Friday, April 28, 2006

The "karaoke principle"

Maybe I should patent the phrase!

A colleague and I were discussing our projects today. There is a fair degree of overlap between the requirements of our two clients. We were talking about what happens to a company undergoing transition - particularly a service industry. So much attention gets paid and (dare I say it) money gets spent on vanguard learning. The whole hearts and minds thing, then the new processes. Lots of carefully positioned learning, in the case of my colleague's client, designed to show the empathy of the transition directors for the coalface workers, to provide them with support as they cope with the uncertainty that comes with facing change and learning the skills required within the new framework.

Then comes go-live. It's after that that things tend to get a little patchy. The stabilisers are removed and real life begins to happen. While it is easy to exercise a new skill in the artificial environment of a classroom, it's whole different matter when it comes to applying the same skill in the context of the workplace. This is what I call the Karaoke principle: you can sing along to a song on the radio - every word, every note. But take away the vocal track, stick a mike in your hand and put you in front of an audience and you suddenly realise that you barely know the chorus. It's bad enough when you have the words scrolling across the screen in front of you, but if the karaoke system isn't sophisticated enough to have them... oh dear! Helllllp! One desperate soul on stage in front of everyone trying not to make a complete prat of him/herself.

This stage of the process needs to be covered by suitable learning, too.

Moving away from online courses towards REAL jit learning

A few projects on the go at work have got me thinking along these lines. This is not a definitive position - I'm on a journey, here, and this is where I've got to now. Who knows where it will lead?

As Stephen Downes said in a recent presentation, online courses are not the answer. How do we know? Because it's not what people want. How do we know? Because, when people want to know something, it's not what they do.

The intended end-users of my current project are harassed managers within a group of business units who have to deal with a fairly large chunk of devolved HR responsibilities. These are not trained HR professionals - each one has a different background and a different area of expertise. Their people skills vary enormously from one to the next. There is a Group HR department, but the aim is for these professionals to add value to the HR practices of the organisation, rather than dealing with the nuts and bolts of the day to day issues like maternity leave applications, hiring and firing, performance management and so on.

So how do we support these managers so that they don't wind up on the phone to HR every few minutes? Well, if Barbara Manager has someone standing in front of her, red-faced and furious, claiming to have been subjected to on-going gender discrimination, she is not going to sign up for an e-learning programme to learn how to deal with it. What is she going to do?

  1. If we're honest, she's most probably going to call HR. It's the kneejerk reaction.
  2. She could ask a colleague - either over the phone or in person
  3. She might Google it (I know, I know - just bear with me, okay?)
Let's look at each of these options in turn.

Calling HR
We have to face the fact that, for the foreseeable future, most people are going to see this as the easiest option. Let someone else do the thinking and just tell me what to do - Barbara might even have her HR contact on speeddial. What alternatives might that "someone else" suggest for next time? And there will be a next time. One thing we do know is that whatever the HR contact tells her, Barbara is going to put it into practice and forget it - she has enough on her plate without trying to remember the ramifications of an exceptional situation.

Whatever it is, it is going to have to deliver the goods. The answer/information must be:
  • easy to find
  • relevant (and in a narrow, specific sense - not some broad spectrum panacea)
  • found quickly
Asking a colleague
This form of learning constitutes a whopping proportion of work-based learning. If memory serves, some studies place the figure at 70% (although, of course, I couldn't track any down today!). Much like phoning HR, this relieves Barbara of the need to find time in her overcrowded schedule to figure it out for herself. Kenneth will tell her how it is done.

A lot will depend on what sort of a coach Kenneth is. If he simply tells her the answer, the single piece of information Barbara will remember if this happens is "Kenneth knows". Next time, she will ask Kenneth again.

If, however, Kenneth showed her how to find the answer for herself, perhaps next time she would try that instead. Of course, this is contingent upon the answer being:
  • easy to find
  • relevant
  • found quickly
Googling it
Okay, this was a bit of a silly example. What possible use could it be to Barbara in Britain to learn how a discrimination/harassment situation is handled in Japan?

