Employee Learning

with Carol Leaman from Axonify

About the host

  • Jacob Shriar
  • Growth Manager
  • Officevibe
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Passionate about company culture. On a mission to make work better.

About the interviewee

  • Carol Leaman
  • CEO
  • Axonify
  • Waterloo, ON
  • <100 people

Video Summary

We talk with Axonify CEO Carol Leaman about corporate eLearning, and how the current industry is broken. We also talk about the neuroscience behind how employees learn.

Related resources

Video Transcript

Jacob: Hello everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at OfficeVibe and today, I’m with Carol Leaman, who is the CEO of Axonify. Carol, thanks so much for being here with me.

Carol: Thanks for having me.

Jacob: Awesome. We’re super excited to learn more about Axonify and you, because I know you have a very interesting story. So before we dive deep into Axonify, maybe if you can, give us a bit of background on you and your history, maybe some companies you started. Just any background, I think, would be great.

Carol: Super, for sure. So I am, what a lot of people of refer to as a serial entrepreneur. Didn’t start out that way. I’m actually a chartered accountant by formal education who got pulled into running technology companies when I went to work for a public company that was buying and selling lots of different things. And so, we bought a tech company in California called Fake Space and I eventually became the CEO of that company and one thing led to another and here I am, running my fourth technology company, Axonify, which is a company that I was helping and then essentially bought the IP from the original founder, brought in a business partner and got a financed and hired a team and here we are, a couple of years later.

Jacob: Very, very cool. Yeah, very interesting. If you can, maybe just give us a bit of background on Axonify and what you guys actually do and why anyone should check out the platform.

Carol: Absolutely. So Axonify is completely changing the way companies train their employees to get them to do the things that they should be doing as part of their daily job. So we’re completely training on its head how company delivers that training, initially, and the way that we do that is by offering a three minute a day, very fun, engaging, personalized learning experience that means that people actually have the ability to remember the information that they’re supposed to remember to do their job and be top performers. So, typically what companies is do is pull people into classrooms, train them for hours, sometimes days at a time, shoot them back onto the job and expect them to remember really critical pieces of information and unfortunately, the way that our brains work, they’re not designed to actually remember a whole lot because our attention spans are very short and if you fire hose people with information, as we typically do in the corporate environment, brain’s ability to remember most of that 30 days later is about less than 10%. It’s about 5 to 7%.

So what we do is make the learning experience very short. We map it to how the brain works to create memory and we wrap the entire experience in games, game mechanics, we offer rewards and [inaudible 0 0:03:15] to make an employee actually want to get on learn something every day and the best part is they do and they translate that into behavior and then, we can correlate various things that go on at our platform with financial outcomes in a corporate enterprise, whether it’s driving more sales with sales people or reducing expenses like medical accidents and injuries in a retail environment, for example.

Jacob: Yeah, that’s so interesting. I love how much science is behind the platform. I find that the coolest part of it and maybe we can talk a little bit more about some of the science behind it later. You mentioned briefly some of it but I’m sure there is a ton more. What I find super cool, also, is I was watching a video of you giving a presentation and one of the things that was said in the video, either by you or the interviewer, was that you work with the same team over and over again in a lot of the companies that you started out at Axonify and so I’d love to talk a bit about that because we’re all a team building at OfficeVibe. So can you, maybe, just talk a little bit about why that is, why you chose to bring the same people on over and over again? What makes your team work so well together?

Carol: For sure. I think wherever you can invite people to work with you can, that you worked very successfully with before, it just really helps you to accelerate everything going on with the company and I’ve had the very fortunate experience to work with lots of different people at different levels within the company who are just outstanding individuals and so, having the ability, when you are successful together, you want to do it again and so having the ability to go on and do something new, reconnect with those people and engage them in being part of the next thing is always such a great thing and so, I’ve very fortunate to be able to do that. I’ve worked with quite a few of the people at Axonify in previous lives, at previous companies and there is an instant level of trust and knowledge of how they work and how quickly they work and what the quality of their work is and it just allows me very, very rapidly to go and do all the things that I should be doing as the CEO and not worrying about the inability to really know what people are doing at home in the shop, for example, when I’m traveling.

