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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Common Questions and Some Thoughts Around Blogs and Blogging

I've had a brief blog conversation with Quintus Joubert - eLearning Blog: Blogs: Engaging the reader. It started when he questioned the blogs cited on Gabe's list of top 19 eLearning blogs as (eLearning Blog: Top 19 eLearning blogs).

His post are good to look at as an example of some of the common questions that people new to the world of blogs have. I thought it was a great spark for some discussion:
Why do "the blogs look like a random collection of ideas, rather than a discussion around a particular topic"?

I think that one thing a lot of people miss at first is that most blogs are really an on-going conversation that the blogger is having with other people in the blogosphere. It's not unlike a conversation you would have at conference in that it covers all sorts of topics. Most people who write blogs do not feel they are "publishing" or "presenting" ... instead they are conversing.

Why do they sometimes include things about their personal life?
Just like any conversation, some people are going to include more stuff about their personal life, some people less. Readers are likely the same. Some people (like me) skip most personal stuff (unless I know them pretty well).

"How to do share your thoughts/lessons learnt without seeming to be the expert"?
Great question. And the answer is that you are free to express your opinions and you should help people by saying they are opinions (but we know that's almost always true already). What I look to get from blogs is lots of perspectives. Personal perspectives.

Why aren't there "more substantial discussion" of the "big issues facing eLearning"?
In some ways, I have the same question, but partly I've come to realize that the the big issues are not well defined. That's also where personal perspectives and personal challenges come in. If you look at the LCB Big Question in December, it's a great exercise because it forces you to define your challenges.

Interestingly, he later said ...

"blogs are about sharing best practices, lessons learned and learning from others"

We agree on this!

But he also said ...
"the main challenge with blogs is to make them entertaining while at the same time sharing something that may be beneficial to a participant in the eLearning industry"
Actually, making it "entertaining" is not really what you are normally going for. Are you trying to be entertaining when you are talking to someone. Not normally.

Finally he says ...

I have noticed that many of the current corporate/business blogs try to cover all the bases i.e. covering news, books, tools, articles, best practices, personal news etc. Sometimes this comes across as a little disorganized and it is hard to filter through all the information to get to the meat. Although I like the idea of a blog, I am not sure that it will be that helpful to people unless there is some sort of structure. A collection of unassociated thoughts and ideas is great if you have a lot of time to filter through the posts, but most people don’t have the time to do this. I guess my struggle at the moment is to come to grips with the blogging format and trying to decide what value I can provide to my audience. The ultimate value of a blog is to get people to engage with you and to share their ideas, rather than it being a static medium. I would love to have your thoughts on how you managed to achieve this.

Fantastic! Yes, blogs are disorganized. Conversations are disorganized.

How do you filter? Lots of ways. Skim quickly to look for interesting things. Use aggregators (human or automatted) who are scanning lots of sources and giving you what they deem relevant.

Overall, I think the expectation about blogging and blogs is way to high from Quintus' viewpoint. If you think of them in terms of "entertainment", "audience", "value I can provide" ... that's way too much pressure. Instead, think of it as conversation and tell us about:

  • Your biggest challenges in eLearning?
  • A recent problem you've faced?
  • A meeting you went to and what you ran into?
  • Or "speed dating" at a business function (which he did)?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Five Things Meme

Wendy started her Five Things Meme post with a comment that resonated with me:
I'll admit I am not a huge fan of chain letters or tagging games.

Then at the end she tags me. That doesn't seem right does it? Of course, it's kinda like hazing, because I'm going to do the same thing...

Okay, so five things you may or may not know about me:

1. I'm 6'6" tall and play beach volleyball at least twice a week (Manhattan Beach, California) and still have a AA (triple is highest)), but am trying to lose it so I can start playing tournaments with my kids.

2. I have 3 kids, daughter-12, son-9, son-6. They are a LOT of fun. And they get a lot of beach time as well!

3. I was on the golf team in college and at one time held my home course (China Lake Golf Course) record of 7-under, 65. I had a +2 handicap at the time (they added strokes to my score) ... which seems a bit unfair. But, in comparison to some of the other people I played against in college such as Duffy Waldorf ... I wasn't very good. Man those guys are good.

4. I like to play video/computer games (since I was a kid). Currently I'm playing quite a bit of Civilization 4 and some Wii Tennis on the game at work. The Wii is pretty fun game play.

5. I yell positive encouragement way too much when I go to my kids soccer and baseball games.

Yikes - I sense a theme in these. Must be the time of year.

In terms of tagging - I'm not sure who's already gone through this ... I apologize for continuing the pain ... hehehehe ... you see after you've been hazed, you ... well, you know ...

Dave Lee
Donald Clark
Dave Boggs
Brent Schlenker
Clive Sheppard
Jim Belshaw
mark oehlert

Making the Change Happen

Two great posts:

I'll be curious to see the reaction.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Changes to ISD, ADDIE, HPT

Interesting blog discussion going on that relates back to LCB's November Big Question (you can find my earlier summation).

