Thursday, June 23

iPods for Learning

Apple has sold over 15 million iPods worldwide and sales are not fading -- 5.3 million were sold in the first quarter of 2005. The iPod has also spawned a major accessory and peripheral boom (e.g. cases, speakers, and radio transmitters).

Unlike a lot of fads, such as the Hula Hoops or Pet Rocks, iPods actually affect behavior. Duke University saw iPods as a teaching tool and gave each incoming freshmen one, however, it recently stopped this practice (almost all of the incoming students already own one anyway). The iPod is no longer just a sound machine for listening to music and podcasts as it now stores photos, notes, and books.

Recently, a communication technologies class at Marymount Manhattan College created audio guides to nine Museum of Modern Art paintings. They're part of a project on how new technology empowers people to break free of traditional media, in this case the museum's own human guides. You can get them free of charge at MOBS.

So, do iPods have any any value in a corporate training setting? For example, could you place an audio and visual guide of your organization on an iPod and send new hires on a "tour" of their own, rather than having them sit through a PowerPoint presentation? Or perhaps record a step-by-step procedure of a task, along with a few picture and/or notes to an iPod and use it as a training device? Or use a podcast as a lecturing device?

Donald Clark

Monday, June 20

Multi-media elearning...

I'm curious what elearning designers and managers are doing with multimedia. Five years ago, text was the leper of elearning design. Video, games, simulations, and audio were intended to replace, not augment text learning. Clark Aldrich has posted on games and simulations on this forum. What are others doing?

In my recent experience, text seems to be more dominant than ever (and I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing). What has caused the stall of media development? Is it expense? Several years ago our department at Red River College spent hundreds of hours in video design and development in order to expand our reach to geographically dispersed markets. The video has been well used...but not quite for the intended market. On-campus learners are using it to review in-lab presentations. Learners have a way of messing up a designers intentions :).

Unfortunately, I haven't heard much excitement around multi-media elearning lately. The hype is gone. Though I imagine, that somewhere in the bowels of academia and corporate training departments, some really exciting stuff is happening. It's just not surfacing yet...

Friday, June 17

The Wizard of Oz Rule

Three Clicks and You're Home!

I was recently talking with the CLO of a large Canadian elearning company. He recounted an interesting story. A vendor of elearning programs had been in - one of Canada's best - and shown him a demo. He went through 27 screens before he was asked to interact with the program. He dismissed them with a "No thanks" and when they asked why, he told them he had a rule.

"If I'm asked to go for more than three screens, and I'm not asked to do something, to interact with the program, it will fail."

So I decided this was the Three Screen Rule of Interaction. I actually believe - and lead design teams - with the 'every screen must ask you to do something' rule. So I've narrowed the interaction down even more.

When I was leading a team building a workflow program, we used what we called The Wizard of Oz rule. You had to be able to find your way to the information within 3 clicks or the design was no good. It meant we had to design horizontally versus vertically. With a digital tool like a PC, the wonderful truth is that no one knows if there are 10 screens behind the Home Screen or 10,000. It's all a matter of clicks, user inerface and design.

So there seems to be a number that has some bearing on the relationship between interaction and asking for interactivity, and the use of workflow tools and elearning programs. Anyone else experience this?

How many clicks will users tolerate before their frustration level with a workflow program overflows and they turn off? How many non-interactive pages scroll by before they 'tune out' of elearning programs? What are some of the things you have learned from your experiences about interactivity and interaction levels? What have you experienced as very successful? Has anyone read any good whitepapers or current research you can share?

Wednesday, June 15

Dear Blogmeister - June 15, 2005

Hey everyone. One of our readers has a question for the community.
... I have a question for you. I am looking for some examples of
wikis and blogs used in classes (corporate, higher ed or even K-12 ) or in
professional publications or newsletters or the like that are being used
when learning, delivering training or developing training. Not blogs or
wikis about learning or training, but ones that are being used as part of
the process or learning or delivering/developing training. (I did not see
any of these on Learning Circuits and why I am directing this question to

Do you know or resources or sites or links that you could point me to?
Any/all would be great!

Vicki Cerda
VP Programs, Miami ASTD Chapter
Vicki, here are a couple of resource sites that you can start with. There are various listings on each of these sites. In some instances there are community resources (chats, forums, etc.) as well.
edublog awards - the best in educational blogging
educational bloggers network - a great practitioners' site
Xplanazine - a great overall resource site
eSchool News Online - an amazing site focused on k-12 and technology. It's somewhat overwhelming in its scope so I'd suggest you start out in the ed-tech insider section.

I hope these sites and other suggestions that I'm sure will come from the Blog Squad and the LCB community will help you!