So, if you can do that, you always should and like I was saying, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that and we work extremely well together and I have no doubt we’ll be successful with this one, too.

Jacob: That’s great, great answer. If we can, I’d love to talk more about the brain science behind Axonify. Personally, I find that stuff so cool. I mean there are things like spaced repetition learning. There is a lot of not psychology but science behind the platform. So if you can, really, feel free to take as long as you want with this answer. Just go crazy, talk about all of the science that’s built into it and give examples and really, just feel free to go on and on.

Carol: Sounds great. I love talking about it too and it’s interesting because whenever I go to a trade show or a conference and I give a talk on the brain science piece, people flock up to me afterwards because we’re all really interested in how memory and the brain works. So, you’re absolutely right. We incorporate, there are many discoveries that have been now discovered or many things that have been discovered in the last decade by neural science and so what we do is, we incorporate three key concepts into how we deliver learning that really goes to the creation of mapping the experience to how the brain works to actually do that creational memory. So those three things are spaced repetition, as you mentioned, something called retrieval practice, which I’ll describe in a second, and a third concept called confidence based learning.

So, I’ll start by saying that about a 100 years ago, there was a scientist named Hermann Ebbinghaus who discovered that if we try to memorize very non-sensical words and letter combinations over a period of time and try to remember those and recall them, he discovered that the time in between when he first presented himself the word or letter combination and when he tried to recall it, that spacing in between was actually really critical to memory creation. And so, he came up with this concept called a curve and essentially what we now know is that if you fire hose people with a bunch of information, all at once, memory begins to degrade almost instantly and literally 30 days later, if the information is not presented to you again, each of us will remember typically only 5 to 7% of what we learned 30 days earlier. But, if we present the information multiple times in 30 days, and typically the number is three to five times in 30 days, and we try to recall that information, our ability long term to retain it increases to over 90%.

This spacing in between when we recall is actually critical to driving memory. Think about it like this; if you slide down a ski hill on your bum once, you actually a little groove but if you do it five times in a row, over a period of time, the groove that you create is much deeper by the fifth time. That’s exactly what happens in our brains. The first time the groove is not very deep but by the fifth time we’re presented the information, the groove is quite deep. So, we solidify the neural pathways in the brain and the spacing in between is critical. So, that leads to the second concept which is retrieval practice.

Retrieval practice is the act of, instead of just telling you something as we do in classrooms in the corporate enterprise, we ask you the question and we present you the initial information but then, we ask you a question to get you to pull the information out of your brain yourself the second, third, fourth and fifth time. Each time you do that, it again deepens that groove in the neural pathways in the brain. So the act of questioning, instead of just telling, is a very solid technique to create memory and in fact, has been proven now many, many times by science to be the best way to learn something. So that act of questioning. Again, we use that in the platform.

The third concept called confidence based assessment is one where an individual’s confidence in their knowledge and letting them know where they are in a confidence grid and then, whether they got an answer right or wrong is also a technique to deeply encode the information. So when we ask questions on the platform and get people to recall information, at the end of each question, we say, “How confident are you in the answer? Are you highly confident, medium, low?” So we can tell, for example, if somebody is highly confident in their answer but consistently gets questions wrong, we know that employee is a risk taker in the environment and you want to coach that employee into the proper kinds of behaviors because they think they know everything and they actually don’t know a whole lot, and that also, having a person self-assess their level of confidence gets them to think a little bit more deeply about the question and increases their chances of success down the road and more they answer the questions correctly, the better the information and the longer term attention is created in the brain.

So hopefully, that was all understandable but the spacing, the questioning and the confidence based assessment work very well together to drive memory, knowledge and retention of that knowledge long term.

Jacob: Yeah, that is so cool. I find that stuff so interesting. I’m going to look all that stuff up as soon as we get off this call. Can you talk to me a little bit about the corporate learning market in general? I’d love to get an understanding because I honestly don’t really know much about it but love to get an understanding on how big of a market is this. You mentioned that it’s kind of broken with [inaudible 00:12:44], with the fire hosing of information. How big of an issue is that? Do you have any idea on how much money companies are wasting or time companies are wasting by doing these fire hosing? If you can just basically talk a little about the corporate learning market in general, I think that’d be really, really cool.

