Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Better elearning through the basics

So I'm catching up my blog reading when I caught up with Clark Quinn's piece titled Seven Steps to Better E-learning and I found an article that did not open up any new vistas to me, but instead recalled items that I learned on my journey as an instructional designer and have ingrained in my thinking that I have forgotten some of them. His seven points are:
  1. Meaningful skills - training should be about doing something new, not knowing new ideas
  2. Keep things lean and light - we should not try and crowbar in as much text as possible on a screen, your learners' eyes will glaze over and no meaningful skills will be transferred.
  3. Emotional engagement - don't start with the trite, when you are done you will be able to: blah, blah, blah As Clark states:

We know that learning is more effective when learners are emotionally committed. So in addition to addressing individual learning styles, we must address motivation. We should make learners see how new skills will help them actually do things, beyond whatever value others may place on these skills.

As an additional element of emotional maintenance, set expectations about what's to come. Let learners know how much time they'll be spending, and what their expectations should be about the overall experience. This helps learners maintain focus throughout the experience. If they know ahead of time there's a tough stretch ahead, for example, they're much more likely to persevere.

  1. Connected Concepts - Clark gets a little long-haired here, but basically he says we should present the new skill in the context of a larger well understood concept using multiple means for the learner to comprehend and assimilate the skill sets.
  2. Elaborated Examples - This point, in my mind, is very similar to the previous point. Clark reminds us that we should not present abstract, but should instead present real examples of the skill being used. These examples should include both good and bad examples since we all learn from our mistakes.
  3. Pragmatic practice - Up until this point we have been talking to the learner and they have been passive in their involvement. Now we need to help them learn. Again Clark captures the challenge with this issue--the need to create practice activities that walk the fine line between being challenging, but not frustrating.
  4. Refined Reflection - Clark proposes an individualized summary based on the learner's performance on the practice exercises. He acknowledges that the problem is that most elearning does not track learner progress at the practice level. He also notes the dark little secret we all carry in the back of our minds: most learning is forgotten within three days of the training session if it is not used. He argues that learners should have opportunities to practice so that the knowledge remains fresh.
I can't argue with any of these points and I think all instructional designers should take them to heart. As for me. I'm going to print his article out and keep it posted where I can grab it and refresh my mind about these obvious points again and again.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dealing with Digital Natives

I subscribe to the Breakthrough Briefing web newsletter from a group called the elearn Campus. It's a great group that offers regular interesting webinars free-of-charge (always a good deal for a hard working instructional desinger). But my jaw had to drop when I read the article preceding their last webinar, Engage or Enrage.

What got me was this :
Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-based Learning, delivered a keynote address at this summer's Desire2Learn Users Conference titled "Engage Me or Enrage Me." He talked about the great divide between digital natives (the kids who have grown up in the digital age) and the digital immigrants (folks like me who came of age well before the dawn of the digital world as we know it). Prensky's thesis is that many kids are thoroughly bored and uninterested in school because the nature of schooling has not changed much in hundreds of years. (my emphasis) The digital natives face the same old rote memory approach to learning that we did. However, in their lives outside the classroom they are using digital tools (e.g. WWW, wireless text messaging, electronic games, MP3s, PDAs, high end software) to be creators and active participants in activities, not just passive receptors and regurgitators of information. Hence, their rallying cry at school is "engage me or enrage me."

While a great number of today's kids may be truly web-engaged I think it is a gross overstatement to assume they all have to be catered to by engaging them with games. They claim Prensky argued that "...many very bright and creative kids have to turn off their brains and slow down when they go to school because they are not challenged in the ways they are, for example, playing electronic games."

I got news for Mr. Prensky I went to school in the 1960s and 70s when computers were still mainframes and I still got bored at the teaching styles. It's not a matter of digital natives being turned off by the teaching that occurs in school. It is all kids who get bored with what passes for education and it's one heck of an indictment of our teachers--even with their new teaching styles--it's still boring. But kids will always be bored because they do not want to be in school. The trouble is engagement too often becomes entertainment and no learning occurs.

Sometimes we have to do something that seems boring in order to learn. It's just the way of the world. And sometimes, in the corporate world, elearning has to be a page-turner.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Designing Informal

Clark Quinn has an interesting post for anyone who is interested in the role of blogs and wikis in instructional design about informal learning. The basis of his post notes that as learners gain experience in their trade they learn more from informal venues versus formalized training.
The key is to provide learners with centers of experience where they can research and find their information or ask questions of would-be mentors. The problem resides in where we do our jobs. If the learner is not located in the same room as the high-performer who can guide him/her. Then there is a problem and that is where instructional designers can come into play.
To quote Mr. Quinn:

The points being that we need a broader focus, and our instructional design has to be augmented with information design and information architecture. It’s about supporting performance, not just about courses.

As instructional designers we need to look beyond building a course. We need to promote the building of other support systems to assist the more experienced learner.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

On the use of graphics

I meant to write about this earlier, but better late then never. The fine folks at Creating Passionate Users have an excellent post regarding the use of graphics in blogs, books, and presentations. While the piece focuses mainly on the use of graphics for blogs, I think it is equally useful for elearning, especially their ideas for generating graphics ideas. I recommend you read the whole article, but I thought I would list their suggestions for graphics brainstorming here:
  1. Ask yourself, "What's the point I want to make?"
  2. Distill the point to it's simplest, once-sentence form.
  3. Narrow down the graphic types that apply to this point.
  4. Pretend that for some reason you cannot use words to make your point.
They expand on each one of these points and then go on to discuss how to create them with tips on

Friday, November 17, 2006

Project-based Wikis

Wikis can appear to be daunting, especially if you are starting one from scratch. But for a project it might help to begin with your email. So say the folks at Wiki That!. They offer a 10-step process for creating a project-related wiki using email.
Think about it - Isn't your email the first place you'd go to find out what may have happened in an activity you have been part of? But what if you or
others weren't on the receiving end of some emails?
It seems to make a lot of sense to me.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is ISD / ADDIE / HPT Relevant?

