Having been in this business for 33 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes occur with eLearning tools, some for the better and some for the worse. There is no doubt that we are in the midst of another transformative state in the eLearning world with new tool and platform solutions popping up in the market.
I’ve made mention that, at times, I see new tools that I find truly disappointing because they don’t seem to have much instructional value, only a strong sales message that seems to be geared toward corporate accountants rather than learning executives. I don’t write reviews on tools I don’t like, because I would rather focus on those tools I think will be helpful to you, the learning professional.
While some new tools and platforms are lacking in many ways, others I find unique and innovative. There’s no question in my mind that most organizations are not happy with the choices of learning management systems (LMSs) that are available to them. LMSs, especially those constrained by SCORM, don’t give enough meaningful data results. So now we are seeing options for significant corporate learning that are moving past the traditional LMS at an increasingly fast pace, bringing new learning opportunities to market that go far beyond managing and authoring courses and content. I see this as a very good trend.
An employee knowledge platform
Axonify is one such offering that I’ve found. While Axonify straight-out states that it is not an LMS, it has a few similarities but then goes a whole lot further into the world of building, measuring, and adjusting employee knowledge. It calls itself an “employee knowledge platform,” and in many ways it’s evident that it is built on new technologies and practices. It is currently geared toward larger commercial enterprises with a particular focus on five verticals:
- Workplace safety
- Professional sales
- Call centers
- Finance and insurance
However, I see no reason why Axonify can’t be used within a wide range of use cases and industries, given its approach to the ecosystem of learning that supports the entire journey of learning rather than just the formal training component. In other words, it’s not just about delivering interactive content, but it makes it part of the journey of learning. Figure 1 illustrates how the Axonify company sees the ecosystem of learning, centered on the employee the entire time.
Figure 1:How Axonify sees an employee-centered ecosystem
Having focus areas does not mean that Axonify doesn’t work within other areas, too, but I see the wisdom in having defined vertical markets, especially ones that are as large as those listed above.
So what does the Axonify platform do? How is it different?
The key ideas behind Axonify are:
- Learning should be continuous and reinforced (three to four minutes per day). The Axonify continuous-learning approach is meant to drive business results. It does this with integrated training and transfer, of course, but also by allowing for recurrent learning, which leads to sustainment. Finally, it also acts as knowledge on demand for the organization.
- Micro-sized content is easier to consume, retain, and apply in many, perhaps most, cases. Sometimes I’ve seen the idea of “microlearning” go too far, but there’s no question that it can be much easier to digest shorter learning content, just as we’re told that it would be better for us to eat six small meals a day rather than three big ones.
- I like that Axonify makes it easier to create learning so that it is specific (and adaptive) to each employee based on the employee’s strengths and weaknesses, ensuring that employees get help where they need it and aren’t wasting time where they don’t.
- When employees need an answer, they should have immediate and easy access to information that reflects corporate practices, instead of Googling random pages that may not adhere to company beliefs. Axonify makes this easier, too.
- Axonify does allow delivery of the learning in fun and engaging ways, including the use of game-based play and game mechanics. This helps most employees to stay engaged rather than feel forced to participate in the learning.
- Leaders can also use the platform to gain insight through very good analytic data. This lets them help any employees who seem to be struggling by providing coaching opportunities for those employees.
- I would never be one to say that learning should be a business, but certainly learning should be tied to the actual business in which the employee is engaged. This starts with knowledge acquisition, of course, but Axonify helps to tie the outcome of that to the employee’s behaviors and actions. Finally, it makes it easier to judge whether or not business results are improving because of the learning.
The above could just be buzzwords, but Axonify seems to be doing it right. I say this because the company has put a lot of instructional design thought into the platform. For instance, you can set up Axonify to provide interval reinforcement, also known as spaced repetition. This approach takes important bite-sized content and repeats it over predefined intervals, which greatly increases retention of the learning. Speaking personally, as someone who loves studying languages, I know spaced repetition is crucial to help me learn a language. The truth is, all learning works better when content is shown more than once, which just makes sense. The trick is repeating it at the correct intervals and frequency.
As a platform, Axonify has five specific themes, or “zones” (Figure 2).
Figure 2:Axonify key themes
All components of the Axonify solution are interconnected to drive knowledge growth, behavior change, and bottom-line results. For example, learners receive bite-sized content every day based on their knowledge requirements; managers are fed pertinent information to support coaching efforts; and actual on-the-job behavior is documented and assessed, which then allows appropriate content to be adjusted and pushed out to the learner. Throughout this continuous learning process, employees can always access on-demand knowledge at the point of need—all in one platform. Like any other platform, the more you put into it, the more it’s able to help; but it’s not a difficult process at all.
