Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Learning Visions: The Learning Show

Learning Visions: The Learning Show

I was looking out for new voices in elearning and found another fan of Will Thalheimer. I was especially struck by this part of Cammy's response to Will's Learning Show on forgetting:

I cringe thinking about the amount of material I've tried to cram into a course -- because that's what the client told me they wanted.

Which is EXACTLY how I feel about certain courses I've worked on, and where I've pushed down my better judgement to match what the client wanted...

Oh God - the bit of my job I like and it's a dead end!

I have to admit, I'm in the middle of the possibly the worst week of my life. I'm mean really, it's been, well, dreadful. As one of my clients, for whom everything seemed to be going wrong, put it "it's not like anyone died," but frankly it's not much consolation.

The fact is, I hate project management. I love ID. Unfortunately for me, in my organisation the IDs do the PM. So I have half a job I love and half a job I loath. Nevermind.

So to come to my Google homepage, follow a couple of links (this one, and then this one) and then read Brent Schlenker saying this:

DIY is killing ISD

...is to discover that the bit I like is, well, if not laid out cold on a slab, at least lying bleeding in the gutter clutching a mortal wound. Bugger. That ruined my evening. Or at least it might have done if not for the comment a few lines lower on that entry.

Well, it would have ruined my evening if not for the fact I realised that ID is going to suffer a glorious, hammy strung out "luvvey" death complete with multiple last gasps and dying speeches. What we in the elearning blogosphere (they're in where the air is thick - out here it's a bit difficult to breathe - I feel faint...) can easily forget is that the percentage of learners who can penetrate the technology to go fully DIY is still very thin. And for all the spectacular growth in blogs, wiki, 'casting, blah... there are still huge numbers of people for whom learning is a gross imposition on their time, or the idea of actually consciously making an effort to find something out with a computer is crazy talk.

And for them, I'm patiently waiting with a cleverly designed little something to help them see the light.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blogging - a maze in learning

For ages I've been meaning to write about how the blogoshpere (sorry, it would appear my fingers have been drinking) is conducive to the best learning I've experienced in years. In particular, I've benefited from setting up my own Google homepage and following the thinking of people that have impressed me when I read their work.

This followed a call to action by a colleague seeking blogs he could add to his Google homepage. I've since added a handful of other tabs and this has meant that for me the act of firing up my web browser has become an act of learning. Which is what I like.

A great example of how this offers itself as a great method for learning can be seen in this exchange:
Clive Shepherd, English e-learning figure of note, wrote in his blog about a seminar he attended with a neuroscientist called Dr Itiel Dror, of Southampton University. I'm all for listen to the experts on matters of the brain, for as I have said in earlier posts, all too often the L&D industry/media seems to rely on pat received wisdom (to the ire of people like Will Thalheimer). The entry is interesting, but did seem to have one or two things in it that I wasn't sure about.

This was picked up by Steven Downes, pre-eminent e-learning blogger from Canada, and dissected in a fairly visceral fashion. Downes really knows his stuff, or at least gives the impression of knowing it, and the result was, for me as a learner, a better understanding of the relaionship of the brain to learning, and more importantly, the relationship of both to me as a learning designer.

But here's the real Learning Rocks moment: Clive picked up on this and whacked it on his blog. So it shows that he is engaging with the critique, he'll have learnt something from it; his readers (like me) will have gotten something out of it; arguably Steven will have gained something from engaging with it. So we have a triple win here.


All politicians should be made to read this

I stumbled across this, in a link buried in someone else's blog. Isaac Asimov no less, showing the basis of the idea of multiple intelligences argued in so very cleanly a fashion that there is no need to read Gardner - it is abundantly clear from this piece alone.

I can't help but think that the morons who dismantled all the non-academic channels of learning in English FE teaching and decided that everyone needs a university education might also have benefited from it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Herd learning - I'm a sheep

I don't mind admitting it. I saw a really good article on Donald Clarke's blog about how he'd been looking at on-line video as a great learning resource. I was still heartily banging on about the wonders of Wikipedia to anyone that would listen (actually, I still am).

Mysteriously, within days other British based learning technologist blogs were also miraculously singing the praises of YouTube learning. I noticed this apparent synergy because so many of these blogs appear side by side on my Google homepage reader.

So off I went and followed Donald's lead. And blow me if he wasn't damn right. I already shouted out his main link, TED Talks, as a great source, but this one is more partisan. I don't mind saying that I like this one as it looks at the big questions of the day - questions far bigger than elearning anyway. Check out Meaning of Live TV. Oh, for the record, the interviewer, Robert Wright, is a speaker at TED and I found this site via his entry on, yep, Wikipedia.

I have been learning a lot this weekend, but the main thing is that, if I didn't have a wife who loves TV, there would be no need for a TV in this house. Not with this stuff out there for free.

TED talks a lot of sense

There are those that equate the classroom lecture with the lowest form of learning. I beg to differ.

There is something special about seeing an expert in their field stand up and speak on a subject that is important to them that transcends all other forms of learning. You can connect with the passion that they feel for a subject and get a genuine sense for what it is that excites them. This goes far beyond the fairly simplistic "push" of knowledge that people offer by way of critique of lectures.

Instead, the feelings of excitement and involvement that an expert brings to a subject inspires you to "pull" out the messages they carry.

