Tuesday, September 03, 2019

How to develop effective multimedia for learning? The 10 principles of Richard Mayer

Are you looking for principles for creating videos and other learning materials? Before the summer I organized a meetup about interactive video in the Netherlands (with interactive video the viewer can, for example, answer questions or choose what he / she will continue with). It was really an eye-opener for me. In any case, multimedia like video, animations and infographics are becoming increasingly important in online learning and you have to dive into it when you design online learning. But what is a really good video? I often get the question how long a video can be, but of course it's not about the length but about the content. Mayer has developed 10 principles for multimedia learning.

I read the book Multimedia Learning van Richard E. Mayer. The book is entirely based on research and therefore is a slightly boring read, but has a solid basis. I have the crazy habit of reading all books from cover to cover and have therefore read it all. I think you can summarize the practical lessons in one blog post, so you are lucky :). My advice is to read this blog post and not the entire book.

Mayer defines multimedia learning as presenting material in both word and image for the purpose of learning. What I liked a lot is the distinction between:
  • No learning (nothing is withheld from it)
  • Rote learning (people remember but cannot apply it)
  • Meaningful learning (remember and apply)
The goal is hence to facilitate meaningful learning by developing multimedia material. He highlights important principles, all supported by research. I will explain the principles here. After that I will explain that one principle does not work in the context of intercultural trajectories.

The 10 principles of Richard Mayer

Principle 1. The coherence principle The coherence principle states that people learn better when interesting but less relevant words or pictures are taken away from a presentation. Less is more actually. This also applies to background music.

Principle 2. The signaling principle People learn better from multimedia if you help guide the attention of the learner. This can be through the use of arrows, colors, or an element that will be placed under a magnifying glass. I immediately applied this principle to video interviews I was working on by adding the most important words here with text. In my opinion, this is not in contradiction to the following principle:

Principle 3. The redundancy principle This principle means that you should not offer the same text in words and audio: that would be redundant. There is evidence from research: participants who saw pictures and a heard an explanation scored better than participants who received the same pictures and story but also had the explanation written in text. For video this simply means that you should not subtitle with the same text as voice.

Principle 4. The spatial contiguity principle People learn more easily when the accompanying words and images are close to each other. We are just lazy people and would prefer to be offered everything on a silver platter :). We don't like to search for the explanation.

Principle 5. The temporal contiguity principle And this also applies to time. It is more convenient to see the pictures about the origin of a storm at the same time when a voice explains it, instead of first seeing the pictures and then the explanation (or vice versa). This explains the success of animation and other instructional videos.

Principle 6. The segmenting principle Multimedia learning is more effective when the material is divided into different segments and learners have control over following the steps. This is often the case with interactive video, but can also simply be done by dividing a 15-minute video into 3-4 videos which allows people to choose when they continue with the next one. Here, of course, we see the power of interactive video. Although you may also argue that a good question in a video has a signal function.

Principle 7: The pre-training principle People are better able to learn from multimedia when they already know the most important concepts. We applied this, for example, by ensuring that before a client SPOC (Small Private Online Course) starts, the participants can go through an e-learning with the basic knowledge. This means that everyone is aware of the most important concepts and we can go into depth during the SPOC.

Principle 8: The modality principle People learn deeper from images combined with spoken word than from images and written word. This means that spoken explanation with an animation works better than all text on the screen. Indeed I sometimes see animations with text only and I always have the feeling that it would be faster if I could simply read the text. This principle is actually just a little too logical for me: it says that you should use both eye and ear smartly, right?

Principle 9: The multimedia principle People learn better from word and image from from text only. Yes ... so visualizing helps! Fortunately but otherwise we would have to go back to uploading PDFs as online learning. Uhmmmm I really saw that once? An online course where you had to download and read around 20 different pdfs in Moodle ...

Principle 10: The personalization principe I find the personalizing principle the most sympathetic somehow. It says that people learn better when a conversational style is used instead of a formal style. This has always been a basic principle in our courses: make it personal and engage in an online conversation. Mayer translates it as: in spoken text in an animation use direct speech: you, your. Furthermore, a friendly voice helps. Good to know: research shows that the face of the speaker (eg with a screencast) does not automatically help for better understanding. This would help only if the face contains relevant information, for example due to facial expressions.

Which principle does not apply in an intercultural context?

Yes, what do you think? It's the redundancy principle. I experienced an exception to this rule which makes sense to me. After reading the book, I immediately wanted to apply my knowledge to a video interview, so I had an argument not to subtitle the video in the same language as the interview (English). However, it is an intercultural context, with many non-native English speakers. It appears that in this case people really like literal subtitles, because the accents are not always easy to understand. After seeing the video with subtitles, I got more out of it myself, although I'm quite used to different accents in English. That brings me to the boundary conditions.

The boundary conditions. When do the principles apply? 

In each chapter there is a discussion of the 'boundary conditions'. These are the circumstances in which the principle applies. For example, you can deduce from the examples in the book that a lot of research has been done using instructional materials. The example of explaining the occurrence of thunder and lightning is widely used. Many of the principles apply most strongly to inexperienced participants and complex material. I think this is something to keep in mind, for example, more experienced learners can handle more superfluous information.

So for instance, for the redundancy principle the condition is that this is especially true for groups who speak the same language, as mother tongue. Mayer has not investigated whether this also applies to non-native speakers. It is therefore important to realize that there are always exceptions. Don't apply the principles too rigidly. 


What can you learn from Richard Mayer? You can benefit a lot from these principles if you develop learning materials on complex issues for starting learners. Provide a clear message, visualize where possible. Use voice. Avoid duplicating the same information. Make it personal and make sure learners have control over the speed to go through the material.

PS. Do you live in the Netherlands? Want to learn about multimedia? Participate in onze eigen leergang over blended leren

Friday, May 31, 2019

Organizations: keep an eye on your high speed learners

A participant during my master class on learning of the future shares: "I was learning a lot through the online world and would be at the cutting-edge in my field, this learning was logical part of my work as recruiter. Now I have a new job and it is not a logical part of my function. I don't have the time anymore to be active online. I see that I am no longer aware of all the new developments in my field". You will not get better proof of the power of online, informal learning. And at the same time it shows what the biggest bottleneck is: organizations do not have an eye for self-learning professionals and do not facilitate this type of learning either. The focus is still on courses.
The masterclass started with my definition of the knowmad: "someone who learns continuously and thereby makes smart use of the online world"
The first part of the masterclass I focussed on skills for knowmads, including developing (online) identity, networking, smart use of tools and technology and application in practice: translating the online world and applying learnings. The second part I discussed the organization as a learning environment for the knowmad. Although I do know that many organizations do not actively facilitate informal learning, it was quite shocking (but interesting of course!) to hear stories from the participants.

