How Is eLearning Like the Company T-shirt?

Answer: One Size Does NOT Fit All

No two learners are alike, yet far too often, corporate training treats all learners the same.

One-size-fits-all training might seem efficient — after all, you only have to create a single training module — but if you look at the details that matter, you find that putting all of your employees through the same training is like trying to get them all to wear the same size and style of T-shirt. 

For a few, the fit will be perfect. 

But for the majority, the fit will be all wrong. It might be too big — a course filled with information they don’t need or already know. It might be too small — a broad but shallow course that lacks crucial details they need to succeed at their work. Either way, you’re left with a product that’s inefficient and costly.

Adaptive training offers a superior solution. It’s like letting your employees order their T-shirts from a well-stocked online store with a really great personal-shopper chatbot. They end up with exactly what they need; each learner gets a T-shirt with the company colors and logo, but their T-shirts fit their differing sizes and styles. In the same way, adaptive learning delivers your content, tailored to ensure a perfect fit for each individual learner.

To understand why, let’s start by defining adaptive training and examining the pros and cons of comprehensive training administered to all learners. We’ll then compare that approach with an adaptive training approach.

Adaptive Training: More Than Personalization 

Many learning platforms offer some degree of “personalization,” but that doesn’t get around the one-size-fits-all problem because it doesn’t address the training content. Definitions of adaptive learning vary, but they focus on content and presentation. For example: 

  • In a research paper, “Decoding Adaptive,” Pearson Learning and EdSurge define adaptive learning tools as “education technologies that can respond to a student’s interactions in real-time by automatically providing the student with individual support.”
  • A Forbes article characterizes adaptive training tools as interactive “computer-based or online systems which modify the way material is presented.”

Our definition of adaptive training differentiates between adaptive and personalized learning. In brief, personalization is static while adaptive training is dynamic:

  • Personalization accommodates learners’ preferences, offering a choice of media formats and letting learners choose how and where to consume learning. A bigger-picture take on personalization includes enabling learners to plan learning paths that reflect their job needs and career goals.
  • Adaptive training describes a dynamic quality of the training content. An adaptive training platform delivers different content to each learner, based on the learner’s profile — learning goals, including mastery level — and the learner’s performance. This focuses each learner on content in areas where they are weak and on material in topics where they need to achieve a higher level of expertise.

The Allure — and Risk — of ‘One and Done’ eLearning

Yellow warning sign on a blue background - OttoLearn Adaptive Learning

A single course

Creating a single comprehensive course has its appeal. You do it once, then you don’t have to think about it again. Or do you?

  • Information changes, becomes outdated. Updating a large eLearning module is time-consuming and expensive; learners may use outdated or incomplete content for months between updates.
  • In many industries, practitioners have to recertify annually or prove that they’ve learned new regulations. Your single course requires annual updates.

All learners cover the same content

Teaching all learners the same material saves time and money and ensures consistent levels of competency. Or does it?

  • Not all learners need to know the material at all or at the same level of depth and mastery. You’re wasting people’s time and frustrating them by requiring them to cover material they don’t need to know.
  • Not all learners are starting from the same point. Some have considerable knowledge, others are beginners — and the rest can fall anywhere in between. You’re wasting people’s time and frustrating them by requiring them to cover material they already know.

One-and-done training

Registering all learners for the same course is easy, and you can track who completed the training and show regulators that you’re in compliance. But what does that show?

  • Exposing learners to information once doesn’t guarantee that they’ve learned it.
  • Completing an eLearning course doesn’t mean learners understand, will remember, or are able to apply the material.
  • Learners may miss new or updated content nestled among the same-old, same-old content they went through last year.

A passing grade

Learners all take the same exam, so you can show regulators that everyone has done the training and passed the test. So what?

  • That comprehensive course covers dozens — maybe hundreds — of concepts, ideas, processes, rules. How many questions are on the exam? 25?
  • If everyone gets the same questions, they can easily memorize the answers. Even if they get random questions from a large pool, you’re only asking each learner about a small fraction of the material. Getting a passing grade doesn’t mean … much.

These “benefits” do not look very efficient, cost-effective, or appealing when you examine them closely.

Adaptive Training Offers Targeted, Relevant Learning

A dart board with three yellow darts stuck into the center - OttoLearn Microlearning

Adaptive training takes a completely different approach. It considers learners as individuals. At the same time, creating an adaptive program on a platform like OttoLearn can be efficient and cost-effective. You create an extensive body of content, as you would when designing and developing a single comprehensive eLearning course — but you do not deliver all of it to all learners all at once.

Content is easy to update

Developers create a single pool of content, much like creating a single comprehensive eLearning module — with a key difference. The content is created as short, focused “micro-sized” units. Generally, each unit can stand on its own. Added together, the micro-units form a complete learning and knowledge retention program.

With an adaptive microlearning platform like OttoLearn, it’s easy to update individual elements of the content, like a single Activity. It’s equally easy to add new content, whether expanding the pool of Activities or adding new Concepts or Topics to a course Module. The new and updated content is immediately put into the content pool and delivered to learners, while old content is removed.

With OttoLearn, you get the efficiency of creating content once for all of your learners — and add the efficiency of easily keeping content up-to-date at all times.

Eliminate each learner’s knowledge gaps

A single course Module in OttoLearn serves all learners at all levels — without putting them all through the same training.

That’s the beauty of adaptive training. OttoLearn’s adaptive algorithms use the same pool of content to deliver a unique learning experience to each individual. Learners and their managers can set the level of expertise they need, choosing one of five levels ranging from Novice to Expert. Then, based on the learner’s performance and goals, Otto delivers the right content. Otto targets content to eliminate that individual’s knowledge gaps. At the same time, adaptive microlearning avoids the inefficient trap of forcing learners to spend time on material they know or that they don’t need to cover. If they need to quickly search for training content in the moment, they can also treat Otto as performance support tool.

Highly engaging learning

OttoLearn adaptive microlearning goes far beyond tracking whether a learner completed training and recording their test scores. Otto reminds learners to engage with training Activities and other gamified training content every day — or on a schedule the learner or manager chooses — and tracks their engagement and their mastery level. Otto also tracks the learner’s progress and performance and their confidence in their responses.

The OttoLearn algorithms use all of this information to determine which Activities to deliver to each learner. Otto:

  • Fills knowledge gaps and strengthens recall through spaced repetition, by reminding learners of information often enough to cement it in their long-term memory
  • Presents more complex material as learners’ mastery increases
  • Exercises information in multiple ways, to test not only recall but understanding and ability to apply the information in everyday scenarios

 Otto will even deliver a weekly report to managers, detailing each employee’s progress and highlighting their new mastery level or identifying areas where they might need additional coaching.

Continuous microlearning improves knowledge retention

Many learners take “annual” training courses to meet legal or company requirements and take a single test at the end, covering a small amount of the content. Then they’re done for the year.

With OttoLearn, learners train every day or several times a week — all year long, year in and year out. They get different content each day, and they can add Topics or Modules or increase their mastery goals at any time.

In this way, OttoLearn adaptive microlearning thoroughly covers and reinforces all of the content that each learner needs to know. Learners see content often enough to remember it — but not so often that they simply memorize it by rote.

Adaptive Training Works

In a paper published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2018, researchers S. Hubalovskya, M. Hubalovskab, and M. Musilek found that adaptive learning improved the learning effectiveness of elementary-school pupils. Their definition of learning effectiveness considered both the accuracy of the learners’ work and the amount of time they spent on it. Thus, of two learners who answered correctly, the learner who answered more quickly was deemed to be learning more effectively.

They found that adaptive eLearning improved learner effectiveness by reducing wasted time and allowing learners to skip some material. They stated, “The learning effectiveness decreases with routine completion of simple exercises. Pupils thus lose motivation.”

In other words, using adaptive learning allows learners to focus on more challenging material, which they find more engaging. Rather than waste time on repetitive material they already know, learners stretch their knowledge — while spending less time on training. Extrapolated to a corporate setting, the result is that learners spend less time away from work and they get more benefit from the time spent on relevant and challenging training.

In “Decoding Adaptive,” the authors wrote, “Adaptive learning tools collect specific information about individual students’ behaviors by tracking how they answer questions. The tool then responds to each student by changing the learning experience to better suit that person’s needs, based on their unique and specific behaviors and answers.”

OttoLearn does all of this — and goes farther — by:

  • Tracking both learners’ responses and their confidence level to better identify knowledge gaps
  • Allowing learners to choose a unique learning path and the depth of knowledge they need

Completing training is meaningless if learners don’t retain and can’t apply the learning. Stop trying to force all of your learners to wear the same T-shirt. Ensure a perfect fit for each learner with OttoLearn adaptive microlearning

OttoLearn uses nine proven principles of learning science to drive real results. Learn more in The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn

ProTip: By default, the languages you add will be inactive until you finish inputting all your translations. Having each language set to inactive until it’s ready to use prevents learners from being presented with a Module in multiple languages. For example, you don’t want learners to do a Learning Session and read one Concept in English and the next in French. 

Once you have added all your translations, you can set a language to active using the toggle. You’ll also be able to change the Module’s primary language (the language in which it is presented to learners by default).

In our next post, we’ll look at how learners can set up the language(s) in which they receive content. Stay tuned!

  • For learning content to enter and remain in a learner’s long-term memory, the learner needs multiple exposures to the content. Long-term encoding “needs opportunities for rehearsal and repetition,” Jan Breckwoldt et al. wrote in a study on mass vs. spaced learning.
  • Repeated exposures alone are not as helpful as spaced repetitions that ask learners to recall and apply information — and especially when learners have to use that information in different ways, many studies have found (for example Rohrer, Lin et al., and Bjork and Bjork).
  • The ability to remember information depends on the number of times a learner encounters it and the interval between repetitions, according to Tabibian et al.



Access to knowledge or performance support tools

Achieving a worthwhile or meaningful goal

Achieving a reward — a grade, a badge, points, a prize

Receiving an unexpected reward

Contributing to improving a project or a product

Wanting to be perceived as a team player, wanting to be liked

Improving performance or effectiveness relative to own past performance

Improving performance or effectiveness relative to coworkers; “winning” or being the best

Knowing enough to avoid making mistakes and do better work

Losing status or levels within a gamified framework as the result of making a mistake

Feeling of completing a task, accomplishing a goal, finishing a project

Doing the “right” thing — following rules or norms, being ethical

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance training program well designed?

    Prosecutors will look at whether the training is designed to prevent and detect wrongdoing and whether management is enforcing the program by means of training, incentives and discipline.

  2. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? In other words, is the program being implemented effectively?

    Prosecutors are expected to directly investigate whether a program is merely a “paper program” or a sincere effort. Evidence of a company-wide commitment to ethics and compliance, promoted by senior and middle management, is needed.

  3. Does the corporation’s compliance training program work in practice?

    Good intentions and training don’t count if they don’t work; in assessing whether the program “works in practice,” prosecutors will look at how the suspected misconduct was detected, what the company’s investigation process is and how the company is trying to correct the problem.

Microlearning delivers small, narrowly focused bits of information.

Adaptive microlearning tailors that content to each learner’s knowledge gaps and learning goals, ensuring the training is relevant.

Continuous adaptive microlearning conditions each learner to engage with relevant training every day — for just a few minutes.

Current Rank

Previous Rank




Personalization/adaptive delivery



Artificial intelligence



Learning analytics



Collaborative/social learning



Micro learning



Learning experience platforms



Virtual and augmented reality



Mobile delivery



Consulting more deeply with the business



Showing value



Performance support



Neuroscience/cognitive science









Developing the L&D function

No items found.

When people have a question or don’t know how to do something, what do they do?

Whip out a smartphone and look for information. What they don’t do is sign up for a 1-hour seminar.

Microlearning brings corporate eLearning into the modern paradigm. Microlearning describes eLearning content that is:

  • Narrowly focused
  • Short
  • Available on demand
  • Mobile-first or mobile-friendly

It must answer a question, meet an immediate need, or help the learner solve a problem.

In the City of BigTown, there was held a conference,
One of training professionals — those making a difference.
A difference to company ROI by delivering training,
From many perspectives — like Manufacturing.
And, too, there were call centers, colleges, corporate sectors,
Each chiming in about outcomes and metrics.
All shipped their training through an LMS platform,
But were desperately seeking true training reform.


One was Antonio, who hated the manuals —
For his product revisions and updates, they were annual.
Plus his printing costs? Oh, they were crazy!
And he truly believed that franchisors were hazy.

None knew how to train in an effective way,
"There’s too much to read, to do!” they’d all say.
For there were many levels of training to assign,
From the top at head office, down to those on the front-line.

Trainers Helen and Abinash nodded, “We agree!”
Said Feng, "Paper and handbooks? Just another dead tree.
On the job, not everyone will have the info they need,
Because the content changes and updates they never did read.
They never learned the content added along the way
That may apply to their region or division today.
Plus, in the field with team members in many locations,
Mobile-first training would make a stronger foundation!

