Idea Learning Group

"repetition" Posts

History of eLearning: “E” is for “Evolutionary”

TimelineBlogLarge ILGeLearning—also known as online learning, educational technology, computer-based training (CBT), and web-based training (WBT)—has roots deep in the early decades of the 20th century.

What does the e in elearning stand for? It’s not just electronic anymore. The elearning pioneer Bernard Luskin says it represents “exciting, energetic, engaging, extended learning.”

We’d like to propose an even better meaning: e is for evolutionary.

The biggest difference between the elearning of the 20th century and where we are today is that it’s evolved to become an enhancement of learning, not a replacement. (There’s another e-word!)

Where did it all start?

The First eLearning Devices: 1924

“There must be an industrial revolution in education in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education.”

– Sidney Pressey, 1924, inventor of the Automatic Teacher, the first electronic device used in schools

The Automatic Teacher was essentially a primitive Scantron/bubble-sheet testing machine. The cost was about $15—half the amount required to educate a student for a whole year during that era. The machine worked by requiring children to answer each question correctly before going on to the next one.

But it was not to be. “Pressey’s ‘Automatic Teacher’ is a rich example of failure in the midst of modernist commitments to scientific and technological progress,” says Stephen Petrina in his article “Sidney Pressey and the Automation of Education.” Although Pressey’s intention was to give actual teachers more time with their students—and not replace them with a machine—only 250 were ever produced.

BF Skinner’s “Teaching Machine”: 1954

30 years after Pressey’s invention, BF Skinner created the “Teaching Machine” to promote self-management—or how students think and respond to stimuli in their environment. It was a mechanical device programmed with questions and rewards for correct answers. The machine gave students immediate and regular reinforcement designed to keep them engaged with novel material.

This video shows Skinner himself describing its use. Fascinating!

The goals of the “Teaching Machine” that BF Skinner describes are similar to our modern interpretation of online learning:

  • Immediate feedback
  • Self-paced learning
  • Ability to align with student’s level
  • Ability to cover more material in less time

 From Mainframe to Mainstream

Throughout the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s, computers continued to shrink in size while offering exponentially greater power. Not much innovation took place in business elearning until the 1980s, when employees gained access to personal computers. Floppy discs and CD-based videos were gaining popularity in training. By this point in academia, the Open University in the UK began offering Internet-based courses, which were incredibly popular with 2,000 students enrolled during the first year.

 Modern eLearning: Collaboration

Thanks in part in part to Moore’s Law and our increasing access to the Internet, today we’re immersed in computer-supported collaborative learning. CSCL relies on technological innovation to improve teaching and learning. Think “eLearning 2.0,”—social, collaborative, networked environments where learners work together on tasks and share information and knowledge. The tools of CSCL are virtual classrooms, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and virtual worlds. (Hey you’re reading this online, aren’t you?)

The past decade has been especially monumental for elearning. It’s all about connectivism—the perspective that knowledge exists in the world rather than in an individual’s mind. Opportunities to connect are found everywhere. YouTube. Twitter. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). ScoopIt. iTunes U. Skype. Any number of topic-specific blogs. We could go on and on!

(By the way, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the nomenclature of learning, you’re not alone. Check out this great infographic, which breaks down learning lingo.)

So, readers, does “elearning” still have to be a thing? Is it still so novel that we need to differentiate it from “regular” learning?

How do you see learning continuing to evolve? Please leave your comments below.

How to Thrive When Giving Presentations

Presenting or speaking to an audience regularly tops the list in surveys of people’s top fears—more than heights, flying, or even dying. A common physical reaction is a release of adrenaline and cortisol into our systems, which has a similar effect as drinking several cups of coffee. When this happens, the “primitive brain” shuts down normal functions as the “fight or flight” impulse takes over.

That used to be me.

Today I give presentations all the time. I love to engage with a group of people and talk about topics that are meaningful for the audience. Some people tell me, “I wish I could give presentations, but I don’t have any natural talent for it.” Well, I have a funny story to tell about my early experiences presenting.

The first time I stood in front of a classroom, my presentation pretty much turned into a recitation. That’s right—I read from a book for six hours in a row. That night I went home exhausted and hoarse, and very aware that I needed to find a different approach. I bored myself to tears that day!

Over the next month or so I spent time reflecting on who the best teachers and trainers are and what I needed to do differently. I studied how I could emulate them and use clever strategies and tactics in my own presentations. I watched videos of expert presenters, read up on the topics, and practiced on my friends and family. And I had an epiphany: Learning comes from the participants, not from the presenter. I’m simply there to facilitate the process. In fact, the less I do and the more the participants do, the better the overall results.

