Friday, July 29

Why Internal Training Departments can't keep Type-A personalities

I believe training should be one of the most important parts of an organization. Yet training is often (not always) one of the least important (if that is just perception, or reality as well, depends on the organization,). One thing I have tried to understand is why this discrepancy.

One observation I previously posted was that training promotions often lead to career ghettos.

But something that I would like to explore here is the reactiveness of training. Training almost always sweeps up after the parade.

  • There is a big crisis, it is studied, it is researched, task forces look at root causes, and THEN training is presented as an answer and implemented.
  • A new application is developed, piloted, tested, and THEN training is developed
  • Sales people pioneer this great new technique, it is identified, vetted, and THEN training is brought in to scale it up.

This constant lag drives Type-A's batty. Almost all leave the department. Some flee to vendors, but then they still have to deal with the Type-B's who are left in the training department.

It is hard to know how to circumvent this, or even if it should be circumvented. But in understanding the role and profession, it is hard to ignore it much longer.

The "can you learn from computer games" gotcha!

David's comments got me thinking.

There is an emerging argument with which I disagree that goes something like:

"Some of you are saying that computer games teach.
If you say computer games teach, aren't computer games teaching violence?"

My argument back is saying:
  • Chess teaches you some general strategy.
  • Chess does not teach you how to kill kings.
We all must increasingly look at content through the lenses of linear, systems, and interface/cyclical. The reason is not just that we should think of teaching that type of content, but that we are teaching that type of content. This gets to the whole school issue as well.


Every day, in every class, students learn interface/cyclical skills. Again, these are the highly precise skills they learn through constant repetition. Here are some examples of the types of cyclical content that our K-12 experiences have taught, and we refine in corporate classes:

  • How to be called by the teacher when you know the answer;
  • How not to be called by the teacher when you do not know the answer;
  • How to be the first to answer all of the easy questions;
  • How and when to ask for extra help to feign interest;
  • When to make eye contact when listening to a teacher;
  • How to draw in notebook when pretending to take notes;
  • How to obtain very good snacks/lunch; and
  • How and when to observe classmates without getting caught.
Classes also inadvertently teach students a tremendous amount about the system in which they are. This is where I would like to also quote John Taylor Gatto:
  • The first lesson I teach is: “Stay in the class where you belong.”
  • The second lesson I teach is for students to turn on and off like a light switch with every new topic.
  • The third lesson I teach students is to surrender their will to a predestined chain of command.
  • The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum the students will study.
  • In lesson five I teach that a student's self-respect should depend on an observer’s measure of his or her worth.
  • In lesson six I teach is that every student is being watched.
Until we get a handle on these different content types, we will teach mostly the wrong stuff, even/especially if people test well.

Monday, July 25

Against Schools

I decided that a comment to Ben Watson's blog on "How Bill Gate's is overhauling High Schools" would get lost. So I feel compelled to respond with another blog.

I think Bill Gates is misguided. He is using an expensive technological bandaid to try and fix a system that is inherently broken. I'm not surprised at the frame he's using. Nor am I shocked at the results he's getting. All the technololgy in the world will not change a broken system. And the system is broken. The sad part is, in a world desperately short on resources, he's wasting his money.

Ironically, he knows what must be done, but has no clue about how it needs to be fixed. He is aware that it is more critical now than ever before to make the American educational system shine like it did up to the middle of the last century, or we will lose our lead in the marketplace that is now found everywhere and anywhere, in a flat world, driven by knowledge, and guided by a digital revolution that has barely begun.

I have a strong suspicion that many readers have not heard of John Taylor Gatto

The reason is simple. He is one of the most experienced and highly praised high school teachers of the century. He has also been branded by the very establishment he tried to change a 'radical thinker' and a 'heretical antiestablishment deamer'.

Odd how our best minds are always kept away from the conversation.

If you are truly interested in changing the way America learns before kids ever get into the workplace, as well as after, read John's latest essay "Against School" published in Harper's Magazine, September, 2003.

And if you want to read more, you can get the tenth anniversary release of his classic book Dumbing us Down at his website.

Saturday, July 23

On Being Digital

So first I read about age being a factor in Tom Hoffman's post, Outta My Way Geezer!

Then I see this cool movie by Stephen that he refers to in his post about Moviemaker.

So, here's my movie about the subject of being digital.

So using Moviemaker or another tool that shows you are a digital native, what do you think?

Happy Movie Making,
Donald Clark

Friday, July 22

How Bill Gates is overhauling High Schools

Over the past few years I have read several articles about the US$30B (that's right, thirty billion) Gates Foundation set up by Bill Gates to fund several key initiatives including improving education and global health. Of course you can do a lot of good with that kind of money and though I have read articles on the foundation it always seem to be more PR oriented than talking about end results. With regard to education Bill is probably best known for his recent speech that contained the quote "America’s high schools are obsolete". However I came across today a very interesting article that specifically talks about how the Foundation is giving out large grants to encourage changes in high schools and uses one high school as a concrete example.

Bill Gates' Guinea Pigs
The Gates Foundation wants to remake American education, and ground zero for their billion-dollar experiment is Mountlake Terrace High School. Results so far? It's been a learning experience.

