Instructional Scaffolding Flexibly Supports all Learners

Every learner starts training with a unique combination of prior knowledge and experience.

That’s a big reason that one-size-fits-all learning is such a flop. It’s also an argument for building in plenty of instructional scaffolding when you design eLearning.

That’s as true for designing microlearning content as it was when you were creating those comprehensive mega-courses. (You don’t do that anymore, right?)

What is instructional scaffolding?

Instructional scaffolding provides a framework to support and guide learners to increased competency in a skill or deeper knowledge of a concept or topic. It provides beginners with a way to break down a complex concept or process into manageable pieces.

Conceptual scaffolding can, according to researchers Minchi Kim and Michael Hannafin, “help students to identify essential knowledge gaps between what they already know and what they need to know,” while strategic scaffolds encourage learners “to consider alternatives to framing, addressing and resolving problems and often involve different stakeholder perspectives and cultural interpretations” (Kim and Hannafin, 2011).

Scaffolding is a way to steer beginners toward deeper understanding by helping them identify and start with the foundational information. The goal is moving them toward increasingly independent performance. Instructional scaffolding also helps learners build connections between ideas and concepts, helping them to remember information better and retain it longer.

Characteristics of instructional scaffolding

Key features of scaffolding include:

  • It’s temporary, hence the comparison with construction scaffolding.
  • It helps learners bridge learning or knowledge gaps or break a complex topic into simpler parts, which the learner explores one by one.
  • It’s provided by experts — instructors — to less-knowledgeable learners.
  • It anticipates common errors and guides learners through or around them.
  • It allows more advanced learners to skip the scaffolded content and other learners to fade their use of it as their knowledge retention and confidence grow.
  • It provides learners with an example or clear idea of what their end goal should be; this might be a performance goal or a skill.

When eLearning was new, and when many workers were still novice users of online technology, all eLearning needed scaffolding simply to build learners’ ability to use online training. That’s very meta but … in some industries and with many learner populations, it’s still wise to include scaffolding to guide use of eLearning. Assuming that learners are familiar with technology has gotten many an instructional designer into deep hot water with learners!

Support frameworks take many forms

Adult woman wearing glasses and a brown cardigan reads a text book while standing in front of several shelves filled with books. Instructional Scaffolding - eLearning Best Practices - OttoLearn Agile Microlearning

Instructional scaffolding shows up in many formats and situations. It can be static — guidelines, procedures, documents — or dynamic, even interactive, such as cues, prompts or coaching. Scaffolding might show up in these ways:

  • User templates are a form of scaffolding. Some learners and employees may never stop using these, as they are great time-savers and allow an employee to focus on the content of a document or presentation rather than its design.
  • Libraries of resources provide scaffolding. Any learner who needs additional background info, definitions and introductory material or a deeper dive into some aspect of the learning can branch off the main instructional content and explore the resources.
  • Handouts in a face-to-face learning environment or referenced documents provide scaffolding.
  • Examples and explanations provided as part of course materials or as additional resources provide scaffolding.  
  • Microlearning itself may serve as scaffolding. Using microlearning as a pre-training resource, for example, offers novice learners an opportunity to master some foundational concepts and “catch up” to more experienced peers before the training “main event” begins.
  • Coaching or detailed instructions on how to do something, whether installing a customer’s cable service or providing feedback to a direct report, can be a form of scaffolding.
  • Mentor relationships could be considered scaffolding for new managers.

A scaffolded environment is a safe learning environment where learners can make mistakes and learn from them, create shared goals with peers or managers and pursue those goals, at their own pace, within a supportive structure.

Instructional scaffolding and eLearning

When learning occurs entirely online, learners may never have contact with an instructor. Scaffolding becomes an essential support to encourage learners to progress toward independent learning and the ability to apply their training.

Along with conceptual and strategic scaffolding, researchers Nurul Jumaat and Zaidatun Tasir identify two additional types of instructional scaffolding that are useful in eLearning environments: procedural, which guides learners to use available tools; and metacognitive, which “guides students on what to think during learning.”

Metacognitive scaffolding has been found to encourage reflective learning and collaboration with a community of learners who have shared goals or tasks. Procedural scaffolding can point learners to tools in the LMS or in a microlearning app that help them succeed — for instance setting individual learning goals and scheduling automated reminders to complete their training.

Build scaffolding into microlessons

Even the smallest unit of learning content — a microlearning unit — can incorporate scaffolding. In fact, microlearning is a best practice for instruction; by breaking content into digestible pieces, designers create a form of scaffolding that helps to prevent information overload, according to researcher Maria Schutt.

An adaptive microlearning platform like OttoLearn builds in several types of scaffolding, while ensuring that learners are not forced to repeatedly review content they have already mastered:

Knowledge map

OttoLearn content is created according to a knowledge map that orders content logically, ensuring that basic skills are mastered before learners are expected to complete advanced Activities. For example, a sales team member would learn terms and basic product features first. Next, they would learn simple sales skills, then practice basic scenarios. Only then would the learner be exposed to Activities presenting advanced sales scenarios or be asked to problem-solve.

Learning goals

It’s easy to set individual learning goals in OttoLearn. Managers or training admins can determine the level of expertise the learner needs, from Novice to Expert, in one or more Topics. OttoLearn’s algorithms then deliver content on the selected Topics and quickly determine whether the learner needs to start at the very beginning or is ready for more complex content. Targeting content in a logical order that meets the individual learner’s needs is a way of providing scaffolding.

Relative importance

Instructional designers can determine a relative importance for each Concept to ensure that more important or foundational Concepts are mastered before learners see content on advanced Concepts.


OttoLearn supports two types of prerequisites that can serve as scaffolding:

  • A Mastery prerequisite consists of Topics or Concepts that a learner has to master before moving on to a more advanced Topic or Concept. An example might be learning the Cyrillic alphabet before tackling vocabulary lists written in Russian, or learning a measurement system before attempting a simple recipe.
  • An Exploration prerequisite exposes learners to some content — an Activity or Concept — from a basic Concept before getting access to content from more advanced Concepts.


Rather than giving learners a summative assessment or quiz, OttoLearn breaks assessment into tiny chunks and provides it, along with formative feedback, in every Activity. According to Adam Shaw at the Center for Teaching and Learning, conducting continuous assessment with feedback enables an instructor or, in this case, the OttoLearn algorithm, to flag errors and learner misperceptions early and correct them, saving the learner from internalizing incorrect information.


OttoLearn encourages learners to think about and evaluate their learning by asking them how confident they are in their response to each Activity. Shaw states that this type of scaffolding helps learners take responsibility for their own learning, the ultimate goal of all instructional scaffolding.

Build a framework for learner success with OttoLearn

Move novice employees toward expert-level mastery of essential skills and knowledge using a scaffolded, learner-friendly platform: OttoLearn Agile Microlearning. Provide the level of guidance each learner needs to achieve their individual learning goals in an engaging, accessible, mobile-first learning experience.

Interested in learning more? Read The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn to discover the nine proven principles of learning science that drive OttoLearn’s success.

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.