But hang on. Let's look at this a different way. What if Barbara wants to know how to apply for permanent residence in the UK? Increasingly evidence indicates that Googling it is right up there. It's what people do.

So how's about we create some kind of in-house Google-type-thing where Barbara can search for the company policy on grievances, the correct grievance procedure, the forms she needs, hints and tips and some online learning to support her through the process? What if that online learning was not a linear course, but a collection of just-in-time pages that she can dip in and out of as the whim takes her? What if there were to be a library of case studies where she could find out what someone else did in a similar situation?

What if the HR contact sent her the URL to try next time. What if Kenneth showed her how to use this facility? What if the information contained in the resource were (you guessed it):
  • easy to find
  • relevant
  • found within a short space of time
Would Barbara go there first next time? I'd like to think that this resource would certainly move up her list of options and, if it continued to deliver the goods, perhaps it would become her first port of call in time.

What if Barbara could contribute to the resource? What if she could cite the example of gender discrimination with the boot on the other foot: how this member of her staff had complained about repeated assertions that he was not being able to multi-task "because he was a bloke". This might be relatively new and rather unusual territory, but someone else is bound to encounter it sooner or later, and Barbara's experience might prove handy.

The beauty is that Barbara doesn't have to remember the whole process associated with discrimination, harassment, etc. She just has to know where to find it. In fact, it would be better if she didn't remember it. Her memory may be faulty. The process may change as legislation is introduced.

In this day and age, she can ill afford not to adhere to current policy, to follow current procedure. The risk of expensive litigation is high and growing. Next time, when she conducts her search, the results may be different from last time, but they will be current.

I'm liking this.

(By the way, if you picked up on the Kenneth and Barbara/Ken and Barbie connection, well done! I'd like to point out, however, that this was not a case of gender stereotyping - those are my parents' names. It's a bit of a family joke, as you can probably imagine)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

ICT use by school children

An interesting post on Derek’s blog. I have had some exposure to the issue of ICT in schools and find that teachers constantly raise the argument that many children do not have access to computers/the Internet at home. This would seem to be at odds with the findings of this research.

Off the top of my head, this could mean one of two things (although there are no doubt other possibilities I haven’t thought of):

  1. the research is inaccurate due to an unreliable sample group, or
  2. it’s time we stopped hiding behind this excuse and identified the real problem
A possible candidate for the “real problem” comes elsewhere in Derek’s post:
Teachers have not had training in developing these uses of ICT, therefore do not have extensive understanding of what this might involve and are fearful about the potential impact on their time of home-school ICT links.

Our lives in the role of technology

Via a link from Vicki’s blog, I found Marshall Kirkpatrick’s email interview with Gina Trapani (Lifehacker) about the impact of technology on our lives and providing some perspective on blogging. Like Gina, “I'm a firm believer in technology as an enabling force for any individual or organization.” Like her I have worked for an organisation where technology has taken over “to the point where you'd instant message the person that sat next to you on your computer instead of turning your head and talking aloud” although in my case it was a way of avoiding tension in relationships. She refers to a low-tech solution using post its, flags, drawing pins and the like, that worked for everyone and says, “That was a big lesson for me - software doesn't always solve the problem”. I totally agree! Not to sound one-uppish, but I learned this lesson some time ago. These are some examples of how I’ve opted for a low-tech solution that has worked better than hi-tech might have done.

