Sunday, April 29

Happy Anniversary!

I've been having some connection challenges the past few days, so I'm almost belated with this post but not quite - I've still got an hour until midnight here on the US Pacific Coast.

Five years ago, today - April 29, 2002, Jay Cross made the first official post to Learning Circuits Blog.

Welcome to the Learning Circuits Blog!

A blog (short for web-log) lets you post a few sentences -- you don't have to puff up an observation into an article to post it. Blogs are spontaneous and informal. Also, there's no delay between writing an item and posting it on the web. A group of us are experimenting here, dropping thought-fragments and opinions into our group blog. If we're successful, you'll begin coming to the Learning Circuits Blog for late-breaking news.

For more about blogs, here's the article about learning blogs that appeared in Learning Circuits last week.

I'll ask our initial bloggers to begin by telling us who they are, what interests them, and their URLs.

The list of Jay's friends who joined him on his experiment with a new technology included Clark Aldrich, Peter Isackson, Tom Barron, Kevin Wheeler, Ellen Wagner, Clark Quinn, and Margaret Driscoll.  Both Clarks, Peter and Jay are still consistent contributors to Learning Circuits Blog five years later. 

LCB was an outgrowth of Jay's person website and blog efforts.  He linked up with ASTD's Learning Circuits Magazine to experiment with a new technology.  LCB's affiliation with Learning Circuits continues to this day.  It's been a unique relationship as we draw upon each other's connections and knowledge but ASTD has allowed LCB 100% freedom in editorial direction - allowing it to truly be a blog.

LCB has seen some lean times and some great successes.  Sam Adkins' We Are the Problem:  We're Selling Snake Oil post on November 17, 2003 rocked the elearning world.  It drew 60 comments when LCB had been averaging just over 2 per post at that point.  

In January of 2005, it was my great fortune to have Jay ask me to take over the reins of  Learning Circuits Blog.  It's been great experience thus far and only promises to be just as stimulating and exciting as we move forward.

We will begin our 6th year of publishing thought provoking content on the internet by trying to expand on the success of the feature Tony Karrer guided into existence last October - The Big Question.  With The Big Question, we found a way to involve more of our community and make LCB a dynamic hub of networked activity.  It's been exciting to see over 60 learning professionals step forward and publish posts as part of The Big Question in our first 7 months of the feature.  The conversations have been stimulating and authentic.

You'll read in the next few days how we're planning to change LCB and how you can help.  By 2012 and our tenth anniversary, LCB will be radically different than it is today, just as those first few posts seem archaic in light of today's blogosphere.

But then it wouldn't be true to the experimental nature of LCB's birth if we didn't pursue change, now would it?

Thank you to everyone who's been a part of the first five years of Learning Circuits Blog!

Dave, your humble blogmeister

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Wednesday, April 18

Training as Tic Tacs or Warm Tea

How often have you been in a situation where the training was absolutely wrong for the participant?

I don't mean wrong as in, person will never use these skills, or wrong as in, person should be out selling instead of being in a formal learning program, or wrong as in, this is a very basic program for a very senior person, but wrong as in if a person applies the skills, they will do much worse at their job?

This might be because the program was not fully tested, or the wrong skills for the person.

If the answer is no, that training has never been harmful, then is the corollary true: that training can't do much good? Is training just warm tea and tic tacs to make participants a little better?

I look for evidence that training is getting stronger. Paradoxically, the thing that will be most convincing is a story of a training program actually being disasterously harmful.

Tuesday, April 17

Get to know Lucinda Roy

How many of you knew Lucinda Roy? (I didn’t). How many of you know her now? Probably a lot more.

Our educational institutions were already in a deep crisis and didn’t need a mass killing to help sort things out. But in the midst of a senseless, heart-breaking and deeply troubling tragedy, Lucinda Roy, black, British and a successful writer is the “professor” who out of concern volunteered to handle Cho Seung-Hui face to face in an attempt to penetrate his shell.

