Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Talkin' 'bout my generation...

A lot of my learning occurs applying something old with something new. The old element is reading, the new element is electronic media.

I started this lunch hour reading a post by Jay Cross regarding a blog post by Author Penelope Trunk regarding basing what generation we belong to based on our use of media instead of age.

Despite the fact that I was born at the start of the space age I never really considered myself a Baby Boomer. Perhaps it's because I'm a propeller head, always eager to learn a new technology and how to apply it to a learning venue. Most of the true boomers that I know have barely enough computer savvy to compose an email. So I eagerly took Ms. Trunk's quiz to determine what generation I would fall into. I will disclose where I mapped myself to after you have a chance to take the test yourself.

What generation are you part of, really? Take this test. » Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk:
Do you have your own web page? (1 point)

Have you made a web page for someone else? (2 points)

Do you IM your friends? (1 point)

Do you text your friends? (2 points)

Do you watch videos on YouTube? (1 point)

Do you remix video files from the Internet? (2 points)

Have you paid for and downloaded music from the Internet? (1 point)

Do you know where to download free (illegal) music from the Internet? (2 points)

Do you blog for professional reasons? (1 point)

Do you blog as a way to keep an online diary? (2 points)

Have you visited MySpace at least five times? (1 point)

Do you communicate with friends on Facebook? (2 points)

Do you use email to communicate with your parents? (1 point)

Did you text to communicate with your parents? (2 points)

Do you take photos with your phone? (1 point)

Do you share your photos from your phone with your friends? (2 points)

0-1 point - Baby Boomer
2-6 points - Generation Jones
6- 12 points - Generation X
12 or over - Generation Y

I am proud to say that fell fully where I expected to land, A generation Y. I scored 15 points out of a total of 24 points. What does this mean for learning? It means that from an instructional design perspective we need to promote with our clients a move away from the 1 day (or more) marathon training delivery model and move more towards a learning buffet where learners can select their own learning opportunities.

In fact a buffet, in my mind, is an excellent metaphor. Go into any buffet and you will see that, despite the fact that everything from salad to desserts are laid out in advance, people will continue to follow the time honored appetizer, main meal, and dessert approach to serving their own meals. They may eat more than is necessary for a normal person, but they do seem to serve themselves in the traditional fashion.

I would like to imagine that learners would follow the same approach starting with introductory materials and working upwards through advanced programs. These elements would be chunked accordingly and offered in one hour or less chunks similar to many webinars.

Friday, July 27, 2007

July's Big Question

I'm blogging this from the Cedar Rapids Airport where there is free wifi. I'm finally taking the time to respond to The Learning Circuit Blog'sBig Question for July: Choosing Tools. I arrived here after seeing an email from a coworker that noted that Karl Kapp mentioned me in his blog (picture me blushing) in his response to the question. There is not much that I can add to what he said, but here's my brief take before boarding my flight home.

How does the eLearning design process need to change to accommodate such a wide variety of tools?

The eLearning design process does need to change at least for those of us who are independent contractors. We need to be aware not only of the variables that are available, but their pluses and limitations, then we need to be able to clearly communicate these variables to our customers. In addition. I would add that the tools we are discussing (wikis, blogs, virtual worlds, etc.) can be used in the classroom as well as in the elearning venue, and we need to make our customers aware of these opportunities.

How does the tool selection process need to change?

We need to be collaborating with our customers on implementing these additional tools. For instance, in an instructor-led class, video could be used in role-playing to create more realistic feedback to classroom activities.

What should learning professionals do to stay up-to-speed? Do they need to learn new tools constantly? Can they stick with a few tools?

This one is a no-brainer. We are learning professionals we should be keeping up to date with the latest tools, just as any other professional. You don't see many carpenters using an old-fashioned hammer for jobs that require hammering a massive number of nails, they have quickly adapted to using automatic hammers. In some instances where commercial vendors are attempting to sell their products they offer free webinars and 30-day downloads that we can play with. For other web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, 2nd Life, etc., we need to be willing to roll up our sleeves and try out these applications.

Will this trend continue? If so, then what does that imply for us?
Of course this trend will continue; technology development will continue apace and we need to keep our eyes peeled for new trends. Fortunately, we have social networks that can get the word out about new tools and applications. We just need to keep our eyes open to these new tools and not be afraid to try them out.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Declare "Design Day!"

