Subscription Learning: 7 Steps For eLearning Correspondence

Subscription Learning: 7 Steps For eLearning Correspondence
Estudi Vaque/
Summary: How serving “subscription learning” to employees can be accomplished by using microlearning, spaced repetition, and digital motivation elements.

Subscription Learning: Treating Employees As “Subscribers”

So, what is “subscription learning”? Well, you know you’re in trouble when employees consider classroom training as boring and not related to their “real work”. It gets worse when they can’t find the time for classroom training, since it is at odds with their busy schedules and work tasks. You’ll find yourself arguing with people that claim that work takes precedence over training, especially when the onboarding period is over.

Additionally, you know all about the forgetting curve for newly learned information. Newly-acquired information gets forgotten quite quickly, per Hermann Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve. Information is lost when there is no effort to retain it – and if your training gets labeled as “too long”, “boring”, or as a mandatory requirement with no value, you know you’re hurtling down the forgetting curve.

Forgetting Curve and the Value of Repetition

What should you do?

Most people know the first part of the answer: Use eLearning to replaces classroom-based training.

Yet that isn’t enough, since eLearning can have the exact same pitfalls as classroom training: Getting too long and not repeating learning in a way that creates knowledge retention.

What we propose here, inspired by Will Thalheimer, is to treat your learners as “subscribers” and spread learning over time. Let’s take a look at how this can be done.

1. When Going From Classroom To eLearning, Divide Session Times By 12

When in class courses are long –an hour long for each “chapter”–, participation plummets. Our attention spans are getting shorter and learning styles are changing. So if your eLearning replaced an hour-long classroom session, don’t replace it with an hour-long video! If you do, you may find that people will avoid watching it. This puts learning professionals in an uncomfortable bind: They are perceived as competing for the time of employees rather than assisting the business.

There’s a lesson here. eLearning is a new genre, and it is all about eLearning engagement. Just like movies offer a different way of expression than novels (and most people prefer seeing the movie to reading the book), eLearning changes training. With blended learning you can and should play with the length, learning types, and pace to create learning that is far more engaging and likely to be retained. Our rule-of-thumb suggests dividing hour-long sessions by 12. Instead of one hour-long video, try to go for twelve 5-minute videos or other learning elements.

This type of learning, learning that is engaging and served “right”, sometimes with gamification, actually provides value to your employees. Employees know and appreciate that and so do their bosses: Employees will end up doing their jobs better when trained in a way that is engaging and leads to more knowledge retention.

2. Get To Know Spaced Learning And Spaced Repetition 

According to Wikipedia, spaced learning is

"... a learning method in which highly condensed learning content is repeated three times, with two 10-minute breaks during which distractor activities such as physical activities are performed by the students. It is based on the temporal pattern of stimuli for creating long-term memories reported by R. Douglas Fields in Scientific American in 2005. This 'temporal code' Fields used in his experiments was developed into a learning method for creating long-term memories by Paul Kelley, who led a team of teachers and scientists as reported in Making Minds in 2008."

It inspired spaced repetition, whose practical implementation we discuss here. This is how it is described in Wikipedia:

"Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect".

Subscription learning is ideal for this, since it "sends" the learning pieces, one-by-one, to the employees.

3. Love Microlearning!

Microlearning is a brief nugget of learning, typically 3-5 minutes long. The best way to think about it is as something that drives one specific learning outcome. Delivered on the job, it can counter-act the “forgetting curve”. Microlearning first delivers content in an engaging manner, delivered to users so that they can consume it anywhere (device-wise) and anytime. It then re-engages the user with the content, reinforcing the primary training and driving knowledge retention, by making the learning sticky through reminders.

Other benefits of microlearning are the ability to consume it “just in time” –when the user needs it– and through its digital nature, freeing users to consume it when and where they want (in terms of both time and device type). Microlearning is also ideal for eLearning gamification.

Here's what happens to a course when we break it up into microlearning nuggets:

micro learning

4. Go For Daily/Weekly Interaction

For many companies, the million-dollar-question is how often should be people engaging with eLearning content?

When you come from the classroom training world, the response may be once a month, once a quarter or once a year. But, in the eLearning engagement world, the brevity of the materials and the enormous benefits involved with repeating learning, make for an altogether different model: Daily or weekly interaction with eLearning.

Imagine a world where employees can go through 3-4 nuggets of eLearning initially, and then answer questions or go through simulations that require applying this knowledge. Imagine them engaging with these materials for ten minutes daily over a period of a month. Would this result in better engagement and knowledge retention? You bet.

The idea is to treat learners as if they had subscribed to a learning “newsletter” from you, teaching them a thing or two on a schedule – every 2-3 days. This repeats the knowledge, spacing learning, and ensuring knowledge retention.

It also is much easier to consume from the point of view of the employee, since a daily interaction of several minutes doesn’t seem to interfere with actual work.  It only requires several minutes of downtime.

Below, you’ll find a visual example of setting a subscription-based learning “course”, inspired by Will Thalheimer’s excellent blog.

subscription based learning

5. Use Many Types Of eLearning Media

Subscription learning doesn’t and shouldn’t mean using just one type of learning media. It just doesn't make sense to use the same media -videos, presentations, etc.- over and over again.

For instance, you don’t need 12 videos to replace the one hour in class. We recommend using many content types: Presentations, videos, simulations for branched scenarios, quizzes, and more. Adding brief (and fun) quizzes can also contribute greatly to the success of the program, letting you measure results as you go. Some content types to consider are:

  • Simulations for scenario-based training for branching storylines.
  • Quizzes to assess where learners are on the learning path. Use fun quizzes that can engage users with media, such as video questions, picture answers and more.
  • Blended sessions that combine brief learning on any media – you can add videos, presentations, links, materials from your Learning Management System system and more. Then mix in some quizzes, and cut it into steps, signifying progression and completion at each point in the learning journey.

Always end your communications with calls to action, include email campaigns that prompt action or use reminders.

For instance, GamEffective's next-best-action feature suggests the one thing that’s best for employees to do. It takes the employee profile into account and “checks” the employee’s individual performance. Based on that, it suggests the best action for each employee. This can also be accomplished for learning, by suggesting the next step for learning based on previous learning outcomes (this is where quizzes come in handy, too).

6. Repeat And Re-Engage

Use subscription learning to not only deliver a course but also to repeat elements and test knowledge retention.  This will allow you to assess who needs additional training, more compliance testing etc – and re-serve, on a personalized basis, the knowledge they need.

repeat learning

7. Use Together With Gamification

While subscription learning can work well without gamification, adding gamification and digital motivation closes the loop. It contains the measurement and repetition capabilities, the learning content creation options, and, most importantly, the means to automatically administer such a course and use gamified elements to drive user interest in learning completion. You can learn more here.


To us, the rise of spaced and subscription based learning signals a change in how employees are engaged with learning. Used together with high quality engaging content and engagement through gamification this certainly paves the way!