Author Archives: Keith Ellis

About Keith Ellis

Keith Ellis is the best-selling author of THE MAGIC LAMP: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals. He is also the Head of Federal Sales for, the most empowering online training on the Internet.

What is the difference between elearning and online training?

What is the difference between elearning and online training?

Most people use these terms interchangeably, but I tend to think of online training as something you take, while elearning is something that happens to you when you’re lucky enough to learn something online.

I make that distinction because so much of what is generously called online training is hard to take. It’s dull, lifeless, and boring, in a way that only online training can be boring. Worst of all, it’s useless. But it doesn’t have to be.

It all begins with finding the right teachers, of course. Teaching an online training course is very different than teaching a group of students in a classroom. Some people, even some very competent people, simply aren’t cut out to be online trainers. So the trick is to find experts, real-world professionals who live and breathe what they’re trying to teach you, who are able to do so effectively even at the other end of a video stream that was recorded asynchronously (in other words, before you see it).

Once you’ve solved the biggest problem, which is finding the best teachers for online training, you still have several technical problems to solve to produce online training that actually yields elearning.

Pedagogical theory teaches us that different people learn in different ways, and we ourselves learn differently at different stages of our lives, and with different types of topics. Well-crafted online training should take all of that into account.

For example, for those who learn best by watching, video training is ideal. But the training needs to be so well produced that it seems to come alive. It should be well shot, well edited, high definition, and include special effects where appropriate, just like our favorite primetime TV shows. Granted, I’m biased toward what I call prime-time quality because I tend to learn best from videos. The higher the quality, the more engaging I find the training, and the more likely I am to actually learn something.

Of course, not everyone cares for video, so effective training should also offer engaging audio, again well recorded, well produced, and professionally edited— prime-time audio, if you will. In other words, it should sound great on your audio system, even though it’s “just” online training. The better it sounds, the more the “audio learner” is likely to learn.

But good online training should also provide something to read, something that allows the learner to follow along with the audio and video. That’s trickier than it seems. If you’ve ever been in a gym or in a bar and tried to watch the closed captions scrolling across the bottom of a TV program, you know how hard it is for even well-heeled, prime-time networks to translate spoken words into text on the fly. The results can be annoying, and sometimes downright ridiculous.

Unfortunately, online training providers tend to use the same kind of voice recognition technology that you see in your gym or your bar to produce the transcripts of their training. That’s assuming they offer transcripts at all; most don’t. It’s awfully hard to read that kind of transcript, full of gibberish and misinterpreted words, and even harder to try to use it to follow along with the video and the soundtrack. For those who like to learn by reading, a mistake or an absurd word substitution can deflect their train of thought into an entirely new direction that jumps the tracks of what they’re trying to learn. Low-quality transcripts actually impede learning.

Only a handful of training providers are willing to go the extra mile to edit their transcripts, word for word, correcting mistakes introduced by voice recognition technology. It’s time intensive and expensive to do so, but it’s more than worth it because it yields two substantial benefits. First, it makes the transcript readable. There’s something almost magical about being able to read along with someone who is teaching you something you want to learn, and getting it all word for word just as he or she is speaking it. Imagine if you were in a classroom listening to the teacher explain something, and you had everything that person was saying, word for word, right in front of you. (Boy, if I’d had that when I was in school I might have made something of myself.)

But there’s another benefit of high-quality transcripts that can take online training to a new level, and facilitate elearning in such a way as to cross the border into something new under the sun, something akin to a new breed of on demand, always on, expert tech support.

If the transcripts in an online training library are accurate representations of what the teachers actually say in all those videos, then with the right technology you can search that text just like you search Google, to find the specific information you most need to learn, or review, at the very moment you need it. That allows online training to morph from the classical training model of sitting down and taking a class for a couple of hours, into a 21st-century model of learning exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. On time, on target, and on demand, 24/7.