A couple of years back, I went for a job interview for an IT trainer role. I was asked to deliver a 10 minute presentation about myself, which obviously served the dual purpose of giving them background about me and demonstrating my presentation skills. I just knew that all the other candidates would go with PowerPoint and, while I think it’s a wonderful package, I believe that death by PowerPoint is an increasing danger. Instead, I printed out loads of images on A4 paper that represented my life: a picture of the map of South Africa with circles around the places where key events in my life had happened; a sad face behind bars to represent my years at boarding school; a stereotypical theatre shot to represent my years at drama school; a wedding picture; pictures of my boys; that kind of thing. As I spoke, I stuck these pictures up on the walls all around the room (which was quite large). At the end, they were surrounded by me – and I left the pictures there until the end of the interview. I decided not to take the job, but several months later, they called me back to make a new offer. There had been some reorganisation and only one of the three people who interviewed me was the same as before, but one of them turned to the other and asked if I was the one she had been told about with the pictures all over the walls. Apparently it had gone over a storm and was a talking point for some time afterwards.

For almost two decades I taught people how to use spreadsheets, first Lotus, and then Excel as the balance of market-share shifted. The bulk of my training was delivered to new or low-end users and almost universally, I found that they had a problem grasping the concept of relative and absolute references. Once I had given an introductory example to set the scene, I would switch off the plasma screen and step away from the computer. I then used to explain the concept by means of an allegory about gorgeous drum majorettes or 3 year-old ballet dancers giving a concert (depending on the demographics of the group). I won’t try to explain how it worked, but it always involved me deliberately making a complete clot of myself doing an imitation of one of those groups of people. Every teacher/trainer knows the joy of that moment when you see the light go on in the face of the learner. The ridiculous little “dance” seldom failed to herald that moment. Not to mention having everyone in stitches!

Another point in Gina’s input that I found myself nodding as I read was that “constant connectivity and an interrupt-driven existence can really degrade people's morale and productivity levels.” Yesterday I read a post from Kathy Sierra that overlapped with this sort of thinking – touching on how the television can sap us of energy. We think we’re too tired to do anything but watch telly, but in fact, we’re tired because we do nothing but watch telly! I can remember when my grandfather used to resent the intrusion of the phone ringing at an inconvenient moment - it really riled him. His indignation made such an impact on me that I now have a rule at home that we leave the answering machine to pick up calls during meals.

Nowadays, it’s not just in our homes, and it’s not just the phone. Mobile technology means we can be reached anywhere, anytime by phone, email, fax. We can carry our offices with us, and can be about our business 24/7. Even being on holiday abroad is no guarantee of escape – and believe me, I have first hand experience of this!

Having Outlook (or whatever you use instead) open as you work can totally hijack your plan for the day, as you find yourself compelled to attend to the mounting number of little red exclamation marks, rather than addressing the issues on your to do list. It has the potential to put one into the passenger’s seat of one’s own life. If that’s not demoralising, I don’t know what is! There is a creeping apathy that results from this: a kind of “whatever” attitude of someone who feels powerless to direct their own path.

To end on a slightly more upbeat note, there was one final point in the exchange that I found interesting: “The important thing to remember is a blog is like a garden - it needs constant tending and watering.” Nice thought.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Multisensory learning

I'm not sure if bloggers will be able to follow this link to an interesting article by Martin Shovel of CreativityWorks, published in Training Zone. It might require registration... I forget.

However, there are some interesting points I'd like to tease out:

Perhaps trainers and teachers could learn some useful lessons about multi-sensory learning from the world of advertising. There's almost always a strong synaesthetic dimension to persuasive advertising campaigns.

The article is promoting the use of cartooning for teaching and learning:

The graphic simplicity and directness of cartoons can be used to evoke smells, sounds, feelings and tastes, as well as the emotions that accompany them.

It's a strong argument and I can see that it can prove a very useful learning tool. However, why stop at evoking sounds, smells etc. Why can we not use the real thing? Or somehow harness the power of these senses to improve retention? Vicki Davis (Coolcat teacher) refers to this in point 8 of her typology of cognitive pleasures in the classroom:

Involve all of the senses: touch, sight, hearing, and yes, even taste and smell. Do you know how I teach the students to participate in Socratic discussions. (Some of you will hate this and criticize me greatly!) I use food...Many of our best class discussions are on the days we have candy. It's not a big piece, sometimes Starbursts, sometimes chocolate.

