Bob Little

A prolific writer and a perceptive commentator on eLearning.

Bob Little is a specialist in PR consultant who focuses his promotional energies on the corporate learning sector. His organization, Bob Little Press & PR, provides a business-to-business PR service, providing a personal service to its clients’ with a more anthropocentric approach. Currently, looking after clients around the world, Bob is widely known internationally as a prolific writer and a perceptive commentator on eLearning.

Christopher Pappas, Efthymios Savvakis & Nasia Efthimiou

Interview with Bob Little

In a constantly changing world, how important is to cooperate with the right team of public relations advisors?

Probably not at all – unless, that is, you want your brand to be recognized, your business goals to be achieved and your organization to be successful.

What kind of exclusivity does your PR Agency offer its costumers?

What kind would you want?  It’s precisely because we’ve specialized in helping companies in the online learning technologies sector that we’ve developed a relevant, up-to-date worldwide media contact list that’s second to none. We couldn’t have done that if we hadn’t been working for a number of clients from the same sector over many years. So, in this sense, companies come to us because we’re not exclusive.

Nonetheless, over the years, some potential clients have been fearful that, because we work with other companies in their industry, we’ll pass their confidential information to competitors.

It’s an outrageously ridiculous idea. For one thing, that’d be the easiest way to lose all our clients and never get any more. Moreover, we have other – far better – things to do with our time and energies. We can only influence the relevant media around the world because we’re known to represent only leading companies in the sector.

So the only – and best – exclusivity we can offer is that we’ll ensure that there are never any client conflicts of interest in a PR sense and we’ll always do our very best to promote any and every client.

Which is the most common mistake that most PR agencies make and how is it likely to endanger the consumer’ s profile?

I couldn’t possibly comment on other PR agencies’ activities – after all, I have no first-hand knowledge of how they operate.

However, in terms of providing PR activities for the online learning technologies world, it’s important to remember that it’s a niche area within the business-to-business (B2B) sector. The chances of the national media picking up your company’s story are extremely remote – although we’ve managed to arrange this occasionally for some clients over the years.

The way to be successful, that is, to build a presence in the B2B media, is to engage in proactive PR activities – led by issuing news stories via press releases, blog posts and so on and then supporting these via social media activities (principally via Twitter and LinkedIn). Only once you’ve established your brand within the industry, can you expect to indulge in reactive PR (such as responding to media requests for interviews, comments and so on).

Adopting this PR strategy presupposes you have something worthwhile to say – and it’s vital that you say it well. That’s where top class PR professional help can bring substantial benefits and add value. Furthermore, this help should also be able to guarantee that what you have to say gets seen and heard.

Of course, like anything of value, top class professional PR help that’s attuned to the online learning technologies sector – both nationally and internationally – doesn’t come cheap. Nonetheless, the experience of a great many companies you’ve never heard of indicates that not doing PR or adopting a DIY approach ‘because it’s cheaper’ is, ultimately, detrimental to business success.

The latest research on the European online learning technologies industry, published a few months ago by market analysts Learning Light, shows – among many other things – that there are some 671 producers of e-learning materials and systems in France; 532 in the UK; 328 in Germany, 300 in Poland and so on. My guess is that you’d find it hard to name even ten per cent of the producers in your country – and that suggests that, generally, professional PR isn’t high on e-learning vendors’ priorities. They could well be making a mistake – but at least that makes it easier for us to promote our clients.

For some further thoughts and suggestions on ‘doing PR’, you could visit the ‘Free PR advice’ section of the Bob Little Press & PR website.

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In your website you mention that «the truth is the main acknowledgement in the cooperations you have done so far». Have you ever rejected a consumer or has a consumer ever rejected you because you were being honest when judging his project?

I imagine you’re referring to our strapline: ‘we tell the truth as you would want it told’. People who tell lies about their product or service (and we’ve all met them – and not just in the online learning technologies world) may appear to succeed. But they only succeed in the short term and, besides that, they have to continue to live with themselves and their consciences. Telling the truth is a far better policy – and professional PR should help you tell that truth in the most advantageous way.

Over the last 25 years, we’ve refused to work with some potential clients; we’ve been delighted not to have been selected by others and, although it’s temporarily reduced cash flow, we’ve been secretly happy to lose a few clients. However, overall, we’ve been delighted to work with the vast majority of our clients – including all our current ones.

How has the Social Media affected the reality of public relations?

