Top 10 eLearning Myths EXPLODED!

Let’s wrap up the year — and the decade! — by debunking some annoyingly persistent eLearning myths. In true New Year’s fashion, we’ll count down to the top truly terrible myth. Here goes:

10. Brain games improve working memory or make you smarter

Elderly person putting a puzzle in the shape of a head together, pieces where the brain should be are missing - OttoLearn Adaptive Microlearning

“Brain games”, through gamification-focused apps, have become a multimillion-dollar industry, with dubious claims about making people smarter, improving their short-term memory or staving off dementia. They don’t do any of that.

“Our findings and previous studies confirm there's very little evidence these types of games can improve your life in a meaningful way," said Walter Boot, an expert on age-related cognitive decline, in a Science Daily article

People might get better at specific tasks they perform as part of the game, but that improvement doesn’t transfer to their daily lives or improve their memory or thinking skills overall. That’s a useful kernel of information: To improve at a particular task, practice doing that task with spaced repetition. And, if you enjoy the brain games, keep playing — just don’t expect it to make you smarter.

9. If learners enjoy training, they will retain it

So-called “smile sheets” — forms that learners might fill out after training that gauge their opinion of the training experience — are ubiquitous in our industry. They’re also pretty much useless. 

Considerable research has shown no correlation whatsoever between positive survey results — learners saying they thought the training was useful or of good quality — and improved learning or performance results.

Learners may all be asked to complete an evaluation, but only a minority do. So the sample is skewed toward those who care enough —  liked or disliked the training strongly enough — to respond. The questions are often poorly written and vague, and the response options tend to be a Likert scale. Something like strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree. Therefore the results do not offer specific or actionable information.

Most learners are poor judges of whether they will use information on the job. They’re usually asked to evaluate it right after they’ve completed the training, before they really know how useful it will be.

Rather than measuring whether learners enjoyed their training or think it might be useful, it is more meaningful to measure changes in their performance following training — and over time. That’s the best way to determine whether they’ve retained and are using what they’ve learned.

8. Course completion = Learning

The myth that if your learners complete their training, they’ve learned the material is a longstanding canard. Maybe more of a fantasy.

When SCORM became standard and provided, among other benefits, the ability to track who used training, how much time they spent and whether they completed it, those data became magically imbued with meaning.

For a while, it was even enough to show that learners had completed training to get an organization out of legal hot water. But that’s no longer the case. Training has to actually be effective.

Exposing learners to content, once, is not the same as teaching them. And flipping through an eLearning course is not the same as mastering the content. Course completions are a vanity metric that only makes you feel good; they tell you nothing meaningful about your training — or your learners.

7. Interactivity = Engagement

Right up there with thinking that finishing an eLearning course is the same as learning the content is the myth that interactivity — any interactivity — is engaging and means that learners are paying attention.

This myth has led to an avalanche of poorly gamified content that forces learners to move puzzle pieces around, jump through graphical hoops and literally play games — just to earn access to training content. Then they have to, you know, cover the content.

Meaningful interactivity can, indeed, enhance learning and make content stick with learners. But the interactivity has to be deeply connected with the content. For example, asking learners to role play in scenario-based learning or choose the best response to the dilemma posed in an interactive video can get them to think about the issue, apply the material they’ve covered — and come up with the right response.

6. Flashy graphics are essential for engagement

People watching fireworks - OttoLearn Microlearning

You don’t need great graphic design to have great eLearning. In fact, putting too much effort into the graphic design can backfire, when you end up with visually gorgeous content that is not intuitive or accessible.

The best eLearning is useful, accessible and relevant. The design should not add to learners’ cognitive load. That is, learners should not have to expend energy figuring out how to navigate and use the eLearning. The design should be clear, and navigation between elements should be obvious.

Colors, typeface, type size and layout — all elements of the visual design — can enhance or harm your eLearning by making it easier or harder for learners to use.

5. Learners don’t want to read


According to Pew Research, 73% of U.S. adults have read a book (or part of one) in the past year. Millennials are the most likely U.S. adults to visit a public library.

And of course there’s all that reading that is not books. In 2016, Pew found that younger adults preferred reading news to watching or listening to the news, for example.

People read what interests them. They skim (or skip) what doesn’t.

If learners are not reading your eLearning content, it’s not because they dislike reading. It’s because the content is not relevant, it covers material they already know, it is poorly designed or it fails for some other reason.

While trimming content down to the essentials — and offering deeper, more detailed content as additional resources — is a sound principle when designing eLearning, much effective, engaging eLearning still gets learners to read.

4. Learners have the attention span of a goldfish

A close companion of the “learners don’t read” myth is the goldfish myth. This thoroughly debunked stray bit of misinformation from some dubious “research” published several years ago claims that humans’ attention spans are shorter than a goldfish’s, or about 6 seconds. 

Just as people read what interests them, they engage at different depths — according to their interest and their needs — and for different lengths of time.

Often, learners may simply need to look up a fact or remind themselves of how to do something. In those cases, they’re looking for a quick “one-shot” answer. Other times, they might dig more deeply — read a blog post or even watch a short video.

If our attention spans were truly only a few seconds long, it would be impossible to explain blockbuster movies, binge-watching Netflix, teens so absorbed in video games that they don’t hear their parents calling — and so many more examples of people engaging deeply with content.

Attention spans aren’t shrinking. But more and more types of content are competing for learners’ attention. To grab it and hold onto it, content has to be relevant and engaging. That means building your eLearning using great storytelling, compelling visuals, gamified content, and relevant interactivity.

3. Millennial learners only want video

Diverse group of people standing against a wall looking at their phones - OttoLearn Adaptive Learning

In fact, any sentence that starts, “Millennial learners only …” is a myth.