How many of us are transported back to a given moment in our lives by a smell, a sight, a sound, a taste, a touch sensation? For me, there is a certain smell that transports me back to the time I saw the (dreadful) movie Jesus of Nazareth when I was 15. For my husband, the smell of birch and/or beech trees transports him back to the tiny island off the coast of Sweden where he spent idyllic childhood summer holidays with his grandfather.

We encounter the notion in literature and movies all the time - sadly usually in connection with something awful. For Matt Freeman, hero of the Power of Five series by Anthony Horowitz, his telekinetic/precognitive ability is always accompanied by the smell of burning toast: the first time it manifested, his mother had just burnt the breakfast toast.

Works of fiction have also explored the deliberate and callous harnessing of this concept: River, in Serenity turns from a docile, somewhat unbalanced teenager into a veritable killing machine thanks to some subliminal messaging; for Danny in Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog) the removal of his dog collar has much the same result.

But sensory conditioning goes back a long way: think Pavlov and his dog. Just because we've moved on from behaviourism as a viable teaching method, does this mean that we are done with fostering connections between information and the senses?

If it involves chocolate, improves retention and enhances the level of learning, I certainly hope not!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Does my blog own me?

I guess not!

18.75 %

My weblog owns 18.75 % of me.
Does your weblog own you?

Link to quiz.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Collaboration makes waves

We will focus on technologies that meet the demand for personalised media. It is a trend we are already seeing with the growth of blogs, podcasts and peer-to-peer networks in which individuals and small content providers can share information, in some cases supplanting the mass media.
So says Arturo Azcorra, technical co-ordinator of the E-NEXT project. He was talking about planned intensive research over the next three years, meeting the rapidly changing demands of consumers. His expectation is a radical impact on the audiovisual sector. This appeared on my radar via this post from IST Results.

This project is being funded by the European Commission’s IST programme. According to IST Results, it "has spurred cooperation on developing new technologies in areas such as mobile and ambient networking, self-aware and service-aware networking and content distribution".

E-NEXT runs an annual conference called CoNEXT which "is fast becoming a major annual forum for debate and information exchange between researchers from Europe, the United States and Asia on future networking technologies".

It's gratifying to see that we (bloggers, that is) are part of something that is influencing future planning on such a huge scale.

Storming the formal education fort

Informal learning is at an interesting stage in its development. Attitudes towards it appear to be riddled with inconsistency and hypocrisy. Employers appear to be actively encouraging staff to engage with informal learning as part of their CPD - some have even developed systems for tracking this. However, when it comes to recruiting new staff, there still seems to be a strong leaning towards formal education. If I take the cynical view, this tells me that they don't really place great value on informal learning - it's just a way to avoid the expense of having staff enrolling on formal learning programmes and taking study leave to complete the necessary assignments and pass the exams.

And educational institutions seem married to the view that only formal learning can be accredited towards formal qualifications. I have posted about this before. In the interests of my own marketability, I have been looking to formalise my learning. To add the right letters behind my name and gain the right piece of paper to wave at interviews. I have spent the past 20 years engaged in informal learning of one sort or another, while gaining a wealth of experience in my field, both first hand and vicarious, but it seems I can only prove that I have learnt something by having someone else say so.

Because I will need to study on a part-time/distance basis, any qualification is going to take a long old time to achieve. I don't fancy the idea of putting in 6 or so years towards a bachelor's degree, when I'm confident that my informal learning has taken me beyond that level already. I had a glimmer of hope last week, when I spoke to a counsellor who gave me to understand that I could embark on a master's degree course. I would need to deliver written material and a presentation to some sort of board to convince them that I was, what... smart enough? Well informed enough? Committed enough? To take on post graduate study. That didn't seem to be a problem.

Later in the week, the goal posts moved, and it seemed I would first have to do a crash course bachelor's degree part time over two years. Sigh. Okay. Two years isn't forever. I can manage that.