In going back and reading the comments on Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology blog post titled Podcasting has No Inherent Pedagogical Value I reread Karl Kapp's initial comment. What struck me was this:
So, maybe we should declare a Design Day and everyone in the training/education Blogosphere blogs about Good Design and not about technology. (I know we have the Big Question...but maybe this could be seperate.)
I hereby take him up on his challenge.

My take on good design is that it needs to be (in order of importance)
  1. Relevant. The learning needs to be something that the learner needs and can use. Don't get bogged down explaining corporate philosophy and value to the shareholder
  2. Timely. This goes hand in hand with relevancy. It has to be made available when the learner needs it, not when the LMS says he or she can attend. I know this doesn't really get to design and I am flirting with technology discussion, but I think the design issue here is how the material is developed. Is it chunked appropriately so that it can be digested in little bits and can be easily searched to locate the critical learning bit when it is needed.
  3. Engaging. What passes for engaging in most training is really just something to keep learners from falling asleep in their seats. True learning does not occur unless the learner can actively try out what is being taught. The closer to reality the better.
This is off the cuff thoughts, but I think it gets to the heart of good design. I challenge others to respond.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Practicing What They Preach

The current issue of The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning is devoted solely to mlearning possibilities of mlearning.

What I found particularly interesting was the fact that each article can be accessed as an HTML document, a PDF document, or an mp3 audio file.

Of course, the audio file is of course lacking any tables, figures, images, footnotes or bibliography, but it tells you up front this fact and advises to access the HTML or .PDF versions of the presentation.

Also, the voice itself is a computer-based voice, but if you place content above presentation then the computer-based voice is not insurmountable.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Response to "Pimp my Course"

So I was reading through my favorite learning blogs this morning when I came across this post by Stephen Downes recounting the blogosphere reaction to an academic professor's article at The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article by Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College, does appear a bit snarky when it deals with education: Pimp My Course.

So far I haven't done a very good job. Though not exactly a neo-Luddite, I never fully signed on to the electronic revolution, despite the fact that, like many two-year colleges, mine is mega-wired, with at least one computer in each classroom. Most also have overhead data projectors, many have Smart Boards or Sympodiums, and a few are even dedicated to computer-assisted instruction, with 24 stations each.

I confess that in the past I've grossly underutilized those resources, frittering them away in such pedestrian activities as projecting students' sentences onto the whiteboard (where I, of course, proceed to rip them to shreds with a red Expo marker) and allowing students to use their computer workstations to edit and revise rough drafts in class (when they aren't looking at MySpace).

But is the solution to Mr. Jenkins' article merely to heap disdain upon him? Even Mr. Downes, whom I respect for his efforts to advance the use of technology in education dismisses Mr. Jenkins' writing with "I call it the characteristically lazy and sloppy journalism that serves as the best evidence we could ask for regarding the increasing irrelevance of traditional media." I'm not about to dismiss traditional media, heck, I'm not even sure Mr. Jenkins' article was traditional media, unless traditional media is anything you have to read.

But beyond that point I would like to offer up a few suggestions to Mr. Jenkins.

  1. You don't have to jump head first into the deep end of the educational technology pool. You obviously have stuck your toe in and the water was apparently two chilly for you. I recommend you go to the shallow end and enter gradually.
  2. Take a look at this great YouTube video which sums up the whole Web 2.0 thing. If you don't want to leave this post (and I'm honored that you think I am being of assistance), here's that same video linked into this post.

  3. Don't just talk to your colleagues, talk to your IT department, especially those responsible for assisting the distance learning element of your school to run their classes.
  4. Ask your students what they think. Sometimes its best to go to the source, while I appreciate that you have much more experience teaching then they do it does not mean you discount totally what the customer wants. Just look at what happened to the big Detroit automakers as gas prices began spiraling upwards in the mid70s to today. People abandoned them and their gas guzzling products for the more dependable fuel-efficient imports that now seem to rule the marketplace.
Technology in the classroom is not an all or nothing equation. I'm sure your IT department will be more than willing to advise you as you move forward.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Future of ISD

So I'm reading the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath and its leaving my mind a whirl of ideas and possibilities. The main premise of the book is that to make ideas stick you must craft a message that the listener can easily recall through the use of metaphors that they can relate to and can be easily recalled. But I digress.

