on”, that gives them exactly what they need, as if it had been made just for them.

I think this is the biggest new piece for our industry and it’s not usually been part of how we train our instructional designers.  So I think we’re going to see more and more work towards user experience.

Video: Elliott Masie on the importance of data for L&D.

One of the things you do at the Masie Learning Lab is to explore the usability of new technologies for learning.  From your research findings, what do you think has exciting potential for the future?


Video, video, video ,video!

I believe that increasingly we will watch rather than read.

But, unless it’s Downton Abbey, I don’t think we want to watch a long multi-hour piece. I think we want to watch shorter clips of information, expertise or experience from a peer or a subject matter expert, but I think video will remain a huge element for the future.

Mobile is also important but you will almost never hear me use the term ‘mobile learning’. I use my mobile device for learning but I don’t believe in putting a course on this device. What I do believe is that the device needs to be ready for any form of access that a learner might want, which includes video, internet search and apps.

There are other new arenas such as virtual reality and machine learning but they are on the potential cusp, we don’t know if they will help us out or not, but they are intriguing.

How far away are we from truly personalised learning?


I really don’t know. It’s a question I scratch my head on. Who does the personalisation? To me that’s the interesting part.

I think we are far away from where a computer will know everything about me, where using machine learning and other forms of intelligence, it will give me precisely what Elliott wants. We’re inching towards that but we’re not there yet.

On the other hand, Elliott, Sam or Brian, are all capable of, and are already doing, personalisation. It’s just that more of it is covert, so to speak. We don’t yet have a personalisation architect system although I think it is coming.

But I think we need to be extremely careful that we don’t stereotype and avoid a simplistic personalisation. I think it needs to be a shared model, so it is what the learner does, it’s what the designer does and increasingly a little bit of what the machine does.

Are we there now, no, but we are beginning to see elements of it and I think we are also beginning to acknowledge that the learner has the right, privilege or option of doing that, as long as they are willing to be tested or assessed that they have the competency.  If they have the competency I couldn’t care less whether they sat through my lecture but I need to know they are right, ready, legal, compliant and skilled.

Are you a fan of games and what do you think their future is in terms of learning?


I’m a fan because I love games. I play chess and video games, I’ve been known to obsess at Solitaire and I find Minecraft fun. I’m also intrigued by games that can give the learner deep simulation on a topic, maybe emotional engagement and create content for them.

Our challenge is they require a level of development and a price point that is higher than most organisations will pay. So what we are seeing now is gamification, where there are game elements that are not in a game. For example, adding a leaderboard or setting up a competition. If done well, these can be very helpful in an organisation.

To build a serious game is wonderful but the sad part is we’re not seeing them come to market so that a company or government agency can subscribe to them. Building them from scratch is expensive and not always the best return on that commitment, but I think they are more and more going to be part of the future.

Video: Elliott has his own idea for a learning game.

What are some of global differences in learning trends that you’ve observed?


The people that I meet around the world in developing countries are better learners because they are hungrier for knowledge.  Any knowledge they get is deeply appreciated and interactively consumed.

So whether it is in a place like Burma, South America or India, learners are very often more aggressive, more collaborative and more persistent in learning than my colleagues in the US.

The other intriguing thing is that for many years we have used UK, US and other first world learning models in the developing world. But what we need to do is acknowledge the expertise, learning systems and modalities in the developing world - then we get into global.

Take the latest Star Wars movie which involved people from around the world joining together to make it. It’s an interesting collage of expertise, and in learning we need to embrace that same reality, quickly.

For more information about Elliott Masie, his books, events and the Masie Learning Lab, visit masie.com

Coming soon: The Sponge Podcast featuring more from Elliott Masie in the first ever episode.

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