Subscription Learning for Leadership Development

Friday, July 18, 2014

My previous post discussed how L&D practitioners can build innovative e-learning designs with subscription learning, which consists of “threads” of short learning offerings that typically involve less than five or 10 minutes of engagement.

Now, let’s take a closer look at an example of subscription learning for leadership development.

To start, the CLO must meet with CEO to develop a subscription learning strategy that is aligned with current needs. After some discussion, the L&D team can design instructional objectives that blend leadership development themes with organizational strategy themes.

The CEO then writes a few nuggets on her own. Meanwhile, L&D professionals and senior leadership development experts write (or ghost write) the rest of the nuggets after storyboarding. The thread of learning nuggets can be designed to expand for weeks, months, or longer. In this example, nuggets will be dispersed to learners for an entire year. 

Early in the thread, one nugget asks all managers to complete a diagnostic about their leadership tendencies. The ramifications are discussed in three more nuggets.  Next, managers are asked to develop an action plan to strengthen their performance as managers.

Short video-based scenarios are then presented for managers to respond to and receive feedback on activities. In addition, the CEO and other leaders may video storytelling sessions about some mistakes and successes they made early in their careers.


Meanwhile, brown bag lunches held by senior leaders in the organization re-emphasize themes previously discussed. Likewise, several times throughout the year, managers are asked to give input on specific organizational practices so the CEO can respond.

As organizational issues arise, subscription nuggets deal with them directly—and indirectly. Calls to action, sometimes with job aids or specific activities to engage learners, may be assigned. For example, each team might be asked to evaluate itself on its tendency to foster innovation. They must complete a diagnostic and then make a plan to parlay their strengths and overcome their weaknesses to build actual innovation that helps the organization.

As the thread continues throughout the year, the CEO, organization leaders, and leadership development expert can insert new nuggets to meet emerging strategic needs, reinforce key learning points, deepen the conversation, or add a new call to action.

The point: while courses consist mainly of static content, subscription learning lends itself to dynamic insertion of new messaging.

As you can see from this example, subscription learning can be much more than simple information dissemination. At its best, it can create an ongoing conversation with key organizational stakeholders—one that pushes learning and responds to learner performance and strategic and tactical needs of the organization.

Next up in the series, we look at some authoring tools and other tech solutions that support subscription learning.

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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