Microlearning opportunities with autoresponders

Earlier this year, I took part in an online Open Badge Boot Camp. It presented a completely different approach to other open learning opportunities I had pursued.

I was hooked by the process used in the Boot Camp and really engaged with the content. I say hooked but I was annoyed too. Each of the five sessions shared by email had a GIF as a header to the email. I think the annoyance of cats yawning and penguin chicks in photo shopped top hats did focus my attention on the content.

I was so engaged that I completed the course in one day.

My reflection on the Boot Camp was that it provided microcontent that I unlocked when it was timely for me. The email structure surprised me with its invitational tone.

I wondered if I could achieve this kind of engagement with my open learning designs. To date I have been keen to construct non-linear learning opportunities but Boot Camp has encouraged me to think about alternatives.

Fortunately I have found some resources to help me.

Doug Belshaw has written a detailed post about the Boot Camp process. 

The design team’s approach:

We wanted something fun and engaging, as there are so many boring, corporate ways of doing credentials. We also wanted something that provided information on-demand, and allowed individuals to receive a badge in recognition of creating their first one. For this reason, experimented with a self-paced email course. The idea was that the person signing-up should be able to go through it as quickly as they want to.

Each email provided what we hoped was just enough information to complete a short activity, before they clicked on the button to receive the next email.

As the whole thing was automated, we had no way of checking whether the individual had in fact completed the activity. But that wasn’t the point.

The mechanics of the course:

We created a mini email-based course where people signing-up were walked through what we consider to be ‘badge basics’.

The workflow was automatic using MailChimp’s automation tools. As soon as an individual clicked a button to say they were ready for the next email, it arrived in their inbox within minutes.

We had to create specific pages on our website to trigger the next email. You can see the code behind the specific section of our website for Badge Bootcamp here.

The only manual part of the process was the badge issuing itself. One of us had to go into the MailChimp dashboard on a regular basis, and copy/paste the details of those who had finished the course into OpenBadges.me.

Doug acknowledged the impact of Paul Jarvis on the design of the course and shared a link to Paul’s 2014 guide to creating a self-paced email course. Paul was looking for a way to support an email course:

I remembered the autoresponders feature in my newsletter application (I use MailChimp, although every newsletter software has it). I could trigger lessons with autoresponders and deliver course material to where most people spend most of their day: the inbox.

His advice includes:

How to send a final welcome email.

Setting up the first lesson and autoresponder

A url for each lesson

Create autoresponders for subsequent lessons

Setting up reminder emails

Karen Maloney has provided some additional information about autoresponders in her 2016 post. She includes a video demonstration of setting up Mailchimp. Karen notes:

Autoresponder messages can take the form of one-off emails, or a series of emails sent out in response to specific conditions based on a pre-defined workflow.

Each email will need to be created, related to a subscriber list and assigned a “trigger” i.e. you need to give the conditions for the email to be sent. For example, this may be on joining a list, 3 hours after, one day after, 2 weeks after – or even on a specific day and time.

She shared this example of a workflow:

Julie Neidlinger produced her Ultimate Guide to Creating an Email Autoresponder Course in 2014. She suggests:

An email autoresponder course is a true workhorse for your blog. It helps establish your expertise, it creates trust, and frankly, it’s a fantastic exchange between you and your readers. Both of you get what you want.

She recommends we determine:

the length of the autoresponder course

the length of individual emails

the frequency of emails

the appearance of the email

My next step is to synthesise all these insights and to plan my workflow to try out an Open Boot camp approach. I liked the five email model. I can see how I might use these courses as a modular approach to microlearning.

I have had a dormant MailChimp account for some time and I hope with Doug, Paul and Karen’s help to resurrect it.

… but there will be no gifs otherwise I will miss my target


Expertise and Personal Differences: #coachlearninginsport


I had two excellent reading opportunities today.

Although neither was about sport specifically both sent me off thinking about the learning environments we create in sport.

David Ireland, in The Conversation, wrote about machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). He observed:

Game-playing AI still cannot foresee every possible game play and, just like us, has to consider the options and make a decision on what move to make.

His article compared computers to humans. I enjoyed his references to eye movements of expert chess players as they select a move and research into novice and expert chess players who were asked to reproduce the board from memory. Expert players were able to reconstruct the board much more accurately than novice players.

David concludes his discussion with a consideration of the role AI will play in our cultures. He asks:

if true artificial intelligence is established, will it begin with an explosion of intelligence or something smaller and imperceptible?

His article left me thinking about tacit knowledge and how coaches might create learning environments to support dynamic understanding.


This is where my second reading connected. Doug Belshaw was writing about Open Badges. In his post he mentioned differential ontology. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy notes:

Differential ontology, understands the identity of any given thing as constituted on the basis of the ever-changing nexus of relations in which it is found, and thus, identity is a secondary determination, while difference, or the constitutive relations that make up identities, is primary.

It is going to take me some time to work through the philosophical underpinnings of differential ontology but my take home is that by embracing an approach that sees difference as a starting point rather than the outcome of coaching we start to explore some of the tacit understanding that artificial intelligence is seeking to include.

In such an environment, we work to connect learners and appreciate that such work is co-creative and fallible. It is profoundly potent too as a dynamic space.

Photo Credits

Starlings (S3aPhotography, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Starling (Dave Gunn, CC BY-NC 2.0)


6016461865_4d0415581a_bI have not written many posts in the past two months. I have been a peripheral participant in many conversations and have admired from afar the insights and wisdom being shared.

