Atoms of Learning

From awkward to awesome, CEO Lisa Barnett goes in-depth about a company unleashed

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Lisa Barnett CEO of Atomic LearningA group of former educators in various technology-related positions found that much of their time was consumed with providing support and answers to the same “how do I do that?” questions over and over again. That very real pain point became the spark for finding a better way to support technology use in teaching and learning. The group came together with the common goal of developing an anytime/anywhere resource to address this need and started a company together. They called it Atomic Learning.

Victor: Why was the name chosen?

Atomic Learning logoLisa: Our basic approach is that learning how to use and unleash the power of technology in learning and life should be something that can happen in the moment of need and as quickly and easily as possible. Much of our training is what we describe as “atoms of learning” – short video tutorials that provide you with what you’re looking for in less than a minute or two.

Victor: Take us through from start to now in a nutshell.

Lisa: Founded in 2000 by a group of technology educators, the company was created by educators, for educators. Now over a decade later, Atomic Learning is the trusted training solutions provider of 19 million individuals in more than 45 countries worldwide. Offering educational institutions cost-effective solutions for on-demand technology training and support, Atomic Learning creates flexible learning opportunities that make it easy for learners of all ages to embrace technology and develop critical skills for success at school, at work and in life.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Atomic Learning image2Lisa: We believe that technology is a critical component in the way we learn and live. Our focus is to guide learners from awkward to awesome by helping them unleash the power of technology in their teaching, learning and life. We do this through high-quality training, professional development and support resources delivered at the pace the learner needs, when they need it.

How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Lisa: When a school or college is considering online training, its leadership team will often compare several offerings and the available solutions are not as similar as one may think. When considering options, an administrator needs to first understand the true needs of their teachers and staff. Some resources provide targeted training geared to small groups of individuals in very specialized areas, while Atomic Learning provides instructional content across the curriculum. Although we may cover some of the same topics, such as tutorials on Microsoft Office and Adobe, the training can have very different styles and objectives. When a school’s or college’s end users are the general population of students, instructors or staff looking for a resource to quickly respond to their technology questions without being overwhelmed, Atomic Learning will provide the best results. Because Atomic Learning was founded by educators, the e-Learning content is education-focused, including workshops that address the real-world application of technology in education. The Atomic Learning solution provides resources to easily integrate our content into an existing learning management system. Furthermore, the education-focused content is broken down into small “atoms of learning,” 1-3 minute long movies, allowing faculty, staff, and students to not only find their ‘moment-of-need’ answers, but to also thoroughly learn the skills and real-life applications of those technology skills.

Victor: Where can schools get it now?

Atomic Learning image1Lisa: Atomic Learning offers schools and districts greatly reduced rates for site license subscriptions. These subscriptions provide building- or site-wide access, as well as access from home by all staff and students. In order to serve each school or district’s individual needs better, tell us more about your school through our online form. Or, if preferred, call us at (866) 259-6890.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Lisa: We understand the economic constraints that educational institutions face; there is a need to meet the professional development and support needs, yet do so in a way that’s as affordable as possible. While Atomic Learning is available for individual purchase, the more frequent purchase is for a full site subscription. Pricing is based on the number of teachers at a site, with a typical building price starting under $1,500. With a subscription, all students are provided access at no additional cost, including access for parents from home.

What are some examples of it in action?

Lisa: Who better to answer this question, than our customers themselves? A few testimonials we like to share can be found on our website. In addition, you can reference our blog where we share several case studies from satisfied customers.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Lisa: Atomic Learning truly helps schools successfully implement technology with all teachers, regardless of where they fall on the Technology Adoption Curve, which was first identified by Geoffrey A. Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm.” In the book, Moore focuses on the bell curve caused by groups of individuals distinguished by their willingness to embrace change. Within the curve, there is a chasm – if this chasm cannot be crossed, technology implementations often fail. We’ve developed a poster and recently hosted a webinar to explain the different stages of the Technology Adoption Curve to help school leaders determine the next steps for their technology implementation based on the stage of adoption their audience may be at. Download the poster, or view the archived recording of the webinar.

Victor: Why is on-demand professional development so critical for today’s educators?

Lisa: Last year, we worked with an independent research group to conduct a year-long study to better understand the impact of professional development that focuses on tech integration has on student achievement. While we hypothesized that a teacher’s ability to effectively integrate technology in the classroom would have a positive effect on student results, there is still regular public debate about whether schools should be investing in technology. The results are quite amazing. Teachers who participated in tech integration training saw their students achieve three percent higher scores in math and reading than their counterparts who did not receive this type of professional development. Those scores are equivalent to a full year’s growth. Technology can create a more engaging environment for students and that higher engagement improves achievement. But for teachers to create that technology bridge, they need support in helping them understand how to effectively bring technology and instruction together in meaningful ways. That is where we help, and on-demand professional development is a crucial part of an effective professional development mix. It not only addresses the reality of time constraints and scheduling, more important, our training is designed to meet learners at the point that they need. They are able to hone in on the specific areas of need and work at their own pace. Just like students, teachers learn at different rates and in different ways, and on-demand professional development supports that.