Part of the discussion is Where Will the Change Come From? and reading the comments on the post: If You Believe It's Broken - How Do You Change Our Industry/Models/etc? is interesting. As is Tom's post: Providing a change model. But, Tom is way off when he says:
I found that software developers have a change model in mind for the widespread
adoption of Web 2.0 tools. They think it will never happen.

Quite the contrary is true. Web 2.0 is having a fundamental effect on software development and software developers are in the same state as ID folks. Trying to cope with a rapidly changing technical landscape with all kinds of new requirements.

Even after reading what Mark, Karl and Tom had to say about the possible role of academia, I still feel like we shouldn't expect academia to lead the charge until we (a) experiment with different models, and (b) begin to identify patterns that work.

As a side note: in a world of blogs with rapid discourse, it's quite interesting that the guru's seem silent in comparison. In my earlier blog post, I mentioned Allison Rossett and Ruth Clark. My guess is that no one has heard from them. If you look at comments in Where Will the Change Come From? - I think there's some thinking that the guru's are going to be laggards.

Maybe that's why You are the Person of the Year!

Blogging to Peak in 2007?

I received a great set of questions via email over the weekend roughly coming out of a two articles: Gartner: Blogging to peak in 2007 , By Some Measures, Blogging May Be Peaking.

The questions:
Do you feel that Gartner's prediction will apply to educators in general? By end of 2007, will those educators who would ever dabble in blogging have dabbled? And if so, where will that leave blogging as a tool for education? Will it only be used by educators that have kept up blogging. Or alternatively, do you think that educators will buck the trend that Gartner predicts?
So, let me first say that when you say educators, I generally am thinking of academia and I really don't know that space as well as folks like Stephen Downes and David Warlick. Also, there's been some commentary on this already in the edublog space: Blogs are a waste of time - no-one blogging by 2010? (But I happen to disagree with a lot of what they are saying.)

That said, I'll still put out my opinions (and that's all they are).

I think that Gartner's statement is a bit too soon - the number of pure play blogs will continue to grow over the next few years and daily posts will as well. And, more importantly, there will be incredible growth in tools that are not purely blogs. So, if you change the question to, will writing and sharing online going to increase? Dramatically! The form of it may or may not be a blog.

Would you call posting notes about assignments, pointers to resources by an elementary teacher to be blogging? I'm not sure if that counts as blogging, but that's going to continue to increase - right now only about half of the elementary teachers for my kids do this to any great extent. It is EXTREMELY useful to be able to communicate to parents though this kind of mechanism.

Further, teachers will be able to share resources and lesson plans - which is something my mother (a second grade teacher for 30+ years) would have done. And I would certainly have put all of my class notes in a wiki. It all makes way too much sense. I don't think that Gartner counts this as blogging though.

Let's add to this mix the ability to share slides, videos, podcasts. Gee, I wonder if that might have some pick-up?

And, of course, there's stuff like MySpace which again may not technically count as blogging even though it's personal journaling and commenting. Social networking hasn't really got to the professional, over-25 crowd. If there was a MySpace for teachers who could exchange issues and ideas, do you think they'd use it to any great degree. In the professional world, there are lots of attempts at this and eventually we'll see slow pick-up.

The comment that "everyone who is going to dabble has already dabbled" ... suggests that you've reached full adoption. I personally don't believe this is even close to true. There are too many different networks out there that haven't yet adopted. Even in eLearning, we are in the infancy of adoption.

And, there's a built-in assumption that we are talking about blogs that are somehow "expert blogs" as opposed to personal blogs. While experts have generally been the first adopters, I believe that you are going to see more adoption by folks who want to talk about the issues they face, what they are doing, etc. and who don't consider themselves experts. They are normal professionals.

I think that we are far, far short of getting mainstream adoption of Web 2.0 social computing. So while the form of blogging may change, we are going to see greater and greater adoption!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Multiple Social Networks

Luis Suarez and Dennis McDonald have posted about the issues with the large number of social networking sites:

In these posts they discuss the fact that with as many social networking sites (and I would add other kinds of Web 2.0 sites), there is inherent friction both with sign-up and with on-going use of multiple sites. Luis, Dennis and I (and I'm sure lots of folks) have all gone through the decision of whether to spend time signing up and using another site. The benefit of signing up is participation with that group of individuals. The disadvantage is time.

I've had several conversations recently where someone wanted me to be involved in their network and my strong suggestion was to figure out how to use my blog's RSS feed within their network so I could continue to do what I'm doing now, but allow me to open up the conversation with more people. Theoretically, this will start to happen with solutions like PeopleAggregator, but for now, there is definitely a barrier.

You are the Person of the Year!

Move from Discussion Groups to World of Blogs?

It's normal for discussion groups to start, have a life, and then slowly die. After the move by Brandon Hall to discontinue their eLearning discussion groups in favor of the Brandon Hall network and a couple of other discussion groups discontinuing, it feels to me that the alternatives for online discourse is beginning to eat away at discussion groups. Note: this is an observation based on a few random data points.

That said, in one of the groups that is looking at whether to continue, I suggested that its members consider using blogging as an alternative. I then realized that over the past few months we've accumulated some pretty good resources on this topic:

So, if you want to consider whether blogging and blog reading/commenting might make sense:

If you do decide to start participating in the world of blogs, take a look at:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tom Haskins - The Beauty of Blogs

A must read post by Tom - I found it inside my blog reader!

