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


Lee Kraus said...

Donald, I think the iPod has already had an impact on the corporate training world. Podcasts such as "The Cranky Middle Manager" and "Workcast" are providing public learning opportunities for the workforce and IT Conversations has a large personal effect on myself in visualizing where information technology as come from and where it is going. The medium is easy and effective, now companies will need to focus on the specifics as you suggest.

Some other great examples are new product overviews for road-bound sales teams, safety awareness overviews for high-risk industries such as mining, and "How To(s)" for specific applications.

I see iPods begin with lecture-based content (which I would have killed for in college) and over time move to much more interactive strategies, such as learner-created audio journals and nonlinear, multi-authored stories.

I think one of the most effective approaches will be interview-based content at a micro-level. "So, tell us, how did you solve that problem?" If we could capture this information throughout an organization, I think we would finally begin the process of capturing the knowledge of the departing baby-boomers that many have expressed to be critical issue for companies in the near future.

Just some thoughts...

TD Editorial Staff said...

Hi all,

I actually just finished writing an article about podcasting and learning for my quarterly Learning Circuits Trends piece. I interview one corporate supplier who's creating them for clients. Look for the piece up on the Learning Circuits homepage ( in the next week or so!

Eva Kaplan-Leiserson
Associate Editor
Learning Circuits

jay said...

I just returned from Gnomedex, which turned out to be a summit meeting for podcasting, syndication, and related tech. Listen to this.

Yesterday I finished an article for CLO describing how Altus is creating podcast content for sales staff.

This one's coming on strong.

Stuart Kruse said...


Are you as frustrated as I am at the disparity between our knowledge/love of effective learning methods and what the UK market actually requires us to produce. As one of your competitors, I am aware of the products both of our companies produce and I guess we'd both have to admit they are very far from the ideals we discuss in communities such as this one.

This isn't a dig or a criticism, I am genuinely interested in how you feel about the product the market pushes you to produce.

Kind regards,

Donald Clark said...

Hi Mindful,
Actually, I don't think I'm your competitor (at least not thant I know of)-- I'm in Seattle at Starbucks Coffee. However, I do love your thought -- how I feel about the product the market pushes me to produce.

I first got into the learning business as an instructor while in the Army. We taught Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen to operate heavy equipment. At that time, the market wanted a lot of instructors. And I loved doing it. And its not that I'm some egotistical guy that loves to get up in front of people -- people who know me will tell you that I'm on the shy/introverted side. Rather, I love helping people to learn.

And that really what this market is about -- helping people to learn -- that is the real market value. What I see most interesting about the iPod is that there are not only a lot of learning professionals who see its potential, but also a whole army of listeners (potential learners) who love listening to it. And this army of listeners/learners is a growing one at that.

Now unlike some of the other technologies out there, a podcast or audio production can be fairly simple to produce. For example, computer simulations require a lot of hours to produce. For a very interesting read on this, see Clark Aldrich's book, Simulations and the Future of Learning. Yet, on the other hand, some technologies are quite rapid to produce. For example, shortly after elearning became more than a buzzword, people were complaining that most of it was nothing more than "page-turners." It was simply easier to produce a page-turner than interactive media. Yet, each has its uses and advantages.

So, is a podcast simply an "ear-turner"?

Marshall McLuhan called radio a "hot" medium in that it extends one single sense in "high definition" (well filled with data). Thus, a photograph has high definition, while a cartoon normally has low definition. Low definition media invites participation as you have to fill in the missing pieces, e.g. a telephone.

High definition media creates a private experience, such as viewing a photograph or listening to an ipod or radio. A book is also high-definition. It provides even more data than listening as most people can read a lot faster than speakers can talk. Yet the context is quite different. When you have a thought while reading, you normally pause, reflect, then continue reading. The data simply comes too fast to try to do both at once. When listening, one can have other thoughts, yet still remain connected.

McLuhan described an experiment performed in Toronto in which various groups of students learned via a lecture, television, or radio. When tested, the students who listened to the radio outperformed the students who attended a lecture or watched a TV program. Now I would venture to say that depending upon the task or subject matter at hand, either a high or low definition media might be called for, or perhaps even a combination of both.

But what is now most interesting, is that the market has shown a desire for a high definition medium, and unlike radio, which was out of the reach of most trainers, the iPod has provided us with a cost-effective learning tool to reach out not only to this market, but also provide a method for creating another learning method -- a true personal experience.

Donald Clark

Stuart Kruse said...

Hi Donald,

Sorry for the stupid name mistake. I'm not paying nearly enough attention.

Another idea that I'll just throw out there, related to what you are saying. I was recently listening to an .MP3 of Tim O'Reilly on the way home in the car. He was saying that their core business goal is to bring promising technologies into widespread use. Initially via the O'Reilly books but now via the O'Reilly conferences, especially the emerging technology conferences.

I wonder if the E-learning community need something like this - a conference showcasing promising new learning approaches and technologies. This could feature 'success stories' and help for getting organisations started. The key would be to avoid it becoming a thinly disguised vendor-fest.


jay said...

Mindful, your attribution error was not a stupid mistake. The other Donald Clark in this business is the CEO of Epic, the largest eLearning company in the UK.

Anonymous said...

Lee, thanks for the mention of The Cranky MIddle Manager. One of the amazing things about this medium is that people who you've never heard of can find value in your work. Thanks to podcasting some very talented writers, trainers and thinkers (I speak now of my interviewees, not your humble servant)now have another medium to work with that has vast scope.

I think this technology will be incredibly useful for training and other kinds of learning over time. Immediacy, portability and an ability to archive it all make it a terrific medium if used properly.... of course that's the caveat.

Wayne Turmel
"The Cranky Middle Manager"

Anonymous said...

iPods With Video?

Apple Computer is working with recording companies to license music videos that could be sold through Apple's iTunes Music Store, and the company might produce an iPod music player that can display videos. I saw this article in the The Wall Street Journal. A few colleges have been experimenting with educational uses of the current iPod players, but a video feature would provide new academic possibilities, like watching a recorded lecture.