Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Meeting The Need for On-demand Learning - Webinar

Outstart is sponsoring a one-hour webinar by Chris Howard of Bersin & Associates on March 25, 2008 at 1:30 pm titled Meeting the Demand for "Learning On-Demand. The registration page describes the webinar as follows:

As companies move from course-centric learning to learning on-demand, the role of the corporate training department must change. This presentation will discuss the organizational changes, tools, best-practice processes, and resources required to support an on-demand model. Chris Howard of Bersin & Associates will further discuss how to leverage existing content and the types of standards and templates that work best.
Discussion includes:

  • Learning for the new workforce: differences in learning and approaches between traditionalists, Boomers, GenX, and Millenials
  • What will go away and why
  • What's becoming hot & why you should care

Registered attendees will receive Bersin’s Integrating Learning Into the Enterprise Portal Research Paper, compliments of OutStart.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The myth of Web 2.0 democracy

I think that those of us who are supporters and promoters of Web 2.0 tools--such as wikis, blogs (.pdf), and social bookmarking--have known in the back of our mind that there is always a small cadre of people who do most of the work on these sites. Everyone else just kind of look on and occasionally tweak something posted by someone else.  Here's how Chris Wilson of Slate Magazine put it in his online article, Digg, Wikipedia, and the myth of Web 2.0 democracy describes it.

Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show. According to researchers in Palo Alto, 1 percent of Wikipedia users are responsible for about half of the site's edits. The site also deploys bots--supervised by a special caste of devoted users--that help standardize format, prevent vandalism, and root out folks who flood the site with obscenities. This is not the wisdom of the crowd. This is the wisdom of the chaperones.

His source is Ed Chi, a research scientist at Palo Alto Research Center's (PARC) User Interface Research Group. In a 2006 paper, titled Power of the Few vs. Wisdom of the Crowd: Wikipedia and the Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Chi, along with Aniket Kittur and Todd Mytkowicz analyzed the content creation and editing of Wikipedia. In a follow-up evaluation of the data, Chi noted on the PARC blog that there appeared to be at any given moment in time, a few user are a lot more active than the rest of the population, but there is a long tail of other users who are contributing to the effort.

When we are out selling these concepts to our clients we need to be sure to impress upon them that there is going to have to be a solid cadre of individuals within their workplace that will take the lead in populating and editing these tools. Management cannot expect all workers to flock to the site and enter data.

It is more likely that they will take a look at what a few people add to the database of information. If the content is easily accessible and is presented in a readable user-friendly format they may review it and modify it slightly. If hash is presented -- poorly structured wikis, social bookmarks that have no coherent folksonomy -- then the masses will probably ignore the content and continue to rely on other sources of information within the workplace.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A River Runs Through It

For almost an hour today I sat as my workgroup discussed m-learning and read-write web tools and my brain flashed back to a thought I had about a week ago. A week ago I had one of those moments where my mind wanted to pursue about five different avenues of exploration all at once. As I fretted over which avenue to pursue first, it hit me that there was no way I could pursue all of my choices at once and I need to prioritize.

Initially I was depressed because all of these projects:

  • converting home video to DVD
  • creating a vodcast about the value of using Windows Live Meeting
  • reading the book Gut Feelings
  • maintain my blogging at reading other blogs


These were all things I wanted to do. But with work and family responsibilities that need to be managed, as well as a need for some downtime other than when I sleep, there was no way that I could manage it all. Besides vodcasting, I am interested in the entire broad spectrum of read-write web elements. But the sheer breadth of that topic and the virtual whip-lash I experienced as we bounced back and forth once again led me to dispair my lack of time to delve into it all.

That was until I followed Stephen Downe's post, A Guide for the Overwhelmed, Part 2 - It's a River, Not a Reservoir, to Rob Wall's post of the same name. Rob's post made me feel better. Especially this nugget:

The number and diversity of applications are increasing far faster than I am able to learn about them, let alone mastering them. But that’s not a problem. I can go to the river and get what I need. I’ve developed a trusted network of people who know about these sorts of things, and if I ask them to share their expertise they do so cheerfully. The currency exchanged in this case is not money but a willingness on my part to contribute back to those who ask within my areas of expertise or experience.