I need to figure out how to add it to my post: Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog

Rapid and Really Rapid eLearning

I ran across a link to an article on Learning Circuits - Rapid E-Learning Grows Up and I apologize, because I can't remember where I found this link.

While the author, Joe Fournier, and I share some opinions, I think we differ a bit on where things are heading longer-term. Let me walk through this...

Tony O’Driscoll, a key learning strategist for IBM, told an attentive crowd at ASTD Charlotte that the codified information base of the world is expected to double every 11 hours by the year 2010. As this crescendo of content reaches critical mass, so does the demand for better insight into this information. To more rapidly distribute this new knowledge, workplace learning professionals (WLPs) need to transition from flat content (such as text) to dynamic, rich content that conveys meaning through fewer words and evokes more engaging mental stimulation.
I think we all see the deluge of information coming. However, the way Joe puts it - as if somehow by creating rapid eLearning we can keep up with the flood. That's really not going to happen. Instead, take a look at George Siemens Knowing Knowledge and especially at the part that discusses how Know-Where and Know-Who will become more important.

If you are really talking about the information deluge, it is unlikely that Rapid eLearning tools are going to have an appreciable impact on it. Instead, we need radically different models where we can rapidly find the people and information we need. Maybe Joe is talking about creating quick hit learning pieces as a starting point for quickly understanding topics, but that's different than giving Rapid eLearning tools to SMEs.

rapid e-learning’s primary value is in addressing learning problems, rather than as a communication alternative for flat content
Has he seen the stuff that's being created with Rapid eLearning tools? Especially by SMEs? Take a boring presentation. Add audio. Add a multiple choice quiz at the end (maybe). Force your learners to take it. Admittedly, I'm biased about this kind of format because of my own learning style. So, let's be honest that much of what Rapid eLearning provides is the ability to quickly go from "flat content" to "linear content" - in other words, we go from a few web pages to a linear "learning" experience.

Rapid e-learning pioneer Jennifer DeVries has an apt analogy: “I see rapid e-learning like the desktop publishing industry of 20 years ago, when desktop publishing was relegated to the one person with the big computer who knew the specialized software and laid out all of the documents. Then MS Word came along and it included many desktop publishing features, giving everyone the ability to create reasonably attractive material on a PC using this very simple software. I think rapid e-learning tools are going to transform the e-learning industry in much the same way, so that e-learning development will become more accessible to the general public.”
One thing that Joe and I (and Jennifer) definitely agree on is that Rapid eLearning tools allow a significantly reduced learning curve and more rapid production. What's interesting about this is that we see this same kind of effect with Wikis that allow us to post content at the click of a button on a site. So, Joe's vision of the future where you'll be able to go to the page of the course, edit away is pretty much inline with mine.

But, what's interesting is that the examples that Joe cites later in the article where several tools are being used together, he points to larger eLearning pieces. I would suggest that the longer-range trend will be to use Rapid eLearning tools to create small snippets that are embedded within reference materials (Reference Hybrids).

In a world where you can't get people to learn ahead of time because of the volume of information and the lack of time, you have to create materials that will be used as needed.

What does this look like? Use a Wiki to produce reference materials, quick start guides, job aids, etc., with a bit of small eLearning pieces embedded within it (probably created with a Rapid eLearning tool). Of course, you'll need to justify to yourself the value of having the linear learning event as compared to web pages that you can easily edit on the fly via the Wiki. You'll find that creating the content in the "Rapid" eLearning tool feels pretty slow in comparison to editing in a Wiki.

It's the same old thing of faster, easier tools eating the lunch of the more robust, slower tools on top.

Good Article on Creating Better eLearning

Good article by Clark Quinn in eLearn - Seven Steps to Better eLearning.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Where Will the Change Come From?

A few weeks ago, I posted a summary around the November LCB Big Question "Are ISD / ADDIE / HPT relevant in a world of rapid elearning, faster time-to-performance, and informal learning?":

eLearning Technology: Significant Work Needed to Help Instructional Designers

Some interesting thoughts in the comments. One thing that just struck me was a comment by Mark Oehlert that suggested we re-engineer the way professors teach ISD. In thinking about that comment, a few random things dawned on me:

1. Fundamentals Okay, But Change Needed

When I look at what people are writing, there is a growing chorus that proclaims while the foundation of these models remain relevant, change is needed.

2. Where are the ISD Gurus in this Discussion?

When I think ISD/ADDIE/HPT, I think of Allison Rossett, Harold Stolovich, and Ruth Clark. Yet, I don't see them saying much of anything about these changes. Heck, do any of them even have blogs? Do they communicate outside of the slow mechanisms of presentations, articles, books? If we are in disarray (as Karl Kapp says), then do we expect a new guard to step forward and lead this?

3. Will the Change be Emergent?

I'm doubtful that we will see the Gurus step forward and lead the change. I really doubt that we will see forward thinking professors start teaching about a different model before that model emerges elsewhere.