So I went on to teach a workshop for a couple hundred people. I call this my “middle ground” era. I’m not sure that it was obvious to the audience how incredibly debilitating my internal stress was, but speaking in front of a large group was still a nearly paralyzing experience. I found comfort in rituals. Just before presentation time, I would lock myself in the restroom stall to close my eyes and collect my thoughts. What will my first 10 minutes look like? What will I say to connect with the audience? And then I began to do what some athletes do: I visualized success by going through the activity and imagining a positive experience. I could get myself to this calm place where I could, well, just do it.

As I put myself out there more often, I slowly improved my technique, and the stress diminished with each new presentation. Here are some techniques I’ve embraced over the years:


  • The most important rule for effective presentations is to plan and practice. This is the only way I feel in control and more confident.


  • It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to memorize a presentation word-for-word. Recall takes so much energy that you would have little left for relating to the audience. So I never even consider memorizing. Instead, I use notes unobtrusively and effectively. If I know the content, there is no reason to feel anxious or concerned.



  • If I’m using PowerPoint as a presentation tool, I don’t rely on it for my notes. Because when you read the notes on the slide, you turn your back to your audience.



  • I like to untether myself by using a clicker instead of standing next to a screen with a mouse the whole time.



  • I ask questions to encourage participants to share their own perspectives. I find that this involves everyone and helps to draw people out—not just the “talkers.”



  • Every 10 minutes or so I change course to keep things interesting. I do this by providing some startling information—something that makes sense in the context of the presentation. This helps to bring people back to the moment and the content.



  • I don’t skimp on breaks. Research proves that short, frequent breaks increase retention. Breaks can be physical, like a stretch or quick walking activity, or they can be mental, such as a brainteaser, trivia, or other unrelated content. Even a five-minute break can provide enough of a brain shift to spur cognition.



  • They say that kids are sponges, but what about adults? We may have stronger filters, but we eagerly soak up new information if it’s compelling and engaging. Formal learning needs to be seeded with informal learning opportunities, like exchanging stories, observing behaviors, and playing games.



  • If I see things starting to wane, I pull out what I call an “energizer”—a physical opportunity to engage, laugh, or have an experience together to keep things interactive. I always have these energizers up my sleeve and ready to go when needed.


Aside from techniques, it’s important to cultivate your own style too. Here’s what I’ve discovered about my own style:


  • I see facilitation as partly a performance. People are sitting there. I might as well entertain them! It helps the learning come more easily. So it might not surprise you to learn that my presentation style is animated, with lots of movement. Standing in one place gets both boring and predictable and the audience ends up doing other things instead of listening or responding.


  • My style can be fluid or structured and dialed up or down, depending on the situation. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the audience needs when cultivating my approach. During retail presentations I tend to move at a fast pace, using humor and wit to engage the audience. But when I worked with a group of fish scientists, for example, my approach was more low-key, more deliberate, and more grounded by data.


If you’d like to learn more about my approach to giving presentations, check out the Presentation Skills session I teach as part of the ASTD Cascadia Fundamentals of Training program .

I’d love here from our blog readers about your own experiences with presentations. What do expect from your facilitator in a classroom experience? If you give presentations yourself, what rituals to do you go through to get ready? Feel free to send us your comments in the box below!

The Science of Scent II

Although scents have highly personal associations, there are some generalizations we can make about scents that work for everyone. The following chart shows some scents and their psychological effects. Using these scents in conjunction with other stimulus can help us properly use our brain and achieve better results.

Reduce frustration, anxiety, fatigue – Peppermint, Cinnamon, Lavender

Refreshing – Peppermint, Rosemary, Juniper Berry, Lemon

Stimulating – Ginger, Spearmint, Lemongrass, Lemon Verbena, Cinnamon Leaf, Clove, Vanilla

Calming – Rosewood, Sandalwood

Energizing – Grapefruit, Orange, Lemon, Lime, Green Tea, Cinnamon, Marines/Aquatics

The Science of Scent

The scent of wine, oh how much more agreeable, laughing, praying, celestial and delicious it is than that of oil!
Francois Rabelais

Rabelais had it right when he described wine as laughing and agreeable- many personal experiences with the spirited drink cause those emotions. Our personal experiences with scents are what form our attraction to them. Our brain stores smells and emotion in the same system of brain structures (the limbic system). Coincidentally, scents are also connected with our hippocampus, which forms new memories! No wonder scents so easily recall memories. In addition, a decline in smell can cause serious issues elsewhere- or can be a signal of other problems, such as depression, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease.

How can we use our scent capacity to help our brain? To retain information and recall that same information later, use aromatherapy while you study and bring something to the test that smells the same. The same method can be used to elicit a relaxed state of being- choose a distinct aroma and meditate. Use the same aroma repeatedly, and your scent memory will harken your zen mood.

NEW BUSINESS Contact us with business inquiries or to discuss your project needs and vision.
CAREERS We always enjoy connecting with talented professionals in the learning and development field.
CONNECT 503.208.3256
LOCATION 2701 NW Vaughn St #103
Portland, OR 97210

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: