Thursday, October 20

If it ain't fixed, should we break it?

I hope I didn't sound too much like a Luddite when I wrote " Let’s stop building, advertising and selling systems and technologies that will provide the solution. " My intention isn't to impede progress and continued experimentation. I do believe that the various technologies many of us have been developing for years render vital services and that their impact will grow. I also believe that growth will only become significant when a few cultural changes take place within the world of learning. On the other hand, I don’t believe current conditions are yet favorable for that moment of quantum leap.

My major beef is with the hyper-commercialisation, the “advertising and selling” part rather than the “building” part. Elliot asked some years ago “if we build it, will they come?”. Given the number of items that have been built and delivered, it’s probably safe today to say that the answer is “no” (thanks, Anonymous, for summary of the HCE study). Before we build, however, we need to design. And before we design we need to have an idea of why we are designing (other than the hope of eventually selling it to the select few because the design looks good and exploits this year's augmented processing power).

I believe – as many do -- that more will come out of the Open Source movement than from vendors of systems (who are becoming fewer and fewer, as Ben Watson reminds us). My healthy doubts about what Open Source will ultimately deliver hover around how non-commercial creativity can fare in a vehemently and violently commercial world. But that’s a philosophical and sociological problem, not an educational problem.

Flipcharts actually have evolved in various ways, but the ways of using them by creative trainers have evolved much more than the technology itself. With electronic gadgets, it’s the opposite. The people responsible for making learning happen are deprived of the means of doing anything about it. Moore’s law has taught us that every 18 months someone’s going to deliver to our doorstep (COD, of course) everything we need to solve the problems we are too backward, poor, unorganized or handicapped (in terms of technological savvy) to solve ourselves. If we don’t pay, we’re excluded from the community of “best practice”, which might more accurately be called “best purchase”. The laws of the production/consumer society trump all others. The race for innovation, which should be about creativity and solving real learning problems, is dominated by the rich and lazy, those with the biggest marketing budgets.

It’s no wonder then that trainers and learners – as the CHE study reveals – feel not so much alienated as simply excluded. Still the technology is there to be used and in fact is being used, but with little sense of purpose and, I would submit, a great deal of waste. I guess that’s the price of hype.


Clark Aldrich said...

So it was Elliot M. who asked... never mind, too easy.

One premise of you post, I think, is that the technology of the past hasn't really worked.

I believe LMSs and virtual classroom tools have worked, even if
a) The business model isn't perfect
b) Like all technology, is two steps forward and one back.

Peter Isackson said...

Clark, of course they have worked. (I like your use of the present perfect). But do they do what we expected them to do -- or rather what they're hyped to do -- for the people who are most supposed to benefit from them?

My point is that something else has to happen first and in some sense those who are doing the most to promote them are also doing the most -- in spite of themselves -- to keep people away. (That doesn't include any of us, by the way!).

We are moving forward of course. But sometimes the two steps are backward. A couple of years ago (the distant past) a friend of mine who runs a language school here in Paris explained to Jay Cross and myself over lunch that the best way he had found to get training contracts with new corporate clients was to tell them he DIDN'T do e-learning!