Millennial learners, like millennial employees, are no different from any other generation of learners or workers.

Across the board, from instructor-led training to microlearning to virtual reality-based training, attempts to define learners’ desires, abilities, interests or likelihood of success based on their age cohort have crashed head-on into reality.

A leading virtual reality researcher found, for example, that the appeal of VR-based training has a lot to do with exposure to the technology — and nothing to do with age. That’s likely true for any technology. And, as the “learners don’t read” myth relates, millennials are more likely to head to the library than any other adult age group.

Individual learners are different and have different preferences. But they can’t be defined by their age alone. Their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes are affected by their educational and cultural backgrounds, their financial situations, their interests, their job needs — and a host of other characteristics that make each learner a unique individual.

2. Microlearning has to be video

The myths that learners have vanishing attention spans and that younger learners only want video-based learning combine to drive this myth. Microlearning is simply short, focused, useful learning. It can come in myriad formats — including video.

Effective microlearning exists as:

  • Apps, including games, flash card apps, quiz apps and quick reference guides
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics — static or interactive
  • In the workflow, as performance support tool
  • Digital text, such as blog posts, articles, wiki sites or web content
  • eBooks and PDF documents, especially interactive PDFs
  • Video, including screencasts and animations
  • Short eLearning modules
  • Adaptive microlearning with emphasis on a knowledge retention strategy
  • Chatbots
  • Text messages
  • And many more

Microlearning is not defined by its medium. It’s not entirely defined by its size. It’s defined by a narrow focus — one or two concepts — and its immediate applicability.

1. You should teach to learners’ “Learning Styles”

4 hands each holding up a gear on a sky background - OttoLearn Microlearning

The myth of learning styles is beloved. This could be because it gives learners a reason to explain why they’re struggling with content. It might appeal to educators who want an easy way to “personalize” learning.

Whatever the reason people cling to this myth, they’re mistaken.

Vast amounts of research have found no improvement in mastery or knowledge retention when learners are given materials that play to their supposed or self-identified learning style.

At best, a person’s learning style is a strong preference. Some might prefer video to reading; others choose to listen to podcasts rather than watch videos.

More often, though, the choice of a learning medium is determined by the content itself, the environment where the learner will use it — or a combination of these:

  • People who spend a lot of time in the car might choose podcasts over text or video
  • Learners trying to master a process might watch a video over and over to see how it’s done
  • An employee filling out a once-a-year form might look up an annotated form — an infographic — for a quick refresher
  • A microlearning app might offer quick, frequent mobile-friendly review of product details or terms in the workflow or on the go

None of the preferences described in the examples are innate, hard-wired approaches to learning; they are all choices any learner might make in certain situations.

Myths make for great storytelling, but they can create a less-than-ideal foundation for eLearning design. Better to explode those myths like New Year’s fireworks and work with cognitive science, demonstrated KPI improvement and other proven truths when it comes to building and delivering your online training.  

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

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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!

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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)
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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

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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.

Type of Leave 
Typical Duration
Suggested Action(s) to Manage Notifications
Local or government holiday when most employees have the day off
One day

Depending on your organization, some holidays may apply to most, if not all, of your employees. 

When this happens, we recommend the following: 

  1. Turn off notifications for your OttoLearn account. This will pause all notifications for everyone. 
  2. Set a reminder to turn notifications back on upon return to work.
Local or government holiday when some employees have the day off
One day

Suppose you have a global organization or employees located across multiple regions. In that case, you likely don’t want to turn off notifications for your entire account whenever one region has a government holiday. 

Instead, we recommend the following: 

  1. Set up and assign different engagement schedules for employees based on their region. For example, if you have employees in the United States and Australia, you should set up two engagement schedules and assign them to learners based on location. 
  2. Whenever there is a holiday in one area, edit that specific engagement schedule. An easy way to turn off notifications without your learners losing access to their training is to set the engagement schedule to “Anytime”. 
  3. Set a reminder to change the engagement schedule back to your regular settings upon return to work. 
A few days to a few weeks

With summer in the Northern Hemisphere, you may notice more employees starting to book vacations. Everyone needs time to recharge and take a well-earned break. 

When an employee books a vacation, we recommend the following: 

  1. Turn off notifications for that specific learner, starting the day they leave. This is another time when it is helpful to set a reminder for yourself so you don’t have to remember everyone’s vacation schedule. 
  2. Set a reminder to turn notifications back on when the learner returns to work.
Extended leave
A months or more

There may be times when employees need to take a more extended leave period. For example, when on maternity or paternity leave, a sabbatical, or medical leave. 

When an employee is gone for a longer period of time, you have a couple of options. 

If the leave is temporary, we recommend the following: 

  1. Turn off notifications for that specific learner, starting the day they leave. 
  2. Set a reminder to turn notifications back on when the learner returns to work. 

If the employee will be gone for many months, or may not return, you might want to remove their access to your training. In these situations, we recommend the following: 

  1. Set the learner inactive in your account. To do this, edit their profile and toggle their status to inactive. This will prevent them from accessing your OttoLearn account and stop notifications. 
Single day off
One day

The most challenging scenario to manage is when an employee takes a single day off. Sometimes you may know in advance; other times, the employee may call in sick on a day they were expected to work.

In these scenarios, we recommend taking no action. Employees can simply delete any Ottolearn email notifications when they return to work, or ignore push notifications on their mobile device (or even temporarily silence them). 

If you do not want notifications to go to learners when they are off for a single day, you can also do the following: 

  1. Turn off notifications for that specific learner. 
  2. Set a reminder to turn notifications back on when the learner returns to work. 





  • 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

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