At a Web 2.0 event that I moderated, one of the speakers was Matt Glotzbach, Head of Products at Google Enterprise. He made a really interesting point that with ready access to all sorts of new services, adoption was likely to now start with Consumers and Prosumers and then migrate into organizations. Thus, much of the focus of Google Enterprise was to see what works in the consumer space and help bring it to the enterprise.

Combine this with the concepts of Enterprise 2.0, Emergence and Network IT which suggest that rather than trying to define workflow, rules, function ahead of time, we provide relatively free form tools and allow behavior to emerge and then provide better support.

Finally, combine this with the discussions around Informal Learning that suggest the support for informal learning approaches will be emergent as well.

What do you get?

What's likely to happen here is that all sorts of innovation in learning, knowledge management, etc. is going to occur in the consumer, prosumer and in uncontrolled pockets in the enterprise. We'll examine what's working and not working. We'll grab stuff that works and fashion theory and support to help it grow.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More Good eLearning Related Blogs (and Various Notes)

Every three months I go through a process of Managing my RSS Feeds. You can see my September Blog Clean Up. If you are looking for good blogs that relate to learning and/or eLearning, then take a look at my prior post: eLearning Blogs - Quick Way to Find Good Ones

So, in December, I removed from my Front Page the following blogs for lack of posting or lack of content I found relevant to my interests:
edufilter, edugadget, elearn, Learning for 2020, LTI Newsline, Rapid eLearning
News, Steven Forth, Sviolka’s Context, T+D, TrainingThatSucks, TrainUtopia

I added to my front page:

If you are in a corporate eLearning development department, take a quick look at Wendy's blog maybe it will inspire you to blog.

If you know a good blog on eLearning that's not in my list on the right, I'd like to hear about it in a comment.

Finally - as a note to the bloggers I just added to the list, one suggestion that I'd make to each of you (and to pretty much every blogger) is to add a Blog Guide (for first time visitors). What is likely going to happen is that someone will visit you for the first time and have a heck of a time figuring out what your blog is about and if they are going to be interested. Stephen Downes and Nancy White both think its a good idead too. :)

Related post: Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog.

What to Call Ourselves and Our Industry?

A few weeks ago, I received an email question that asked:

Something I wanted to ask you is if you have defined somewhere on your blog the meaning of a term which I’ve seen you use frequently – ie “learning professional”. Or if you’ve seen someone else define it and could point me in the direction of this source.

Also, just curious if there is any particular reason why you prefer “learning professional” over something like “elearning professional” or “e-learning professional”.
I've looked a few different times for an appropriate definition - and come up empty. And certainly, I use the term. We got dinged for the use of the term in the LCB's Big Question for September: Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

I believe that I first started using the term after hearing that ASTD was now going to refer to their membership as "Workplace Learning Professionals" - which sounded good. When I refer to "Learning Professionals" - I personally include folks outside of Workplace learning as well. Thus, dropping the "Workplace" portion of the term.

I believe that there's even more of a challenge around the segmentation and naming of groups of Learning Professionals (our industry)?

So, does anyone know where appropriate definitions can be found?

And, I can answer the second part - if I use the term "eLearning Professional" then I would be talking about someone who is a Learning Professional but with focus on delivery that leverages technology primarily software/web/online technologies. Thus, to me those terms are more specific and wouldn't include a folks who do ID or delivery that is classroom only. (Does anyone do that anymore? - Heck, even my kids teachers all put school notes with resources online.)

Sorry, I couldn't be more helpful. I hope a comment will appear with good links to help this person out.

Knowledge Management and Learning

Interesting discussion going on with contribution by Luis Suarez, Jay Cross, David Wilson - around the distinction between Knowledge Management and Learning:

Knowledge Management and Informal Learning
Knowledge Management and Learning - Separated at Birth? - Where They Really?
KM & learning: separated at birth?
KM and Learning

This is an interesting exchange because it highlights that approaches to learning and to knowledge management are shifting and beginning to overlap more now. Both are coming to recognize the importance of Know-Where and Know-Who as opposed to Know-What and Know-How.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Impact of a World of Loosely Connected Individual Relationships?

After posting yesterday eLearning Technology: Web 2.0 Tools, Networks and Community (Individuals vs. Collective) - where I discussed how my use of Web 2.0 tools were forming a network of individual relationships, today I ran across a post by Dave Pollard - Social Networking in Business: An Update where he lists out a series of tools that create links between people much as I was discussing. As I stated yesterday, what's interesting about these links is that there is no community associated with them as there generally has been in the past for me. Thus, I'm finding myself in a world of:
Loosely Connected Individual Relationships

This raises all sorts of questions for me:
  • Should I do something more with these relationships or is the loose connection enough?

