July 17 2017

Written by Chris Heron and Steve Cushing

Vivagogy and the Education Revolution


Three years ago a good friend of mine, and established e-learning guru, Kasper Spiro of Easygenerator, predicted the “death of the LMS.”


I read the article with interest and it inspired me to change direction and start a new company called Vivagogy. We’re dedicated to producing the systems and ideas to promote informal learning whilst developing the next generation of a social learning operating system.


Over the past three days, I have heard that message reiterated, from both the Global HR Director of a well-known multinational company and a university lecturer who trains teachers.


The HR gentlemen said, “we cannot formally train anyone anymore; they are just not interested.” The teacher trainer friend said, “the biggest problem that teachers face is that their students are not engaged with learning.  They just want to pass and get the piece of paper so they can move on and get a job.”


This is a terrifying prospect and a much bigger problem than I had predicted. I have been talking about why so many learners do not engage with education and formal training, but it seems we are already beyond remedial action with current formal learning offerings.


The Vivagogy team has been researching and analysing the subject of how to improve learning for three years.


We can prove that formal education assessment does not work; if learners are not engaged, what value are their qualifications?


University degree dropped from Ernst and Young recruitment policy


Many leading companies have dropped the requirement of a university degree as a minimum level of entry into their graduate schemes.


Ernst &Young said “…our own internal research … found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.” (Maggie Stilwell, Managing Partner for Talent, Ernst &Young, The Times 2015 Education Supplement.)


Most formal education and training is deployed using an LMS but this is based on formal “managed” learning pedagogies and “ancillary” assessment, both of which are now proven to be increasingly unsuccessful.



In the Industrial Economy of the 18th and 19th centuries, business and economic growth were achieved by having the best machines and a large number of people trained to operate them.


Much of the education and training was about achieving robotic workers for the machines and managers who could be relied upon to “follow” the rules.


In the mid to late 20th century, we moved into what was termed the “Knowledge Economy,” where organisations chose to employ people with the “best” knowledge in any given field to give them a competitive edge.


The Knowledge Economy used that “knowledge” to generate tangible and intangible value. People with “knowledge” became the most valuable asset to achieve business growth.


Degrees were highly-prized as the accepted measurement of ”knowledge.” Money was the key motivator.


Now we have moved into the “Fast Change Economy” where the ability to adapt and learn quickly is essential for individuals and companies.


Technology and, in particular, knowledge technology, has helped to incorporate part of human knowledge into machines. This knowledge can be used by decision support systems in various fields to generate economic value.


Interestingly, the education needed for this type of economy is the direct opposite of the “reliable” and “robotic” characteristics so valued in the 18th and 19th centuries; it is creative problem solvers who are sought.


Traditional learning experiences, by their very nature, have been mercilessly prescriptive.   Formal learning experiences happen within designated learning environments. These include schools, colleges, universities and more recently, online learning management systems.


They are grounded in a physical or virtual location of some kind and have managed fixed start and end points which make them easy to understand. This suited an environment in which learners gained knowledge and then applied it.


Informal learning experiences are very different as they are less “managed” and happen anywhere and everywhere.


The informal learner takes in information from observation, experience, by social transfer and even via their own mistakes.  Informal learning experiences are all-encompassing, immensely powerful, never-ending (life-long) and somewhat difficult to comprehend.


Informal learning opens the door to a more flexible approach and is much better suited to today’s business needs.


Formal education cannot cope


Unfortunately, formal education and learning have not adopted fast enough to keep up with this fluid business environment (some would say that it cannot change).


The nature of people has changed too. The personal characteristics and motivating factors of baby boomers, Generation X, Y (also called Millennials) and Z, are obviously different.


In response, people are pursuing informal education themselves, with as much as 70% of learning acquired in this way.  Recent reports even suggest that up to 90% of “useful” education and training in the workplace is now informal.


40% of adults have self-taught themselves at some point and respondents in a survey indicated that they were twice as likely to participate in independent learning as traditional learning.


The average adult spends 10 hours a week (500 hours a year) on informal learning practices.


As a whole, this type of knowledge is more learner-centered and situational in response to the interests or needed application of the skill to a particular workforce. ‘Formal training programs have limited success in increasing basic skills for individuals older than age 25, therefore, these individuals rely mostly on on-the-job training.”


Marcia Conner (2005) writes that “Most learning doesn’t occur in formal training programs. It happens through processes not structured or sponsored by an employer or a school. Informal learning accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today.” 


Millennial and post-millennial generations now make up more than 50% of the workforce.


Their social learning behaviour is vastly different to previous generations.


Currently, decisions on policy and management for education and training are often made by generations with opposing aspirations and differing motivation. This can cause disengagement.


“A few key ways to break down barriers and empower Millennial employees to include:


  • Engage emotions – Stories from experts, practitioners, and their boss can spark this connection.
  • Enhance feelings of autonomy – Give them control over their experience.  Let them select what areas they want to develop, and what learning challenges to pursue; let them design their own learning paths.
  • Enhance feelings of belonging – Through collaborative group tasks or competitions, learners feel they belong to a community.
  • Enhance feelings of competence – By revealing successes to and recognising achievement at various stages and levels, learners see their progress and want to continue.” (Rob McKinney, Director of Product Management at Harvard Business Publishing 2015).


Why is social learning better?


Essentially, this is the definition of social learning. It is not catered for by current LMSs and their rigid systems and limited assessment abilities.


More than 2.3 billion people belong to social networks, therefore it is not surprising that social learning has now become so prevalent.