I can't speak for HPT, because, to be honest, I didn't recognize that one until I followed a link defining HPT from Harold Jache's post on the topic. As for ISD and ADDIE I think there will always be a role for those approaches, especially in the Web 2.0 (and what ever comes after it) world. But that role will change and those individuals and organizations that refuse to evolve will become extinct in the learning world.

The corporate/government world will always want a structured learning environment simply because
  1. they cannot afford to have their workers following myriads of hyperlinks that could possibly lead them far afield from the core focus of the training they are seeking to instill. The human race is naturally curious and we can easily forget about time as we scan through the wealth of information available.
  2. As general as a lot of topics may be--such as customer service skills or travel expense reporting--each business or agency will have its own unique spin on these topics and will want their workers following that spin.
My formal job title is Instructional Systems Designer but I tend to drop the "Systems" part because many of the courses I create are not process-oriented. They tend to be theoretical (reasons for grounding electrical systems) or softskills (customer service techniques) and there is no hard and fast steps that must be performed that can be trained. What can be presented is examples and scenarios where learners can play "what if" games.

I think that formal training activities will continue and should continue, but these events are going to more limited in scope than in the past and will be augmented by informal learning means outside the classroom. The role of the instructional designer will be to use the ADDIE model to determine what baseline structure can be built into the formal piece of the learning and what parts of the knowledge base are fluid and need to maintained delivered in an informal venue, be it a blog, a podcast, or talking points delivered by a project manager to his or her team.

The future may find that what we now call an instructional system designer is a person who does a little bit of instructional designing and a whole lot of consultative working advising his or her customers on appropriate means of content storage and delivery.

Monday, October 30, 2006

About Blended Learning

For some reason the concept of "blended learning" has risen to the surface again. Back in September Tony Karrer wrote about it in his post: Blended Learning Dead? - Huh? in which he linked to a post by David Wilson: Is "Blended" really dead? who argues that Europe is ahead of the U.S. in developing true blended learning iniatives. Which is to say, Europe is a few feet out from the starting line, while the U.S. is still tying its shoes. What is relevant from David's post is his understanding of blended learning.
Blended Learning should force us to focus on learning as a process rather than as a series of events. The value of blended learning should be in understanding and describing that process, and then understanding the interplay between and the added value through the components of the process, i.e. the whole design, not just the selection of specific media types. Process-based and integrated.
Tony contends that blended learning is not seriously discussed because it has, in essence become a no-brainer. Everyone either assumes they know what bleneded learning means are already practicing it.

One month later I come across a post/announcement by Rick Nigol at Breakthrough Elearning announcing a webinar to discuss blended learning solutions. In the lead-up to the announcement he talks about what he calls the perfect mix. His mix makes a lot of sense. The mix is decided by:
  • The nature of your learning goals, and
  • The nature of your learners.
This is where I think most corporate initiatives collapse. As David Wilson states, "[m]uch of this blending is not actually very blended. Lowest common
denominator thinking drives decisions to chop down classroom time and
substitute in e-learning content that is not really integrated with the
classroom content.

I think Rick Nigol sums it up best when he states "[g]etting the right mix in blended learning is a lot like cooking. You
want all the constituent ingredients complementing each other, rather
than over-powering each other, and fighting for attention."

I've registered for his webinar on Nov. 2 and I hope to get in because seating is limited. If I can't make the live conference I will look forward to reviewing the recorded webinar.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What Keeps me awake at night

Elliot Masie is running an interesting two-question survey for learning/training professionals on What keeps you up at night. I thought I would post my responses to his questions.

As a learning/training professional, WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?
My answer: Making management aware of the changing field of elearning as it tilts towards more informal learning processes. As an employee of a firm that makes its money by being a elearning contractor I'm afraid that the opportunities that are on the horizon will be missed by a management team that is still operating in the LMS/linear creation mode.

I fear that management was burned by the EPSS trend in the 80s and 90s and will be reluctant to consider the new training support tools being made available by web 2.0 technologies.
Hopes & Dreams: What are your hopes and dreams for the field of learning/training? Be brave and honest!
My answer: I hope we can finally break from the one-time learning event approach to training and move to a more supportive role where training is available when it is needed without having to jump through LMS hoops of enrollment  or, before that, convincing a manager to spare some of his/her budget to pay for the training.
I look forward to seeing the summary of all of the responses he receives. I'm sure there will be many more that are more well thought-out then mine.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Online webinars

So I attended an online webinar today about best practices in webinars. I hoped for the best on this, but of course it was really an infomercial for a webinar provider. That did not disappoint me as much as the fact that the provider trumpeted as a benefit of their program is a feature that tracks attendees window usage.

The system can tell when the presentation window loses focus, i.e., the attendee has shifted to another window, such as his/her email application. Their claim is that this gives the presenter and, in extension, the training department, and idea of the attendees attentiveness to the webinar.

I'm not fully convinced that this is a solid metric because, as I posted in a question to them, which was never answered, some people may have dual monitors or large monitors in which they work and can have two or more applications running at the same time.