Two important things struck me:

The big challenge for professionals is to deal with information overload: people indicated that they continuous flow of all information and via various channels (emails, apps, Linked) makes them feel bad. The consequence of this is that they withdraw from the flows and start to avoid information, get rid of Twitter and only follow what is needed (emails). This is a logical response if you start to feel bad because of the flows of information, right? The entire group felt that they had no control over the many information flows. No participant worked in an organization that supports employees to take back control over the information flows.

Organizations do not have a keen eye for inquisitive employees, the high speed learners: that is why professionals often do informal learning in the evenings. This means, for example, that someone who works in a high-tech environment and constantly keeps up to date via podcasts and youtube videos may look for the new job after a few years. To what extent has the organization benefited from this knowledge development? As long as the employee works in the organization, he or she will apply this knowledge. However, it remains personal knowledge but does not become organizational knowledge unless there is a conscious focus on collaborative learning and sharing this knowledge.

An interesting question from a participant: innovation seems to be a keyword for knowmads who learn continuously, but not everyone needs to focus on innovation? I think it's a good question and I am not sure about the answer. There is definitely a difference between functions in their focus on innovation. A high tech environment for instance will have an inherent need to innovate. Personally, I think that actually there is no single function in which innovation is not necessary.  Contexts and technology are changing. The customer also wants something 'new'. What do you think?

The slides of this master class:

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Tool of the month: interactive video

This time the tool of the month is not one but no fewer than five tools. I co-organized a meetup about interactive video in the Netherlands. My own experience with interactive video had been adding questions to videos with the help of Zaption (which no longer exists) and Edpuzzle. I also experimented with Vialogues to facilitate a conversation around a video source.

However, the meetup opened up a whole new world of interactive video. It is much more than just adding a question to a video. In this blog I share the 5 tools that were central to the meetup, with examples. The examples are in Dutch, but I think you can catch the interactions. It is very nice to see what is possible and it definitely opens up your creativity.

What is interactive video?

Interactive video is a video in which the viewer can take various actions. Hence it gives more room for engagement and personalization. The viewer can click for more information, answer a question or make a choice. With his action, he determines the course of the film: a different order, or a question appears to answer. What I learned during the meetup is that it is useful to distinguish between Three types of interaction:

  1. navigation - a viewer chooses the path him or herself
  2. questions - speak for themselves
  3. hotspots -you can add information in text or video

Tooling: een overzicht van 5 tools

We have looked at 5 different tools. Listed from simpel to more complex (or advanced) to work with:
Behalve H5P zijn het allemaal tools van Nederlandse grond!


H5P is an open source program that you can use for free. You can upload your own video and make it interactive. Create an account, choose ‘interactive video’ and upload your own video (max. 16 MB). You can add questions and polls, and additional information via hotspots. You can also use H5P directly from Moodle and Wordpress if you have installed the plug-in. Here you see an example video made by Göran Kattenberg from Kattenberg Learning Innovation Consulting and The Blended Group.
H5P is actually a 'suite' of tools with which you can create learning activities with and without interactions that you embed in a learning environment. The newest is 'branching scenario'. With that you glue videos together with interactive branches.
  • Cost: Free
  • Difficulty: *
  • Basic layer: can be video from YouTube or your own upload
  • Hosting: Your video is on H5P (or on Moodle / Wordpress if you use the plug-in) but you can embed it on other sites
  • Interesting because: it is free and therefore a great way to start interactive video


Hihaho is a very simple program that you can get started with right away, you don't need any special video editing or other experience. You can create a free account and then click on + new Hihaho and then you can import a video from for example Youtube or Vimeo. Then, you can start to add your interactions via 'Enrich', for example a jump, a question or a break. As an example, an instructional video that was recorded with a smartphone. There are a number of questions. 

  • Cost: 10 videos and 100 viewers for free. Then from 19 euros / month
  • Difficulty: *
  • Basic layer: from YouTube, Vimeo, JWPlayer or Kaltura but also Media site, Blue Billywig and own upload
  • Hosting: Your video remains hosted at the location of the base layer. You could see it as HiHaHo putting an interactive layer over your video. Both layers are merged into a link, embed code, Scorm package or xAPI. HiHaHo videos are used a lot in learning environments. By using SCORM or xAPI, results in the video also become visible in the LMS.
  • Interesting because: it is a very easy program. There is almost no learning curve, you can get started right away.


Explorit allows you to add questions to your video and also provide feedback to the viewer. You can import from Youtube, Vimeo but also from Blue Billywig. You can export the edited video again via a full export, or you can also embed it on your own site or, for example, in Moodle. It is fairly intuitive to learn. Clients with an enterprise account receive 4 hours of training and can then get to work. View an example below about the provincial and water board elections. The Provincial election part is mainly based on interactive video, the Water Board election part is based on interactive images.
  • Costs: Basic account 25 euros / month, Professional account 125 euros / month
  • Difficulty: **
  • Basic layer: not only a video, but also an image is possible as a base layer. Video must be on YouTube; soon a video from Vimeo can also be linked
  • Hosting: You can either export your video as html or use it directly from the site.
  • Interesting because: you can also add feedback to questions and you can also make interactive pictures

Ivory Studio

Ivory studio describes itself as 'the online editor for interactive video' and that is actually a very good name. It is very similar to video editing programs such as Imovie or Windows Moviemaker. It is widely used by filmmakers. You can also do more with Ivory Studio than with the aforementioned tools, such as uploading your own media, adding different videos, choosing from 5 different interactions. Last but not least you can personalize by linking to databases. An example: a company that does DNA analysis for babies sends the parents a personalized result. Parents of babies with blue eyes receive a different video than parents of babies with brown eyes. View the example below to get an idea.
  • Costs: 1 video for free, then flexible prices, eg 65 euros / month for 5 videos
  • Difficulty: ****
  • Basic layer: own video
  • Hosting: Your video runs on the Ivory Studio player
  • Interesting because: you have many options and can personalize using data sets

Blue BillyWig

Blue Billywig is also both a hosting platform and an editor for interactive videos with which you can do a lot and have a lot of options. It is used for marketing but also for e-learning modules. You can  use 360-degree videos, personalize and ask questions.
  • Costs: on request
  • Difficulty: ****
  • Basic layer: own video
  • Hosting: Blue Billywig is the hosting platform
  • Interesting because: you have many options, you can personalize and you can use 360-degree videos


There is a whole world of interactive video tools and toys to explore. You can use the easier tools yourself to get the viewer to think for a moment. At Ivory Studio and Blue Billywig you really have to dive into the tool, but then you can produce wonderful material. These tools are much more like an editing program. In addition, it can be an entire project to make an interactive video, devising the storyboard, filming the various scenarios and compiling. The options are endless.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Meet Beau, a reflection chatbot

Working in a small group to design a blended training I felt very annoyed. I had the feeling we were investing too much energy in defining the goals and was worried that the team was not going in the right direction. Usually I can put my finger on what we need to do, but this time I did not know exactly where it had gone wrong. I decided to use our own "Beau the reflection chatbot". Beau asked me a number of questions such as: "What did you do in this situation?" "How did it work out?" It gave me a different insight: that I have to think more about the role of goals in a certain process and to communicate more clearly about this. You have to play with the importance of learning objectives and the level of detail, depending on the situation. In an open and social process, for example, you formulate your goal more openly. Make goals / learning objectives also the subject of conversation. Thanks to Beau!