Carol: For sure. Corporate learning is a gigantic spend every year. In North America alone, companies spend about a $160 billion a year training employees. Worldwide, that number is about $300 billion and of the amount of money spent in North America, the $160 billion, about $90 billion of that, more than half of it is spent in classroom based instructor led sorts of environment. So you pull your employees into a room, you deliver tons and tons of information and then you send them away and you cross your fingers and hope that they remember it and they don’t. That’s a simple truth.

The rest of that money is spent on, typically or most of it, technology enabled tools, but unfortunately, most of that money, all it’s done is replicate the classroom based experience online and so, you get employees to sit down and watch very long videos, typically, that can last an hour to two hours and you might ask a few questions at the end of the video but it is an one time experience with no reinforcement after the fact and people simply don’t pay attention. The attention span is often 7 to 10 minutes. They get distracted, they start looking at their phones and the value of the video ends up being exactly where the classroom experience is. All of that money goes to waste and then employees get on their jobs and they start guessing things that they don’t remember and when people guess, a significant portion of the time, they will make a wrong choice and whether it’s visible or not, that costs money.

The corporation is somehow at a loss. So they’ve invested all of this money in, I say “learning.” Most of that money goes to waste and the employees get on their jobs and start guessing. So that’s what corporate learning is today. It’s not fun, it’s not social, it’s not gamified in any way and it is one time event based with absolutely no reinforcement or personalization for that matter. All employees, typically, get the same content regardless of their foundational knowledge base and there is nothing to customize or personalize the learning to individuals who are fast learners versus slow learners. So we’ve addressed all of that with Axonify and have made it a highly effective way to transfer knowledge, three minutes a day in a fun and rewarding type of experience for the employee and then we get tons of great results from the employer in terms of the outcomes because of real knowledge transfer.

Jacob: Yeah, that’s perfect. My last question for you is, I’d love to hear some case studies of some of these successes. Feel free to brag, take as much time as you want and just let us know some of the really cool results that you’ve been able to bring some of your clients.

Carol: Yeah. We’ve had some excellent, really, really awesome and very significant financial outcomes for our customers. First example I’ll give you is in the retail space. Hourly paid, high turnover sorts of environments are really, really good for these types of solutions, call centers, retail, and hospitality travel tourism.

Wal-mart is the customer. They have 100 distribution centers around North America and they employ 75,000 associates in those DCs and they have a very big issue, as all retailers do, with medical accidents and injuries in their distribution center. So, they were looking to use a different way to get people to remember very critical health and safety information to reduce what are called reportable accidents and injuries, and so, their goal was to, over the first six months they were using Axonify, reduce medical accidents and injuries by 5% and the reality was, in six months, we reduced those accidents and injuries by 54% and that, for Wal-mart, translates into several hundred million dollars of reduced cost associated with medical accidents and injuries just in those 100 locations. So just a gigantic financial win for Wal-Mart in that situation and all they did was get employees on it for three minutes a day for six months.

The second example I’ll give you is the other half of our business. We call it the knowledge worker space and we get really significant results for things like sales training, complex products, pricing, competitive knowledge. So Johnson & Johnson is a customer. They use it to train sales people in various pharmaceuticals division. They have always changing information. Their sales team is widely dispersed and they’re inundated with new products and pricing and medical knowledge all the time and they simply don’t remember it. So, we’ve been very successful showing significant knowledge lift in that product pricing medical knowledge area for those sales reps and even better, the feedback we get from those reps is they love the experience. They love the competitive aspects, they love to see their personal knowledge increase and they are much more confident selling those products out in the field than they were prior to using this solution. So that, for Johnson & Johnson, is translated into higher sales per sales rep. As a result, better acquisition.

Jacob: Very, very cool. Yeah, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing that. I think we’ll end it here but honestly, Carol, I just want to thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me. This was awesome. Axonify sounds so cool. Yes, seriously, really, really appreciated. Now, hopefully, we can do this again sometimes.

Carol: Thanks, Jacob. I really appreciate it.

Jacob: Alright, great. Take care.

Carol: Bye.

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