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? -

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? - 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.