Victor: In your experience, what has been the most challenging aspect for school leaders and educators in transitioning to Common Core? The most rewarding?

Lisa: While there are many different perspectives on Common Core, a theme that we have heard on a fairly consistent basis is that the premise behind the standards is seen as a positive step. The standards focus on meaningful outcomes of learning that connect concepts and practical application. Related to technology, the standards also take a significant step forward in bringing technology and curriculum together, as opposed to the often independent approach to technology and curriculum that has occurred in schools in the past. On the challenges front, with the Common Core assessments on the horizon, we have seen school leaders consumed with the tech readiness work to prepare for this next step. As a result, school leaders and educators alike are raising concerns about inadequate professional development to support the adoption of the standards.

Victor: How does Atomic Learning support education innovation? And where do you see Atomic Learning in the next five years?

Lisa: As stated earlier, understanding the technology adoption lifecycle can help resuscitate failing technology implementations and how to better plan for new technology. In the book “Crossing the Chasm,” Dr. A. Moore lays out the five segments of people and how they adopt new technology in their lives. Each segment is driven by different motivations and fears. If an implementation does not focus on each of these groups’ concerns, the technology program has a high likelihood of failure. Atomic Learning helps school leaders provide support to each of the groups within the Technology Adoption Curve, thus making the success rate of technology implementation higher. We will continue to support the edtech industry as it changes in the future and our commitment to empowering educators to utilize technology to positively impact students will continue to drive our product development.

Victor: What sort of experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to working at Atomic Learning?

Lisa: My approach is probably more informed by the educational experiences that I see in my 13-year-old daughter than by my own, given that through her, I am seeing a daily example of the profound impact that teachers, environments, and approaches can have on learning. A great living example occurred between her second- and third-grade years. In second grade, she was in a classroom and school that took a very personalized approach to learning. Students were grouped into similar levels and learning styles and had highly interactive classroom sessions. She thrived and was completely addicted to learning. Conversely, in third grade, she moved to a school with larger classrooms, little technology and a teacher that primarily took a “stand and lecture” approach of one-size fits all learning. My daughter completely shut down. She had little interest in school and was bored. More recently, I am astonished at how her ability to use her BYOD tablet has changed her learning style. She is an avid reader, but she is far more engaged in her reading when she is able to use her tablet than when she has to read from a paper book. All of these are great examples of the importance of being able to learn at a pace and style that is right for the individual. That is really a key foundation to how we approach everything that we do at Atomic Learning.

Victor: How does Atomic Learning address some of your concerns about education?

Lisa: While our product is available and regularly used by teachers and students alike, we firmly believe that for technology and learning to come together in meaningful and exciting ways, everything starts with the school leader and teacher. Our training and resources are really structured in the same manner – we aim to help teachers re-imagine their lesson plans by integrating technology and then support them at every step along the way.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Lisa: A teacher that we worked with in our local school district tells a wonderful story that points to exciting times ahead in education. He shared that he had been teaching for more than a dozen years. When he started, he was excited and trying new things that were energizing. But those days had passed; he had his lessons down to a science (ironically, he teaches science) and he felt he had plateaued. Then, his district launched a 1:1 iPad initiative. He was actually part of a group who tried to block the initiative from happening. Despite these attempts, he found he was faced with an iPad in hand and expectations of using it. He started trying some things and using the device in the classroom. That is when everything changed. He started to challenge himself to take new approaches to his lessons and opened himself up to learning from the students and truly trying to move to a “guide on the side” approach. He shared that he has a new energy and love of teaching and his students are excited about learning. That type of story is hopefully just one of many that have occurred and are yet to come, but it does require courage. Change is never easy, but the rewards can be great.

Victor: Got a quirky anecdote that our readers might find interesting?

Lisa: In a recent case study, we showcased Vacaville Christian Schools’ 1:1 initiative. One teacher at Vacaville was so overwhelmed by the initiative that she quit rather than face her fear of the new technology requirement challenge in the classroom. This is not an extreme example, rather it highlights the dread some educators feel when it comes to facing new technology. We are proud that through support from her peers and Atomic Learning, she returned to the school and excelled in her use of the iPad.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Atomic Learning? 

Lisa: Atomic Learning takes pride in creating tools that work for schools and districts. We strive to be an integral part of professional development and tech integration with each of these partners and individual learners. Our customers say it best, of course: “Atomic Learning is a flexible, low-cost tool for educators and students. Technical support of the tool has been fantastic. It has been an integral part of the professional development we offer our staff,” states the coordinator of instructional technology library/media services at Euclid City School District.

At the end of the day, knowing we’re impacting education makes us truly proud.

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. Get your story told through case studies, white papers and other materials you can share at trade shows and on your website. Write to:


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