Who the hell is Beau?

Beau is the chatbot I developed together with Kirste den Hollander and Steven van Luipen,  a prototype. We wanted to see if you could use a chatbot to support reflection. And you certainly can! I am enthusiastic about the possibilities, although I also see the limitations of Beau. Beau is a scripted bot, in which no artificial intelligence is used. However, talking to specialists I learned that sometimes a scripted bot is all you need.

Beau was tested by 51 people and these are the results

Our conclusions:

  • Most people are positive about the use of Beau, the tone and the language used in the conversation. But more importantly, half of them have gained a new insight through the conversation. 
  • Talking to a text chatbot instead of a person, and typing instead of talking often helps the reflection process. It gives people time to think and enables them to determine the rhythm of the conversation themselves. 
  • In the live confession the reflection of a confessor is central and the confessional taker only asks questions. That role can perfectly be played chatbot. 
We see different possibilities to use a chatbot for reflection. You can encourage people to do this on a regular basis or you can meet as a team to use a reflection bot and exchange them at regular intervals. It is important, though to take into account that a (small) group of people has a lot of resistance to reflecting with a chatbot.

Do you want to read our article about Beau?

Or download
Meet Beau the reflection chatbot

Curious about the chatbot design process?

I have learned and read a lot about the design process, including experiences and got training with IBM Watson. Do you want to learn about bots yourself and maybe even do a first exploration of possible bots? Have a look at this workshop I may facilitate for your organization. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Using personas in design of online and blended learning

Why would you work with personas when designing online or blended learning? In this blog I will share my enthusiasm about working with personas. Working with personas is not only useful for marketing professionals but also useful in a design process for learning trajectories.
Abdel lives in the capital of Mali, studies journalism and is eager to learn. He has internet access via the university network on his Huawei smartphone. He would like to learn how he can get in touch with other students in other cities in West Africa and as a journalist he would like to share developments from Mali with the rest of the world.

Hawa lives in the countryside of Mali and buys cards to access to the internet on her mobile, so she has an internet access roughly three times a week. She would like to learn how she can make short videos about her life for the NGO she works with. They have asked her to record and share how she lives and works. 
Abdel and Hawa do not really exist but are personas we have created and discussed during the design of an online citizen journalism course for people in Mali. The names Abdel and Hawa often come back: if Hawa only logs in 3 times a week, shouldn't we allow a full week for the photo assignment instead of 3 days? It also leads to the discussion whether we can actually design one course for Abdel and Hawa. In this way we come to the solution of weekly bonus assignments because Abdel might drop out if the course is not interesting enough. Abdel and Hawa prove their usefulness in this design process because the use of these two personas allow us to get into the skin of our target group. We can continuously test the design against "real personas".

Aren't personas rather used for marketing purposes?

Working with personas has its background in marketing and design thinking. A persona is a very detailed description of a user of a product or service. Marketers use it to develop products and to think about marketing a product. The dutch Albert Heijn was critized by the UN because of their personas. The customer profiles would lead to stereotypical images of customer. That is the first pitfall of working with personas. It can lead to a stereotyping of the practice. If you have that feeling, it may be good to talk more/again with the target group.

How to develop personas?

It is best to developing the personas in an interactive session with a design group consisting of various stakeholders, often content experts and other actors. A first step is to discuss the most important (sub) target groups. Then you divide the target groups among your design group. Ask your design group to crawl under the skin of a participant. In small groups you ask them to make a persona by going through the following steps:
  • Make a drawing of a person
  • Give a name
  • Add a global description of his / her life and work
  • How does he / she use the internet? via which devices?
  • Why does he / she participate in the course, training or community?
  • What does he / she want to learn?
  • What is he / she allergic to?
After this invite the groups to present their persona in the I-form (I am Hawa and I live in Sarafere) so that people can really empathize. I have experienced that some people will make a caricature of the persona, especially if they have a difficult relationship with the group the persona represents. Try to ask for positive aspects. In fact, this exercise also gives you a sense of whether the design group has sufficient knowledge of the target group. Ofcourse, you may adjust these questions yourself or use an empathy-map.
An interesting tool to start personas may be Thispersondoesnotexist. The site will give you a random photo. Similarly uinames will provide you with fake names. You may select a country and then by clicking on the spacebar you get a fake name, that's how I get Camiel de Ruyter born in 1989. I have not tried this yet, but it might stimulate creativity.

Why I believe in the power of personas

The main design challenge is to make sure your design suits the needs and practices of the participants. Content experts in particular often think about what is important for everyone to know rather than what the participants need. At the same time, the content experts often know the target group very well. Of course you can also invite the audience or do interviews, but you may use personas if you think the subject matter experts and others know the participants quite well.

I have very positive experiences with working with personas. Making personas is ideal to get the knowledge of the design group about their colleagues or the target group on the table. Often this knowledge is available in the design group. By working with personas the group develops empathy and gets a lively image of the target group. You force your design group to get into the skin of the future participants. Personas are fictional characters and not persons that make it much more neutral to speak about them.

For the best effect, you should regularly look through the eyes of the personas during the design. With Hawa and Abdel, that worked out well, in other cases you sometimes forget to use the personas lateron during the design process. I do not really know how that is. Maybe too many personas? Or do you still start thinking from the content side and is that a pitfall?

Designing jointly with the target group versus working with personas

An alternative to working with personas is inviting the target group to participate in your design process. This is not always possible, as in the case of Hawa and Abdel. If you invite representatives of the target group in the design process, it is important that they can think along from a broader perspective than their own interests. A persona can be a good alternative because you talk about fictitious case and this gives space to play with the design. When 'real' participants say something, it can not be ignored but it may not be representative for the whole group of participants.

Interested in working with personas? Read also:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Tool of the month: do-it-yourself animation videos

Anyone can now create an animation video using handy do-it-yourself tools. In this blog you will find a number of tools and tips to start with. In every Ennuonline course there is someone who proudly shows a self-made animation video. Margreet rushed in very enthusiastically in the previous course: "Is there a timeslot to show my video?" Of course that was allowed. Her video received a lot of praise and admiration from all participants. Hence the question to Margreet was how much time it took to make ... 'I don´t dare to count but twice I continued till 1 o´clock at night

So the good news is that you do not always need a professional to make a video. The bad news is that it takes you quite some time the first time to learn the program. But it is fun and addictive to do. And the second time it's a lot faster.


