Thursday, March 15, 2007

What goes unsaid

I read the elearning blogs and I feel I am learning a lot and I am.

I'm learning about people's beliefs and hopes and ideas. About what inspires them.

What I'm not learning about is what people do.

There is a strange gap in the elearning world, and it's as true of the print media as it is of the online world. Read a blog, pick up a magazine, attend seminars and while there is plenty about ideas and theories on how we need to create "experiences" and be moving to game based learning, there is absolutely no indication of when and how such approaches are to be selected - after all, if we are to be subtle and nuanced in handling our learners' needs then it is important that we recognise the strengths and weaknesses of these new ways of thinking and apply them when necessary. One way would be to offer concrete examples of how a new product launch could be given an "experience" (oh, it is, by the guys in marketing). But this never seems to happen. The stats are wheeled out, research is mentioned, but what we might do with this knowledge is never really discussed.

Sure, I know the US Army used a simulator that was actually released as a game, and there are some games that allow in-depth exploration of life at the top of the corporate ladder. And I can understand how that might come to be - both are realms awash with dollars so they can afford the time and money.

But does anyone ever venture to suggest how game based learning might be brought to bear on the worthy but dull subject of the Age Discrimination Act, or how to make an "experience" of the introduction of the new Somi Nokisson 1234x super phone? No.

Sure, I have ideas of how that might be achieved. But on a budget of a couple of grand and week or three and 20 minutes of learner time, tops?

Trust me, I'm all for ditching LMSs and trying to trust in the learner, but the practical realities are that its not going to happen. The secret shaded working lives of these voices does nothing to illuminate the cloudy future for the rest of us either.

Compare it to programming magazines and journals, or design sites that examine the techniques and secrets of pin-up pros, perhaps with appraisal of their work, or step-by-steps to getting the same effect.

Then look at the good examples of elearning 2.0 on the net. They are short presentations with (or without) audio driven from YouTube and cobbled together in a rapid dev tool and blogs. Hardly ground breaking, but for me it has been a worthwhile learning event.

What seems to be missing from the discussion of all this is people going "yeah, and we got learners to understand how to recognise fraud by doing x, y and z." I've yet to find an "experience" on line telling me how to be better as a learning designer. Every one wants to tell the world what the future is without actually showing anyone else. And as we all should know, showing would trump telling - actually getting us involved would seal the deal.

Unless it is that I'm missing the point. As a wordy liking, self-motivated learner perhaps I have already created my own "experience". Brilliant. But hardly the kind of approach that will get through to the call centre operative who just wants to answer the phones till 5.30 then get outside to his or her car and go home.

I guess that this is the sort of thinking that the people who proclaim a new world of learning want to hear - I'm in touch with a new market for their thinking and they can come and poach it. But the fact is while the voices of the future speak in vapid marketing hyperbole without any substance that will allow their clients (or their competitors and that's probably the point) to actually conceptualise what it is they are on about, short rapid learning driven courses (that hated word) are going to continue.

Oh, and I purposely haven't linked to anyone else here as I'm sure that would not be a way to win and influence.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What to track?

Something that I often struggle with when I'm dealing with clients is "what is it you want to record about this learning event?"

All these companies have spent large sums of money on their expensive LMSs and are spending not inconsiderable sums of money, usually with the company I work for, on creating "courses" of elearning for their staff.

Part and parcel of their specifications is typically a locked down navigation that forces the learner through a linear learning route - exactly the sort of thing that Donald Clark pours cold water on here and vexes Cammy at Learning Visions.

From this they are able to get stats on time spent elearning, who has completed what and a whole host of stats that, at the end of it tell them nothing at all about how the behaviour of the learner has changed as a result of the training. With compliance training this is basically the point - how much diversity training is delivered online for example, despite the fact that diversity training is by and large discredited (such as in this paper).

The emphasis is on what the training has said, not on what the learner will do. I see this in some of the material I'm given where learning objectives begin "By the end of this training you will have learnt..." instead of "...you will be able to..."

One "problem" with elearning as it is reported to me is that learners just take the assessment without doing the learning. My natural reaction is to say "So what? Let 'em." (Though naturally I bite my tongue!) If the learner does that and passes then they have saved themselves 20-60 minutes of their life (I only do short courses).

If on the other hand they fail, then that is not the fault of the elearning - it's the fault of the learner for not having prepared themselves properly. If they don't seek to rectify it and try again, this is not a reason to force all learners to sit through a sluggish course that has unnecessary usability constraints - it's a disciplinary/performance management issue. After all, if a company sends a delegate to a classroom based course and they don't show up, or come in, fail the exam and go home, it wouldn't be long to expect that person to be having a "chat" with the boss or HR...

So I would argue that the only thing that need be tracked is the assessment and let everything else go - effort would be better spent in designing learning resources that are useful and appropriate as job aids, reference works, neat little broadcasts to keep people up to date and support informal learning rather than hamstrung mandated learning that no-one enjoys.

Access more knowledge

With the recent list of the world's top five brands revealing elearning to be a big benefactor from the work of those companies, I thought it worth mentioning this post on how to get the most out of Google, arguably the most important of the list to our subject.

Google never ceases to amaze me. I'm happy to admit I am one of the dozy users who just splats three words associated with my subject of research and goes with it. At least I usually make a point of jumping about four pages in to the list, but I'm hardly sophisticated. Actually, I'm still buzzing over the fact you can type calculations straight in to the search bar, or type "define" before a word to get a definition of it.

It's a global player that it is genuinely hard not to like - all the others, the Microsofts, Walmarts, Fords, BPs, BAs, the list goes on; these guys can from time to time leave a sour taste in the mouth, and though the whole "agreement with the Chinese authorities" thing may not be their finest hour, Google still shine.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Overshadowed by marketing

I work closely with the training department of a large company in the communications sector. A highly competitive industry, new products and services are like sand - constantly shifting and rearranging. The best training can hope to achieve is take a nice snap shot and package up that for release to the people out there selling and supporting the offerings.

The constant shifting and changing presents training with a huge problem when it comes to their elearning. In order to get it as accurately aligned as they can to the final release they have to leave it late - something that is easily achieved as the project team often give the training fairly low priority. If they try to get an early start on anything the effort stands a good chance of being wasted as the content moves.

In the event that the project team do not co-operate on developing the material the chance of training successfully lobbying to get a project rollout held back until the training is ready is slim.

You can bet the house, however, that if the guys in marketing haven't got their glossy brochures together to sell this to the punters, there would be no problem holding product off.

In this I am reminded of a recent post on Passionate Users. It's not that I wish to suggest that these guys are the kind of company to figuratively "flick the bird" at its customers - actually, I know that they don't being a fairly satisfied customer of theirs - but I do think it is a sad and probably all too often repeated scenario where training is the poor cousin to the big boys (and gals) in marketing, and in the push to market the needs of the signed up customer are secondary to those of the new, as yet untapped, opportunity.

Friday, March 02, 2007

In praise of page turners

Bane of learners' elearning experiences?

Not if they looked like this!

All that programming effort to produce a (gorgeous) 2D simulation of a £5 magazine. But imagine what this would look like on a tablet or an interactive whiteboard (like they have in my son's class at nursery!).