A library of training videos with high quality, searchable transcripts can become a knowledge base unlike anything the world has ever seen before. Suddenly, you have random access to what experts have to say on a range of topics and information that can open up whole new worlds for you. And with the right technology, once you find the information you need, all you have to do is to click a link to be transported directly to that spot in that video, where you’re able to watch/hear/read those few minutes of training you actually need, rather than having to wade through potentially hours of training that you don’t need. That kind of random access, just-in-time training feels like you’re able to summon a guru to your desk or mobile device whenever you need to learning something, wherever you are, 24 hours a day. It’s like having a training genie, without having to carry around the magic lamp. Pretty cool, and pretty useful, assuming you can find an online training provider who can actually pull all this off.

So back to where I started this post. There is an enormous amount of what passes for online training available on the Internet. Probably millions of hours. But there is a vast chasm between taking online training and actually learning something. That’s what I mean by elearning. (Or e-learning, or e learning, or however you want to spell it.)

The Goodness Of Grammar

My 10th grade English class felt like Central Casting had sent up an old-fashioned schoolteacher. Her name was Miss Guill. (No one dared call her Ms.) All that year she tried heroically to hammer the rules of grammar through my thick skull. But I managed to fight her, successfully, at least I thought I did.

Oddly enough, since then I’ve found myself thinking back to her class more than to any other in high school. Teachers make a difference, and she made a big difference with me. Not because she taught me a few rules of grammar, but because she taught me to care about grammar, and even more importantly, to care about expressing myself clearly.

I’m never entirely successful at that, through no fault of hers, but I never stop trying. And when I think back to her class it’s always with a sense of regret that I didn’t pay closer attention, and learn more when I had the chance. Truth is, I wish I could remember half of what that stern woman tried so hard to teach me.

Over the years I’ve tried to read a number of books about grammar. I usually make it through the first chapter, and sometimes the next, before falling asleep. But I finally found a better way, or at least a way that works better for me.

We don’t always get a second chance in life, and I can never go back to Miss Guill’s classroom to find out all that I missed. But at least the Internet now provides an interesting way to relearn it.

Grammar Fundamentals, with Judy Steiner-Williams

Protect Your System from the Shellshock Bash Exploit

This is an unusual blog post for me, but a few days ago the world learned about a bug in the popular Unix, Linux, and Mac OS X command line interpreter Bash, a vulnerability that affects potentially hundreds of millions of computers.  The faster we all do our part to protect ourselves from this potentially catastrophic bug, the better off the entire Internet will be.

If you or your technical team want to learn how to protect your system from Shellshock, this article may be helpful.

Protect Your System from the Shellshock Bash Exploit

The Myth of Multitasking

Have you ever seen a job description in which one of the requirements is multitasking? I’ve often asked myself, why not also require the applicant to fly, or have x-ray vision, or have superhuman strength? Those things are just as impossible as multitasking.

Multitasking is a myth. Worse, it’s a lie foisted on those who are so desperate to accomplish more with less time that they end up doing just the opposite, they spend more time getting less done.

We human beings can focus our attention on only one task at a time. We might be able to perform certain unconscious motor activities while our attention is focused elsewhere, such as standing and chewing gum at the same time, but we cannot focus our undivided attention on two things at once. Whenever we try we’re not really focused on anything.

For example, have you ever been on a telephone call when the person on the other end suddenly seemed distant or distracted? You couldn’t see what he was doing, but if you listened carefully you could hear an occasional mouse click or a gentle tapping on the keyboard. Suddenly, you realized that he was doing his email while you were talking. He probably thought he was multitasking, but what he was really doing was withdrawing his attention from you so that he could do something he considered more important, while allowing you to drone on in the background. (Or perhaps you’ve been on the other side of that interaction, where you were the one who thought you were multitasking, but all you were really doing was missing what the other person had to say.)

Or have you ever been asked to present to a roomful of your colleagues or customers, and had one them pull out a cell phone while you were presenting, and start checking her email? If we give her the benefit of the doubt, and assume that she didn’t intend to be rude or dismissive, then she probably thought she was multitasking. She had convinced herself that she could maintain the thread of your presentation while she was knocking off a few emails. (Or perhaps you’ve been the one checking emails while someone you invited to your conference room or office was trying to communicate with you.)