What is an animation video?

An animation is a film without actors, but many drawings in succession provide movement. This is an example of a professional animation video about teamwork.

Within the do-it-yourself animations for learning purposes you can distinguish between:
  •      The whiteboard animations
  •      The drawn animations
  •      The stop motion videos
1.Whiteboard animations
The whiteboard animation consists of a narrative and a person who draws along and thus illustrates the story. These are now popular. A well-known animation is the video about motivation from professionals titled Drive by RSA animate.

  Whiteboard Tools you may use:
2. Drawings
There are many tools that already contain drawings that you can select and where you can add texts, often with different characters. See a trial below from me a few years ago.
Tools to use:
In the latter two you can also use video material that is already online and you can use it in your own video.
3. Stop motion videos
Stop-motion is an animation form in which you photograph an object while it is moving. Then you play the frames in a row. This makes it seem like the object is moving.
I have see the stop motion app for iphone and ipad, but I haven´t tried the app. I don´t really know how easy or difficult it is.


Does it work?

There is research on the effect of whiteboard videos by Richard Whiteman. The research shows that whiteboard animation is very effective in retaining attention compared to talking head videos. 15% more information was picked up and remembered. More information in this video.


Tips to make your own animation videos

The most important work is to think through your key message and your storyline. Make sure you get this right and that the story is not getting too long.
  •  You can start well with a free account. If you use it more often, it is certainly useful to take a paid account because you then have access to more characters and can make longer videos for example.
  • When choosing between making your own animation versus asking a professional, you can look at your available budget, the number of viewers (it pays off) and how long you can use the video. If the content of the video changes quickly, you may want to try yourself.
  • You could also make an animation video before you have a professional video made. This allows you to test and easily show it to a professional animation studio you are looking for.
  • An alternative is to work with drawings. A good idea is to have the drawings made via Fiverr.com. You can also have an animation made via Fiverr.

Do you have any more tips, questions or a nice video you are proud of? Share it below in the comment!

Sunday, December 09, 2018

My takeaways from OEB18: communities, AI and 3D-smarts and some very practical stuff

For the first time in my life I went to the OEB learning technologies conference in Berlin. It was a great conference. I did not feel tired Friday at 18.00 when it ended, but completely energized and full of new ideas! Thanks to Wilfred Rubens for pointing me to this conference and tips to navigate the conference. I followed his advice of doing a pre-conference session with Jef Staes which was one of my highlights. Wilfred also blogged about the conference. He notices people were looking for practical applications, whereas a conference like this is to challenge your thinking. I had both. My thinking was sharpened, but I also took away really practical lessons for the things I am working on (like the idea to embed peergradio in Moodle for instance....) and new relationships. The day after the conference I spent cycling around Berlin with Natasja, which felt both like a 'dessert' and a cooling down.

Communities of practice are powerful but not appealing
A powerful things happened in the very last session at 17.00 on Friday: my last session was about 'defense and security'. I decided to go there because of my work with the Defense academy in Breda to create an Open Defense Academy. We were 8 in the room, the beamer was ready, as were 4 chairs for a panel, but no convenor or speaker showed up. I had already jokingly appointed someone as the facilitator, who then did take up this role. We decided to exchange. People from Denmark, Finland, the US and the Netherlands exchanged working on 360 degree and VR, e-learning, open academy, video in action, micro learning as support for deployed troops. You could see the recognition,  openness to share. It was really an added value to talk about a common sector. I'm sure for some it was the best thing to happen. Still don't know whether the lack of convenor was by purpose or an omission in the program though :).

However the topic of building communities of practice or social learning was not high on the agenda of the conference (neither was performance support). Many sessions were about learning in general (learning a skill or memorizing). The example of driving a car, learning a new profession, onboarding was often used. However there are also many other situations which call for learning, like interdisciplinary learning, learning from mistakes, driving innovation, making use of tacit knowledge, reflection. For innovation and sharing tacit knowledge, (online) communities of practice can be a powerful intervention.

I'm not sure why this focus was much stronger. I guess it is because learning in communities is quite invisible and it takes time. And it does happen even when you don't influence it. L&D professionals may not see they can make a difference? People are aware of the power of networking and connections but may think it is automatic. The art of making space, facilitating, identifying the right domains is hence undervalued. I am one of the facilitators of the LOSmakers, but not doing a good job to create that space for real exchange. Will do that more and try to promote community learning more often (many clients ask for online or blended learning design rather than community design). If you see OEB as a community- who are the convenors, the brokers, where does innovation come from?

AI is real and scary for many
Anita Schjøll Brede did a really good keynote about AI and machine learning. She had five examples of how AI might change the learning landscape, for instance having one (AI) tutor per child, which was long thought too expensive. I learnt French for six weeks with one teacher for myself before going to Mali and that was a great experience. She said one of the challenges is not to copy our own biases into AI. I also attended the chatbot session. Cognitive bots have huge potential, the first wave was Frequently Asked Questions bots, but more is possible. Follow Donald Clark.

I hence visited a boardroom session by Inge de Waard about old philosophers and new learning and had an evening-long discussion about the topic. What I noticed that AI and machine learning does scare people.. Maybe because it is invisible/uncontrollable/difficult to understand? I am not scared because I don't believe in the technological singularity theory. My take away is that L&D-ers have to understand more about machine learning and algorithms, that ethics is becoming more important and that more power is going to the AI programmers who define the algorithms. Plus, L&D-ers need to help people to understand algorithms and burst bubbles. (first idea of L&D as bubble bursters by Ger Driesen). We need people who understand both learning and AI. (Elliot Masie said we can forget about AI for now- that might sound reassuring but I disagree!).

We should move to a 3D-smarts organization /knowmadic way of working
Jef was my hero of the conference. Maybe because his ideas of the 3D-smarts are close to my ideas about knowmads. Let me explain the 3D concept. The difference between the 2D world (before the internet) and 3D world (after the internet) is the ubiquity of information. However, many organizations and schools are still working from the 2D concept, with diplomas and function descriptions. Jef thinks we should move to a competency playlist. In a way I see this is already happening. For instance, as freelance consultant I am never asked for my diplomas, but asked for relevant knowledge or previous assignments. 3D smarting is a merger of working and learning. Jef reaffirmed two ideas:

  1. My idea that a knowmad needs to use social media and online. An offline knowmad is simply too slow in a 3D society. 
  2. There is a connection between who you are at home and at work. You cannot be passionate about something and turn that off at home. Sliding and morphing to find your passions and work that fits your talents best. A question for me is that this seems a lifelong struggle? 
The challenge for organizations is the power defect. The hunter passes on the spear to his son, but do we do that now? Do we have red monkeys (disruptive ideas) and how do we manage those? In most organizations the disruptive ideas are killed by the settlers. A lesson about change management: disruptive innovation is a change process in which you start with the pioneers and creators. Respect the settlers and followers though. This is a practical lesson for my work with the ambulances. 