Since most webinars rely on PowerPoint presentations is there anything gained by staring blankly at a slide while the presenter speaks? We bill ourselves as a generation that can multitask. Surely I can listen to a presentation, sneak a peak at their current slide, and continue to compose an email or develop my own presentation.

The bottom line is that this attentiveness feature is a web version of measuring "butts in seats," but it is done in real time and changes constantly.

What Informal Learning Means To Me

So I'm reading this article published by the eLearning Guild by Brandon Carson, titled Crafting the Total Learner Experience: Preventing Data Corruption in Instructional Messaging (Guild membership required). In it, Brandon is talking about what he calls "The Total Learner's Experience." Brandon writes:
A successful Total Learner Experience should promote the cohesive integration of informational resources into the overall structure of a course delivery system. A course delivery system contains every component designed to facilitate a learning intervention, including the interface access point for the course, which could be a learning management system, corporate intranet, or a simple Web page.
He then proceeds to make common sense arguments for letting content access to trump structure. Designing so that the learner can find what he or she needs to know over what the instructional designer/subject matter expert/management thinks they need to know. Brandon makes some really solid points that I'm sure I will attempt to integrate in my work habits.

But what really struck me is that from what I have read is that the real rebellion against formal training versus what is called "informal training" is the slavish devotion to learning management systems. A learning management system is probably the apex of top-down training. It places toll booths inbetween the learner and the knowledge he or she needs to perform their duties. Informal learning proponents are saying "Tear down that wall." Make learning accessible.

Unfortunately, I don't think learning will ever be made that accessible in the corporate sector as long as corporations expect training departments to be profitable. Learning management systems allow training departments to collect the toll to allow the learner to proceed to obtain corporation-blessed knowledge. It's a totalitarian system that promotes a sort of blackmarket type of training which occurs around the water cooler, the coffee pot, and the smoking area.

Perhaps the future of corporate training requires that the business leaders promote the return of craft guilds and guild memberships. Allow the guilds to provide the training to their employees. Of course that would open a new can of worms for corporations because then they would have to fear the regrowth of unions. But that's another story.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Is it training or is it preaching?

I've been thinking about what is presented as corporate training recently and, maybe I'm being dense here, much of what is called training is more like corporate preaching. The programs we develop are infomercials for positions or points-of-view that are espoused by management. It is positional in that it states this is how we want you to do something when this situation arises.

This is not unlike Jesus preaching to the crowds in the Sermon on the Mount where he said:
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.
He did not expect people to encounter these problems, but should they be encountered this is what they should do. Similarly much of what passes as corporate training is an attempt to anticipate problems and to provide guidance as employees embark or continue on their career paths.

Am I attributing religious meanings to corporate training. NO! What I am suggesting is that as Matthew recorded Jesus' sermons not only for others to read or hear read to them, but to also be referenced again and again as issues arise or simply when Jesus' words needed to be reheard for moral support.

Likewise much of corporate training needs to be more than a one-off event. It needs to be recorded and documented and made available for all employees to review. They need to be able to spread there understanding of these messages to others so that it can be discussed. To a certain degree the discussion element already takes place around water coolers, smoking areas, etc. But these are isolated locations. The word needs to be spread further and that is the beauty of the plethora of Web 2.0 tools.

Corporations need to embrace these tools. I think that with them learning within the workplace can only improve. That's all.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Is this a future Web 3.0 learning tool?

Sometimes you find possibility in the strangest places. For one reason or another I subscribed to a SciFi channel newsletter about technology. For one reason or another I rarely read it and have been too lazy to unsubscribe. And boy am I glad I didn't (unsubscribe that is). I happened to open the latest edition of Sci Fi Tech and besides articles about kite generators and handmade laptops there was this article on the future of online networking: SHIFT: What comes after MySpace.

The article proposes a social networking system unplugged from a computer.
Let's imagine a new site that was designed not to connect people just when they're sitting at their computers, but in real life as well. We'll call it "RealityConnect," just to keep it simple. RealityConnect is event-based rather than profile-based. That means unlike MySpace, a site based around personal profiles, it would be similar to sites like Flavorpill or Oh My Rockness, with listings for cultural events like movies, concerts, art openings, and the like. These listings would be city-specific, so you'd use a localized version of RealityConnect depending on where you live. You could use your PDA or phone to connect when you're out and about and find out what's going on wherever you are.

In addition to the site-created event calendar, users would be able to create and share their own events much like you can do using Google Calendar and Evite. Combine this with the profile-based setup of MySpace and you have a new type of site that is focused on real-life events rather than on just creating profiles. People could share photos about events as recaps as well as to use in the listings of similar upcoming events.
What if this is applied to learning. Suppose you are in the field and you have an "aha" moment and you discover a new way of doing something that streamlines a process and makes your work easier. You can post what you did (maybe a simple podcast or a written note) and let others within your network become aware of your shortcut. It's an instant learning moment.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wikipedia founder plans rival

Wikis are one of a number of web 2.0 tools that are being promoted as an approach to making learning easier to access (along with blogs, podcasts, etc.). And Wikipedia has often been offered up as an example of this collaborative means to capture tribal knowledge and transfer it to others. But wikipedia has come under some fire for its lack of oversight on the editing of some articles. Now, in fact, one of the founders of Wikipedia is planning to launch an alternative.

Now don't get me wrong. I think wikis are an exciting tool to capture tribal knowledge, but the danger lies in people accepting it as gospel truth. It is a human failing that we often accept information as truth if we deem the provider as being trustful. Hence, many of us accept uncritically much of what the New York Times reports, but disregard what appears in the Weekly World News as hogwash. Yet there is no reason to do so.