    For example, I've met 20+ other bloggers through writing on common topics. A few I've individually communicated with outside of the blogosphere. A couple I've asked to be on panels or met at conferences. Maybe this is enough, but I feel that if I was looking to find out which other bloggers (or other people who I am loosely connected with) will be going to a conference I'm going to be attending, I have no easy way to reach out. As I said yesterday, I don't have a list. I also believe that relationships are built by a series of interactions. Should I be looking to engage with other people in some way beyond the blog? If so, what, how, why? Or maybe a loose connection is fine? Maybe that's the new world? Maybe I need to get used to it?
  • Do "communities" exist within these loosely connected individuals or do you need something more to form a community?
  • What should communities such as TrDev (a discussion group) or the eLearningGuild or ASTD do with/about these loose connections that span in, across, through their communities?
If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear from you either through comments or through a blog posting.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Web 2.0 Tools, Networks and Community (Individuals vs. Collective)

Nancy just created a post out of an article and presentation that I had linked to before: Full Circle Online Interaction Blog: Blogs and Community – launching a new paradigm for online community?

This is an interesting piece that made me think about the new landscape created by Web 2.0 tools. Traditional online community mechanisms (email lists, groups) are joined by a wide variety of publishing mechanisms (blogs, social bookmarking, wikis, flickr, etc.) not to mention linking and commenting on other folks content. This forms a big network of people linked first through content and eventually directly (in person or via social networking). Nancy raises the question of the fact that traditional online communities were bounded by the tool and the new big network is not contained within the tool.

In re-reading the article, I jumped pretty quickly to her comment that the three forms of blog-based communities (one blog, boundaried, topic centric) there are many other forms. Her comment:

New tools which allow a person to ‘carry’ their identity across a variety of online platforms and create their own personal networks suggest that our static ideas of blogs, wikis and forums will be outdated by the idea of a personal network and information cloud, that we shape and which is shaped by those we include in our network. This suggests we are redefining community.


Many have written about the definitions of online community (White 2005). The key indicator for us is that community is present when individual and collective identity begins to be expressed; when we care about who said what, not just the what; when relationship is part of the dynamic and links are no longer the only currency of exchange (Packwood 2005).

What's really interesting to me is that I'm finding in a web 2.0 world where I share content via Blogger - I actually have found much more of a direct connection to other individuals. I met Brent Shlenker through his blog and invited him to be on a panel. And I've met many other people through blogging. And, I've found that I get to know them better through their blogs than I ever have through online discussion groups, e.g., TrDev.

And, I don't believe that this connection effect will stop with blogging. I have met other people through LinkedIn and illumio by being on either side of requests. By the way, illumio is a fantastic idea. It's now open publicly and I would encourage you to give it a try. Something like this is definitely in your future.

While I've not personally done much of this, finding other individuals through content also occurs through the use of tools such as (links), 43Things (goals), wikipedia (topics), flickr (images), mySpace (bands), etc. Each of these generate similar stories of meeting other people through the content. In fact, if you think of my online identity as being the collection of blog posts, links, flickr images, 43Things goals, LinkedIn contacts, etc., you have a pretty good idea of me as an individual and that promotes individual connection.

At the same time, I would definitely emphasize that while these provide good mechanisms for meeting other individuals, the "community center" is somewhat non-existant in this world. There is definitely a feeling of loss for those of us who are used to groups with members. Who are the people in my network? In a group, it's clear the membership. In a blog network, it's not at all clear and it's quite fluid.

I've seen several ways to combat this feeling of loss within the network and most of them are based on establishing a list of members or other related bloggers. Blog rolls are probably the most common. Other examples are closed lists, e.g., Web 2.0 Workgroup and Enterprise Irregulars or open lists kept on Wikis. There are a few Yahoo Groups aimed at establishing a community for bloggers.

Another approach that we've taken on the Learning Circuits Blog is to post a question each month that allow a natural list of bloggers to emerge who contribute their answers to the question. This has had an interesting effect of establishing closer ties within the blogger network.

Nancy's article is definitely worth reading and after re-reading it, I've become more convinced that in a time of Know-Who and Know-Where being the most important, these Web 2.0 tools form an incredibly important part of how we'll establish our network in the future.

TechKnowledge in Las Vegas

I'll be doing several sessions at TechKnowledge in Las Vegas at the end of January. The sessions are on the use of Blogs and Social Bookmarking as part of Personal and Group Learning.

If you are going to the conference, let me know. It's always nice to meet in person.

I just saw a post by Jay Cross that discusses possible discounts to TK2007 hotels.

Rise of the Prosumer

Found via Donald Clark - Strategy + Business interview of Alvin Toffler author of Future Shock around his new book Revolutionary Wealth. While the focus is on the impact on economics, the discusssion of the rise of the "prosumer" is very interesting. It goes right along with the questions around eLearning 1.3 and eLearning 2.0 where some content creation is pushed to the SME and the end-user.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Biases that eLearning 2.0 Faces (or What We Are Up Against)

Saw a post in the eLearningAll group that expresses a lot of the biases that exist in the world of eLearning around eLearning 2.0 approaches:

Before you "optimize eLearning" through the use of Wikis, Blogs, PodCasts, video feeds, IMs, XML, SOAP, AJAX, and other "new"/"improved" methods, it is really important to understand:

1. How can these "optimize eLearning"
2. How will you manage them
3. How will you measure success
4. How you will add the next "hot" technology
5. How will you prevent the system from becoming a garbage repository

that is first overwhelmed with everyone wanting to post their latest thoughts on the lint residing in their bellies and then is ignored because the only content it has is people's musings on belly lint?