Said Sales trainer Jane of her PDFs stored online,
“They’re rarely revisited after onboarding time.
I need content delivered in snack-sized bites,
And the ability to test them until they get it right.”
chimed in, "Onboarding’s a pain for new hires,
With most feeling like their hair is on fire!
Plus, promoted reps must refresh what they know
To be properly prepared to perform their new role."

"I deal with compliance," sighed Manal the Banker.
Abinash nodded, Frank turned to thank her,
For she’d raised the ugliest concern of them all —
That certifications aren’t based on year-long recall.
“To maintain the standards and follow each rule,
We need more than one test that comes out of the blue.
When it comes to things like health & safety, it's a game-changer
Because if their training is lacking, they could be in danger.”


Continuing he asked, “Could training be location-specific?
As learners move through the plant, alerts would be terrific!”
Helen asked who used traditional classroom training
Combined with online to keep interest from waning.
Did they have workshops, seminars, or events,
The kind that take workers away from their desk?
"They learn at that moment, then likely forget —
is there a way to get long-term retainment?”

Rachel had been quiet, she’d said not a word,
When suddenly she leaned in so her voice would be heard.
"We solved these concerns after ditching binders and books —
We use daily drip training and our learners are hooked!
When we update our content, it gets to them faster,
And metrics and KPIs reveal the content 'masters.'
We use OttoLearn for microlearning and we’ve been thrilled,
for all of our training needs — and more — are fulfilled."

So ends our tale of the nine trainers complaining
about the problems they had delivering training.
Training that mattered, with metrics and firm ROI,
Based on data analysis of prime KPIs.
Many problems they shared, with no clear resolution,
Found Agile Microlearning with Otto was the solution!
Microlearning both adaptive and agile saved them from disaster,
Making trainers and trainees learn happily ever after!

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Dutch
  • English
  • Filipino
  • French
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Indonesian
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Persian (Farsi)
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Slovak
  • Spanish
  • Thai

Content Studio

  • Combining the question and activity tabs
  • New WYSIWYG editor which is “inline” with the text
  • Ability to include media (images, video, audio) within activities (question, answers and feedback)
  • Icons to indicate correct answer, position locking, whether or not the answer is visible to learners (active), and override feedback

Recently Released

  • Learner password reset
  • Streamlined data entry into the content studio, by being able to quickly add
  • Numerous small updates and bug fixes
  • Check out our most recent updates and add yourself to be automatically notified when we push updates





  • Super easy to understand
  • Very predictable cost, if you have a specific number of users (eg: employees)
  • Doesn’t differentiate between users that have different volumes.
  • Have to purchase seats for your maximum number of users.‍

Active Users
(Typically the number of users that log in during a month)

  • You don’t need a license for every specific user, you can often only license half of your users (since perhaps only half ever log in during a month)
  • Typically there is a large cost for going over your licensed number of users, which can be incredibly expensive (eg: 5-10x more than your licensed cost)
  • You often have to “play games” as an administrator, not wanting to do a mass course enrollment if you have only have your users licensed in a month


What It Means

Why It Matters

Adaptive Learning

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Efficiency. Learners learn the material faster because they spend less time on what they already know.

Personalized Learning

Learners can follow a scaffolded learner path or self-direct their learning.

Learners are inquisitive. We all Google for information when we need it, so why lock learners into a particular learning path?

Learners engage the most when they are allowed to deviate from a set path and explore available content.

At the end of the day, as long as each learner reaches their mastery goal, the particular path they took to reach there is unimportant.


Delivering content to the learner in smaller chunks.

Chunking content is important only if it is paired with the ability to search for and find specific content chunks “on demand” and the ability to consume just the chunks a learner needs. With these features, training doubles as a performance support.

Learning Experience (LX) Design

Using science and art to create experiences that help learners fulfill the learning outcomes they desire, in a user-centered and goal-directed way.1

Have you used Google? If so, then you have benefitted from Experience Design (XD): When you search for something, you rarely have to go past the first result.

With good XD, you don’t think about the design;  it “just works.”

With poor XD, your learners will disengage. They’ll say they “don’t have time.” What they are really saying is that they “don’t have time for the poor experience.”

Artificial Intelligence

Typically, when used in relation to L&D, AI actually means “machine learning.”

Machine learning algorithms learn from data and “get smarter” over time.

Have you used Netflix or Amazon recommendations? They are based on machine learning.

The algorithms look at a ton of data, including your past choices and choices made by others who are similar to you, to make predictions as to what you will want to watch or buy.