I guess my point is that the key to a wiki's success is its credibility. This means that, while management must provide oversight it must allow the workers to control the content. Another factor to consider is the expense of maintaining a wiki versus the cost of printing and reprinting official policies and procedures. In the end, the argument over validity of content reminds me of the description of the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitch Hiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Go and Learn

This fascinating article about the potential of mobile learning—Go and Learn—sums up the potential and the short-term struggle for adoption of new learning delivery systems. but this piece, near the end of the article made me stop and think.
Why use these mobile devices to learn when we are already using (some could say overusing) them already? Independent studies show dramatic improvements in knowledge retention when it’s relevant, in context, and on time. Just-in-time learning always trumps what’s just-in-case. [emphasis added by me]
It was the last sentence that made me sit up and take notice. This is where training organizations have to change. Most internal training organization react rather than act. Training is normally not prescribed until a problem occurs. These problems can usually be traced to out-of-date training or documentation, or nonexistent training and/or documentation.

The new training organization cannot stay on the defensive and wait for orders. It needs to be active, working within the organization to evaluate process flows and planning for change not just reacting to it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Jacob Nielsen has an interesting post regarding online participation that should be a must read for everyone who is beating the drum for adoption of web 2.0 tools. Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.
I believe the future of learning is with web 2.0 tools, but Jacob's studies provide an interesting cautionary tale. A must read for everyone in the informal learning camp.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Why people don't use collaboration tools

Here's an interesting post about why people have not actively adopted web-based collaborative tools. Anecdote: Why people don't use collaboration tools. I think the bottom line is similar to what I alluded to on Wednesday when I commented on the surprise most people are having regarding Mark Foley and/or the subject of his attention saving their instant messages.

Web 2.0 and collaborative software adoption is not something that happens overnight. There has to be a tipping point. In the post that started the discussion, Social Networking: Why are Conversationa and Collaboration Tools so Underused?, Dave Pollard suggests that unless there is an active push to have users adopt these tools now they will never be adopted.
Many people seem to believe the answer is to make the tools better and wait for the rest of the world (or the next generation) to catch up with the 2% or 20%. But I'm not so sure. The digital divide seems to grow ever wider, not narrower, and if a tool as simple, free and intuitive as Skype can't replace the telephone even for tech-savvy users, what hope is there for more complicated, sophisticated tools?
Frankly, I'm not convinced. I've always been an early adapter and based on Dave's table on Web 2.0 tool usage I fall within the 2% who use tools within the far right column (wikis, sophisticated collaboration & coordination tools and 'spaces,' etc.). Thirty years ago when desktop computers were first making their appearance the powers that be said only a few people, mostly accounting types, were ever going to need computers. Now they are everywhere. The digital divide was way wider then than it is now and yet computers are everywhere nowadays.

It's only a matter of time that collaboration tools that are only now entering into the workforace. I think those of us who are early adapters have to be prepared to help those who follow behind us. Give them a chance, they'll catch up.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias? - WSJ.com

An interesting give-and-take between Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Wall Street Journal website—Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias? - WSJ.com. It is a fascinating give-and-take about the values of Wikipedia's open editing system versus Encyclopedia Britannica's closed system of editors and fact checkers.

In my mind, this is a battle between dead-wood publishing versus electronic publishing, even though Britannica is now available online. The difference between the two is that you need to pay to access Britannica's full source material while Wikipedia's content is totally free. People, especially kids in school want information rapidly and are not going to sit still for getting abbreviated content unless they can pay. Consider this course for e-commerce. Here is the free content from Encyclopedia Britannica and here is the content from Wikepedia.

The drawback with Encyclopedia Britannica's entry is that it provides only 75 of the full 683 word entry. You have to pay for anything more. There is a free trial, but then afterwards its $69.95 a year.

Wikipedia offers over 3,000 words but its drawback is that it does not offer any references or sources., but there are links to a host of related terms used within the document. And that is Hoiberg's chief charge against Wikipedia. Because it is open to anyone to edit, there is the threat of "vandalism" from purposely posting erroneous data.

My gut feeling is that the pay for information business model of the Encyclopedia Britannica is never going to survive. People will rely on the free Wikipedia more and more. And the key to using this data is to rely on the old consumer warning Caveat emptor.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: Instant Messages

So Andrew Sullivan, in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, wonders why people save their instant messages (Andrew Sullivan | The Daily Dish: Instant Messages). This is why my gut tells me that the Web 2.0 wonders (i.e., blogs, wikis, etc.) that are supposed to revolutionize learning in the corporate world, will not happen for at least another 20 years.

Wholesale adoption of these tools will not take place as long as the movers and shakers who hold the purse strings remain ignorant of technology. Sure they use computers, but they only know what needs to be known, for instance, send a memo via email, complete an online form, or create an Excel spreadsheet.

Everything else is pure mumbo-jumbo to them. Change will not occur until the current in-school generation that is growing up with the likes of You Tube and MySpace reach senior management positions will you see massive adoption of these tools.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Podcasting to train

An interesting paper, titled Podcasting: Co-opting MP3 Players for Education and Training Purposes makes some interesting points about how podcasting can be implemented into the corporate training world. Yet, something about it nags at me. Yes, hearing a voice providing instruction is many times better than reading—although some would argue there are those who learn better by reading rather than listening—it is still somewhat impractical unless wedded to some other form of training.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Where have I heard this before

I've been following all of the discussions about the next wave of informal learning and it all rang a bell, but I could not place my finger on why. Then it struck me today in talking to a subject matter expert who was dismayed at the limitations we faced in developing elearning content. He stated that his subject is best learned by having the learner working with an accomplished individual.