This notion of creating smaller specialized communities within a high school I think is a very interesting concept (my high school had over 3,000 students) and I wonder what implications it could have for corporate learning and adult education. We keep hearing about how learning is more informal and less formal but high schools struggle with the same sort of challenges we face - high drop out rates, low test scores, one-size-fits-all mentality etc.

How do we balance the notion that for communities "smaller is better" with "the bigger, the better" (see the recent BusinessWeek article The Power Of Us - Mass collaboration on the Internet). How much does it matter anymore what we know versus who we know? Is knowledge disposable? (like water; after learning how to drink you just dip into the well when you need it).

What do you think?
Is the foundation just wasting it's money?
Who cares - this has nothing to do with adult learning!
This is the next generation of workers so we better pay attention

Hit the Comments link below and tell us your thoughts!

Tuesday, July 19

Text- The Neglected Media in Multimedia Design

Occasionally we gloss over the basics. Here's a good resource, Usability News, and a good read on single versus multiple column layouts that we can apply to learning and elearning materials.
In summary, the major findings regarding line length, justification, and multi-column displays and online reading have been:
  • Longer line lengths generally facilitate faster reading speeds.
  • Shorter line lengths result in increased comprehension.
  • The optimal number of characters per line is between 45 and 65.
  • Paging through online text generally results in better comprehension than scrolling.
  • Reading speed is faster for both single and multiple columns, but preference is for multiple short columns.
  • Left-justified text is read faster than full-justified text.
From Is Multiple-Column Online Text Better? It Depends! by J. Ryan Baker, full article here:

Apologies about the duplication to readers of my own blog, but I thought this worthy of posting here. Even an immersive VR simulation has been known to start with or include some text.

Sunday, July 17

Learning and Rewards

I was in one of my more introspective moods recently and I asked myself what I had learned in the past few years. The answer surprised me.

Several years ago I decided to become a really great cook, a gourmet chef. Part of the reason was I hated going out to restaurants spending money on what I thought was mediocre food. The other part was to equal my wife's amazing culinary talents in the kitchen - my shared nights for cooking were usually Take Out or Summer Grilled Meat.

So I began watching the Food Channel, reading magazines and cookbooks, Googling recipes that caught my fancy, took some basic cooking classes, spent more time than I ever imagined in supermarkets, gourmet food stores,other people's kitchens, even tried to talk with the Chef when the restaurant food was especially good.

And gradually I learned not to be afraid of a recipe no matter how complex, stored hundreds of little tidbits about food selection, preparation, cooking and serving away in my long term memory, even memorized whole recipes I really liked. In sum, I learned how to cook.

So why did I learn all this stuff about food? First, there was the immediate reward of being able to eat food exactly the way I liked it. Second, there was another almost immediate reward when the food was served and my wife or guests "ooohed" and "aaahed" over my newfound culinary talents. Finally, I enjoyd the learning - even some of the more disasterous mistakes - in large measure because it was something I wanted to learn.

Is this a simple recipe for learning?

We have immediate intrinsic rewards, almost immediate extrinisic rewards, a personal desire to want to learn, and an enjoyable hands on learning experience. A hybrid learning model, done over time, in which I adopted and adapted what I was taught-shown-heard or read, in a supportive environment, in which a mistake was okay to use as a lesson.

When you look back on your learning, what have you really learned and why? It's an amazing process that we invoke all too infrequently as we get older. And I wonder if it works if we're asked to learn something we really could care less about. If so, what are the implications for learning in the workplace? How often are the employees asked what they want to learn, instead of being told to learn something they have little or no interest in learning? Is it possible to align the goals of a company with what a person really wants to learn?

And if you really do not want to learn something, can learning even take place?

Thursday, July 14

Online Learning in Higher Education

IRRODL (International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning) has a nice article on the diffusion of online learning into mainstream college offerings. In addition to some very interesting data in their review of the current state of online learning, the authors put forward four variables that their research indicates are key in the adoption of technology for online learning by faculty members:
  1. levels of interaction in their online courses (more is better)
  2. technical support
  3. a positive experience in learning and developing their online course
  4. the discipline area that they teach
Higher Ed folks, does this research ring true for you? What's your experience with getting faculty to adopt online learning? Everyone else, does there seem to be parallels in your areas?

Wednesday, July 13

Ergonomic Education Anyone?

For some time now I have been advocating that anyone in the knowledge transfer business - and that's probably everyone reading this - needs to start becoming aware of the incredible work being done in the areas of educational psychology, cognitive sciences,brain research, etc. In short anything that helps us understand the 'why' and 'how' of learning at the most basic level - the brain.

I call it "Ergonomic Education". Ergonomic in the Columbia Encyclopedia means "The engineering science concerned with the physical and psychological relationship between machines and the people who use them. The ergonomicist takes an empirical approach to the study of human-machine interactions. The objective is to improve the efficiency of operation by taking into account a typical person's size, strength, speed, visual acuity, and physiological stresses, such as fatigue, speed of decision making, and demands on memory and perception.