Then the goal posts moved again, and it seemed I would have to the second year of a Cert. Ed. first. Furthermore, I would need to do a crash course before being allowed onto that, because I completed the first year of my Cert Ed more than three years ago. Deeper sigh. Okay. I can handle that, too.

Then the camel's back quietly broke, with no more sound or fanfare than a popped soap bubble. In order to complete the second year, I would need to teach 120 hours within a formal learning institution. I am an instructional designer for a private sector commercial organisation. Before that, I was classroom based, yes, but still within a commercial organisation. It is several years since I set foot in a formal learning institution.

By this time, my enquiry had been passed along to a few different people. I sent an email to the latest of these to find out if there was any way for someone who is not classroom-based to complete this course. Silence. Up until that moment, the responses had been very quick, even when my enquiry had been passed along the line (again). This time... nothing - not even a "Sorry, but no."

The drawbridge is up. You shall not pass. Deepest sigh.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Learning objects or not

Here is a post from Rob Reynolds of Explanazine, entering in to the debate about the appropriateness of learning objects. This is a discussion that shuttled back and forth between the various members of my team at work some months ago. While I appreciate Rob's excellent analogy, and agree with it on the one hand, as a learning designer I find it difficult to conceive of learning with no object.

I have a particular problem with the thought of hard skills/technical subjects losing their learning objects. I know that assessment is another hotbed at the moment, but I'm not sure how one would assess competency without predefined learning objects. And I remain adamant that things like driving, building, demolition, surgery should retain a process of objective assessment against a predetermined (regularly revised) set of performance criteria. There is just no way I want my house built or my surgery performed by someone who hasn't jumped through that hoop. Try as I might, I can't shake the old fashioned view on that score!

However, I agree that learning - both theoretical and practical - is a journey rather than a destination, and no-one has ever truly arrived. IMHO, there should be an expectation that a person will spend a certain percentage of their time on CPD, and an accountability for this should form part of the review process. Skills degradation is all too real - particularly for overworked professionals.

Over the past few years, the term "lifelong learning" has moved from the realms of the learning professional into general usage. Research supports the idea that older people who continue to engage in mental challenges can retain a greater measure of the mental acuity and reduce the risk of dementia - something BUPA made much of in an ad campagin a couple of years back. In fact, for many of us the line between life and learning has become so blurred that lifelong learning is pretty much a tautology - a bit like lifelong communicating, if not yet quite as self-evident as lifelong breathing. And yet there are still many professionals out there whose workload and additional commitments simply do not allow the time for work-related learning. Our challenge as learning professionals is to reach these people. To make learning accessible even to them.

Hopefully ubiquitous learning will begin to do the trick - taking the learning to the people, rather than bringing the people to the learning. While I'm still not sure how we would design learning material with no learning object, the gradual demise of the online course, and the move towards ever smaller JIT granules of information delivered anywhere, anytime will hopefully reach an ever widening audience. Of course, the words "horse" and "water" spring to mind here: you can take the horse to water, you can even take water to the horse, but if the horse is particularly disinclined (or ornery, as my American friends might say)...

At this point, this is where affective change is required. The issue of accountability for CPD that I mentioned earlier. This approach requires the simple matter of changing the way the whole commercial world approaches performance appraisals.

Hmm. Well that's my week planned!

If only...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Working smarter - groan!

"Speeding things up can only work for so long. Instead, we need to think about helping students to work smarter, not faster. There is an alternative to speeding things up. It’s the smarter solution—one that helps students develop the skills and understandings they need to find, process, and use information effectively. This smarter solution focuses on process as well as content. Some people call this smarter solution information literacy or information skills instruction."
This quote comes from the Big6 skills overview via George Siemens weekly elearnspace summary email (click link to subscribe).

When I first entered the world of learning on the provider side of the equation, I worked for AdvTech, a subsidiary of a US company called Applied Learning. While AdvTech still exists, I have been unable to establish whether it still forms part of the Applied Learning Group, or, indeed whether Applied Learning still even exists as an entity (let's face it: googling Applied Learning is going to return too many hits to sift through!).