There is considerable research into the rapid growth of social media.


A first-of-its-kind study conducted by UCLA concluded that the same brain circuits activated by eating chocolate and winning money are also those activated when people see large numbers of “likes” on their own photos or photos of peers in a social network.

This study scanned teens’ brains whilst they were using social media.


Even the name learning management systems suggest a hierarchical system of “managing” rather than encouraging and facilitating self-driven development and growth.


The benefits of informal learning are well researched.  The business world accepts the overwhelming importance of its workforce and the knowledge base it possesses.


In this fast-changing world, organisations require changeable, flexible, self-motivated learners with emphasis upon the ability to learn rather than the subject being taught.


The focus has moved from the responsibility of “managing” what is to be learned from a top-down approach to a bottom-up approach, where ideas are created throughout the organisation.


This self-motivated social learning approach is even more effective.  Ebbinghaus discovered that in formal managed learning, a significant amount of information was forgotten within twenty minutes.  More than half of what was learned was forgotten within an hour.

The Harvard Business Review in 2004 noted that the skills and talents of a company’s workforce constitute an intangible asset and that such assets “are worth far more to many companies than their tangible assets.”


The EIM Institute notes “The value to the organisation of such a knowledge repository is almost incalculable.”


According to Babcock, Fortune 500 companies lose approximately $31.5 billion per year by failing to share knowledge between learners. This again suggests that self-driven shared learning is the most effective system.


Methods of assessment in learning management systems are not rewarding as they are an add-on to, rather than part of, the gamification commonly found in today’s social networks and popular on-line game environments.


Gaming has become as popular as it is addictive. The effect of gaming is similar to the “likes” on a social media platform in that they stimulate dopamine, the same chemical which makes eating chocolate and winning money addictive.  The constant, instant rewards in an effective social learning environment can produce similar reactions.


So, learning can be pleasurable and addictive!


Goelman and Lieberman have also demonstrated that emotional and social reward is linked to good learning and memory.


Given the formal structure of today’s learning and its contrast to the growing popularity of informal social learning, it is not surprising that schools, universities, and companies are complaining that formal training does not work anymore.


Ghaleb Bensheik, Le Foyer de Cachan, Paris, says: “My students achieve a 97% success rate in their exams but they are still not engaged with learning; we must change this.”


We know that sharing promotes creativity and that social interaction promotes the release of dopamine and the ability to learn from one’s own mistakes.


”Researchers Arif Hamid and Joshua Berke, professor of psychology and biomedical engineering, argue that dopamine levels continuously signal how good or valuable the current situation is regarding obtaining a reward. This message helps people decide how vigorously to work toward a goal, while also allowing themselves to learn from mistakes.” (University of Michigan, 2015).


McKinsey and Co. say that by ”fully implementing social technologies”, organisations can raise the productivity of their employees by ”20 to 25 percent”.


Learning Management Systems are ineffective because they don’t cater for social learning


Social learning is unstructured and very difficult to deliver and measure without being built upon gamification principals. Effective social learning has the following characteristics based upon the reduction of the managed approach:


  • No formal managed curriculum
  • No designated managed schedule – learning can happen anytime
  • A continuous self-motivated procedure
  • No managed assigned subjects
  • The learner decides and controls their own destiny
  • Instant and constant gratification


The new ‘learning operating system’, as we call it, must be flexible and able to include legacy tools, as well as integrating tools of choice, both of individuals and companies.


Imagine a ‘fitbit for learning’ which we carry with us and is always on, operating in the background, prompting us, rewarding us and helping us.


It needs to offer control to the learner and match their individual goals to those of the curriculum or company. This autonomy produces a pleasurable experience which can become addictive for the learner.


Content has to be fit for purpose and creatable by anyone.


In a corporate environment, it brings a feeling of worth to the team members.


The environment has to allow and promote flexible social interaction in a caring, sharing way.  This allows social hierarchies to be created by the community, not the administrators.


Reward needs to operate in new and diverse ways:  through social status, experiences, corporate rewards, certification and remuneration.


This all creates intrinsic motivation – the “Holy Grail” of the 21st century HR manager – through an addictive social learning environment.


‘Unfortunately, intrinsic motivators like these are seldom integrated into the workplace. That’s why employees disengage.When intrinsic motivators are introduced, employees start to see their work as more meaningful, and so they become eager and willing to learn and contribute. As a result, business performance improves, measurably and fast.’ (Molly Kittle Bunchball 2016).


The barriers are more pedagogical and social than technical.


Baby Boomer managers want to hide information and maintain control, teachers want to be in control of knowledge delivery and everyone wants a minute-by-minute measurement of academic subjects confirming their own views of a social hierarchy established in the 20th century.


Formal managed courses teach the wrong skills, with core subjects based on theory rather than experiential learning.


The evidence of all this is the Skills Gap which is a global problem costing more“$19 trillion per year” (OECD 2016)., That’s almost as large as the US economy.


So, we are just accepting the benefits of informal learning and the current e-learning systems are not equipped to deliver it despite a revenue of more than “$51.5 billion in 2016” (Docebo 2016).


How much is a system worth if it delivers for everyone, solves a $19 trillion problem and is freely available?


The learning management system, formal education and formal training are dead – long live social and informal learning bringing in an era of addictive enjoyable personalised learning paths. Kasper Spiro you have predicted the future accurately.




Photo Attribution


Photo att photo credit: Pascal Volk <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/65149948@N06/35612616651″>Grabstein auf dem Invalidenfriedhof</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>ribution