That's when it hit me. The approach espoused by the informal learning proponents is a return to the old master/apprentice relationship and the trade guilds. The guild halls especially were places where tradesmen of all skill levels congregated and exchanged knowledge and skills. The question is, can electronic components recreate the give-and-take represented in both the master/apprentice and trade guild face-to-face experience?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Is Corporate Training an Oxymoron?

It's been a while since I posted anything, but then that's because I have been a busy little beaver at work. New customer, new training initiative, quick turnaround...the typical elearning initiative fueled by the new buzzwords in elearning, rapid development. And I am a firm believer in keeping my work/life well-balanced, so I really haven't been following the learning blogs that closely either.

Today, was the first time I started to see what I have missed and I followed a link from Brain Based Learning to Talking Story with Say Leadership Training, titled Unplanning Learning: Debunking the Merits of a Traditional Corporate Curriculum. While there is much of what is said here that I agree with as far as how people learn, I think Lisa Haneberg has a great deal of sound arguments, but her proposition falls in the category of tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

I concur whole-heartedly that much of what is presented in traditional corporate training has no real application, or, if does have application there is no opportunity to immediately apply it once the trainee leaves the classroom (or shuts down the computer in the case of elearning.) Yet the concept of discovery learning. She writes:
As trainers, coaches, and managers, the way we approach helping employees learn is more important than anything. We need to understand the significance of creating a learning-ready environment and we should let learning be a personal and customized experience. [Emphasis in original]
My problem with this approach is that it assumes that all people want to learn at all times. Call me cynical, but I have been around long enough to recognize that not everyone wants to learn. Some people think they know everything they need to know. Others are scared to try something new. Finally, others just want to put in their 40 hours and go home and have a beer.

My point is that, while I decry the corporate bean counting which is only interested in measuring butts in seats and think that the answer to every corporate culture problem is training, I think there is a need for formal corporate training. For the people who think they know everything they need to know it is an opportunity to present new concepts to them. For the people who are scared to try something new, it provides an opportunity to try something in the safety of a classroom.

So am I dismissing Lisa's ideas. NO! She's right that more learning occurs in an informal environment than in a formal one. Learning occurs more often when the learner is interested in learning than when they are directed to learn by higher-ups. The key is for corporate leadership to provide the opportunities to its employees to discover new tools, concepts, and skills that can improve themselves. This can be done through formal training experiences. Then the leadership must provide opportunities for the learners to expand on those skills informally. On corporate time. If an employee does not take the opportunity then Darwin's Law will take over and those that do not improve themselves will fall by the wayside.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Potential Dangers of Web 2.0

This article, What's Next: The Idiocy of Crowds, highlights a couple of things that bothers me about how things are done today and the future of some of the Web 2.0 tools that are often discussed by the informal learning crowd.
  1. Why are we so enamored by group think? The school systems particularly are big on arranging group projects where one or two kids do most of the work and the rest kind of kick back and do little or nothing.
  2. Wikis seem to be a good idea for managing what has historically been seen as tribal knowledge that is lost when the person or persons who possess it leave. But how do you control the malicious employee who injects misinformation into the wiki content?
I guess it boils down to personal ethics.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Do U.S. elearning companies have a disadvantage?

I was trolling Bloglines for an old blog that was operated by an India-based instructional designer when I stumbled onto the site The Learned Man! and found this posting form back in February particularly fascinating, because the issues raised by this gentleman regarding Indian elearning firms also rings true for their U.S. counterparts.
Right now, more than ever, there is an acute need to have a common
voice, a common body in place that will promote the Indian eLearning
companies collectively and fight for mindshare in markets increasingly
crowded by companies from Ireland, Scotland, Canada and even SE Asia.
I don't know of any organization like the Canadian endeavor, and I would be curious if anyone can point out something like this in the U.S.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Wayward Web 2.0?

Here is a story of how quick perceptions and possibly quicker blog posts can be deceptive. It all started as I was reviewing some of the usual elearning and learning blogs I customarily visit. I just finished reading Steven Downes piece on 10 things you should know. Within that piece he links to another one of his posts, Principles for Evaluating Websites, in which one of his points is to always go to the source to check facts.

Now I continued my reading and I came to an entry by George Siemens at the elearnspace blog entitled: Berners-Lee on Web 2.0
I love it! I am filled with much joy :). Berners-Lee on Web 2.0: "Tim Berners-Lee, the individual credited with inventing the web and giving so many of us jobs, has become the most prominent individual so-far to point out that the Web 2.0 emperor is naked. Berners-Lee has dismissed Web 2.0 as useless jargon nobody can explain and a set of technology that tries to achieve exactly the same thing as "Web 1.0.""
I was kind of taken aback by this entry; it seemed so out of context. Since there was no way to post a comment I decided to investigate further. So I follow the link to find out more of what Berners-Lee, who is credited with inventing the web, had to say. Interestingly there is a link to the actual transcript of the Berners-Lee interview and I found the Berners-Lee is not as down on Web 2.0 as the elearnspace blog account would lead you to believe. Here is the complete question and answer.
LANINGHAM: You know, with Web 2.0, a common explanation out there is Web 1.0 was about connecting computers and making information available; and Web 2 is about connecting people and facilitating new kinds of collaboration. Is that how you see Web 2.0?

BERNERS-LEE: Totally not. Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along.

And in fact, you know, this Web 2.0, quote, it means using the standards which have been produced by all these people working on Web 1.0. It means using the document object model, it means for HTML and SVG and so on, it's using HTTP, so it's building stuff using the Web standards, plus Java script of course.