AdvTech had a division that supplied all manner of training videos, and my familiarity with names such as Peters, de Bono et al, dates back to then - downtime was spent wading through great wadges of video material in order to become familiar with it. I lost ccount of the number of times the speaker would tell me to work smarter, not harder. The trouble is, none of them ever told me how!

What the heck does it mean, anyway, to "work smarter"? Apart from being appalling grammar, it strikes me as being one of those glib sayings that are designed to make a person feel inadequate. They come and go, these phrases, don't they? I can remember a time when a managers would have a little plaque on the desk, with the word "Thimk" on it. I asked about it once - was it an anagram? Apparently not. It seems it had to do with not always making assumptions. The tendency being to see the word and assume that it said "think". But you were supposed to think, to pay attention to the details, to notice that not everything was as it seemed. However, since the very first thing I noticed about the word was the fact that it was misspelt, it was something of a damp squibb.

Now it's not working harder that's the problem, it's working faster, according to Big6, but the solution is still to work smarter, apparently. It is nearly 20 years since I first heard the phrase, and I have come a long way since then, but I still feel I want to stand up and shout, "What the heck does it mean?!" To be fair, there is an attempt to explain the "smarter solution", here:
one that helps students develop the skills and understandings they need to find, process, and use information effectively
However, until someone can teach people the art of working smarter, for me it will remain one of those rah-rah catch phrases that should be consigned to world of Honest Abe's Used Car Sales.

Sorry, but there it is. Bah humbug.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Thoughts on the learning journey and the role of design

George Siemens' post on his Connectivism Blog yesterday was one I read with interest. Most of what he says is revisiting past territory. A few points I picked out of the post:

  • "Any long term change in our formal learning institutions will be bottom up"
  • Confusion is not a bad thing - in fact, it leads to learning
  • Learners retain content that has value to them
  • Learners are not containers to be filled
  • Learning can be guided but not managed
He also examines the evaluation process, which is something that bothers me less, having little to do with it. I am more interested in evaluating learning material than I am in evaluating the learner.

One point he made, though, was around the responsibility of the designer in the whole process. He contends that "the task of design is to move people towards intended targets". That learning is as much a function of life as breathing and that people learn regardless of the quality of design. Perhaps it's because I'm a designer, but I'm not so sure about that second bit. My own earlier post about "learning by meandering" notwithstanding, if I need something in a hurry, I have no patience with learning material that doesn't deliver in short order. If one resource doesn't provide it quickly and intuitively, I will meander off elsewhere and try again. For me, that's the difference that design makes. If learning material is well designed, it will spit out my required piece of knowledge/information toot sweet. So, yes, I will learn what I want to know in spite of poor design, but I will learn it from the better design. Poor design will not only not move me towards my intended target, it will move me away from the learning resource itself... a bit of a waste, really.

Learning by meandering

I like the Lone Star Learning posts on Xplanazine, they're so... I don't know... readable. Rob Reynolds obviously likes to tell stories, and I like to read them, so we're a good combination. I like the fact that I can often get from start to finish in one of his posts without having to dive off after some or other link to get the context.

This one talks about the different ways people navigate around the web, using navigating around towns as an allegory. As the reigning world champion in the art of getting lost, I found myself chuckling my way through his post. Don't get me wrong: I am an ace navigator, as long as someone else is driving. I am also pretty good at finding a place if I have been given a faultless set of directions. However...

The road by which I currently leave town on my way home from work is closed for repairs. So I tried to leave by an alternative route the other evening. My drive home usually takes 40 minutes or so. After about half an hour of driving, I was thoroughly lost. I pulled off the road and phoned my husband (let's hear it for mobile phones). "I'm in a farming area on a road called Mill Road, near a place called Thurleigh in - I think - Bedfordshire. Could you look it up on Google Maps (let's hear it for Google Maps) and tell me how to get home?" Of course, being a sensible individual, my husband asked me which direction I was facing. It was completely overcast, and I couldn't see the sun. Ergo, not a clue. After a few minutes, the sun peeped through a break in the clouds and I was able to asertain that I was facing north. Between us, we managed to figure out which way to go and I managed to get home an hour later.