NB: Again something I missed: I heard few people talking and the important of domain knowledge. I think domain knowledge is becoming more important than soft skills like critical thinking. Learning how to acquire domain knowledge rapidly. Maybe knowledge and skills can not be separated really.  
Some very practical stuff

  • Jef Staes had a great idea: 22 posters on stage and everybody who wanted to have a poster will have to make a video to explain the concept on the poster. We do have an online method called "adopt a concept" which is similar but people don't make a video and don't make connections. This is a nice variation. 
  • The reflection session had a nice BINGO model with numbers. Each number would lead to a different reflection question. (didn't attend this session but will definitely copy this)
  • In Jef's session strengthfinder was mentioned as a good tool to help you reflect about your talents and passion. An alternative is the high5 test. I did a great one in 2003 but not sure anymore whether it was the strengthfinder or something with happiness in the name. But number one was love of learning :) 
  • The facebook MOOCbot was a very creative idea too. A bot would ask design questions and students would design a MOOC. After this a peer review took place, also through the bot. I will try to find out more. 
  • There is a gamification toolbox with 20 game ideas. You may use it to design your own game and get inspiration through the toolbox, or you can use it to have groups of learners to develop a game and play eachother's game. 

Friday, November 02, 2018

My session about blended learning in Milan

I walked with three colleagues in Milan. We had one day in Milan before the Hofstede Insights conference in which I had to discuss a number of myths about blended learning. If you only have one day in Milan, you obviously want to see the cathedral. I was afraid that we had the wrong exit from the metro, not the exit where "duomo" was written. However, we came out of the metro and Bam! there was the cathedral of Milan. Really super impressive. The cathedral is so big that every exit from the metro leads to it, you can't avoid it ... It's not every day that I get an invitation to do a session about blended learning abroad. Hence, when I received this invitation for Milan I therefore wanted to add a day of tourism. And it worked! I can definitely recommend Milan. The cathedral, but also castello Sforzesco is really special. 
Getting started with debunking
The next day the real work with the Hofstede Insights consultants group started at 10.00. The group does not have much blended learning experience yet. They advise on intercultural communication a very international group, working in many different countries so there is a lot of potential to work blended.

My rationale for the session was as follows: I had heard that many of them were still hesitant about working online and blended. That is why I wanted to unearth myths and misconceptions. Furthermore, I had sent out a message asking for real client questions so that they could work on their own cases. I started the session with the blended learning Bingo to find out the expertise in the group (always more than the group thinks!), then the presentation and discussion about the myths. Then they group worked in subgroups to create a blended design for their own chosen customer request, which they had to pitch to the client. This allowed them to practice immediately with presenting a blended design. Finally there was room to discuss tools and technology.

Here's my presentation. NB. it seems like the insertion of slideshare presentations does not work as well. Here is ook de my presentation about online and blended learning   

Did I succeed in debunking myths about blended learning?

Maybe it is not so much myths, as hindering convictions and ideas. I started to shake some ideas and convinced at least a few people (I hope!). The session certainly made people enthusiastic about experimenting with blended learning. A myth that has definitely been shaken is "you need face-to-face for emotional connection". We talked about online dating online and falling in love online. If this is possible: why should you not be able to involve people at an emotional level online as a trainer?

The idea that online learning is individual and boring was also turned upside down. Many saw online as optimal for transferring information before this session (myth 1). Learning in your own time is definitely an advantage, but this can also be social and interactive. A personal approach online helps with this. Another new (useful) insight to design blended interventions was that it gives you the tools to better support and space the learning process. Do not overload them with an intercultural dose for three days, but start work together over a period of two months. It supports spaced repetition help the process of applying what you have learned. I am glad that I have opted for this focus on conceptions and ideas about blended learning, combined with the practical exercise. The tools and the experimentation phase will come after this.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How to stimulate creativity in online teams: A 100% online process to design a blended learning trajectory

Joehoe! I am very proud of the result of three creative online sessions, resulting in a blended design. Sibrenne and I have just completed a design process for a blended trajectory with WWF. The special thing about this project is that the whole design process took place online. The members of our design team live in Namibia, Switzerland, Suriname, Nairobi and the Netherlands. It has produced a design that has been very well received, we have received many compliments about the process. It was for me the first time for me to do kind of creative process completely online - it was a challenge, but I thought it would be possible with clever design and tough facilitation. My own goal with this project was therefore to try and release online creativity. I used the book Creativity in Virtual Teams Key components for Success van Nemiro,  though the book is writing for semi-permanent teams and we were just a temporary team my experiences were quite similar.

What did we do?

The design team knew each other pretty well. We have planned three online sessions, each of two hours. In two hours you can easily dive into a topic. Three hours would be really demanding for concentration and the work schedules. In between there were a number of assignments, eg searching for cases or information. The sessions took place in a period of one month, if we had longer we could have planned more time in between the sessions, but we had a deadline.
Our tools set consisted of Adobe Connect in combination with Google docs and a Facebook Workplace group. The design team was used to Zoom instead of Adobe, but we chose Adobe Connect because of the whiteboard, and the ability to work in groups. Google docs worked well to prepare an assignment or to work on documents together. In addition, we used a Facebook Workplace for communication between the sessions, the choice for Workplace was made because it was already in use within the organization.

In terms of content we have worked with personas, images about the future, formulate learning objectives, inspiring examples of blended trajectories and building blocks. Although the idea was to shape the goals and building blocks together online, this has proven difficult. It needs thinking time. The co-creation process hence consisted of brainstorming together online in the design sessions after which we, as facilitators, worked out the elements for the next session. The result was discussed within the group.  This worked quite well as a process. Although we had a framework for the three sessions, we dealt with it flexibly. We discovered that the design team needed more time to discuss things than we had thought. In the second and third sessions, we therefore made a planning with the least important issue at the end. This gave the flexibility to drop it.

 What worked to stimulate creativity?

