New Tools Prime the Industry for Subscription Learning

Thursday, July 24, 2014

While I coined the term “subscription learning” back in 2006, I was too optimistic about its use. The industry wasn’t really ready to create subscription learning because email was the only way to deliver subscription-learning nuggets—and email didn’t enable any tracking, feedback, or interaction.

But technology is finally available that can make subscription learning a reality. There are now many subscription-learning authoring tools, with more appearing all the time.


Cameo is a subscription-learning authoring tool created by Yukon Learning. It enables learning providers to schedule a series of subscription-learning nuggets and send them through email. It is very big on using scenario-based questions in the learning thread and providing a feedback mechanism that support learner decision making.

Cameo has a way to track how well learners are doing—and whether they have engaged the learning thread. Chris Ayers of Yukon Learning, one of the inventors of Cameo, told me that their clients often get very high completion rates, over 95 percent, especially on threads that are required.

Merrill Collier, of Medtronic CardioVascular, used Yukon's Cameo learning reinforcement emails as follow-up to Yukon's negotiation training—and also to help reps reinforce clinical data scenarios. According to Collier, learner feedback was very positive. Learners especially appreciated how scenarios allowed them to deal with realistic customer situations.



Memrise is another subscription learning authoring tool gaining momentum. Its tool is available in the cloud and features both micro- and macro-spaced learning. With Memrise, a learner will engage with content like this:

  • receive an email
  • respond to a series of micro-spaced interactions (perhaps 10 to 20)
  • wait for another email pointing to more learning (macro-spaced in that it may arrive three, seven, or 10 days later)
  • re-engage with more micro spaced interactions.

In other words, “lather, rinse, repeat!”

DuoLingo is the new major player for subscription-learning connoisseurs, and won Apple's App of the Year Award for 2013.  

Focused on teaching languages, DuoLingo uses both micro- and macro-spaced learning. It also uses some integrated gamification and socialization to make the interactions more engaging. Every e-learning shop should study DuoLingo for ideas on how to improve their e-learning designs.

Flashcard programs

In addition to these fairly sophisticated systems, there are many flashcard-type programs that employ three of the most important subscription learning features:

  1. retrieval practice
  2. feedback
  3. spaced repetitions and interaction.

These systems theoretically can provide good learning outcomes, but authors often use them to create poorly designed learning interactions. The flashcard design pushes many authors to create cue-response learning that doesn’t reflect real-world practical situations. Still, with good instructional design, these programs can be effective. Some of the names in this category include:

See the Subscription Learning website for a whole host of subscription learning providers, and check out in-depth explorations of two popular subscription-learning tools: QMINDshare and SimWriter.

Note: This blog post is excerpted from Will Thalheimer’s newsletter; subscribe to the mail list at or read his blog at

About the Author
Will Thalheimer is a learning expert, researcher, instructional designer, business strategist, speaker, and writer. He has worked in the learning and performance field since 1985. In 1998, Will founded Work-Learning Research to bridge the gap between research and practice, compile research on learning, and disseminate research findings to help chief learning officers, instructional designers, trainers, e-learning developers, performance consultants, and learning executives build more effective learning and performance interventions and environments. He speaks regularly at national and international conferences. Will holds a BA from the Pennsylvania State University, an MBA from Drexel University, and a PhD in educational psychology: human learning and cognition from Columbia University.
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