As we say on our website, ‘social media and social networking has transformed the potential for PR to help your business – especially since your competition won’t be using it to best advantage.’

Until the advent of social media, you were at the mercy of editorial whims, policies and strategies, along with physical space constraints in publications. Moreover, it could take up to four months to see whether a particular story had made it into print and, thus, the public domain. Nowadays – thanks to social media – you can guarantee to get your client’s story to relevant readers around the world within some 48 hours, while the story still has ‘immediacy’ and relevance.

You appear as an avid user of the Social Media while you are mostly keen on Τwitter. Speaking of your own activity, as a user, what kind of tweets draw the most attention and which ones do they prove to be the less interesting?

Tweets about lists. Everyone loves lists – and the more subjective the list, the better. Huge debate – on Twitter, LinkedIn groups and so on – takes place in January each year with the publication of the lists of the ‘Movers and Shakers’ in corporate learning technologies.

Whats the most important tip that should be followed by a corporate page on Facebook?

Save your energies for other forms of social media – unless you’re in the business-to-consumer (B2C) market (when Facebook users are your potential customers). It’s largely a waste of time using corporate Facebook to boost sales in an online learning technologies (B2B) environment. Of course, this might change. You can never tell with social media. It’s such a young area of marketing science.

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Among your many activities, you’ve written an e-book for eLearning (Perspectives on Learning Technologies). Would you like to tell us more about it?

Yes, thank you. Please buy it! I need the money – and Amazon takes over half of the purchase price. So please try to buy at least two copies!

Perspectives on Learning Technologies (ASIN: B00A9K1VVS; available from Amazon) contains over 200 pages of observations on issues in learning technologies, principally for learning & development professionals. It distills the wisdom – along with a touch of wit – gathered from some 20 years of discussion and discovery within the learning technologies industry, particularly as it relates to the corporate learning world.

The book sets out a wealth of views, often corroborated by rigorous research. These can be used as shortcuts to help you in the planning, practice and politics of ‘learning and development’ (L&D) in your organization. Or they can be used as seeds and short cuts for your own thoughts and theories – so you can achieve more with less in a shorter time and all the other things that L&D professionals are supposed to do.

The key to the book is that while times change; technologies change, and learning technologies change, people remain human. So those whose job involves identifying the need for; designing; developing; introducing, and popularizing ‘learning’ within their organizations face the same issues that they’ve always faced – even if the advent of ‘learning technologies’ now mean that there are more learning delivery mechanisms to choose from than there used to be.

L&D professionals face the same challenges that L&D professionals have always faced. But, these days, they have so many options and (technology-based) tools in their armory that these challenges can seem harder and the dangers of making a mistake appear to be greater than they used to be. This book contains some insights into these challenges.

Terms such as eBook and eLearning are gaining ground in our everyday life. Do you believe that the prefix e- has mastered over conventional forms of reading and learning?

I make a living using words – which is a great privilege. I’m someone who follows linguistic fashion, not someone who forges it. For at least the last 15 years, people have been saying that the ‘e’ prefix is irrelevant and should be dropped. Yet there’s a difference between an ‘e-book’ and a ‘book’. Until there isn’t a distinction to be made between these things, there’s a need for these two terms to co-exist.

On the other hand, there’s a case to be made for dropping the ‘e’ in e-learning, since we don’t make any other distinction with how learning is achieved. In normal conversation, we don’t talk about ‘book learning’ or ‘classroom-delivered learning’. Only learning professionals make these distinctions. When they have no more use for these distinctions, including ‘e-learning’, these terms will die and we’ll be left with ‘learning’.

So, if learning professionals don’t like the term ‘e-learning’, the answer lies in their own hands – or mouths.

Is there another idea for a book related to education through eLearning that you have in progress? What topics would it contain?

I’m open to suggestions. However my book on the history of Pendley Manor was published in July last year and the soft-back version had to be reprinted in September. It’s proved more popular than Perspectives on Learning Technologies. So another learning technologies book isn’t at the top of my current priorities.

Interview with Bob Little Cox and Box Trio_2013

How do you see the future of eLearning in the next decade?

People will always need to learn things and they’ll always need other people to teach them. The advent of the web has made learning materials more widely available than ever before but the basics about learning and imparting learning haven’t changed – nor will they. It’s just that, through the application of technology, you can now use more ways to impart that learning.

We know the rules about learning; about how best to teach people, and about how – and why – people learn best. We’ve got the wisdom, and the examples, of the giants of the education profession over the last 2,500 years to delve into – from Socrates to contemporary educationalists.