This is going to be my new motto. The flow of information can be daunting if you try to swim or walk against it. I need to let it flow around me, select one or two items I want to pursue and just kind of dip in and sample as I need to for everything else.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is Instructional Design Theory Knowledge Necessary?

There is an interesting discussion going in the blogosphere regarding whether a instructional designer needs to be able to wax eloquent over the various instructional design theories, to perform as an instructional designer.

Start with this post, Theory vs. Application in Instructional Design: One Academic's View by Cammy Bean. Her take is that it may be necessary, but not necessarily by paying to earn a graduate degree in Instructional Technology. She references online discussions she has been having with Dr. John Curry, who teaches Instructional Technology at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Curry posted his thoughts, which were very similar to Cammy's in his blog post: Instructional Design in Academia — Where Theory and Practice RARELY Meet.

He cites a paper developed by Dr. David Merrill —  First Principles of Instruction — that seems to brush aside the idea that we need to understand in detail all of the theories such as the Dick and Carey Model or the ADDIE Model (hat tip to Stephen Downes for providing the links so I didn't have to look them up). Instead Dr. Merrill proposes that after reviewing the various ID theories and models it all boils down to knowing five basic principles.

To be included in this list the principle had to be included in most of the instructional design theories that the author reviewed. The principle had to promote more effective, efficient or engaging learning. The principle had to be supported by research. The principle had to be general so that it applies to any delivery system or any instructional architecture (Clark 2003). Instructional architecture refers to the instructional approach including direct methods, tutorial methods, experiential methods and exploratory methods. The principles had to be design oriented, that is they are principles about instruction that have direct relevance for how the instruction is designed to promote learning activities rather than activities that learners may use on their own while learning.

From this effort five principles are identified. These are summarized as follows:

  • Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration, the demonstration principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners apply the new knowledge, the application principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners engage in a task-centered instructional strategy, the task-centered principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners activate prior knowledge or experience, the activation principle.
  • Learning is promoted when learners integrate their new knowledge into their everyday world, the integration principle.

But returning to Bean's and Johnson's posts, if you read the comments the consensus seems to be we need to be at least cogent of the theories in order to sell ourselves and our capabilities to our clients. This is necessary, if for no other reason, then to put them at ease that we know what we are doing. As one commenter on Cammy's blog put it: "People respond to jargon. And, interestingly, people love learning other people's jargon...Citing academic theory makes it sound like you are putting more effort into it than 'I dunno - this just made sense. Whadya think?"

The discussion made me realize that I may have forgotten a lot of the terminology because I have not used it as often as I should. So I guess I'm going to place this on my list of items to do: Read up on all the basic theories to get them back in the front of my brain.

howwelearn UPDATE: Cammy Beans in the comments section of this post asked what I consider the "basic theories" of instructional design. I'm not sure I can respond to that one. I guess the best I can propose is the ADDIE model without the "E", and if its elearning I am developing then the "I" isn't relevant either.

I prefer to think along the lines of how people best learn. David Pollard best summed that up in his post A Theory of Knowledge, and How it Could Save the World. People seem to learn best when:

  1. They can directly use the skills you are trying to offer them followed by,
  2. Directly observing the skill being performed by others, and finally
  3. Hearing the skill being described by others.

I try to use these guideposts as my touchstone in designing instruction. My preferred goal is the first level of learning described by Pollard. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately in the case of some compliance training) direct use of skills is not always possible so I shoot for level 2 and try to at least demonstrate the skills and provide the learner with an opportunity to analyze and evaluate situations where these skills could be applied.

To that end, in answer to her question what is on your essential reading list?, my top recommendation is A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, edited by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl. This book is a great source of assistance and inspiration when it comes to developing assessments, especially when I'm limited to multiple choice type questions.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ah hah! Moment for a Monday Morning

I have to confess I'm feeling a bit guilty because I'm at work and I'm reviewing my learning blogs, but for this 50-year-old instructional designer, I could not resist posting this ah hah! moment I just had.

I was reading Jay Cross's article in Chief Learning Officer magazine about Adaptation. The gist of the article is that we are at a point in time where the workforce is split between those who came of age during a period that still was dominated by the Industrial Revolution and its vertical hierarchy and younger workers who are identifying with the information age and are more accustomed to its more horizontal hierarchy.