 There are a number of things that are crucial in my experience:
  • Plan synchronous sessions where you can work together. We chose three work sessions in Adobe Connect as central co-creation places, but you could even 4-6 if you don't have a tight deadline as we had. By spreading the design sessions over time, there is time to work together intensively, but also to reflect in between or divide work. For me the fact that the synchronous sessions are key is very logical but in the book they warn that with email stimulates little creativity. Seems too obvious to me. 
  • Make extensive use of "creativity techniques". We did several brainstorms on the whiteboard. This worked well because everyone could share their ideas at the same time. We also provided variety in working methods. Working in subgroups was very well appreciated. This was the modality in which we worked on the personas. One person even asked "can I be with her in a group" showing how enjoyable it can be to work in smaller groups. 
  • Invest continuously in teambuilding. It was a bit of a trade off: investing in getting to know each other and a tight schedule. Hence we decided to start introductions in the Workplace group. We also choose not to invest in the team know each other's private lives, but learning to appreciate each other's professional view. For instance by asking for positive online experiences. The personal approach makes it attractive to participate. If you know each other, it is easier to build on each other's ideas. In the book about creativity they call this "creating the right climate". In the evaluation someone formulated it like this: "it was nice to meet each other"
  • Online you need to structure and guide more tightly than face-to-face. "I appreciated the guided approach" we got as feedback. A tight role for one, preferably two facilitators is important. I wouldn't have liked to do this alone. This was a group that could easily exchange for an hour about content issues. We made sure that we move on and changed the talking modus. It may seems unfortunate to stop a conversation which is important and interesting, but it does benefit the energy. The chapter "leadership" from the book is dealing with this part.
  • Show progress. Each session started with sharing the products from the previous session. This gave the team the positive feeling that the sessions were productive and that together we were in the process of designing of something solid and beautiful. "Keep team members and their efforts visible" is stated in Nemiro's book. In our evaluation participants said: "concrete outputs, great products"
So I'm quite proud with what we achieved in such a short period of time. If I'd had another online design process I would like to have a longer period, with more time in between the sessions. I would also like to try out working with image association, and other creativity techniques from Nemiro. And a very practical tip: make sure you can go offline for a short while after the sessions. Online sessions remain intense and demand a lot of energy. I used to jump on the bike to get a breath of fresh air and exercise.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

You can stimulate curiosity for self directed learning

This morning I cycled in the sun to a school for higher eduction to a look back at a fun and successful project. A team of teachers and staff have organized a SPOC (Small Private Online Course), supported by me and Sibrenne from Ennuonline. Within the SPOC, on the Curatr platform, sources like short video clips or cartoons were shared as conversation starters on topics such as classroom atmosphere, structure, variety in lessons and attention to individual students. The innovative thing is that the focus is on exchange and learning from each other and not on learning new knowledge, more "how do you do that in your class and what can I do better?" Some 30 eager teachers were very active. It was noticeable that this is a well-known group, a group of knowmads who are curious and want to invest in their own professionalization and are able to self direct their learning activities. One of the teachers told me that she would get bored during the holidays after a few weeks and then engage in some distance education. At the same time, there is a group of lecturers who seem to invest less in their own professional development. 

For this type of online learning you need a certain level of capacity for self direction. 

How to stimulate the second group who will not spontaneously engage in a SPOC? How to stimulate self directed learning? 

Is everybody (unconsciously) a knowmad?

Accoding to Forbes there is a strong relationship between learning and happiness on the job.
"There's a strong positive relationship between how much people learn on the job and how much they love their job"
This shows that with a high level of learning in the workplace, the knife cuts both ways: innovation is evident and the professional is also happy. It raises (again) the question whether every professional has an intrinsic motivation to develop and learn. Or are some just happy to run the same lessons for years? In other words: is self directed learning for everyone? This is a question which keeps coming back to me. Can you encourage professionals to learn formally or informally? The crux may well be in curiosity.

Curiosity: the book 

In his book Why? What makes us curious by Mario Livio curiosity is analyzed in depth. A simple definition of curiosity is: the desire to know why, what and how. It is a craving for information. Everyone is curious, although the degree of curiosity varies from person to person. In Why, the lives of Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman are described as examples of extremely inquisitive persons. Feynman even seems to have been lying in a coma on his deathbed and said: "This dying is boring, I would not want to do it again!" Curiosity is a feeling: it can be a feeling of excitement (for discovering something new) but it can also be a feeling of discomfort or even fear. To a certain extent, uncertainty about a subject leads to curiosity, but if the uncertainty becomes too great, it can become so overwhelming that it feels uncomfortable. If something is totally overpowered, the uncertainty can become so great that people would rather avoid the subject than dive into it. This reminds me of a question Ger Driesen asked a few years ago: do we need to feel pain in order to learn?

What makes us curious? - excitement versus anxiety

Litman states that curiosity can emerge from two different emotions, an action to reduce a sense of insecurity, or an intrinsically motivated state of excitement to get to know something new. An example of the first one is reading the sign of an animal in the zoo when you feel stupid that you do not know this animal. The second may be my feeling of excitement when I discover a new tool. Furthermore, we become more curious when we know something about a subject and discover that there is more knowledge than when we do not know anything about a subject. Whether something arouses curiosity has also been studied by Berlyne: it depends on novelty, complexity, uncertainty and conflict.

  • New may be a new phenomenon such as a new species
  • Complex is when something follows an unexpected pattern
  • Uncertainty is when you can not predict the outcome
  • Conflict is the fact that new information is contradictory to old information, this makes you feel 'ignorant' and to remove that feeling you will look for additional information

Two different types of curiosity 

To be curious you do not have to be good at mathematics or the arts, but a condition seems to be the capacity to process information. There is a difference between perceptual curiosity and epistemic curiosity. Perceptual curiosity is curiosity triggered by things that happen around you that are different than expected, eg the curiosity of a class of children who get a new pupil in the classroom. It can also be a situation that you do not fully understand. Epistemic curiosity is a desire for knowledge and knowing, the driving force behind science. Furthermore, you can distinguish diversive (broad interest) and specific (looking for specific information) curiosity. An example of diversive curiosity is, for example, checking your phone for new messages. You are not looking for specific information but are curious about something. Berlyne hence put this diagram with four quadrants together.

 Source: Siobhancribbin.wordpress.com

Interesting: brain research has revealed that these two types of curiosity reside in different parts of the brain.

Strategies to satisfy curiosity: overview and from easy to difficult

Jacqueline Gottlieb has researched the strategies of the brain to satisfy curiosity through open exploration. 52 people were asked to choose a short computer game to play. There were two different series of games and the level of difficulty varied. The strategies of the 52 people were strikingly similar: they started with the easiest games and proceeded to the more difficult ones. In addition, they looked for an overview of all games. The games from medium to high degree of difficulty were played several times. Interesting for epistemic curiosity: people like to see the whole landscape. This phenomenon is called 'knowledge-based intrinsic motivation'.

You can learn to be curious or stimulate people to be curious

What is my conclusion? That every professional is curious, but the extent to someone is curious may vary. What I learned from reading Why is the focus on emotion. Ask people what they are curious for in their work, what new information makes them feel excited? What makes you feel uncertain in your work? This is a different set of questions than: what would you like to learn?

