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Why buy an expensive LMS when you can use text messaging?

Why buy an expensive LMS when you can use text messaging

If you’re anything like me, your phone will be constantly pinging with texts from friends, family and colleagues. But have you ever considered text messaging as a way to deliver learning? Me neither! That’s why I jumped at the chance to hear more from Michael Ioffe, co-founder of Arist, the first text message learning platform.

So how do you design a course using text messaging, and why does it work?

“Text messages are frictionless. They meet us in our natural environment – delivered direct to our phones,” says Michael. “You don’t have to do much to learn; just open your text and read. And users love that because it’s a very personal, very intimate, and very easy medium to interact with.”

Bite-sized content is more palatable

His method is based on research from Penn State University and Stanford that shows texts are among the most effective ways to bring about behaviour change. Texts break down concepts into bite-sized chunks, and their limited character count means writers are forced to use only the most important and relevant content.

“Our platform helps learning practitioners create text message courses which consist of an image and 1,200 characters delivered every day. That’s about two screen-lengths explaining a concept or case study,” says Michael.

Most text message courses run for a month, embedding learning into daily routines and nudging learning and action on a regular basis.
“We’re able to cover anything from a comprehensive harassment prevention course, to onboarding and any sort of compliance or professional development training,” says Michael.

But are people learning?

I can see it’s easy to interact with, and I can see it’s easy to access. But can you be sure your learners have taken the action? Can you be sure they have actually learnt?

“That’s where the ‘action and response’ comes in,” says Michael. “Each text typically ends with an exercise or assessment which users have to return. So if I’m an employee on a course, every single morning I’ll get my text. I’ll read it, complete my assessment, and then I’m all set for the day. We can also do learning check-ins five, 10 and 30 days after the course has ended.”

“This is a terrible way to learn particle physics. But it’s very effective for specific types of training.”

Michael freely admits his method isn’t suitable for every subject. “We’re not a one-size-fits-all solution. This is a terrible way to learn particle physics. But it’s very effective for specific types of training.”

Like many of the best ideas, Michael’s text message learning platform was created out of necessity. While running a non-profit organisation delivering online education to students in Yemen, Michael found the country’s sparse internet coverage proved to be a barrier. But although very few students had reliable internet access, most could access SMS.

Michael quickly realised that, as well as being accessible, text message courses could also be extremely effective, and he developed a platform that was soon seeing completion and satisfaction rates of more than 90%.

Chosen by Fortune 500 companies

What started off as a workaround to reach learners in remote spots of Yemen quickly grew into a powerful learning and development tool now being used by more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies worldwide.

And Michael has stayed true to his non-profit routes. “Arist is a social enterprise. For every course we sell, we donate one to a student in need. Our goal is to donate a million courses by the end of 2021.”

Ensuring everyone has access to high-quality learning resources is a key tenet of our work here at Stellar Labs. Michael’s flexible and accessible text message system is getting a smiley face emoji from us.


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