Or maybe you’ve been riding in the car, or at the dinner table, having what you thought was a two-way conversation, when the person you were with suddenly started checking Facebook updates (or LinkedIn). No doubt if you had stopped talking, and told him you would wait for him to finish, he would have been flustered, perhaps even offended, as he hastened to explain that he really was listening to you. Except that he wasn’t.

Or have you ever been in a meeting when one of the “participants” was pecking away on a laptop or tablet? Again, she probably didn’t intend to be ignoring the meeting, and if you challenged her on it she would probably tell you she could do both, having convinced himself that she was a true multitasker. So next time you see that going on, ask the person a question that has to do with the context of the meeting. I guarantee she will have no idea what you’re talking about, because she was so busy “multitasking”. (Or perhaps you have been the one who was pecking away on one task while a meeting was going on around you, and you had no idea what you were missing. In fact, you probably assumed you hadn’t missed a thing.)

We live in an age of distraction. At every moment of every day, there are many things we could pay attention to, but only one that we can pay attention to. Meanwhile, the myth of multitasking would have us believe that we can pay attention to them all.

We can’t.

Those who are most successful are not multitaskers. They are the ones who give their undivided attention to their most important task, complete that, and move on to the next. They realize that so-called multitasking actually sacrifices productivity because it forces us to interrupt what we are doing, move to the next task, interrupt that, move to the next, and so on. While we might become so adept at this that we can create the illusion of multitasking, all we’re really doing is time slicing. We’re dividing our time and attention into ever finer slices, and spreading those out, inefficiently, across a range of tasks. Then, when we do finish something, we’ve taken longer to do so than we would have if we had simply concentrated on one task at a time, and probably not accomplished the task as well as we could have.

We know intuitively that this is true. Have you ever been interrupted in the middle of an important task? When the interruption was over, did you find that you had to waste a few moments, perhaps even a few minutes, trying to get back into the frame of mind you had before you were interrupted? Trying to reassemble the threads of your task and your thinking so that you could resume the level of performance you had before you were interrupted?

Every interruption costs us precious moments, and shatters our train of thought. We know this from intimate, personal experience. But interruptions are a part of life, and a part of our job, so we have to learn to deal with them.

Multitasking, on the other hand, is actually the process of introducing interruptions into our day, convincing ourselves of the illusion of productivity when in fact we are being less productive. And let’s not even talk about the stress we introduce into our lives by trying to keep multiple balls in the air. (By the way, have you ever wondered how a juggler accomplishes that illusion? She seems to be doing several things at once, keeping several balls in the air, or bowling pins, or whatever she happens to be juggling. Yet she’s actually doing only one thing at a time, doing each competently, and in a well-choreographed manner, before moving on to the next thing. She moves her undivided attention from one object to the next, grasping each and putting it back in the air with just the right amount of momentum, and in just the right location, before moving on to the next object. The moment her attention strays from the task at hand, she starts dropping things.)

Our urge to multitask can be so strong that it becomes an addiction. We begin to feel uneasy if we aren’t trying to do at least two things at once. We begin to live in a self-inflicted state of attention-deficit disorder because there is so much going on around us, so much to be done, so little time to do it, and we are surrounded by those who seem to be multitasking, never realizing that they are merely illusionists who, like magicians, appear to be doing something they are not.

If you’d like to get more done in less time, I mean really get more done in less time, rather than simply succumbing to the illusion of doing so, here are some worthwhile resources:

Time Management Fundamentals, with Dave Crenshaw

Overcoming Procrastination, Brenda Bailey-Hughes

Getting Things Done, with David Allen



I am 44 years old and a fairly successful executive with the federal government, but I’m also the world’s worst procrastinator! My question is this: How can I stop? Urgent, please help!


Procrastination is the easiest problem in the world to cure, and I’ll prove it. Think of a task you’ve put off. Now stop reading this blog and go do it. At the very least begin it. Don’t finish reading this until you’ve done that.