You can actually trigger curiosity in professionals and I believe with curiosity comes self directed learning, provided people have the information processing capacities. If you look at Berlyne, the perceptual curiosity is easier to stimulate than epistemic. Examples:

  • Introduce something completely new, for example a new theory or a new technology that will be of influence
  • Present data that shows an unexpected pattern. An example of this approach is benchlearning
  • Let professionals put their teeth into a wicked problem, a challenge for which the outcome is unpredictable  
  • Look for information that is contradictory to what people believe in the organization
  • Encourage curiosity. 
A side idea: after reading this book I got a huge question mark doubting the usefulness of adaptive learning systems: within these systems, the learner will automatically receive new information or assignments. From the need to get an overview of the whole field (from easy to difficult) this can be rather frustrating. It coincides with a remark that I heard from users, that they would like to know what the subjects are that they have not received (because of the fact that the content was adapted or personalized for them).

Overall, it reassured me that everybody has a native type of curiosity and that with the right stimuli this can lead to self directed learning.

Friday, June 08, 2018

(Microlearning) tool of the month: Guidiance

Microlearning is a trend in online learning, so the tool of the month is a microlearning tool: Guidiance. Microlearning originated from the idea of learning on the fly, via your mobile. Just as you do a game on your mobile in the train or waiting for the bus, you could also quickly learn something via your smartphone. Some people do that with the Duolingo app, for example, quickly learn some words in a foreign language. Microlearning often consists of several bite-sized chunks of content of limited size, which can be a video, a short text or an infographic

When to use the microlearning concept?

Microlearning can be linked to a training programme as a follow-up activity. It can also be separate, standalone for example microlearning replaces protocols on paper. What I see around me is that microlearning is used as an approach in three different ways:

  1. Performance support (so can be accessed at any time)
  2. Mini-course (then the subject must be well-defined)
  3. Part of blended learning design before or after a meetup

Of course, you can not achieve the same depth with microlearning as with a course, e-learning module or training. So you have to think carefully about what you use it for. It lends itself to short delineated subjects such as 'Wash your Hands' or a 'Latte Art for Baristas' course. For inspiration for applications, read our dutch blogpost with examples such as onboarding and the example of micro-learning about kingdom affairs.

Personally, I use the word microlearning as a didactic approach, I hear that many people also use 'microlearnings' as a noun, then it's about the content, the bite-sized chunks.

Microlearning tools

You can implement microlearning with the tools you already have available. For instance, using a newsletter by mail and Moodle. You can offer it via Whatsapp. Or it can consist of short videos via a video platform. New tools are also available that specifically focus on microlearning. I thought it would be fun to test one of these tools. I choose Guidiance because it looks nice and you can test it for free with a group up to 10 people.


Guidiance.com has the bad luck that Google is on the outlook for typos. Google thinks you make a typo and mean guidance, so pay attention to the i :). So go directly to guidiance.com, not through a search engine. You can create a free account and you can easily set up a micro-learning mini-course yourself.

After creating your first course, add content via 'Add', which can be a video, text, photo, quiz or link. You can indicate when your participants receive the content and if you want to schedule it over a certain time (day 1, day 2 etc). I got 2 test mini-courses: one to become a barista and wash your hands course.

You invite participants by mail after creating a group. Participants must download the (free) Guidiance app and receive the content via the app. This means that you make your own mini-course via laptop or desktop, but participants take part via the app.

What else can you do in Guidiance as a host? You can also create events and view the activity in your group via statistics. I find it very simple and clear. You can easily create a mini-course, add people. I also think it looks attractive. You can indicate whether participants can comment on the sources. I would not call it a social tool, it is really focused on sharing content and quizzes. Recent development is that you can easily place courses where you want: on your website or in other software. See an example here

More microlearning tools and apps

Besides Guidiance there are many other microlearning tools en apps. For instance:

Want to experience a microlearning course? 

Join in some free options to experience what it is. Here are two possibilities:
PS. Guidiance now has a partner program: this program is aimed at trainers who serve a clear business target group. During the program Guidiance helps you to create a successful scalable training product. In this way they guide you from creation to marketing and sales, so that you ultimately generate a continuous turnover stream through online training. For more information, please contact Guidiance via info@guidiance.com.

Friday, June 01, 2018

The skillset of a blended trainer or facilitator: technology is overrated

This week I co-organized the #Trainingtrends2018 session in Utrecht (the Netherlands) with some 90 participants. It was fun. Amazing that we are already working on blended designs for 10 years and for some this a really new area. I think the change is relatively slow because it is shift in mindset.

The current mindset

Which of the following arguments for not investing in blended training do you recognize?
  • For learning, intimacy is needed which you can only achieve face-to-face
  • I feel completely energized when I am standing in front of a group
  • I am quite technophobe/ I have little interest in working with technology

Why would you invest in blended training?

Blended training and coaching is becoming the norm. This means that clients are increasingly asking for it. The problem with standalone training days is often the transfer to practice. Karin de Galan describes a nice research example in which a blended trajectory provides better practical results. Students learn osteopathy and practice the treatment of a shoulder complaint in the classroom. However, they do not feel equipped to apply these skills in practice. When the design is blended and the students receive two more online assignments with feedback, they have more self-confidence to apply what they learned.
Clive Shepherd heeft een mooi voorbeeld van een blended onboarding programma. Who has not experienced an introductory program which consist of your first day. You have a program of briefings by all departments which pour a lot of information on you. In this blended onboarding case Nicole is joining a new organization. She starts online, hence she is already well prepared when she enters the organization and conversations with colleagues are more interesting and relevant. She has mentors during the first six months. That way she can get up to speed. 
Another example which I experienced myself: I recently received an explanation from a barista how we could make delicious cappuccino. Unfortunately, I did not volunteer to do it and I have forgotten about it. If I would have some videos available about preparing the milk I would watch them right before preparing the cappuccino.
A blended program has more contact moments than face-to-face training sessions. This implies that your participants are more likely to engage with the topic (spaced practice). I am hence convinced a good blended program can therefore achieve more effect. But .... of course there are also bad blended programs!

We underestimate the required skills 

In order to design a strong blended program, you need new skills. On the one hand, this is sometimes underestimated. For example, a trainer starts working with a online platform from the idea that it can not be that difficult. After all, you also taught yourself how to LinkedIn isn't it? On the other hand, there are trainers who fear the technology part, get paralyzed and do not venture into blended learning. They think: "this is not for me". I believe the needed technology skills are overrated, but the other skills underestimated. 