Wikis: Will you have a librarian organizing posted content and verifying that it is correct? How will you limit posting access so you don't get some whacko (like me) uploading incorrect, opinionated, and possibly insulting content?

Blogs: How will you take the word "I" out of people's postings (e.g, "This is my first experience posting a blog, and I am really thrilled to death about it") That is, how will you make the blog content useful as an instructional element. If you go to the Brandon-Hall network, you'll be amazed how many postings are of this character.

PodCasts: Will you have professional announcers recording things, or will you subject your audience to amateur, scratchy, poorly organized rantings? How will you ensure accessibility both in terms of iPod ownership and ADA?

Other technologies: Do you understand the implications of these mechanisms?

Have you thought about just creating good content that the audience might be interested in reading and referencing?

Al Moser

In fairness to Al, he is generally one of the more forward thinking people out there. Wow, a long way to go. Or maybe people out there share his opinions and biases - of course, you don't see it expressed much.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Real Challenge around Informal Learning

The Real Challenge around Informal Learning

Over the last few days I’ve had a blog conversation with Stephen Downes around what is informal learning:

This led me through a trail of posts Definitions of informal learning; Formal or informal - does it matter - its all learning; and
non-formal learning: mapping the conceptual terrain. a consultation report.

The last paper talks about a myriad of ways that informal learning has been defined and it's led me to conclude that I should give up on finding any definition of informal learning. Instead, I've taken away something very important:
Informal learning is like pornography

I’ll know it when I see it.

However, I do want to revisit why I care in the first place and two struggles that I still have.

First, there's a struggle with the nature of trying to support informal learning. In a recent post about this same topic, Harold Jarche talks about “the bias against informal learning” in the corporate world.

I can understand Harold's concern, but I also see a bias the opposite direciton. I’m struggling to understand what’s inside the box of informal learning and how we can better support it (with technology). The bias I see is that the moment you try to provide guidance or support, then it feels like you are going against the spirit of being informal. Julliette White tells us – “The degree of informality of learning is the degree to which you haven’t been told what to do.”

But let’s take the job aid as an example. Prior to the creation of the job aid, the way people learned how to do the job was having someone else show them. The job ended up being done a bunch of different ways, many that were less efficient. We create a job aid that takes the previously very much informal learning and now has certainly made it more formal by telling people how to do that job. We will likely have some level of push to get adoption anywhere from to pointing people to the availability of the job aid to mandating its use. We’ve certainly made it less informal. And if we did mandate the use of the job aid, we’ve gone to the dark-side that is formal (gasp).

So, my first struggle is how I can simultaneously support informal learning (making it slightly more formal) without losing valuable properties of informal learning? Is there a contradiction here? Are there safe and unsafe ways to do this?

The second struggle and what I see as the real challenge around informal learning is that I believe there’s incredible potential here to provide support, structure, environment in ways that derive tremendous value. Jay cross points out we spend 90% of our learning budget on the 20% of learning that is formal. The other 80% (informal) gets much less attention.

My day-to-day job as a person who ultimately creates technology solutions that support human performance is to:

  • Understand the performance objectives
  • Understand the human performance that can achieve these objectives
  • Where appropriate create technology support for that human performance

I believe that inside the other 80% there are some places and people that do a really good job, lots of interesting practices, great stuff, but it’s scattered. And there’s lots of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. One of the reasons that I’m so passionate about eLearning 2.0 and topics like Personal and Group Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools, is that we are just now beginning to understand some of these areas and how technology can support them.

As I pointed out in Past Year, Present Challenges, PredictionsI see one of my biggest personal challenges is to start to understand what’s inside the box that people refer to as informal learning and figure out where and how technology can be an effective support.

Any thoughts or ideas on where to find a list of 500 kinds of informal learning would be much appreciated? That's probably a better use of time than trying to understand definitions.

Something Everyone Should Do

The Learning Circuits Blog Question for December already is getting some really great posts. Finally, after two months of writing questions that elicited at least a few responses of "that's the wrong question" - I think Dave Lee and I came up with a pretty good set of questions. Sure, maybe they are still wrong, but
The exercise itself is literally something everyone should do.

It's a bit like a fall planning cycle, but for yourself. Read a couple of the posts so far. For example, take a look at Karl Kapp's post. One comment to help entice you from his post:
I think the field is a drift. We aren’t sure what our foundational models are, we don’t know if they are effective, we have few publicized alternatives and we have new technology thrown at us at break-neck speed. We need to figure something out.

And then carve out 30-60 minutes to think through the questions:
What will you remember most about 2006?
What are the biggest challenges for you/us as we head into 2007?
What are your predictions for 2007?
It's definitely worth it as a personal exercise.

Lower Value of Online Degree Programs?

The post: eLearning Technology: Online Programs that Offer Training in eLearning? has provided some interesting results around online programs - and a really interesting question:

How do employers view online degree programs? If you are going to spend the money and time upgrading your skills, you want to make sure the employer will recognize them.