But my personal light bulb went off when I got to near the end of Jay's piece in which he wrote:

This is not to say that networks will replace all hierarchies, for that leads to chaos. Someone has to sign the paychecks and mediate among the stakeholders. The challenge is to achieve the right balance, applying command-and-control as appropriate for stability and networks when they improve performance.

Traditional learning is bursting at the seams because there is always more to learn and unlearn. The amount of knowledge in the world doubles every three years. New discoveries invalidate former truths.

So shoot me for being dense, but it never occurred to me to think of learning as something other than linear. You pass through your toddler years learning from your parents, siblings, and other toddlers; you enter elementary school, proceed through middle school, high school, college, etc.

I always saw this as just adding layers of knowledge, I never considered that New discoveries invalidate former truths, meaning you had to cycle back to information you formerly acquired and overwrite it with new information, or perhaps retain the old information, but store it elsewhere as invalid or obsolete knowledge that can be used as a red flag to correct others who still labor under the misleading or obsolete information.

Okay, back to work.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Let me tell you about...Excuse me, what were you saying?

Killian & Company have a fascinating opinion piece about the public's attention span and what it means to marketers which I think can also hold true for training and development individual. The article, The Post-Literate Era: Planning Around Short Attention Spans, when viewed in the perspective of learning initiatives would seem to argue against the lengthy (read 60 minutes or more) elearning initiative.

Brand holders need to be aware of the implications of this phenomenon, including such practical applications as starting a White Paper with a paragraph that consists of one short simple declarative sentence. Welcome to the Post-Literate Era – a period which began decades ago but which has gained momentum in the 21st century. The evidence is everywhere: we can even draw the graph of sustained attention, from a 19th-century reader willing to read David Copperfield over several weeks, to long-copy magazine ads of our grandparents' generation, to today's web pages that are given 4.5 seconds to show themselves relevant.

As an avid reader my initial response is to rail against this apparent turn of events, but, being a reader, I continued on from the initial proposition and found some guidance, guidance that had been fermenting in my brain already.

In today's age learning content can no longer be just facts on a page. They must be engaging which requires strong storytelling. Now this is nothing new and I've heard it said before the advent of shorter attention spans that successful learning events need to engage the learner, but I think this concept has often been given lip service while the focus of most learning is on how to save dollars by using software that will allow rapid development of e-learning courseware by the subject matter experts who know their materials. Unfortunately the subject matter expert may not be the best story teller.

Nobility, elected officials, and celebrities know that while they may be good at what they do, they may not be the best at telling their own stories. So they hire writers to tell their stories for them. Likewise the training industry sprang up to tell the stories of subject matter experts. I think as an industry we need to reflect on how we tell these stories and remodel them to reflect how society wants to absorb these stories.

Hour-long clicking of Next buttons to read course content and maybe see an animation or two will no longer work. We have to streamline presentations to be absorbed in smaller chunks and can be developed and delivered in multiple means: on-line courseware chunked into small (10 screens and no more) sections that can stand on their own; audio podcasts using narration developed for the courseware; transcripts of the podcasts for reading; online forums in which people can discuss the matter with one another.

It's a new age and we need to start thinking in terms of how our customers want to consume our product rather than force customers to try and swallow what we produce.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fiber Optic Cable Cuts Isolate Millions From Internet, Future Cuts Likely | Threat Level from Wired.com

So there was a major Internet outage yesterday. We often worry about  electrical outage, but as we rapidly take to using our wireless devices as web access vehicles you have to wonder if we need to start worrying about network outages when we think about expanded use of e-learning and m-learning.

Given the desire by telecoms and broadband customers to keep costs low, situations like the current cuts will continue to happen, according to Todd Underwood, a Vice President at Renesys, which provides internet information analysis to the majority of the world's largest telecoms.

"Part of the lesson here is that there will always be outages," Underwood said. "This is all about money -- how much money do we want to pay to make sure the network doesn't go down? We are used to thinking of the internet as being a thing that goes down."

We take a great deal of our technology for granted until we lose it. Maybe we need to start thinking about redundancies in the training world as well.

Fiber Optic Cable Cuts Isolate Millions From Internet, Future Cuts Likely | Threat Level from Wired.com


Further thoughts: Is this occurring at the same time that the economy is tightening up and corporations will be looking towards cyber alternatives to traditional classroom training? Could we be seeing a perfect storm for the training world brewing?