Good Luck,

your humble blogmeister

Workflow learning vs. the "me-focus" culture

The idea of workflow learning is surprisingly controversial. I attended the “Innovations in E-learning” symposium last week, put together by George Mason University, the US Naval Education and Training Command, and the Defence Acquisition University. I was interested in hearing what Jay Cross, Clark Aldrich, Harvey Singh and Ben Watson had to say about workflow learning, collaboration, and simulations, since these are things I have always been passionate about.

Jay’s presentation, as usual, was delightfully challenging, non-linear, evocative, and provocative. But the presentation on “embedded learning” by Michael Littlejohn of IBM astonished me. He provided a well-structured overview of the practical deployment issues of embedded learning. My surprise was not so much at what he said, but that it was being said by IBM. If Big Blue is advocating it, then workflow learning has come a long way, baby.

I did a piece on this on my own blog, and have already had a lot of back-channel skeptical feedback. In all that I have read about workflow learning, I have yet to hear anyone argue that it is not a great idea conceptually, but there are a whole lot of people who can’t believe workflow learning will ever work in practice. They are blinded by their culture.

It reminds me of the mid-to-late 1990s when I was promoting online learning to a resistant training community, who could not believe that anyone would prefer a computer to a classroom, or that any online learning could be as effective as that delivered by a trainer. Many were also desperately afraid of having to re-invent themselves. At the time, my mantra was “it’s warmer on the web,” because I was trying to get through to trainers that online learning was all about connecting people, building communities, mutual mentoring, and sharing experience. To a largely techno-skeptical audience numbed by the self-indulgent atrocities of CD-ROM courses, online learning was never going to fly.

The key that unlocked the e-learning Pandora’s box, unleashing a few gems within a cloud of pestilence, was a culture shift. Corporations started taking for granted ubiquitous desktop computing and internet connections, and started looking to leverage them to improve business processes and cut costs. Trainers started to get as myopically starry-eyed about e-learning as they had about PowerPoint. Workers started to appreciate the need to keep themselves current, valuable, and marketable because it became clear that companies were not going to provide more than the basic essentials. Training vendors saw a need to defend against more tech-savvy competitors, as well as an opportunity to broaden markets and raise margins. Quite a lot of learners had a few good e-learning experiences, mind-sets started shifting from resistance to acceptance, if not enthusiasm, and e-learning was airborne.

Workflow learning requires similar, though probably more dramatic, organizational and personal culture changes. A major prerequisite for workflow learning is a culture that fosters collaboration and sharing, that rewards (rather than punishes) individual support initiatives, that builds a fundamental responsibility for informal coaching and mentoring into every employee’s job description, and that places as much value on time spent helping others perform as it does on time spent performing. Another prerequisite is a widespread personal attitude toward supporting others that values highly the giving of both time and knowledge – two things most workers jealously protect. It's not about the technology or the processes (though of course they are important), because without the individual will and the corporate mandate, the technology will gather dust.

To change corporate culture, you need to demonstrate to senior decision-makers how much money can be made or saved (preferably this quarter) as a result of the proposed change. If they buy into the financial reward, corporations can move mountains. But how do you formalize, in a way that bean-counters will accept, the ROI from something as apparently fuzzy and informal as workflow learning? IBM advocates thinking small and running a pilot. That may be a starting point, but it's not a strategy. Do you need to get conceptual buy-in at CEO level and have a bold shake-up, top-down, in order to achieve any sustainable culture shift? Or do you abdicate and wait for a bottom-up worker-driven evolution that effectively bypasses formal learning systems?

However you do it, without a culture shift away from the "me-focus" that most organizational review/reward systems instill, and toward a "we-focus," workflow learning just ain't going to fly!

Godfrey Parkin

Tuesday, June 14

The Power of Us

For anyone who has heard me rant about the power of the Internet being it's ability to connect people together on a scale previously not possible it is invigorating to see that the June 20th US edition of BusinessWeek is all about this topic. The cover story, titled "The Power of Us" is an excellent article about how the Internet can connect all of us in new and exciting ways (there are also some online exclusives like Tour the Collectives of Cyberspace which are well worth checking out).

Continuing this theme of collaboration Sam Adkins wrote an article called "Innovations in Collaboration" for the latest issue of the Chief Learning Officer magazine which is a great indepth review around the state of collaboration for learning (I have known Sam from his early days at Microsoft where he created the Microsoft Online Institute! (my first company,, was a founding partner with Microsoft)). I'm happy to see that more and more people are starting to realize that the Internet is more than connecting people to websites, it is about connecting people to people to leverage their existing knowledge so we can learn/work better faster (for anyone following the writings of Jay Cross (blog), this kind of collaborative mentoring is an essential part of his concept of workflow learning (website)).