Her heroism, which unfortunately took her only as far as the system would allow (raising major questions and boding ill for the future) is matched by her wisdom concerning the use of technology. I refer all of you to this delightful interview about technology in education:

Here are just a few of the key points:

One thing I've learned from this online interaction is that the ways in which we speak to each other [online] are very different from the way we would speak if we were face to face. Students working online are often much more informal early in the semester. Most teachers who love tutorials really love online interaction if it's designed well. You can have the kinds of dialogue you would not normally have in a public space.

We can all draw our own conclusions (and probably already have) about the value of informality!

You cannot learn to write unless you write. When the only channel of communication you have is the online channel, it is amazing how much people will write.

Expression and output are the principal means of learning, not listening and taking notes.

If you have a class of 300 to 400, you cannot teach well using all this interactive technology unless you are also going to build in some personal support behind it. You cannot imagine that you can answer all those queries well and improve the quality of education if you're the only person doing it. It's very frustrating. We do need to think about how anyone experimenting with this new environment has the kind of personnel support that they need. I don't think we do very well at it.

It’s all about organization and responsibility in encouraging and orientating dialogue.

I throw in the next point because I thought it culturally significant and worth reflecting on. Why doesn’t education help us to see what we ingest?

One of the things I see is people selecting from this menu in the cafeteria and making a plate that's so ugly, you really wouldn't want to eat it.

The last one I think no one has any trouble recognizing.

It's confusing also because there are a lot of people suddenly involved in the education process who have their own agendas. Some are from the corporate world and really want to push a particular kind of software as the answer to everything.

Read the interview. And be like me: try to find out more about this amazing woman!

P.S. The interview dates from 1998. She was a pioneer.

Monday, April 16

A lecture format that a sim-person could love

I travel all over the world presenting research and ideas on simulations (typically to a larger group, before working more closely with a smaller group). But I am constantly stuck with the same conundrum - how do you capture the spirit of simulations while presenting material?

(And just to say, I am no Thiagi. I cannot engage and delight anywhere near his level, if at all).

I was at the Army War College on Friday, and tried something for the first time that was really great. I loaded up a copy of my wiki-like blog on each of the student computers. I gave them free permission to unabashedly explore the material while I was talking.

I told them they could go straight to the sim Examples (everything in [brackets] took them to real, outside examples), if they wanted. Or they could explore theory and concepts. They could even drift off to tangential areas like Social Networking.

When I was talking, probably a third didn't hear a word I said - they were off exploring THE SAME MATERIAL, but in a self-directed and more open-ended way. Probably a third did what I would have done - drifted back and forth. And a third actually listened to me.

Clearly, this is a work in progress. But it felt like a major step, at least in my own view of what formal learning can and should be.

Thursday, April 12

Are "inspirational stories" the crack cocaine of our industry?

I have an unpopular suggestion for rebooting the formal learning industries. Let's put a one-year ban on "inspirational stories."

You know what I am talking about: these are the pithy, well rehearsed, well honed, fiction-presented-as-truth stories by "experts/gurus." In these stories, a variation of the hero's journey, an unlikely person is given a daunting task. They are first overcome by the weight of the responsibility, but then rise to the occasion, apply cleverness and fortitude, and end up with a surprising result. They are as accurate to reality as Frank Miller's Spartan story of "300."

Conferences and executive programs are chock full of "inspirational stories." And don't get me wrong - I love them. They are intellectually delightful concoctions, the equivalent of a buttery croissant with fresh preserves - so unbelievably tasty going down, and yet so useless to the system craving nourishment. They make us feel good and full of hope for just long enough to fill out the speaker survey.

I noted in 1999 that corporations were making e-learning content decisions based on bulk (the more courses, with a lower cost-per-course, the better). Then, in 2002, the same corporations complained that e-learning was vacuous. D'oh!

Likewise, we are currently demanding, through buying their books and praising their speeches, some of the smartest people in business to constantly take real-world anecdotes, fluff them up with some best practices, toss in some faux humility, hone their structure and humor in their delivery, and create a steady stream of "inspirational stories." Then we complain when organizations, after digesting a diet of this white bread from both conferences and management training programs, don't do anything different. Double d'oh!