I am very curious what other people think about this. I personally hire mostly folks with undergraduate degrees and mostly they are technical. I look at the individual first and foremost - but that said - I definitely am looking for an undergraduate degree from an in-person program first and foremost. For graduate programs, I probably have less of a bias and I would value an online graduate degree from a bigger name higher than an in-person from a local, lesser name program. That said, I still would value the in-person higher than the online for the same university. Given my passion around distance learning, it's a bit weird to admit this bias. But, I wonder if this isn't shared and that people should be aware of it?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Online Programs that Offer Training in eLearning?

I received an email today from someone who is looking for online programs (certificate, masters, etc) that offer training in elearning.

From the email - University of Calgary has a certificate, the University of Hull in the UK has a masters program, are there any others? Which ones are the best?

I have no clue, but I'm hoping that someone can point to suggestions via comments, and/or point to places you would look.

By the way, is there a source somewhere for online programs?

High Praise from Nancy White

One of the real learning experiences about blogging is realizing that I don't have a clue about what people will find interesting or when they'll leave comments. One of the posts that I thought would have generated some interest was: Be an Insanely Great Professional Conference Attendee.

It didn't generate any comments and only a couple other posts that cited it ... but yesterday it got a comment from someone who I greatly respect and who really knows a lot more about the topic area (community) than I do - Nancy White. She said:

Great post. You got me thinking about why I tend to shortchange myself in table introductions because I find a lot of what people say is, well, too
disconnected. I can change that pattern by asking a good question.


Yes, I'm bragging and I'm trying to draw people into an old post for any thoughts, discussion. But, I still thought this may have value.

Monday, December 04, 2006

More on the Form of Informal

Stephen Downes has a great post entitled The Form of Informal which - well exactly what it says it discusses - the form of informal learning. In his post, he questions a couple of things I've said in The Paradox of Informal Learning (Form of Informal?) and Informal Learning is Too Important to Leave to Chance.

His full article is worth a read, but the crux is:

nobody equates 'informal learning' with 'structure-free learning'

(unfortunately a few people have talked about "free range" and other similar terms, but I think that we can all agree that we are talking about finding support/structure for learning)
What makes informal learning different from formal learning is not that it is formless, but rather, it that it is conducted outside the domain of the formal education infrastructure, with the associated and not trivial implication that it is managed by the learner, and not the professor or institution.

When I have characterized the distinction between formal and informal learning, I have done it this way: by saying, if you can walk out of the room, or change the shape of the discussion, or skip an activity, without (academic or other) sanction or penalty, then it's informal learning.

I think that Stephen and I agree on the fact when learning occurs it must have occurred in some form. In fact, it would seem that Stephen and I may even have agreement that a big part of our challenge is how to provide the right environment for learning to occur.

Likely he will feel more comfortable with environments where there is more freedom left to the student in terms of the level of support/structure, freedom of the form used, etc. and I'll feel more comfortable with more control on support/structure, form, etc.

Stephen's concern with my "greater control" is:

It is one thing to say, "I'm personally much more confident if I have a set of performance objectives that I can use to derive learning objectives and skill development opportunities around. I want to put structure in place that guides the learner along the way." It is quite another to say that the learner (a) must attend your class, and (b) must adhere to your learning outcomes and learning methodologies.

Which takes me right to what I'm discussing in both the posts he cites. How do you aim at performance objectives, provide appropriate support, structure and form without dictating to some level? No one says its structure free, but how much structure is allowed before it becomes too much to be informal? There's some kind of spectrum here with all sorts of shades.

What's interesting is that the moment you begin to understand the form that informal learning took and provide support for that kind of learning in the future you start down the path of dictating solutions. Providing job aids was one example that Michael McGinnis cited. The first time a person learned how to do that task/job it was likely through someone showing them how to do it. Once they put it in a job aid - it feels more formal on the spectrum. So maybe it's not a paradox, maybe its a spectrum. But, it feels a lot like what Artifical Intelligence faces - informal is a bit mysterious and putting structure to it makes it feel more formal and much less mysterious.

Of course, I personally am not that concerned with the definition of the term nor really even the paradox as I am in understanding the next level of informal learning: what kinds of guidance, what kinds of support, how can be provided, that ultimately lead us to accomplishing our performance objectives?

LCB Question for December - Past Year, Present Challenges, Predictions

The Learning Circuits Blog Question for December has been posted. The questions this month are:

What will you remember most about 2006?
What are the biggest challenges for you/us as head into 2007?
What are your predictions for 2007?

Answering this question is a bit more of a challenge for me. So it may take a few posts. Let me put out a few initial thoughts, but I’m expecting that other posts will spark more thoughts.

What will you remember most about 2006?

I believe that I will remember 2006 as one of the more important transition years for me. It is the year that I recognized that there is a revolution going on in eLearning similar to 1996 when I saw that web-delivery of tools, content, etc. would grow to dominate in what was then a desktop/CD-ROM world. The revolution in 2006 is possibly even more profound.

Some of the more specific memories from 2006:
  • I started my blog in February 2006.

  • I started using and Yahoo MyWeb to save bookmarks - locally saved favorites seem rather limited now.

  • I had a real "aha experience" after using add-ins to provide features inside my blog. Boy were they easy to use. It's all pure service. And this experience kept coming all during the year with Wikis, and more (Incredibly Cool! Vision of Future of Application and eLearning Development)

  • I found myself no longer recommending the use of RoboInfo or other similar programs for reference materials. Wikis are way better even if the end-users don't edit.