Of course the challenge is that for collaboration to be effective it needs to be linked back to something, like an underlying event or topic (i.e. something that provokes collaboration versus being just passive). Collaboration for the sake of collaboration just doesn't work anymore (just look at the state of the commerical social networking companies out there). Patti Anklam has it right when she talks about "object-centered sociality" in her blog posting "Linking Out and Looking for Objects". Effective mentoring (rant - collaboration to me is a guy using a nickname to go into an AOL chatroom to talk about essentially nothing; collaborative mentoring is about forming deeper long term relationships where something of value is exchanged) is more than technology, it is focused around optimizing the connections both between users and the collaboration technologies. You need things like eBay's rating system or's feedback forms when you start connecting tens of thousands of people together; the vast majority of whom do not know one another and thus have no context for evaluating interactions (this notion of trust and reputation). Heck, it is about making the whole process scaleable because the value of the network increases exponentially based on the number of using (basically known as the 'network effect') so you need a lot of people in order to get effective knowledge sharing occuring across all types/groups of people.

You think learning objects (i.e. *content* objects) was/is exciting? Wait until this kind of collaboration gets (better) integrated into the process of learning!

What do you think? Is the collaboration in online learning today good enough or do we need to improve it (or does it really matter?)

Sims Without the Cord

"Computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored." Marc Prensky

I was visiting Plymouth University in the UK last year and I was looking in on one of the classes on Principles of Accountancy. There were four tables, surrounded by four students, all standing and intensely playing Monopoly. Looked like they were having what Marc Prensky overheard one of his students call "hard fun".

Later I asked the Professor why Monopoly? He told me it was a great sim that taught his students some very important principles of accounting that he had added to the game: deferreed revenue, depreciation of assets, accounting for liability, property maintenance costing and more. His creativity had taken a very simple game, added in some complex real-world concepts, and turned it into a wonderful simulation without needing to be plugged in.

Some points worth noting: From the limited research so far, when you need to learn something, especially a process, simulations teach more effectively than work done in a classrooms or with elearning. The only approach that seems better right now is eMentoring (one-on-one learning) especially on-the-job. Simulations seem to work best when they are fun, and when they do not have too high a price tag attached to success or failure. This price tag phenomenon seems to be pervasive. SAT scores for example go up when the students taking the test do not equate the score with admission to college.

Extrapolating from Dr. Isabelle Mansuy's work at the The Neuro Science Center in Zurich, published in Nature, there's an interesting reason why, on a neurochemical level, sims seem to work so well. In a more relaxed environment, the brain consolidates short-term memory into long-term learning more effectively. At the level of brain enzymes, a relaxed environment causes a decrease of a protein called phosphatase-1 (PP1). PP1 has been implicated in everything from being unable to remember where you put your keys to Alzheimers Disease. It's the protein in the brain that seem to help us forget. It increases with age so Senior Moments are a natural occurrence.

Like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, I think pedagogy is looking at the effect and not the cause. Sort of like the magician who waves one hand to take attention away from the other. Now what's that called?

If we are ever to really understand how to help people learn, I think we need to understand the natural learning process, you know, the one that took millions of years to perfect. Then find ways to develop learning programs - like simulations -that work to enable rather than disable that "natural learning process".

What has been your experience with natural learning? How have you successfully (or not) created programs, activities, things to do, games to play, that helped people get into the learning zone? And do you even think this perspective has any merit? Or is it back to the one room schoolhouse and all stick and no carrot?

Monday, June 13

What do you think?

Clark Aldrich is touring the continent to introduce his new book, Learning by Doing. I've been fortunate to hear him twice in the last month. Talking with diverse people in new places gets Clark thiinking about many issues. He has been sharing them here. Some people think it's great to have a steady stream of intriguing ideas; others consider it undue self-promotion for the book. The Learning Circuits Blogteam has mixed feelings.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

By the way, here's what greeted me this morning on Amazon:

Saturday, June 11

Understanding Systems Content

Anyone who creates formal learning experiences has to understand how something happens in order to present it, to test it, and increasingly to create an environment where people can play/practice in it.

To do this beyond the most simple examples, the next generation of educational content creators are going to have to get good at identifying and building systems. Spreadsheets, STELLA, and some of Forio's tools all are places to practice. Computer games are places to see the results of some interesting systems that others have built.