Applications range from the design of work areas (including office furniture, automobile interiors, and aircraft cockpits) to the disposition of switches and gauges on the control panels of machinery to determining the size, shape, and layout of keys on computer terminals and character height, color, and clarity on video displays. The field of ergonomics is also sometimes called human or human-factors engineering, engineering psychology, and biotechnology. "

I want to extend this definition to include designing educational materials. As I understand it, the term means to design something that takes into account the way we naturally function. Ergonomic shovels, for example, have the handle turned from a traditional underhand grip, to a sideways grip because it is more in tune with the way we are naturally built, and most handily hold a shovel grip. I use one exclusively and it is an incredibly comfortable and useful tool! Again, ergonomic chairs are designed to support the ways our bodies actually, naturally and most comfortably sit. I spend hours in mine and get up without the aches and pains 'normal' chairs cause.

So why not Ergonomic Education that takes into account the way we naturally learn? Take ESl. ESL currently means "English as a Second Language" and focuses on learning English through reading. There's a new Knowledge Economy, digital age company called BravoBrava! that takes it to mean "English as a Spoken Langauge" and focuses on the more natural path of learning to speak before learning to read.

Any other examples of Ergonomic Education out there? Websites on the brain or cognitive science or such worth adding to Favorites? Newsletter subsciptions? Anyone like or hate this idea? Anyone like to have a copy of my lists?

Thursday, July 7

Esse quam videri

That's Latin for "To be, rather than to seem." It's the state motto of North Carolina, and that's the only way I know that, for I left my Latin studies behind long ago.

If you work for a business, be a business person.

T+D (formerly called Training & Development) is the magazine of ASTD (formerly known as the American Society for Training & Development). The cover story of the last issue tells WLP (workplace learning and performance) professionals that Business Acumen is Priority One.

The article, Build Your Business Acumen, tells us that we WLP professionals "need to think and talk like their internal customers." The article advises readers to understand the business and how it operates, to use business terminology to gain credibility, to recognize business priorities, to create a value proposition, and to advance the learning and performance business agenda. Follow the instructions and you can become an Enabler, trusted by management to help run the business.

This is fine advice but it doesn't go far enough. You can do more than sharpen your business acumen, use management's vocabulary, and position yourself as an understanding, savvy helper. Instead of acting like a business person, why not become one? "Earning a seat at the table" is not enough; you need to be invited back frequently.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If a WLP professional looks like a business person, walks like a business person, and talks like a business person, why shouldn't she join a business community of practice and become a business person?

Am I being too subtle? You are paid to help create value, not to train people or design learning environments: those are but the means to an end. Make yourself profitable. Add value. Don't fake it. Just do it.

As Janis Joplin advised, "Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got." Esse quam videri.

Wednesday, July 6

If we *really* said what happened...

I just read Stephen Downes, and found this quote talking about presentations: "let's say we're 'research-based' (and back it up with surveys of 31 people, half of them managers)". It started me thinking if we were allowed to talk about projects we worked on in real language instead of biz buzz (having just spent a portion of the day in an improv class learning to be fearless).

So, for instance, subsequent testing refined my original design.

Yeah, right.

What really happened is that I had unrealistic expectations about how eager learners would be to explore the interface, and my introduction to the interface was more focused on how to do things and not about what to do (they'll find the game so engaging they'll want to explore. Of course, the user testing showed that my expectations weren't appropriate for a learning game (a very successful one, by the way), and we took my original introduction and made it the help system, and wrote a new introduction to lay out more explicitly just how to survive the game.

One of my clients has a corporate culture of not admitting mistakes. I think this hurts them in the long run, as they can't learn from the past (so are doomed to repeat it). At the Darden Conference on Creating a Learning Culture, one company had an intriguing method for dealing with mistakes: they fired a cannon, not when the mistake was made, but when the lesson was learned. It's safe to fail there, as long as it's a new mistake (a la He Who Fails Fastest Wins).

The point being, it would be great if we would be more able to share lessons learned. Anyone willing to throw ego to the wind and share some important lessons (and give us a laugh as well)?

Monday, July 4

Fireworks are Fabulous!

To our colleagues from the US, the Blog Squad hopes you had an enjoyable and safe Independence Day weekend. To everyone else, don't you just love it when an event calls for fireworks?

Well we're about to launch a number of firsts for Learning Circuits Blog. Some cosmetic like the new masthead for the top of the front page (the fireworks won't be there forever) and some clean up of the screens to finally a nearly complete archive of LCB's history back to April 2002.

I hope you noticed the quote included in the masthead. This thought from The Cluetrain Manifesto is a perfect description of how the members of the the Blog Squad have represented to me what they'd like LCB to become. A place for light hearted buy serious discussions leading to new insights and ways of doing our jobs. And it needs to involve you as well. We're not the "experts who have the crystal ball" regarding eLearning's future. The solution will come in collaboration with verterans of our field as well as the newcomers with new ways of thinking.

A few weeks ago, we added an FAQ and in the next week or so we'll be adding an interactive Blog Squad roster section to the site that will help you get to know the members of the team better.

There's a lot popping here at the Learning Circuits Blog, so forgive the noise. But we just had to shoot off a few fireworks to let you know!