While reading the chapter on developing messages that are concrete in which the authors argue that you can reach more people with concrete ideas rather than abstract notions, I have another aha! moment. I seem to be having a lot of these lately. As you may or may not be aware I have been laboring to figure where I, as an instructional designer, fit into a world where informal learning seems to be the future.

Then it came to me. Maybe it was a result of watching the latest episode of Dr. Who the night before, an episode called The Shakespeare Codes, that instructional designers need to learn to be Bards, to tell concrete stories that convey the Subject Matter Experts' abstractions. Some stories can be minute mysteries while others can be longer opuses. The key is that the learner can access them at any time without jumping through a lot of LMS hoops.

Friday, July 13, 2007

An "Aha" Moment

I was viewing Stephen Downes vodcast titled: Web 2.0 and Your Own Learning and Development. I'm doing research on personal learning environments for a presentation of my own when Mr. Downes said something that really made me stop and think, in fact I rewound the video to listen again to what he had to say. (approximately 16:40 into the video)
The last place you want to get your information is in a formal classroom. Why? Because you are taking a class you don't need it now, you need it when you are out doing work or something like that. So what you want to do for the most part is shun formal classes and sessions in favor of informal activities. That's not to say you should never take a formal class, a formal class is great for an information dump, but if you want information finely tuned to your needs you're going to have to look to informal methods.

I have been trying to clarify in my own mind how formal training/education fits into the new world of informal learning that people such as Stephen Downes or Jay Cross have been advocating. I mean, what Mssrs. Downes and Cross have been advocating made sense to me, but I always felt that informal learning could not work without formal education. How could a person conceive what type of immediate learning is needed if they were not aware of the general scope of the issue.

Say, for example a researcher is hired by a pharmaceutical firm. Being new to the company, she has no idea how they monitor their drug trials; she may know in general how drug trials are run, but each of individual pharmaceutical company will have its own policies and procedures. Without a formal learning session where she is introduced to these policies and procedures she is left to learn on her own, which, in the pharmaceutical world can be extremely dangerous.

So she attends the formal training and receives the data dump over a course of say 3 days. In my early days of learning about instructional design I recall being told something along the line that 75% of what a learner is provided in the training session is forgotten within an hour of leaving the class if it is not immediately applied and 90% is lost within three days of the training. As I recall these figures were presented as an argument for incorporating practice sessions within the class so that the learner can apply their new knowledge.

Having been on the receiving end of training where practice was provided I can argue that the loss of the skills presented in the training occurred anyway if I did not apply them outside the classroom. (Either that or I'm just a poor student.) This is where informal learning comes into play and the responsibility of the employer to provide the informal resources for the employee to refresh in their mind what they learned.

This could be via:
  • Procedural guides published as wikis in which the end users at the very least can comment on the information so that they can recommend changes that improve the process being performed
  • Blogs that can provide them with alerts to changes in policy, government regulations, etc.
  • Chat rooms or groups where they can share information and ideas
  • Podcasts and vodcasts that discuss critical elements in their activities that they can use to recall what was presented in the information dump that was the formal training
  • Web-based simulations that allow them to fine-tune their activities.
As an instructional designer I've been worried that if informal learning takes off my job would go away, but as I see it now, even with informal learning their will still be an increased demand for content development to satisfy both the formal and informal aspects of learning.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Podcasting and Education