So Web 2.0 for some people it means moving some of the thinking client side so making it more immediate, but the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be as a collaborative space where people can interact.

Now, I really like the idea of people building things in hypertext, the sort of a common hypertext space to explain what the common understanding is and thus capturing all the ideas which led to a given position. I think that's really important. And I think that blogs and wikis are two things which are fun, I think they've taken off partly because they do a lot of the management of the navigation for you and allow you to add content yourself.

But I think there will be a whole lot more things like that to come, different sorts of ways in which people will be able to work together.

The semantic wikis are very interesting. These are wikis in which people can add data and then that data can then be surfaced and sliced and diced using all kinds of different semantic Web tools, so that's why it's exciting the way people, things are going, but I think there are lots of new things in that vein that we have yet to invent.
After reading the full interview, I initially thought that Mr. Siemens was not a fan of Web 2.0 applications and I was going to write a quick snarky response. But then I got to thinking. What if Mr. Siemens was not against the application of what is called Web 2.0 tools for learning, but was just happy to see someone like Mr. Berners-Lee pointing out what we call Web 2.0 was just a continuation of tools already put in place by Web 1.0.? Mr. Siemens did not give me enough information to form a firm appreciation for the point he was trying to make. My wish is that he would clarify his statement. I have sent him an email asking for that clarification.

External Elearning

Most elearning created by elearning houses are destined for the training of employees, to help them to perform their jobs better. But what about the public? I don't know how many times I have purchased a product and when I went to review the user's guide it was impossible to read because the print was so small.

So instead I stumble along and learn how my camera works by trial and error. So it was interesting to read this little article that was posted on the web by the Financial Standard of Australia titled Intelligently designed elearning boosts sales.
“Traditional eLearning programs are excellent for keeping finance professionals in touch with new compliance requirements and products, but the technology is now playing a greater role in branding and sales,” said David Becker, senior eLearning consultant with IT consulting group iFocus.

Branded eLearning has emerged from marketing departments as a way of influencing consumer decision-making, building trust and establishing a brand as an ‘authority’ in its category, according to Becker.
Well this got me thinking. If marketing can use elearning to help customers make purchasing decisions, why can't businesses go a step further and offer online elearning tools to help people use their products after the purchase? It would go a long way to build brand loyalty and with new Web 2.0 technology it does not have to be expensive.

Advice on giving advice

While perusing my typical stable of learning and elearning blogs, what should pop up, but a really sound piece of advice, which many people could use when they attempt to help someone with a problem.

It was at Tony Karrer's blog, eLearning Technology, where Tony had the following advice:
...[O]ne CEO group that I was part of drilled into your head to never give advice directly, but rather provide relevant personal experience that might help you draw your own conclusion.
It's one of those truisms that is so obvious we almost always miss it. And, hey, Tony, if you read this, here is the only time "I" is used. For anyone who does not regularly read Tony's blog, just follow the link and you will understand the joke.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wikis as learning tools

In yesterday's Online Learning News and Reviews newsletter, (unfortunately not posted to the internet yet) Chris McGrath, co-creator of ThoughtFarmer provides some interesting insights into how business can establish wikis as a collaborative learning tool. His company provides assistance in establishing wiki-inspired enterprise collaboration platforms. He offers the following nuggets on getting a wiki started and generating participation.
  1. Getting Started
    • Choose a wiki platform that IT will approve. "Will your IT department allow company data to be stored off-site? Can you use open-source software?" The IT department of one of McGrath's clients, for example, required Windows-based software that could be installed inside the corporate firewall.
    • Choose a wiki platform that suits the technical aptitude of your users. "Many wikis use 'wiki mark-up,' a kind of language that allows users to add formatting and links to their pages. Technical users love it, but business users often find it intimidating."
    • What's the relationship between your wiki and your intranet? "If your wiki 'is' your intranet, you'll want it to support a broad range of features -- like a home page, news, and an employee directory."

  2. Generating Participation
    • Establish an information framework. "A wiki starts as a blank slate. To get it going, you'll need to create a logical information hierarchy and seed it with information."
    • Get senior people to take the lead. "If members of the senior management team use the wiki, others will quickly follow."
    • Signal users when pages change. "Provide an alert mechanism that signals users when certain pages change. This keeps the discussion going when a wiki page gets interesting."
For companies like the one I work for this could be a new source of revenue for two reasons: 1) the software used for establishing wikis is new and most IT departments are two swamped with the day in and day out problems related to company networks to learn how to set up and maintain a wiki. We could contract to provide this service similar to how we provide assistance establishing an LMS. 2) Wikis are generally populated with procedures and best practices that are inevitably buried in the heads of best practitioners as tribal knowledge. Getting these subject matter experts to put this information down in writing is often difficult for a variety of reasons, just as we develop elearning courses based on subject matter interviews and written documentation, so too could we provide initial assistanc in populating the wiki.

Just a thought for the day.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Exercising the brain

Dr. Ellen Weber writes at Brain Based Business:
Did you know your brain needs regular workouts if you are to create ... say ... the top computer design for your firm? Your brain has three main parts to be challenged on a daily basis: the cerebrum, the brain stem, and the cerebellum.
She then provides an exercise regime for each of the three elements. I'm not sure how "scientific" her recommendations are, or whether she offered them with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, but it is certainly an interesting concept.

