Friday, December 22, 2006

A course for us!

If you browse the elearning blogosphere you won't have missed the Open University's decision to offer up content for free. There's the best explanation of what they are trying to achieve here.

Okay, so everyone has already waxed lyrical about what a great thing this is, but what does it mean for me personally? Well, there's no Japanese unfortunately, but never mind, I have enough of that to be going on with. What was far more exciting in fact, as there seems to be very little content out there on the process of developing learning compared to the keystrokes spent theorizing about learning, is the realisation that there is an entire course there that could be very useful to one wanting to get some real background to how to design the look and feel of learning.

This course on Designing the User Interface could well be valuable. I'll have a look at it over the Winterval break and report back (if is as good as it sounds).

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I recently met up with old colleagues who are carrying on the elearning project I left to take up my current position. Nearly nine months later, they've just had internet access (a fundamental pre-requisite) rolled out to a proportion of their staff (on the sly, no less). This was the same internet access that was imminent for six months prior to my departure and the delay of which was an aggravating factor in my decision to leave.

At the same time, another organisation I deal with as a ID struggles because, although they are in the comparatively enriched position of having an LMS, the content we can produce is limited by their tools, the hosting arrangement and the fact that things like Flash are off limits.

Technology based learning is something that all organisations should be able to benefit from, but for a variety of reasons, organisations big and small (but usually in the public sector in my experience) are left out.

The solution is to look at existing tools and see how we can make more of them. This article about game based learning via email is ingenious. The coin the term "guerilla elearning" which is something I'm disappointed hasn't caught on.

It's sharing ideas like this that could end up making a profound difference to people's working lives. Now you've only got to figure out a way to get those emailophobes to engage with you...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free Stuff - and it's about learning too

At our company we have been aware of the movement that is Moodle. Quite a worry when you are developing an LMS (not really as ours is really impressive). If you've not heard of it, a) you don't use the net much do you, or you're reading the wrong site, or b) you work for PeopleSoft or SAP.

However, free software, as I've often said to people in the IT department, is good because it doesn't cost very much - important when said IT dept (outsourced naturally) is likely to slap a bill on installing anything that will be equal, if not greater, than the cost of buying the shrink-wrapped commercial offering in the first place.

So imagine my delight at unearthing this little treasure trove, courtesy of one Jane Hart.

I'm heartened to see it includes the excellent Wink, something I have used in the past (I sent an IT request to the IT goons, just to follow procedure, and they offered to check and install one copy of Wink (cost = nada, zip, zilch) on my machine for 350GBP - I'd been using it for a month, not a glitch. Go figure. Then get frustrated when you realise I worked in the civil service and that was 350GBP of honest taxpayers' money...)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ID - an online course!

This here is an entire (free) book about Instructional Design.

Love the web, I really do.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oh no! It only gets harder...

Anyone with a small child around is likely to have figured this one out for themselves.
Apparently, there is a neurological basis as to why young brains are better at learning new things than old ones.
My experience of learning Japanese certainly bears this out. I spend a fortune, countless hours and am barely able to string a sentence together. The Boy watches TV, chats with his mum and is, as far as one can be said to be at his age, fluent. Go figure.
So it would seem learning, like youth, is also wasted on the young.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pick any three

There's a saying that I heard in relation to mountain bikes:

"Strong, light , cheap: pick any two."

I think you can attribute it to Gary Fisher or Klein or Bontrager - one of those hoary, stringy hippies that helped to invent the beautiful pastime.

I love the simplicity - any way you cut it, it works. Titanium XC bikes are feather light, and will write off the thoughtless Volvo that cuts you up at the roundabout, but, by Christ, will you pay for it! An equally strong steel frame will barely set you back a skinny double latte, just don't go out in winter - you may never get out of the mud alive! Okay, a WC downhill rig is neither light nor cheap, but then you balance it by saying, "well, it took a double helping of strong" and balance is restored to the universe.

So I thought, surely there is an equivalent neat triangle for elearning. After all, you have a balance of cost, time and effectiveness.

