Friday, August 5

Tools of E-Learning Hacks

This is an odd industry, sometimes a very cruel industry. What amazed me when I first entered it, and what still amazes me today, was the amount of hacks that people generally accepted as experts. There was/is this bizarre premium on volume and intensity over actually well thought-out and/or well-researched and/or deeply intuitive statements.

The framework/snake-oil of many of these hacks is: say something that superficially sounds smart or interesting, but that can't be taken any deeper.

  • Any statement that starts something like: The X Myths about e-Learning, Training, Learning, or whatever is always suspect. Most of so-called myths have very little supporters, or are bizarrely vague in and of themselves. i.e. Myth #1: E-Training equals E-Learning, or Myth #2: People only learn in formal training situations.
  • Another hack device, one that I have mentioned here before, is invoking every hot new technology. Training/Learning should be more like TiVo, or iPods, or Computer Games, Segways, or Viagra, or GPSs, or whatever. Don't get me wrong: if you are Kurt Squire and just finished your dissertation of actually using the computer game Civilization III in the classroom, I want to hear all about it. But if you just watched your kids playing a racing game on an Xbox, and want to make a sweeeping statement, you don't win visionary points from me.

Anyway, enough of that. I would like to show you how smart I am and tell you why Harvard Business School is doomed. And all of this fancy new technology is a waste as well.

Think about it. Why spend two years of your life, and all of that work and money, to get an advanced degree? The point is to control your life, right? All you really need is an email with tomorrow's winning lottery number. The infrastrucutre is so simple: an email address, which everyone has, and even a very old computer. Text only. You could even get it on your cell phone or pager (that would be m-learning). Or someone could call you and leave a message on the phone and answering machine you already have! And be honest: you may not spend three hours doing all of your homework, but you would definately spend three hours to get to the right store to buy a lottery ticket, right? You would be set for life!

That's the future. Yup, Harvard and all of those other places that just don't get it are doomed.

What is your favorite hack device?


Clark Aldrich said...

Dear Clark,

I think there is at least one other hack device that you did not mention: pure indignant criticism. Lose the tone, buddy.

Your friend,


Godfrey Parkin said...

"Most of so-called myths have very little supporters, or are bizarrely vague in and of themselves."

You'll have to be a lot more specific if you want to gather support for this hack contention...

Lee Kraus said...

Wow. I've blogged about watching my kid play Xbox... but I bought both your books, maybe that makes up for it ;) I actually think you right on target.


Donald Clark said...

Also, what is one person's hack is another person's reality. In this podcast (8 min), Elliott Masie interviews Linda English, learning officer with Save the Children. They discuss some of the myths and learning challenges in the developing world

For a direct link and to download the mp3 file, go to: What are the Learning Challenges & Trends in the Developing World.

Don Clark

Clark Aldrich said...

I was at one presentation where one of the "myths" was "e-learning is easy" and the following where one "myth" was "e-learning is hard."

Stuart Kruse said...


I think what you are touching on here is the power of marketing/selling/advertising. Why are you surprised? Think of adverts, think of product/gadget marketing - all the time we are seduced by over-the-top statements and hyperbole, often despite ourselves. Why should e-learning be any different? In day to day busy life, we are all remarkably simple thinkers/perceivers - our attention easily caught by the flashy, the loud, the simple. Sometimes thinking is just too hard. Plus, these things make dumb people feel smart - that simple article on ten myths of e-learning now gives me ten simple things to make me seem impressive in my next conversation with the boss (who knows less than me anyway). Oh, these things are just more entertaining too - truth has a habit of being hard work!

By the way, I'm with you all the way - I can't stand adverts and marketing, I don't know how anyone can listen to them without wanting to hurt someone badly (we're in good company, Feynam didn't know how anyone with a soul could listen to adverts).

Godfrey Parkin said...

Come, now, mindful learner. It’s as trite and trivial to adopt a superior attitude to marketing as it is to make sweeping condescending statements about e-learning. “I can’t stand marketing” is no different from “I can’t stand e-learning” and it’s just as absurd.

Marketing and training have a great deal in common: marketing, in essence, seeks to understand the needs of people and create products or services to satisfy those needs. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, many instructional designers (and a few bloggers) could benefit from a learning a few marketing skills.

But I am biased – I have spent much of my career in marketing. And, although my personal proclivity is for iconoclasm, I’ve delivered a few papers over the years that use the “myth-reality” vehicle to help structure the argument...

Stuart Kruse said...

Hi Godfrey,

I read my post again and it comes across as more acerbic than I originally intended. I couldn't agree more that marketing is vitally important. So, just so my original point doesn't get lost:

Clark shouldn't be surprised that sometimes 'shallow' arguments win the day - if these arguments are presented (marketed?) in a simple, fun and effective manner that meets the needs of a particular audience they are likely to succeed; they need only be useful and plausible rather than intellectually rigorous or 'correct'. Perhaps a better analogy would be with politics - a lot of people vote for the politician with personality who is telling them what to hear in a way that's tailored to their world view.