How to Resolve Broken Things

So Brent Schlenker posted twice at his blog Corporate eLearning Development about this video of a presentation by Seth Godin at the Gel 2006 conference. Seth discusses--with rather humorous examples--how, as a society, we accidentally and/or on purpose produce "broken things," things that are not user friendly or are just down right confusing.

Seth's basic premise is that there are a number of reasons we let broken things get into the public hands which he sums up with seven general reasons (which he freely admits he came up with off the top of his head) which are:
  1. Not my job
  2. Selfish jerks
  3. The world changed
  4. I don't know
  5. I'm not a fish
  6. Contradictions
  7. Broken on purpose
It's unfortunate, but I see these broken things appearing in the training world. Going forward I will look at each one of these in detail, and I think the number one reason it is broken is Seth's third point: The World Changed.

There has been a great deal of discussion over the value of formal learning and informal learning. In the weekly podcast of the Yi-Tan Community Call titled Informal Learners Everywhere, Jay Cross defined formal learning as a bus ride that has a structured course while informal learning is like riding a bicycle where you control the course you take. (Forgive the puns.)

As stated in the Yi-Tan podcast. The training world is functioning in the framework of the 20th century industrial age, when everything was mass produced and as Henry Ford stated with his Model T, "You can have it in any color, as long as it's black." So management now views training as an "event" in which you herd people onto the bus (a classroom or seat in front of a computer monitor) and you take them on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. When they exit the ride they are trained. It's magic!

But as Jay Cross points out, the corporate style of mass training is unusual to humans. We have crawled up from the primordial ooze learning the hard way--by trial and error. As knowledge was accumulated within the community it was passed on from elders to the young, an early form of classroom training. But it was knowledge needed to survive and it was passed on when the youth of the community needed it to contribute to the success of the community. And that is the key being able to practice immediately what was learned and if they made a mistake or got confused then they could turn to their elders, who often were working beside them, for assistance.

In today's training environment, we are teaching soft skills, hard skills, procedural issues, all types of skills. Some of the training events are engaging while others are downright boring. The unifying factor is that often the learner is sent back to his or her job site and has no opportunity to practice what they heard in the classroom. Of course that is often out of the trainer's hands, all he or she can do is to encourage them to practice. So they don't get to practice a particular skill immediately. When the time comes to use that skill their only hope is to ask their manager or track down an expert with tribal knowledge to share.

That is where the Web 2.0 world comes into play. In his article: A Web 2.0 Tour for the Enterprise, Shiv Singh paints a picture of how Web 2.0 tools can take, what has in the past been a local tribal knowledge repository and expand it to an entire multinational company.
What Web 2.0 values should be corporate values? The more collaborative the employees of a company are, the more successful the company becomes over time. Employees that collaborate efficiently by leveraging each other’s intellect and resources create stronger and more successful products.
This is training and learning in its mot basic form. Its the creation of virtual trade unions where masters and apprentices can meet and talk and learn from one another.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thought for the day, take 2

It's an unusually cool, wet, and all around dreary day here in Connecticut. I just finished my weekend chores and sat down to check my email. Along with the typical spam I discover I have received a comment from one of my posts. My first thought is "Cool! Somebody took the time to read me."

Then I opened the email, read it, and it started my head spinning. It was from Dr. Tony Karrer, who runs his own elearning blog at eLearning Technology and he hit me with a interesting question in reference to my post on August 23rd "Thought for the day. In that post I discussed my realization that as an instructional designer I am often put in the position of learning the content informally in order to create a formal learning engagement. Dr. Karrer posed this question to me.
I think your post here is great (and I'm glad that some of my previous posts helped spark your return to blogging) ... but can I be so bold as to challenge your question: "The question is how do we develop formal learning processes that are more informal in nature and hence more likely to stay in the learner's mind."

Or is it how we can support modes that are more like the mode you've been in while you've been informally learning. In other words, are you going to create resources that support a course OR are you going to create resources that support smaller bursts of learning on particular items? Which would have helped you more during your investigation of wiring?

And I'm honestly interested in your answer.
Well, I have two responses, one is what I consider the ideal and the other is reality.

First, the ideal. In an ideal world I would like to be able to create resources that support smaller bursts of learning on particular items. These types of resources would have and actually did help me in my investigation. For a newbie to electrical systems, Wikipedia provided an excellent starting point. Then my subject matter expert pointed me to a site run by the Siemens corporation that provides open learning courses about electrical installations. The site is, of course, geared to promoting Siemens products, but it still proved to be a great learning site. For elearning to be truly effective it needs to be accessible quickly and needs to be chunked so that the critical piece of learning is easily located.

Reality, at least in my company, seems to be the creation of big, bulky one hour (or more) courses that are housed on the customer's learning management system (LMS). Once on the LMS it is only accessible if the learner is registered to take the course. By the time I become involved in a project decisions on the structure of the course and its location have already been made. Corporations still like this approach because it gives them the illusion of control over their employees' learning. In reality it is just an illusion since most real learning occurs when they learner has an opportunity to actually apply what they have learned. The only thing the LMS approach accomplishes is to provide a means to measure the learner's short term memory by testing them at the end of a lesson. Someone (I forget who) called this type of training throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing how much sticks.