The five most underrated skills of blended trainers 

  1. Being able to ask participants questions about experience with and interest in online tools. This is necessary to decide the toolset, the learning curve of participants in using these tools and support for onboarding participants online. Without this you risk the empty online platform and subsequently everybody saying: "it doesn't work, we need to get together".
  2. Being able to design a strong blend instead of a one-off event. This requires experience with online and blended trajectory. Spacing is new, online activities. Think from the participant perspective which combination of online and face-to-face learning activities will be powerful.
  3. Choosing the right online learning activities. It is my experience working with trainers and facilitators that they are great at this once they realize that you can also translate face-to-face training methods to online. I never understood why this is not logical for everyone. 
  4. Online facilitation. Here, too, trainers already have a lot to offer. However, there are new dimensions to learn: online you have to ensure that people find their way online. You must also be present in a different way. More often and shorter. Sometimes you need to be more directive.
  5. Last but not least: being able to choose a toolset from different platforms and online toolset. This is often a whole new area for trainers and coaches. It helps to realize that a good blended design can work in a variety of platforms. 

(image throug wikipedia)

What you see is that the latter skill, the technology, is overrated (and feared). However, the other four are equally important or even more important. The blended trainer is actually an amphibian. He / she can work on land (face-to-face) and in water (online).

Besides skills you have to believe in it

More important than skills is perhaps the mindset. You have to be convinced of the added value and the power of a well-blended design. Once you experience how you can have a huge effect on supporting the learning process of your participants you will definitely start to enjoy it.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

How is learning organized in a self-managed organization?

Every month I read a management book. I am very curious about learning in self-managing organizations. How is this organized? Is self-management also self-directed learning? In April, therefore, I have read the much talked-about book by Frederic Laloux about new ways of organizing (reinventing organizations). I started reading 70-20-10 boek van Jos Arets, Vivian Heijnen en Charles Jennings but this is not an easy book to take with you on the train. So Laloux got priority.

Does a knowmad want to work in a self-managing organization?

I see more and more self-learning professionals around me, knowmads. A knowmad wants meaningful work and is using online networks and resources to learn. Many are looking for space and opportunities to develop themselves and to deal with difficult job assignments, I read a funny blogpost about a manager of a law firm who googled how he wanted to reorganize his office.
George looked around for alternative ways of organizing. “Until that time, I was only aware of the traditional pyramid. This was a problem. So I asked myself: What do we do now?”Geoffrey’s confusion didn’t last long. He adopted a very pragmatic approach. “I just went to Google and searched for things like: Do you need a management structure? Do you need to do performance reviews?
How knowmadic?  I am very curious whether organizations with self-management are places where people learn selfdirected. And how? With this question I  read Laloux. Laloux regularly mentions
Buurtzorg in the Netherlands and AES in the UK as examples he studied.

Be yourself

First some figures about meaningful work. Within Buurtzorg, absenteeism is 60% lower and turnover 33% lower than in comparable home care organizations. That means that people certainly want to work with Buurtzorg. In Laloux there is a chapter about 'wholeness' = I think it's the least down to earth chapter. However, I think 'wholeness' is an important aspect of knowmadic working: being able to be yourself, bringing your own identity and not playing a completely different role at work than at home or at the sports club. "Every time we leave a part of us behind, we cut ourselves off from our potential and our creativity and energy". A knowmad expresses all interests, does not pretend to be different than he/she is. The example of 90 employees and 20 dogs at the office is quite funny. Your dog is also part of your identity :).

Training and coaching

There is little talk about training in the studied organizations. New teams receive training on 'problem-solving approaches' and learn techniques for decision-making within teams. They learn the basics of collaboration, communication, meeting, coaching and other practical skills for self-managed teams such as conflict management. Training programs and workshops are often provided by colleagues. 

Instead of training there is a stronger focus on regional coaches. These coaches develop their own role. A coach supports 40-50 teams. An important (unwritten) rule is that a coach does not provide solutions, but allows the team to make its own choices.

Knowledge versus management hierarchy

A self-managing organization has no hierarchy. A team within Buurtzorg does not have a team leader, but this does not mean that everyone is the same. Nurses take on extra roles based on their expertise or interest. They become experts in a specific area. Someone can listen well and becomes a coach for colleagues. Another person knows everything about a certain disease. They are asked for advice from colleagues from all over the country. The intranet 'BuurtzorgWeb' is needed to find others with expertise. This creates a knowledge hierarchy instead of a hierarchy based on function.

Peer to peer from team to team

Within Buurtzorg, all information is actually openly available on the intranet. Information about the functioning of teams is also available. For example, a team that struggles with something can start looking for another team that performs well and ask how they do it now.

Learning and knowledge creation in working groups

If there are new challenges, a voluntary working group can be set up of professionals who will investigate, experiment and start building expertise. An example is a working group within Buurtzorg investigating new legislation. In another organization, AES even states that people invest 20% of their time in this type of workgroup on a voluntary basis. People develop a second role or expertise. Research in the work groups is also a form of apprenticeship because experienced and less experienced colleagues work together. A working group does not sound dynamic, but I guess the way of working in different than in a committee in a hierarchical organization. 

The advice rule

An important rule within AES is the advice rule. You can be fired if you violate this rule. Anyone can make a decision, but must seek advice from anyone who has an interest or has relevant knowledge. Why is this rule so important that you can be fired for violating it? Firstly, it is good for the knowledge flow: the right people come together and develop new insights. People who advise feel honored. It creates a bond and confidence. The professionals asking are open to advice and do not become arrogant about their own knowledge. It stimulates creative solutions and good decisions. I am curious to see how this rule remains intact under work pressure.

Collective reflection

There are differences between the organizations studied in their emphasis on reflecting. Heiligenfeld is strongly committed to this. Every week on Tuesday there is a reflection of more than one hour with all 350 employees. Every week another topic is on the agenda. They start them with a short introduction and exchange in groups of 6-10. It takes a lot of time but they think it is worth it.

No HR and no talent management required

Interesting: none of the organizations do talent management or career planning. There is no HR function. People have so much room to grow, to take on new roles, to develop expertise that no talent management programs are needed. It grows naturally, in an organic way. Everyone is responsible for his or her own learning process. This often translates in a budget for teams or individuals who can decide to engage in training programs if they want.

Experiment and experiment

Someone in AES said: "everything is constantly changing here!" And so it is. The way of working is focused on improving and experimenting. That is also a way of learning in practice. Every problem is a challenge to learn further. Making better mistakes than doing nothing.


I am very happy that I read Laloux. I find the practices and principles surrounding learning and development in self-managing organizations very interesting, such as the advisory principle. I think that 'ordinary' organizations that want to be agile can copy elements from this. A knowmad will gladly work in a self-managing organization. On the other hand, in these self-managing organizations you will automatically become a knowmad. You are always challenged to learn new things and take on new roles.

It may sound too good. What are the dark sides? It requires a lot of the self-learning ability of the employees. I can imagine that not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to do something new. Some people leave such an organization because they do not like it. It sounds like I would enjoy it though!

I have read this book with pleasure. Do you have any tips for books that I definitely need to read this year?

ps also interesting: the practices of learning at Kessels and Smit described by Nancy Dixon