Each zone serves a specific purpose:
1. Microlearning—Axonify LearnerZone
Axonify delivers short, daily learning bursts that reinforce prior learning or deliver new information to employees via PC or mobile device. The solution was built based on several cognitive-science principles that improve knowledge retention for the long term, allowing employees to maintain their knowledge levels and apply knowledge to the job when it’s needed.
Axonify learners log in to the system each day, and through a “gamified” interface, they participate in a learning session typically consisting of three to five questions and answers. While in the system, learners can review their progress, see how they are stacking up against their colleagues, and bid for or buy a variety of prizes with points accumulated through learning success. If you’ve attended a conference lately, or any large-scale event that offers a mobile app, almost always that mobile app will also encourage attendees to participate by commenting, uploading photos, filling out surveys, etc., and rewarding them a certain number of points for each type of interaction. These types of point systems, used within reason, have proved to increase the number of employees who access the learning and the frequency with which they do it. (See Figure 3.)
Figure 3: Several Axonify mobile lesson screens
You could base a customized learner profile—which defines the learning content to deliver to the learner—on job function, seniority, department, geographic location, hire date, and more. Axonify builds and maintains a “personalized knowledge map” as the learner answers questions, identifying knowledge gaps and delivering learning to fill those gaps. The beauty of this, to me, is that a personalized knowledge map continually adapts to the learner’s progress, moving the learner toward subject mastery. It’s pretty smart.
2. Actionable insight—Axonify LeaderZone
The analytics Axonify provides are pretty sophisticated compared to what we’ve been used to seeing in LMSs. The reports it generates really help to give direct and specific insights into each employee’s level of knowledge. Axonify provides the ability to track and measure knowledge and performance, and even certification, in real time by location, job title, and topic area. (See Figure 4.)
LeaderZone gives managers and leaders insights into each employee to show exactly what they know and don’t know, which helps managers to work with individuals to fill in the gaps where needed, and also to identify the stars among their employees so as to grow their knowledge, improve their on-the job-behaviors, and achieve the business’s objectives.
- Instant access to key team knowledge (experts, knowledge growth, gaps, etc.)
- Insights to influence and drive on-the-job behavior and, ultimately, drive business outcomes
- The ability to communicate and connect with team members
Figure 4: Axonify’s LeaderZone
3. Comprehensive platform control—Axonify AdminZone
This is the tool through which system administrators can set up users and parameters, create learning content, and obtain information to understand and improve system usage. As mentioned, administrators can customize learning paths for each employee on a subject-by-subject basis or on key criteria, such as job role, department, or geography. They can also incorporate a range of content types—including video, the Experience API (or xAPI, aka Tin Can), SCORM, text, or images—so you can in many cases incorporate learning you have already created or that you will create elsewhere.
If there is important information they need to distribute immediately, administrators can also create content quickly and trigger it to display when employees log in for training. To improve platform ongoing usage, administrators can also access a wide range of data, including which games are most popular, which devices are used most frequently for learning, participation rates of each learner, and more.
4. Knowledge on demand—Axonify DiscoveryZone
This is part of the recently released roadmap. It works as a knowledge-on-demand social platform for learners, accessible right within the Axonify learning platform that they already visit every day. Employees can ask questions, network, and help one another in other ways. They can contribute their own expertise, pooling their collective knowledge and bringing it to bear in a way that helps others with similar questions and roles.
Communities are built in the DiscoveryZone. This helps separate relevant content within an organization. You can also create and follow custom-defined and popular trending tags. The popularity of an employee’s input increases by the number of other employees who view and also like it. (See Figure 5.)
Figure 5:Axonify’s DiscoveryZone
5. Behavior observation and results measurement—Axonify ImpactZone
ImpactZone allows the tracking of business results that show how learning changes behavior—in other words, what kind of impact the learning is having on the bottom line of the business. This has long been a difficult item to measure, but Axonify’s approach has a strong measure of credibility because it allows the business to tie its data to the learning so that it’s easier to see when, following learning, safety infraction numbers (for instance) are down, sales numbers or call center metrics have risen, and so on.
The ImpactZone enables organizations to define a set of optimal performance behaviors critical to achievement of business outcomes, and then observe and track them. Behavior observations are automatically evaluated by the platform, which immediately adjusts the training and reinforcement learning bursts that employees receive to best close gaps and achieve application and performance improvement. It’s almost scary.
Over time, especially, the Impact area can demonstrate historical trends and help to forecast what may occur in the next calendar quarter, for instance. In addition, if no impact is seen, it can be tied back to the learning’s not being optimal, and that requires changes in the learning.
Axonify is different. It’s part of a newer crop of technology-driven platforms and tools that allow for the integration and repurposing of learning in many ways. Most interesting to me is how you can use it to assist in understanding how business results are changing as a result of learning, which has long been a difficult data item to measure. Axonify is clearly for larger enterprises, not for small organizations. The more you put into it and the more you use it, the more you will find it can help your enterprise achieve much better results.If you would like to see the product in action, you can check it out at Axonify.com.