So, is it a case of, in the parlance of the times:

"Timely, under budget, fit for purpose: choose any two."
Dan Roddy, Nov 2006?

Well, er, no. For as any project manager will have spent a day of their PRINCE2 training learning, time and cost are linked, or in another, rather simpler fashion, "time is money".

So you are stuck with a relatively simplistic cheap/effective binary opposition, which is neither satisfactory or very useful. We have all seen examples of elearning that are neither cheap nor effective. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in the L&D field - this appears to be the form for most corporate classroom training events.

Similarly, there are examples of learning events that can be highly effective, cheap and almost instant. This is usually termed experience, or learning from your mistakes.

It is fair to say that there are a great many people out there who would love to define elearning as some form of science. That a mix of X, Y and Z in the right amounts will produce the same results each time. But the fact is, every learning environment is different and changing - they are not the sterile locale of the laboratory - so you have only a rough idea of the success or otherwise of an intervention before you try.

Summarising elearning in a pat little phrase like that above is just an idle game for the commute for now.

Your help is needed...

Actual genuine research in to elearning seems quite rare, so it is good news to see someone from such a distinguished establishment as the Cranfield University seeking some real data.

Piers MacLean is a researcher into elearning - Cranfield has a history of involvment in the field, in fact one of my colleagues has worked with them - and has issued an online survey. It doesn't take too long and is not at all intrusive, so if you can spare a minute, please have a go.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More for the feed

I am only a newbie at the whole blog thing. I got into the blogosphere about a week last Tuesday or thereabouts. So forgive me if these are old hat to you:

elearningspace is a pretty cool site that actually is built around a book that has been built via the blog and is available via a creative commons licence as well as via Amazon.

elearningpost runs on my feed as one of the ways to catch up on new things. I like it.

I get the sense that Stephen's Web, the OL Daily, is one of the cornerstones of elearning on the web.

The Wales-wide-web is another feed for another perspective. Again, useful.

When theories collide

I received training today in the development tool provided by one of the market leaders to its customers for the purpose of customizing its off-the-shelf product.

Before we travelled to the distant office for our day's classroom training, we sat through about three hours of fairly dull on-line click thru "learning" and read a couple of PDFs we were sent.

The courseware made a great deal of the instructional design principles that are this companies backbone, and reason for its position. The material we read listed pretty much every theory you might care to mention, though Bloom seemed top of the pile.

The tool is built quite heavily around the application of theory in the design of the course, but the crucial problem as we saw it was that for all this theory, you basically ended up with a course that looked pretty basic, relied on questionable ideas and was essentially pretty dull. For all the theory, it basically failed to interest the learner.

Don't get me wrong - the tool could be very useful in some ways, especially its robust debugging tools, but the application of the theory did nothing for learner engagement.

The other issue I had with the whole approach was that it made out that it was essential to have all these theories present, but only when they were appropriate. Whenever that may be. This would be nigh on impossible as there were so many ideas swilling around (in fairness, the document was an excellent précis of the field) you could never pander to more than a fraction. You wouldn't even need to apply a great deal of common sense devoid of any theory to be able to come up with something that could be interpreted as obeying some of the theory anyway - a kind of scatter gun effect.

In the final analysis the heavy theory part of the tool was optional, so it was possible not to bother with it at all. Instead you were left with the tool's natural inclination toward testing - a perfectly sound approach, but one that hardly seemed to get a look-in in the literature. So much for the theory.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What's the use of 'blogs?

Another one that the learning press fêtes as the "future of learning" is the blog. Ahem.

So what use are these trumped up diaries other than an outlet for egotists, wannabe columnists and the obnoxiously opinionated? Well, as with most other "new ways of learning", they function pretty much as previous types. In this case, the CPD/learning log.

In a previous incarnation I was a classroom trainer for a government department. A colleague at the time was all for reflective learning, so the end of every training manual to accompany one of his courses would feature a learning log. If you were in his class for more than a day (we mostly ran day courses - but that's a story for another time) then you would fill out a couple of these things.