This week a post from Stephen Downes was a catalyst for this post about c-ness.

Stephen linked to Dan Pontefract’s post The Organisation as a Cycling Peloton. Dan suggested “Maybe if we were to act like a peloton in our organizations, we might see higher levels of employee engagement”. Dan liked the idea that a peloton (particularly in recreational cycling): shared the load; communicated proactively; encouraged and recognised effort.

For some reason, I am not sure why, I started thinking about discussions of the forms MOOCs take. If there are cMOOCs, I wondered if there were cPelotons. The c-ness of both activities seems to promote cooperation and reciprocal altruism. I liked Gordon Lockhart‘s discussion of the c-ness of MOOCs. In a post earlier this year, Gordon observed:

cMOOCs are very peculiar beasts. I was first thrown by one in 2011 (CCK11) when it dawned on me that, contrary to what was on the tin, a cMOOC wasn’t a ‘course’ at all. Instead, a heady amalgam of ‘massive’, ‘open’ and ‘online’ was leading to a quite extraordinary place where the normal rules of learning engagement just didn’t apply. There were a couple of facilitators but no teachers. Participants were encouraged to create and maintain their own blogs. Social media was used for discussion and sharing resources. Topics were explored together, connections made and groups were formed and maintained long after the MOOC was over. cMOOCs never die – I still check out the CCK11 page on Facebook.

2186106604_78dd38ebb8_bI am particularly interested in cSOOCs. I think of the courses as Small rather than Massive. In the last two months, I have been delighted to have participated in an Introduction to Box’Tag cSOOC. I have been wondering if the C might be a community rather than a course. When I explored this idea, Stephen Downes responded with this observation:

courses have start and end dates, and communities don’t. So if your thing has a start and end date, it’s a course. It may foster and support community, but it’s something different. (Stephen’s emphasis)

Thanks to Stephen’s clarification, I do think this blending of courses and communities is part of the transformation Terry Heick discussed recently and is linked to the reflection Debbie Morrison discussed in regard to MOOCs. I think this blend is nourished by c-ness.

As a result of Stephen’s point, I realise when I discuss cSOOCs, I should specify that these are available after the ‘end’ of moments of concentration of collaborative or cooperative activity. They remain as resources in the dispersed communities they were designed to foster and support. Their c-ness includes: content creation, open and free sharing and personal responsibility for learning.

OopsI went missing in the discussion of accreditation in Performance Analysis too. I have been meaning to respond to the conversation around accreditation and the debate about unpaid internships. My tardiness meant that I could not find the unpaid intern position at Wigan Athletic advertised on the UK Sport website nor a position at Reading. But I did find Intern Aware and their discussion of the ethical issues related to unpaid internships and their illegality. There was coverage of the unpaid internship at Reading (including this Huffington Post UK post).

I thought Dave Willoughby provided an excellent discussion of internships in his post Unpaid Internships in Performance Analysis: My View. I liked his concluding statement:

I’m not asking for the earth, I don’t expect to be paid as much as Yaya Toure or Wayne Rooney, but if I’m doing a job that is valued I would at least expect to be paid enough to live on. I want to make a difference and help a team excel and achieve their potential, the sooner clubs realise the talent pool they are missing out on the better.

My involvement in the accreditation discussions about Performance Analysis are driven by a desire to infuse the process with c-ness. I would like to be part of a group that is able to form a consensus about standards and equivalence. Doug Belshaw‘s discussion of Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standard has focussed my attention this week. I am mindful that I need to support more effectively the advocacy lead by Jason Lear, Darrell Cobner and Josh Bryan amongst others.

I was around at the time the International Society of Performance Analysis in Sport (ISPAS) was founded and have followed the society’s development with interest. I note that ISPAS has shared its membership model on its Facebook page. I am hopeful that as an industry stakeholder, ISPAS might engage in accreditation discussions that have c-ness dispositions. I wondered if the sport technology hardware and software suppliers might do the same.

Together we could have a mutually assured system of accreditation that involves recognition of prior learning. The system could have many entry and exit points and could be mapped against tertiary education award schemes.

This leads me to a final point in this post.

I wonder if we can have an open accreditation system (cAccreditation) that has a modest fee for service (xAccreditation) that sets an open standard to assure the quality of performance analysts and to support the employment aspirations of generations of analysts.

Martin Lugton raises a very interesting point about cMOOCs and about c-ness:

cMOOCs are not proscriptive, and participants set their own learning goals and type of engagement. They won’t necessarily walk away with a fixed and tested set of specific skills or competencies, or knowledge of a set body of content. This makes cMOOCs tricky to grade or assess or certify. This, combined with the fact that the platform is totally open, means that they probably aren’t very easy to make any money from.

4337007744_70e6e21022_bWe are a very small industry and I am hopeful that we could develop an inclusive model that is sufficiently invitational that participating in it is ‘natural’ for our community of practice. We could share openly our practices and experiences to curate the most remarkable continuing professional development resources. We would be a great crowdsourcing professional organisation that might be sustainable by offering our shared energies in service of the common good. We could make c-ness work for us by anchoring our diversity in some fundamental principles.

We would be a cPeloton: sharing the load; communicating proactively; encouraging and recognising effort. Even on the hors catégorie climbs we could be a flat organisation.

Photo Credits

DSC_5645 (Roger Nilsson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rainbow Over Innovation Park (Yorkali Walters CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Page not Found (UK Sport, accessed 27 April 2013)

No Safety Net Project 365(2) Day 5 (Keith Williamson, CC BY 2.0)