The big question is, how do we educate the decision makers on the folly of locking up learning in an LMS? I think part of the problem lies with the elearning salespeople and customer managers who do not understand the new possibilities. If they do not know, the companies that are employing us to design their elearning solutions (or considering us for employment) cannot be educated. One of my goals with exploring informal avenues such as blogs and podcasting is to try and educate them so we can in turn educate our customers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thought for the day

Yesterday I spent most of the day writing the narrative text for an online course I am developing about electrical wiring. This course is on the fast track--the whole rapid elearning process--so I had already interviewed my SME and he is on travel and unavailable for the rest of the week.
Heck I even found myself examining the electrical wiring in my own home, studying the junction boxes, examining the different types of cable employed and for what purposes. I was even itching to take the cover off of my circuit breaker box, but I thought better of it. I don't think my wife would be amused if I accidentally electrocuted myself.
That is when it dawned on me. Here I was practicing informal learning, gathering data, consulting various online resources, and searching out answers for gaps in my understanding without any formal structure. And I was doing it to achieve a work goal: the creation of a formal learning program. And that is what every instructional designer worth his or her salt does day in and day out.
And that is what informal learning is all about. It's about gathering information when you need it. My father-in-law, a brilliant engineer, has been trying to teach me about electrical wiring for years. Unfortunately without a pressing need to know the information I allowed his lectures to go in one ear and out the other. All of us have so much information coming at us during every minute of every day it is impossible to absorb and apply it all. We naturally filter out what at the moment is perceived as unnecessary. It is only when we truly need knowledge in order to use it that we internalize what we see, hear, or read.
The question is how do we develop formal learning processes that are more informal in nature and hence more likely to stay in the learner's mind.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Online Foreign language courses

Here's a great example of the learning capabilities offered by the web. The FSI Language Courses is a site that offers language courses, originally developed for the United States government and are "...now in the public domain."
Each lesson contains a downloadable mp3 audio file as well as a .pdf lesson. They currently offer courses in:
  • Chinese
  • Cantonese
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Portuguese
  • Serbo-Croatian
  • Spanish
  • Turkish
Hat tip: Lifehacker

Learning and Net Neutrality

When I restarted my blog I vowed to myself that I would not get involved in politics. I tried focusing on politics in my first attempt at blogging (inspired by Instapundit), but I found that, while I enjoyed reading about it and discussing it with other people, it became rather tedious from a writing perspective. That said...
I am going to break my vow temporarily to reflect on the Net Neutrality bill that is before Congress currently. I just read a terrific synopsis of the issue by Mike Godwin, titled: Taxi! -- How Net Neutrality Imitates New York Cabs which got me thinking about its impact on the concept of just-in-time learning. The core of Godwin's argument is the following:
For me, the helpful metaphor is to think about taxicabs in the Big Apple. Anyone who has frequently used taxicabs in New York City is aware that there are some kinds of tiered pricing in some of these services. For example, fares during peak commuting hours may be higher, and there may particular charges associated with using toll bridges and tunnels. But one can imagine what riding in taxicabs might be like if taxicab operators had freedom to discriminate based on where a passenger was going or what he or she planned to do after getting there. Taxicab companies might be tempted under such a circumstances to cut special deals — to provide better rates and/or service to someone traveling to Radio City Music Hall rather than to the Museum of Modern Art simply because the former had a commercial partnership with the taxicab company.
That got me to thinking about the darker side of this concept. If Godwin's take on the net neutrality argument is true, then a taxicab company may also opt to exclude venturing into certain sections of the city because of crime rate. Why risk your driver and/or his/her fares earned when you don't have to?
From a learning perspective, the idea of just-in-time learning is the ability to search the web for information you need. You can then post this information (with links and proper refernce) to your blog, wiki, or other internet means. But if the likes of SBC were to have the ability to require payment from sites to allow SBC's customers to access that site then you are limiting learning capabilities. It's creating a bottleneck that shouldn't exist, but would definitely turn the whole concept of the internet, as it was orginally formulated, on its head.
I for one am going to get off my duff and research this some more to make sure my facts are straight and then contact my congressional representatives to voice my opinion.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The future of elearning

So after a hiatus of about 12 months I am reawakening my blog. This time I have a purpose. Inspired by what I have read about the next wave of elearning here and here I have decided that I need to enter the world of Web 2.0.

What has become apparent to me is that when classroom-based training in the corporate world opted to fire the "sage-on-the-stage" and replace him with the "guide-on-the-side", the former found refuge in the elearning world.

The top-down style of the old sage thrived and continues to thrive in the elearning world where the learners cannot talk back because there is no one to talk back to, except the computer terminal. This is a double-edged sword because while the sage unencumbered by learners interrupting his dissertation, he does not have the feedback loop that lets him know when he might have failed to offer salient information.

This may have been acceptable for the past 20 years because the workforce he was addressing was unaccustomed to two-way communication on the computer screen. But a generation that has been raised with computers linked by the Internet, cellular telephones equipped with instant messaging, and sophisticated gaming consoles are entering the workforce and I don't believe they will stand for this. They will want and create electronic networks and the corporate world will need to grasp and get out in front of this. Stephen Downes in his article, eLearning 2.0, for eLearn Magazine, writes:

One trend that has captured the attention of numerous pundits is the changing nature of Internet users themselves. Sometimes called "digital natives" and sometimes called "n-gen," these new users approach work, learning and play in new ways [2].

They absorb information quickly, in images and video as well as text, from multiple sources simultaneously. They operate at "twitch speed," expecting instant responses and feedback. They prefer random "on-demand" access to media, expect to be in constant communication with their friends (who may be next door or around the world), and they are as likely to create their own media (or download someone else's) as to purchase a book or a CD [3].
This is the world my industry and corporations everywhere need to join. We don't necessarily need to retire the sage-on-the-stage, but we do need to give him new responsibilities, duties that require him to appear at a moment's notice in a variety of venues. This new world is what I wish to explore.

Entering Web 2.0

Testing the capabilities of my blogger site.