There seems to a group of "story-fanatics" that fit mostly the same, general description.

  • About 45 to 60
  • Love story-telling, and may have studied it, or theater, as a major.
  • Fascinated by the "hero-journey."
  • Don't play computer games or engage in social networking, or have minimally so they can say they have.
  • Adore the medium of video, the constructs of cinema, and, if pushed, will reluctantly agree to the effectiveness of a branching story type of simulation.
  • View the story as the most effective form of learning.
  • Have reams of studies at their fingertips to "validate" their passion.

I am more excited and intrigued by the double aspect of user participation and non-linear content as the cornerstones of effective content. Perhaps the most pithy research for the first, user participation and activity, not just exposure, is cognitively necessary for learning, comes from an old study:

In a famous experiment, Held and Hein (1963) exposed two kittens to nearly identical visual information. This was done by placing one of the kittens (the passive kitten) in a little gondola, and linking it up to a harness worn by the other (active) kitten so that as the active kitten moved about and explored its environment, the passive kitten was moved in exactly the same manner. The result was that only the active kitten developed normal depth perception. The passive kitten, even though its sensory input was nearly identical, did not. (

Stories are always a good start. They are critical for building caring. We are as genetically predispositioned to listening to good stories as seeking fire and shelter. But they are just a first, tiny step, the appetizers to real learning's main course.

So, let's go a year without any inspirational stories. Let's push ourselves as the formal learning industries to give up our golden crutch. Let's carefully study the works of people like Thiagi.

There are some people who just can't imagine a learning program without a steady stream of inspirational stories. To these, this very post will get their blood pumping with righteous anger. I have, in their view of the world, slapped my white glove across their face. It is these addicts that most of all need to go without, if only for 12 months.

Monday, April 9

Does LCB need a Code of Conduct?

In light of the stunning news of Kathy Sierra's terrifying experience with death threats and other horrid comments made on her blog, Creating Passionate Users, I'd like to raise the question of whether we need to draft and post a code of conduct.

Some time ago, I posted some basic guidelines for commentors in the FAQ under the question "What can or can't be posted to a comment?". I'd love feedback from any and everyone.
Is this statement strong enough?
Does it include everything it should?
Is is alright to leave it in the FAQ?
Should I put a link to it from the sidebar?
Are there codes of conduct for other blogs we should consider? (I've seen and like Blogher's and the O'Reilly proposed blogging code of conduct)
Should I just wait for the O'Reilly code of conduct to be finalized and use it?
Is this a tempest in a teapot and I should just forget about it?

To date, because we have had an invitation-only author team, posts have not been a problem regarding inappropriate language or threats to others. I have pulled down two posts written by authors for content that was misaligned with LCB's purpose (but unoffensive) and another for being more "novel" in length than "blog post". The only comments I have removed from LCB have been obvious spam or inadvertent duplicate comments.

But as we move toward a more open contribution model, (i.e., The Big Question) the chance of conduct offenses will rise. As blogmeister, it's helpful to have a previously published policy to point to when informing a contributor that they are in violation of that policy and I'm taking down their contribution.

I look forward to reading your thoughts. (I promise, none will be pulled down!)

Saturday, April 7

Genre: Mini game

I think we are going to be using these more for formal learning programs, so I thought I would share a quick overview and, better, some examples:

Mini games: small, easy-to-access games built to be simple and addictive. Mini games are "one-note" in terms of gameplay, often focusing on mastering an action, sometimes with a desired message as a backdrop.

Mini-games are typically for:

Mini games can sometimes provide an awareness of some more complicated issue, such as fit.

Mini games are often created in Adobe Flash, sometimes in less than three weeks.

A simple, elegant sample of pedagogy

Simple Example (click to enlarge the two pictures)

Here is a great, simple example of
Pedagogical Elements. Take two, almost identical pictures of Earth. The first is made up just of accurate simulation elements (if you ignore the corners). Click on it and see if you can make out the details. The second picture adds just a bit of pedagogy. Now click on it, and see how much richness a little pedagogy adds.

