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.