In L&D, machine learning principles are being integrated in much the same way: to provide recommended content for a learner to consume.

This reduces the burden on training administrators to try to predict or guess what is relevant for each learner. It also provides a more personalized experience for each learner.

Imagine that you are a salesperson, and your training mix subtly and automatically shifts, based on the nature of opportunities in your sales pipeline. You are offered training only on available products that you have not already mastered. That would be a training program that is driven by machine learning.

Learning Analytics

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Use learning analytics to make better decisions by converting data into insights.
The true value is not just in providing more data, more charts, and more graphs. The value is in leveraging AI to search for and surface insights that you’d never think to look for.

Combine the analytics from learners’ performance with key KPIs for the outcomes you desire, and have the analytics engine generate predictions such as, “Learners who reach mastery in the Objection Handling module will close 3.4 percent more deals.”

Now that’s actionable intel.


14% of organizations are experimenting with artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning and live chat (up from 6% in 2016)
30% of organizations are using games and simulations (up from 20% in 2016)
Fastest growth segments include continuous learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR)
  • English
  • Chinese
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Slovak
  • Spanish
The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Adaptive MicrolearningThe Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Microlearning

Hi Josh,

About a week before I began getting my Ottolearn Mastery Moments, I had a popup window from Adobe appear on my screen as I was working on another project, prompting me to update my version of Flash. We do use Flash, so like an idiot, I clicked on the popup and asked it to start the update—and only then noticed that the url was not an adobe address. Of course, I closed the popup window using the X in the upper corner, which didn’t solve anything. Our IT guys did the best they could for me, but my computer is still compromised, and is being replaced.

Fast forward to Ottolearn and your Online Security for Employees course. After completing several mastery moments, I have now learned what to do with popups like that. This morning, as I restarted my computer again, that same Adobe popup appeared and this time I was ready! I opened task manager and killed that little $%^&^ dead in its tracks.

I know the point of letting us try out OttoLearn as participants was for us to experience the power of this platform from the learner’s point of view. I can tell you that I personally am very grateful for the training you provided to me, and the fact that I was able to let others in my company know how to kill off those nasty virus-carrying popups. Yes, it works. Yes, it’s fun! And yes, I have a true feeling of accomplishment.

I can’t wait for the point at which we can talk more about developing courses for our clients.

Thank you!




New accounting rules

Workplace violence & harassment prevention


Framing a basement

Changing a tire



Perceived Relevance

No items found.

Retrieval practice is the key to retention.

Your brain wants to be as efficient as possible. Why would it try to encode information for long term storage if it thinks you don’t need it? You need to actually practice retrieving memories (information) in order to have your brain store it in long-term memory.

Spaced retrieval radically improves learning efficiency.

You not only need to practice retrieving information from memory, but you need to wait until you’re on the edge of forgetting it. This is why cramming is so ineffective at generating long-term retention.

Interleaved learning feels strange at first, but dramatically improves retention and skill.

Interleaved learning—mixing up material while learning and practicing, such as mixing up practice activities while learning WHMIS and supervisory skills, will improve your retention of both.





  • Cost predictability. Each seat costs you $x/month
  • Typically more expensive than a usage-based license


  • Typically less expensive than a seats license
  • Cost variability tempered by pre-purchasing usage credits that never expire and consume them over time

Engagement Factors




  • Best possible quadrant for engagement 
  • Will overcome learning obstacles
  • Will find a way to learn, even if materials are poor  
  • Won’t need nudging or incentives
  • Text is great
  • Can easily learn something
  • May need to work up the energy to engage in low quality materials  
  • May procrastinate, so incentives can help motivate.
  • Text is great


  • Wants to learn
  • Has little experience so can benefit from more instructional quality
  • Greatest benefit of video and other rich media
  • Worst possible quadrant  
  • May not have experience in the topic
  • May not really care about it
  • Will require a lot of motivation to see engagement
  • Video can help



Perceived Relevance

Neovation Learning Solutions Team - OttoLearn Microlearning is a product of Neovation Learning Solutions

Want the benefits of gamified eLearning at your organization?

Improve your learning culture with gamification features designed to motivate!

eLearning Learning

Want to stay updated?

Subscribe to the OttoLearn blog mailing list and never miss another post!

Get the latest Otto news!

Stay current—read all about the latest OttoLearn release updates in our release notes.

View the Release Notes

Extra! Extra! Read all about it:

Want even more? Check out the full blog archive.