Just some of the terms that soon should be commonpace are:
  • Energy of activation
  • Feedback
  • Feedback loops
  • Negative feedback loops
  • Blancing factors
  • Delay
  • Pendulums
  • Noise
  • Load balancing
  • All-or-nothing activation
  • Fuzzy logic
  • Throttles
  • Butterfly effect
  • Geometric growth
  • Primary variables
  • Secondary and tertiary variables
  • Chaos theory
  • Rate determining steps
  • Calibrating agents
  • Nodes and supernodes
  • Short-term fixes
  • State-based systems
We will have to look at physics and chemistry, engineering, even environmental studies for the right language. This list may seem daunting to some. But I believe it will be second nature to increasingly large numers of instructional designers.

Friday, June 10

Open Source E-Learning vs. bundled vs. merging vs. stand-alone

There are a lot of e-learning things. LMSs, LCMSs, Virtual Classroom Tools. Online courses on Windows and biology 101 and ethics.

The question used to be, what would be bundled? Would EPSs bundle LMSs? Would IM bundle virtual classrooms.

Then the question is, what will be merged/acquired. Which LMSs and LCMSs will merge? Will content vendors merge with other content, or with tools?

Now there is open source.

How we will do what we want to do is getting increasingly interesting.

Tuesday, June 7

Education Arcade

A few weeks back, I attended the Education Arcade's recent event. The Education Arcade is a MIT-originated group focused on games for learning. There's a bit of a focus on education, not corporate learning, and on academic research, but it's still worthwhile.

For instance, Jane McGonigal had a great presentation on principles for designing massively multiplayer games, based upon her experience with The Beast, and I Love Bees, two games promoting a movie and game, respectively.

Held in conjunction with E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo, and with games now exceeding Hollywood in terms of revenues, this is big), the Education Arcade last year heard how the industry was turning away from trying to address educational games, and we heard a repeated story this year, suggesting that the only way to do real big games was either a killer business model (ahem), or having it sponsored as a promotion.

However, I'd like to suggest that games don't have to be big to be successful (check out Quest), and I argue there are reasonable approximations to a full game-engine that give us much of the benefit at a reasonable investment (though full rule-driven action isn't as expensive as you think, either). In addition, we don't have to achieve commercial polish, really it just has to be better than the usual elearning stuff!

I (naturally :) think games are a powerful way of learning (and I don't mean tarted up quiz shows, or as I call it, "putting lipstick on the pig of fact-based learning") and I want to suggest that there are more ways of doing this than we credit.

So start immersing your learners in the learning task in ways that make them feel engaged. And I hope to see you at the eLearning Guild's Instructional Design conference in Boston June 21-23.

Monday, June 6

A Reading from "Learning By Doing"

If anyone is interested, I read a bit from my new book at Second Life; the 13 minute downloadable MP3 is posted. It gave me a chance to present one of my favorite charts:

Posted by Hello

It suggests in order to understand "The Humanities" (the wisdom of the people who came before us), one thing you have to understand is business strategies. In order to understand business strategies, one thing you have to understand is personal improvement. And in order to understand personal improvement, one thing you have to look at is what you do everyday.

All of the most important skills/knowledge/wisdom cut across all these layers. Just focusing on one layer is almost always distorting. Most importantly, viewing content as just linear is crippling.

Accepting this view, one might see a unification
  • between academics and business,
  • between what we know and what we do, and
  • between understanding the past and impacting the future.

Sunday, June 5

Living by Eating

How many times have you or someone you know do something over and over again, yet learn nothing from it? If you are like me, then at least a few times.

On the other hand, Elliot Massie once said something to the effect that if you hand a salesperson a crumpled and smudged fax that explains how to increase her sales and thus increase her commissions, then more than likely, she will learn how to increase her sales. So did she learn by doing? If you call reading "doing" something, then she "learned by doing." If I turn an idea or thought over in my head (reflect) and learn something new, am I'm doing something or am I'm doing nothing?

In the July 23, 2004 edition of Science Journal, it was reported that information is obtained by two means; 1) trial-and-error tactics and 2) watching others. So if we watch someone do something and gain information from this act, did we learn by doing?

So when we say we "learn by doing," what exactly do we mean? Is it the same thing as saying that we "live by eating?" Or does it mean something more specific?

Saturday, June 4

Aldrich Axioms of Resistance to Change in Formal Learning Programs

  1. There is a difference between supporters of learning and supporters of e-learning.
  2. Every new formal learning technology/approach is judged against a standard that older formal learning technology/approach would fail.
  3. It is easier to criticize more/precise content than less/vague content.
  4. There is no e-learning that is so cheap that people will not complain about the price; there is no e-learning so brief that people will not complain about the time it takes to consume it.
  5. If a formal learning program has six new features and one traditional feature, people will evaluate the program on how the one traditional feature compares to existing programs; Any thing wrong with any part of a program invalidates the entire program.
  6. There is no right way of spelling e-Learning.