To use a simile first employed by Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century and most famously used by the scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, in a letter he wrote in 1676, we’re like dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. The idea is that we can see more and further than our predecessors could – not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we’re borne aloft on their gigantic stature and can build on their pioneering work.

Yet there’s no guarantee that each new generation of learning developers understands the lessons of the past. We’re still not sure how to make the most effective use of the resources we have – the delivery technologies, the content management and learning management systems, as well as the learning content itself. And, while it’s marvelous that technology is advancing, this continued advancement seems to raise still more questions for us.

So, if we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, we appear to be doing so while looking at an extremely foggy landscape.

Of course, we can dimly discern some current trends and extrapolate them.

A report, called ‘A Review of the e-learning markets of the UK, EU and China 2014’ and published a few months ago by the UK-based market analyst, Learning Light, sets out the size and state of the online learning technologies markets in 20 European countries, including the UK. It also examines the Chinese market for online learning technologies, since this is thought to be a major growth area for all forms of online learning.

The trends that the report identifies include that, becoming ‘mainstream’ within learning and development are: Gamification – including serious games, Multi-device learning – that’s mobile learning, responsive web design and learning apps, as well as HTML5, ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD), Virtual classrooms, Cloud-based learning, Learning content management systems (LCMS), such as those offered by Xyleme and eXact learning solutions, Social learning and curation.

The Learning Light Report suggests watching out for the growth of: Adaptive learning platforms, Learning-as-a-Service (LaaS), Increasingly smart assessment, Reconfigurable learning via reusable and interchangeable ‘gadgets’, ‘Build your own content’ (BYOC), Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and vocational open online courses (VOOCs), Analytics and learning record stores (LRS), The increasing influence of ‘big data’ and Tin Can Experience API (xAPI)

As more ‘millennials’ – that is, people born into the current technological age – enter the workplace, a greater proportion of learning materials are likely to be delivered online, especially via mobile devices. In today’s increasingly fast-paced commercial world, this helps to meet the need for ‘just-in-time’, ‘just-enough’ and ‘just-right-first-time’ learning wherever the learners are, whenever they need this learning and however they want to access the learning materials.

In the private sector, as worldwide and local competition increases, greater demands will be placed on learning delivery technologies to help workers and their employers maintain their competitive advantages. In the public sector, these learning delivery technologies will be called upon to help workers provide ever greater value for money to all stakeholders, including taxpayers as well as customers. The academic world has the greatest potential problem with the introduction of new learning delivery technologies – especially MOOCs at the moment – because it can’t yet see how to reconcile the greater availability of, and access to, learning materials with the need to protect both its intellectual property and its income from this.

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Speaking as a «Word Master», what title would you use to describe the developments in the field of eLearning since the beginning of the new millennium?

Leading edge developments in all areas of the corporate online learning technologies field over the last 15 years have been amazing, impressive and exciting.

Unfortunately, from a learning purist’s point of view, there’s still a large amount of e-learning in general circulation which is ‘e-learning 1.0’: boring, page-turning, content-heavy with little engaging interaction for learners. Moreover, some 80 per cent of all commercial e-learning is focused on compliance-related and regulatory topics.

People have to complete this learning because their job and career depend on it. This means that, in many ways, e-learning is now a vital part of business life. Yet, because of this, issues such as learner motivation and engagement through the e-learning materials, along with interactivity and exploration empowering learning, fly out of the window.

So, while the leading edge of the e-learning world is making some impressive and exciting strides, relatively few learners are experiencing it.

Your resume is impressive. Writer, speaker, singer, editor, blogger, tweeter and adviser on corporate communications, along with corporate reputation and crisis management. Which one, between those do you distinguish as your top achievement to date?

I’m glad you think it’s impressive. Anyone would think I did PR for a living!

Deciding on my ‘top achievement’ is really difficult – not least because it depends on what criteria you use. Overall, I suppose I get the greatest ‘buzz’ from seeing my name in publications – which means that they’re publishing what I write.

Among your many occupations, one can see a remarkable career as an opera singer in the UK. Is there another special occupation that we don’t know about Bob Little?

Yes. For many years I’ve been an ordained lay minister within Baptist Union of Great Britain – part of the Free Church branch of the Christian Church.

How do you imagine yourself in 5 years from now?

Semi-retired, enthusiastically taking on the projects and clients that appeal to me – and still being excited by developments in the online learning technologies sector.

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