Sunday, April 1

April Big Question - ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What Should They Do?

Like many industries today, there are significant changes going on for Instructor-Led Training (ILT) and Off-the-Shelf Content Vendors today. In recent conversations with different vendors, they cited a variety of pressures that are making their situations increasingly difficult:

On Demand: Customers want to have both up-front training and on-demand materials. However, on-demand materials are perceived to be similar in form to what’s freely available through search.

Smaller Increments: Customers want to purchase training in smaller increments to minimize time away for learning. This causes several problems for ILT and Content Vendors. Scheduling courses in smaller sessions distributed over days or weeks often interferes with a vendors' ability to delivery ILT on-site because the trainer is booked for consecutive days in class. It’s also not clear what pricing models work for these kinds of approaches.

Rates: Rates for people continue to go up, while price points do not. Vendor prices are not likely to increase as additional training options continue to increase ways in which people can learn.

Courseware Quality: Higher quality courseware (simulations, interactive, referenceable, etc.) is more expensive to produce and it is hard to get that expense back from customers unless there’s significant volume. Further, it is often more out of sync with customer demand because of time-to-market issues. This environment makes it easier to justify PowerPoint plus audio type courseware, but customers are never satisfied with the quality.

New Competitors
: If you're in IT - Microsoft and other vendors like to give away training, or bundle it with their software sales. If you are in productivity training, there are excellent resources available for free online around systems like “Getting Things Done” (GTD).

The bottom line is that many vendors are struggling to determine their direction moving forward. And likely, this is not that far away from some of the same struggles faced by services groups inside organizations.

So, this month, The Big Question is...

ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What Should They Do?

Please answer this question by posting to your own blog or commenting on this post.
(For further help in how to participate via blog posts, see the side bar.)

Points to Consider:
  • What do you believe will be blends that will be succsseful both for learners and from a business model standpoint? In other words, what’s the mix of offerings that can command a high enough price and produced at a cost where the vendor can be profitable?

  • How can ILT providers integrate alternative delivery methods for live training when their trainer resources are often on the road or "in-class" during business hours?

  • Are there other business opportunities to leverage the core competencies and assets of these providers?

  • In today’s world when many referenceable resources are available online to the learner, what is the right model?

  • Is this all hopeless in a Do-It-Yourself world? Should they all get out of the business now?

Participating Blogs:

The Big Question for April has been closed. If you'd still like to submit your post to the April Big Question, please contact the Blogmeister by using the Dear Blogmeister form found at the link at the top of the sidebar or by clicking here.

Jacob McNulty


The Future of Vendors - New Strategies Needed

Dave Lee


Buggy Whip Makers

Adele Lim

learning & development

Apr Big Q: ILT & Off-the-shelf vendors - What should they do?

Ray Sims

Sims Learning Connections

ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What To Do?

Frank Girolami

The FPG Notepad

April's Big Question

Claudia Escribano


Thinking about BIG Questions

Guy W Wallace

The Pursuing Performance Blog

The Big Question - ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendors – What Should They Do?

Karl Kapp

Kapp Notes

Learning Circuits April Big Question: Are We There Yet

Tom Crawford


Learning Circuits Big Question April 2007

Valerie Bock

Collaborative Learning

Formal Content: It's not dead yet!

Clive Shepherd

Clive on Learning

April's big question - backed up at the crossroads

Wendy Wickham

In the Middle of the Curve

What I Need NOW

Tom Haskins

growing changing learning creating

Preparing for changing opportunities

Quintus Joubert

eLearning Blog

PowerPoint vs. interactive learning

Harold Jarche

Harold Jarche

LCB Big Question for April

Tom Haskins

growing changing learning creating

LCB April Question - Leave a clean corpse

Tony Karrer

eLearning Technology

April Big Question - Content Vendor Value

Clark Quinn


Partner & customize