Sometimes my journeys around the www are like this. Sometimes I know where I'm going (Google Maps, for example) and I go there, find what I want and get on with my life. Then there are other times. I'll start off reading a post on one of my subscription blogs. There will be mention of something/someone I haven't encountered before. So I follow the link to that post/person. Once there, I'll find some interesting tidbit of news, and follow the link to find out more about that. An hour later, I have no idea how I got where I am and without the wonderful "back" icon, would have no chance of finding my way back.

Perhaps this kind of learning is called serendipity (I think I read that somewhere on one of meanders through cyberspace), but, tipping my hat to the old MBWA (management by walking around), I think it should be called LBWA or LBM - learning by meandering..

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Stephen Downes re-appears for a moment... with a gem!

A lot of OLDaily bypassed my little brain. But, when Stephen gives talks like this, I can understand, I can keep up.

He's been off visiting the Magdalene Islands, doing a spot of navel gazing: a kind of why do I do what I do thing. I can understand that - the man's work rate is phenomenal, and it's easy to get so caught up in what we do that we forget why we do it.

Net result? His epiphany is that the notion of "It's not about the technology, it's about the learning" is only half right. His view is that it's not about the learning either. It's about the pursuit of happiness - a good, meaningful life. The test of whether our education system is not whether people have learned certain things, but about whether they are happy and fulfilled.

There is so much to chew on in Stephen's talk that, if I were to highlight it all, I would wind up reproducing the whole speech. For my part, there were innumerable "hear, hear" points. One of which is that traditional online learning is not here to stay. How do we know? Because it's not what people want. How do we know? Because when people want to know something, it's not what they do. He quotes Michael Feldstein:

“We need a system that is optimized toward slotting in new pieces as they become available, not as an after-thought or an add-on, but as a fundamental characteristic of the system.”

This brings us to the learning network, where learning becomes resource-based, rather than institution-based; where it is about the content, rather than the organization; where it is web-based and aggregated rather than product-based and pre-packaged; where e-learning becomes a conversation in which learners are engaged.

Thanks to web 2.0 (e-Learning 2.0, whatever), the web is no longer a place where people go to consume media, it is a place people go to do things. As educators, we need not to see ourselves as delivering a service but as enabling people to deliver a service themselves. The web is now the platform rather than the medium.

I guess this made me sit up and take notice because it is exactly what I am aiming for on a current project. I'm not sure how I'm going to achieve it, but I'm even more determined to give it my best shot!

Universal Design for Learning

Courtesy of Barbara Ganley, I found myself visiting CAST's (Center for Applied Special Technology) website this morning. My curiosity was piqued by the notion of Universal Design. According to their site:

Universal Design for Learning calls for ...
  • Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know,
  • Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.
Erm... no prizes for guessing that the key lies in the word multiple. One of my drivers is to try to find ways to engage the widest spectrum of learners on a variety of different bases. The challenge is to design learning material in such a way as to cater to the adherents of both push and pull learning. To the linear learning programme as well as to the quick-and-dirty emergency requirement.

While the learning objectives remain the same, it's the structure of the learning that has to change. The additional work that goes into providing multiple routes through the same maze, including shortcuts and wild rides - that's what's exercising me, right now!

Keeping them interested

Kathy Sierra can always be depended upon to call things as they are, and to cut to the chase. This podcast is a gauntlet if ever I saw one. Particularly to designers of learning materials.

The core message is:

  • Devise rewards
  • Offer them often
  • Move users on to the next level and the next reward
It's a spiral effect and the trick is to keep the learner in the spiral - always moving on to the next target, the next reward, the next level, rather than simply heading for one end goal.