The TEDTalks website offers a view and opportunity to learn from people at the very head of their field. An annual gathering of 1000 of the world's top thinkers, at $4400 a seat, the TEDTalks are probably the greatest gathering of brilliance in the world. One day I might dream of being able to attend (it's an invitation only affair so I need to start networking now...) but in the meantime I will follow the speakers on the website.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Learning shock - go to bed!

According to a report on the BBC website, researchers at Princeton have revealed that depriving mice of sleep caused the production of new brain cells to cease until well after normal sleep patterns had returned (actually, how do you stop a mouse sleeping for 72 hours?)

It does state that the research can't necessarily be assumed to hold true for people, but given that lack of sleep caused a rise in stress levels, and, anecdotally, people who get more sleep tend to feel less stressed (cause or effect?), it's not unreasonable to guess that it may well apply to us too.

So my late night TEDTalk viewing sessions may well have been counter-productive!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

PowerPoint's forgotten powers

In the rush to embrace rapid elearning, one tool and its potential value is easily overlooked - PowerPoint.

Rapid authoring tools (RATs) like Presenter and PointeCast hoover in your slideshows and, with a little bit of dressing up, spit out LMS friendly broadcast shows. In the main these are suited to low level tasks like broadcasting new services or products - where content simply needs to be made available and tracked. This is the beauty of using PowerPoint. The author/SME is using something they are happy with and a neat master slide can (if they know how to use it) lead to something that is at least passable.

But PowerPoint can be more (or less?) than that. In the rush to use PowerPoint to author this low grade elearning* it is easy to overlook its other values. It can be a very useful way of allowing SMEs to write their scripts:
  • it forces them to think about layout (and thus stopping them grouping content too densely)
  • as a slide show it allows them the opportunity to view the content in a way that is likely to match more closely the output - of particular use where you have screen shy stakeholders (what? you don't?)
  • the notes and comments facilities allow them to place comments where they are meaningful, without interrupting the flow of the content, as Word content might.
  • templates and copy/paste functions mean it is easy to add panels for management
  • it relates to Word and the rest of Office in a way that makes producing other forms of output a "doddle", and of course it is ubiquitous.
  • you can even demonstrate and mock up with graphics and animations, or even use the magic of one of the RATs to throw up a work in progress.
Okay, so it still doesn't help with the ID, but then, that's my job. But commenting and replying is straightforward too, and throwing lots of comments in doesn't disrupt the flow of existing content.

Criticisms? Sure, it's clumsy and is predicated on linearity. But that is not insurmountable - in fact it works quite well to use hyperlinks if needed. And by calling on a tool that already looks half way to poor page-turning elearning, there is a danger it may encourage that, but let's not blame PowerPoint for that happening.

We don't work like this, but my experience of doing so with one client is making me rethink the whole thing.

*why "low grade"? Well, all my careful interactions are pruned out by my tool of (someone else's) choice, PointeCast. If I ever resolve the problem, I will rethink my position, but for now I see these mostly as tracked slideshows.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reliable sources

Following on from the points I made in my last post about Will's quiz and the need to have verifiable data to back up our theories, I have to mention another site I found, Infed.

Unlike Wikipedia, great though it is, this is a small site that has a finite number of admin/contributors. The style of the articles is thus far more individual and human and without the waffle that the old NPOV tends to engender. I can't remember what I was looking up - cyclical learning or something like that - but what I found at this site was neat, scholarly summation of facts on key elements of informal learning.

More than that, it's a beautiful, elegant site. Simple, text-based and very fast to use, it is a nice example of the kind of resource that I wish I could find time to use more often. Even the images they use are a bonus. I'm a little surprised to see that it dates as far back as '95, so I'm sorry that I've taken this long to find it.

If I had a single criticism it is that is not the easiest place to find a way to browse - the front page is so clean, with only the barest minimum of links that you need really to have something in mind to look for as grabbing topics of the shelf isn't as easy as, say, Wikipedia...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Will's big quiz

Will Thalheimer (PhD no less) is the author of one of the blogs I like to go to hear actual serious debate of many of the "truths" that inform the L&D world.

When I began life as a trainer I was struck by the wealth of knowledge that seemed to be out there that, if only people knew about it, could revolutionise the way learners took in new knowledge. There was lots of writing here there and everywhere that came up with the same ideas so that learning to be a trainer seemed to be a rote process of taking on board the received wisdom and spouting it appropriately.

But what struck me about a lot of the magazine articles in particular is that much of the content was stated as a given - there never seemed to be any in depth discussion of the basis. But in my naivety and eagerness I ignored these concerns and got on with what I was doing.

But as I got more into it and discovered things like the debunking of learning styles (Wikipedia put me on to that - bless its NPOV) I found my way to people lilke Will, who actually go out there and try to find the basis for many of the claims L&D people seem to make.

So that's why Will's quiz is worth doing - it forms part of the research that he does, and he says that he publishes the results later, as well as being enlightening in itself. On the basis of the quiz I even went as far as to buy a couple of papaers of his. They're good and I may even stump up for one of the big expensive ones on the strength of it.

What's the quiz about? It's 15 questions pitched at elearning professionals that pose scenarios for you to consider (I suspect that they are "simulation type" questions that form the basis of one of Will's papers). You don't get to see your results, but you do get feedback to compare to what you said and it's this feedback that makes the process more than usually worthwhile.