 ****Stop here and go do something you’ve put off.

Welcome back! And congratulations, you’ve just learned how to cure yourself of procrastination. Next time you find yourself about to putt off a task, drop whatever you’re doing and wade into it. Don’t think about it. Don’t weigh the pros and the cons. Don’t keep telling yourself you’re a procrastinator. And for goodness sake don’t tell yourself that you have more important things to do. Just do what you’ve been putting off, or at least begin it, and you’ll find that your tendency to procrastinate is a thing of the past.

If you think I’m joking about this, or taking it lightly, you’re missing the point. Procrastination is one of the greatest obstacles to success. But it’s also one of the easiest to overcome. All you have to do is to take action on something you’ve been putting off. Any action will do the trick, no matter how trivial. In fact, the easier you make it on yourself to take action, the easier you make it on yourself to beat procrastination.

Think small. If you are so intimidated by a task that you just can’t face it, break that task into smaller steps. Then tackle each step one at a time. Start with a step that doesn’t intimidate you. You don’t even have to start at the beginning. You can start in the middle if you want, or you can start at the end. But whatever you do, start. The moment you take action—any action—you beat procrastination.

Just remember, don’t tell yourself to stop procrastinating, tell yourself to start doing whatever it is you’ve put off. Focus on what you want to do and not what you want to avoid. The human brain can’t tell the difference between a mental image of what you want and a mental image of what you don’t want. Whatever you picture clearly enough in your mind, your mind will try to reproduce in your life. So if all you can think about is procrastinating, that’s exactly what you’ll do. To avoid that trap, think about what you want to do (the task you want to get started on) instead of what you want to avoid (procrastinating).

If you really want to beat procrastination, turn that new mindset into a habit. Whenever you’re tempted to put off a task, drop whatever you’re doing and start on that task. Do this for thirty days, without missing a day, and I guarantee that your procrastinating days will be behind you for good.

Avoidance Behavior

There is a special case of procrastination called “avoidance behavior” that occurs when you’re trying to avoid a particularly intimidating task. Run of the mill procrastination is just a bad habit. With a little practice, you can correct that habit. But avoidance behavior is far more challenging. The only way to beat it is to tackle it head on.

If you’re showing symptoms of avoidance behavior, try this simple cure and it will change your life. When you start work each morning, choose the task that you most want to avoid and make that the first thing you do. It might be a phone call you’ve been dreading, or a conversation with an associate, or a chore you find particularly distasteful. Whatever it is, do it first. Make your mission in life to do it first. Tape the words “Do It First!” to the dashboard of your car. Tape them to your bathroom mirror. Tape them to your computer at work. Repeat them to yourself ten times a day. Write them on a pad of paper ten times a day. Before you know it, you will have created a new habit. Then, when you’re faced with a task that you’re tempted to put off, you’ll hear a little voice in your head say, “Do it first!” You’ll start looking forward to tasks you used to dread, because you will no longer be afraid of them. You will no longer waste time inventing ways to avoid these distasteful tasks because you will have conditioned yourself to do them first.

Procrastinate Your Way To Success

We all know about the downside of procrastination. What about the upside? Procrastination is one of the most powerful success skills in existence, a skill that can help you change your life. You just have to learn to apply it to those things that are holding you back.

When you’re tempted to do something that you know you shouldn’t do, such as eating too much, drinking too much, playing hooky, or blowing up at a colleague, simply put it off. Don’t deny your feelings. Don’t forbid the urge. Don’t threaten yourself. Don’t get down on yourself. Just procrastinate. Put off until tomorrow whatever counter-productive behavior might tempt you today. If you want to eat a hot fudge sundae you know you shouldn’t eat, just put it off. If you want to cuss out your boss, put it off. If you want to yell at your kids, put it off. If you want to start smoking again, put it off. If you’re tempted to drink too much, put it off.

The beauty of procrastination is that it gives you nothing to resist, nothing to rebel against, because you’re not telling yourself no, you’re telling yourself later. When later comes, the urge may have passed. If not, just put it off again. Keep putting it off, and later will never come. Then you’ll understand how to take advantage of procrastination, instead of letting it take advantage of you.