This news article from Campus Technology suggests podcasting does not add to "learning." Consensus: Podcasting Has No 'Inherent' Pedagogic Value
A bevy of recent studies on students' experience listening to recorded lectures via podcasts confirms what many lecturers already know: that the pedagogical value of podcasts depends almost entirely on student motivation and the learning "context" of the application.
The article links to a longer Carnegie Mellon University report, A Teaching with Technology White Paper: Podcasting, that suggests that replacing in-person lectures with video or audio lectures is not advisable, but does think there is a place for podcast lectures as refreshers or as supplemental materials or even as homework assignments. The Carnegie Mellon white paper reviewed three experiments in lecture podcasting at:
  • the University of Michigan School of Dentistry
  • Harvard Extension School
  • the University of Washington
Some of the findings I found interesting from those experiments include:
  • Audio podcasts were preferred over video podcasts or podcasts with audio and still images
  • Majority of students listened/viewed lecture podcasts at a computer despite the flexibility of loading it to an mp3 player or iPod
  • Most used the podcasts as a refresher from actual classroom lectures and downloading increased when the podcasts were syndicated via an RSS feed
  • The real potential of podcasts is to design as supplementary material designed specifically for the format. One approach is "sonic sessions" that interpret one or two important topics and offer questions for considerion.
  • Another use of podcasts is having students create podcasts for the instructor to review. One example, students working pairs created 6 to 10 minute video podcasts "sharing something that they learned during the previous class.
I believe there is great potential for podcasting as a learning tool. Note, I do not say a training tool because I think as we shift from solely bricks and mortar to digital education systems, the emphasis is placed on the learner to build their learning environment as opposed to the pre-digital world were parents, educators, or employers dictated that the learner will give their time to the teacher/professor/trainer.

We need to take these findings to heart, because the people involved are what we call digital natives and are supposed to take to learning 2.0 technologies like fish to water.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Don't blog, write...

So says Jakob Nielson in his latest Alertbox

Write Articles, Not Blog Postings (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)
You probably already know my own Internet strategy, so it might not surprise you that I recommended that he should instead invest his time in writing thorough articles that he published on a regular schedule. Given limited time, this means not spending the effort to post numerous short comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions. (bold facing is from original)
To a large degree I have to agree with him given the context in which he positions his argument, i.e., he was advising "a world leader in his field" on whether the leader should start a weblog.

Mr. Nielsen then goes on to explain in what he himself calls "...a very long article, stuffed with charts and statistical concepts..." why it is not in the best interest for the world leader to emulate most blogs being published. A great number of these consist of short posts  (maximum 7 to 10 paragraphs) linking to a news article, report, or some other official publication and providing the writer's opinion of that linked item.

Mr. Nielsen recommends that longer, well-researched articles posted on a regular basis should be the model the world leader follow, if that world leader wishes to make money from his or her efforts. Of course this sounds like the old model "White Paper" that can already be found on a great number of corporate websites, which, ironically are given away for free.

While I agree there is a log of chafe that a reader has to wade through (including this site) to find the nuggets in the blog world, I can't help but feel that Mr. Nielsen has a real problem with what he dismisses at the end of his article as the "so-called Web 2.0 movement."

Having been a loyal reader of Mr. Nielsen for probably about 6 years I couldn't help detect a bit of peevish elitism coming through in this article and he misses the value of the blog as a means of leveling the publishing playing field and where ideas can come from the most unexpected places, not just handed down on high from "world leaders."

For instance, after throwing a fig leaf to blogs by arguing that they have a role in business as project blogs, he argues that "[b]logs are also fine for websites that sell cheap products...For many B2B sites with long sales cycles, quick hits...are insufficient. Instead, these sites need to build up long-term customer relationships based on respect." What sales has to do with his world leader is beyond my grasp.

But then it appears that the way people use blogs appears to be beyond Mr. Nielsen's understanding. He writes as if people use search engines to find blog posts.
The beauty of the blogosphere is that it's a self-organizing system. Whenever something good appears, other blogs link to it and it gets promoted in the system and gains higher visibility. Thus, the 24 postings that are better than our expert's very best attempt will gain higher prominence, even though they're written by people with lower overall expertise.
But the beauty of blogs is that the people the world leader wants to influence are not those who are going to stop after the first 24 returns, but who will continue to dig. And once they find that world leader's blog they will subscribe to it and receive all future postings automatically.

Ironically, I fear that any world leader that follows Mr. Nielsen's concluding advice will suffer the same fate (figuratively speaking) as Marie Antoinette whom it paraphrases.
Elite, expertise-driven sites are the exception to the rule. For these sites, you don't care about 90% of users, because they want a lower level of quality than you provide and they'll never pay for your services. People looking for the quick hit and free advice are not your customers. Let them eat cake; let them read Wikipedia.
But that's just my opinion, for what its worth.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Will Blog for Money

Could there be a lucrative future in ghost-blogging? For the right price I would be willing to serve as the online presence for a wealthy executive or high-profile Hollywood type.

BBC NEWS | Technology | Are my online friends for real?
As Facebook continues its explosive growth here's one question troubling me. Are my friends for real?

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