The theory behind learning logs is one of the better ones that make it on to the usual syllabuses (as opposed to the shaky, disputed ones like learning styles) as it is one of those that actually ties in with data that psychologists produce based on research into how the brain works. That said, it is hardly rocket, or indeed brain, science to work out that the more you think about the same thing, the easier it is to think about it in future.

This example by Hiruni, a student at a UK university is, whether he/she consciously meant it or not, a classic bit of reflective learning (I'm guessing they are asked to do it as part of the course - it is oppressively mundane). In fact, many blogs, even with writers who are unselfconscious in their egotism, probably deliver a learning benefit from precisely the sort of thing that my colleague was trying to achieve with his logs.

So, for me the benefits of a blog for learners are:

  1. The act of writing an account of what you have learned or thought about forces you to marshal your thoughts and formulate something of them. This is something Donald Clark likes about them.
  2. Unlike the private version, you can invite comment from people on your conclusions (though of course in the eyes of some people this is hardly a benefit).
  3. It provides you with a permanent and retrievable record of your development in the area discussed - unlike that scrap of paper or dusty old course manual on the shelf.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Podcasting - really any use for learning?

When the world came to podcasting I was excited at its potential for fun, but really sceptical of its application with regard to learning. After all, all an iPod is is an up to date Walkman, and people have been sitting around listening to tapes for, well, decades!

But the fact is podcasting IS fundamentally different to what has gone before it. It is a new way of accessing content. As Donald Clark, never one to miss an opportunity to state something over the top, puts it in this example here (don't ask me which one he says it in - they're all good, try 'em all) tapes are the equivalent of papyrus, what with all that scrolling back and forth.

And he's right! I attended a language class recently (no prizes for guessing which) and the teacher used tapes still. They were dreadful things: all that rewinding and interference. And the sad fact was, the quality of the things (part of the 40GBP set to accompany the text book) was actually worse than you find at my favourite language learning site, which is predicated on easy access to their principle materials, which are - you guessed it - podcasts.

But that's all very well. Language learning was always one to use tapes anyway (arguably the principal use in education). How are podcasts any different?

I see their value as being these:

1 - you are freed of the tyranny of distribution costs. If you have a server (check!) and your learners a PC (check!) then it will cost you nothing to let them have a copy of what you produce.
2 - players are bountiful. PCs play 'em, iPods play 'em. Me? I use my phone, coz it plays 'em too. And for the luddites who don't own any of the above, well, simple players with enough capacity to play an hour's audio in mono are less than Walkman clones cost these days - probably cheaper even than the tapes they replace!
3 - new expectations. These have actually gone down. You don't need flashy production values. People are used to dreadful quality recordings thanks to YouTube et al, and since it hardly takes anything to produce passable quality, this simply isn't an issue any more.

You can pump out as much stuff as you like and people can and will listen to it anywhere: the commute becomes useful; trips to meetings are not dead time; people can actually get something done without staring at a screen and give their eyes the rest from burn out that H&S have been kidding themselves people take for years.

Long live podcasting (well, at least until the next big thing!)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On the lot of the ID

The gestation of new courses is rarely easy. Sometimes the pressure gets to me and I'm forced against my better judgement in to a RAoP - Random Act of Poetry.

Spring becomes autumn,
Passed deadlines whither like leaves.
A designer weeps.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A good place to start

My interest in on-line learning technologies stems mainly from a desire to make the world a better place. I firmly believe that the world would be better, only if people learnt more, and I believe with equal fervour that this is more readily achievable with technology as it is now than at any point in the past.
Of course, in order to spread the word you need to be able to do so at the minimum cost, so that is why places like Google and Wikipedia are the place to start (ahem, after you've stumped up for broadband of course).
Kineo are another group who believe very much in the wide availability of low cost learning. They use the Open Source LMS Moodle for example, something I would very much like to get to grips with, as well as recommending a host of low cost e-learning tools in one of their various free reports.
Have a look for yourself and see how the world can be made better for nothing!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Aha! I found a way!

So there was a simple way round, eh? Cool.

Right then, now I can get started.