  • I had a very interesting disagreement with a client about the technical direction for their solution - they wanted local editing via a Word add-in locally installed - I advocated providing a pure web delivered solution. I lost the argument. In the long run, they'll lose. No one should advocate putting stuff on a desktop anymore without a dang good reason.

  • I found myself using Wikipedia early in research tasks on all sorts of topics.

But by far the most vivid memory of 2006 comes from a comment made during a panel that I was moderating on eLearning 2.0. We had discussed Wikis, Blogs and were embarking on Second Life. Someone from the audience in all sincerity said:

“This stuff is freaking me out.”

She is right on the money. It is freaking us out. We know something pretty special is happening right now.

If you are a glutton for more of this, take a look at:

What do you see as the biggest challenges for 2007?

I could answer this as the biggest challenges for Learning Professionals generally, and maybe I'll come back and do that, but for now, let me just write what I see as some of my bigger challenges in 2007.

  • Finding high quality people, especially programmers

    This may come as a surprise, but it's really hard to find really good on-shore development talent. Especially since I'm spoiled by a really great, really nice, fun group of developers.

  • Deciding if I should be speaking more or less at conferences?

    I love going to conferences when there's energy and I meet interesting people with interesting problems. I hate hearing the same presentations over and over. The last couple conferences have been interesting again, but I'm not sure if that trend will continue. In the meantime, I'm spending more time blogging and in virtual sessions. Those seem to have been a good replacement for my conference time. I'm still unsure how I should spend my time.

  • Retooling my knowledge

    I've been paid to be a CTO type consultant on a broad range of topics. And if you are talking Reusable Learning Objects, Courseware Templates, Tracking Mechanisms, Content Management, etc. I'm really well positioned. Of course, since I'm truly believe that the form of what we will be building in the future is changing and things like RLOs and Courseware are going to become much less important, then my current knowledge base seems diminished. Instead, I now need to get smart on things like community, networks, personal knowledge management and other such topics. These have normally been tangential, but I see them as core moving forward. I've already started on this, but the challenge is knowing where to focus.

  • What does all of this mean? What will the landscape look like in 10 years?

    Along the same lines, I really am challenged right now to understand where all of this is going. If it doesn't look like a course and doesn't look like a reference system, what will it look like? What is the form of informal learning?

  • Why am I not finding more opportunities to create front-end tools?

    I am a big believer in the ability of web sites to provide simple forms that a user can fill out, that captures data that can be reused, and then feeds the data into templates that provide significant value. At the simplest, these are dynamic job aids. More complex solutions look like marriage matching (eHarmony), action planning solutions (large retailer), marketing support tools (large financial services). These are the most powerful and best solutions that I can personally be involved in. Yet the projects are sparse. My challenge is to find more of these projects.

  • Find Lots of Examples of eLearning 2.0

    I've already started to identify some of the initial eLearning 2.0 kinds of solutions that people can adopt right now. But 2007 would seem to be a good time to find even more smart, small, starter examples of solutions that don’t fit within classic eLearning, eReference type solutions.

What are your predictions for 2007?

First, let me say that before I predict anything, I always start with a couple of quotes that keep me grounded:

A consistent pattern in our response to new technologies is we simultaneously overestimate the short-term impact and underestimate the long-term impact.
–Roy Amara of the Institute for the Future.

The future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed.
–William Gibson – Author

So let me start with a prediction that I always get right. 2007 is going to look a lot like 2006.

That said, let me suggest a few specific predictions:

  • More learning professionals are going to find themselves blogging.

  • Discussion will emerge/increase around the next generation of LMS that focus on quick access to content, search, web 2.0 capabilities, with tracking being done behind the scenes. In the meantime, LMS Dissatisfaction will continue to the Rise and Do You WANT an LMS? Does a Learner WANT an LMS?

  • Discussion will emerge/increase that SCORM doesn't fit next generation learning.

  • 2007 will have even more creativity around types of solutions and how those solutions get created.

  • Informal learning will be a big topic and will become more formal

  • Courses and Courseware are going to continue to fade

  • Training 2007 will still have a blind spot around eLearning 2.0, but one keynote by IBM will open some eyes

  • It will be harder and harder to find any software getting installed locally

  • We will start to see Wikis and tools like ZohoCreator being used by normal people like us to build simple web applications - similar in complexity to spreadsheet programming.

That's it for now, I'm sure I'm going to want to add to this as I read other responses to the questions.

The Paradox of Informal Learning (Form of Informal?)

If you read my blog, you know that while I'm a big believer in the need to improve human performance outside of classic formal learning interventions, e.g., personal learning support, you also know that the term and a lot of the discussion around informal learning makes me worried. By way of background for my comments, you may want to look back at:

I just saw two posts on Informal Learning that made helped me to realize the dilemma. First, was Informal Learning on Training Day, written by Michael McGinnis -who has been on a couple of panels that I moderated. In it he talks about three kinds of tools that he's provided that support informal learning: Structured OTJ Checklists, Knowledge Guides, Quick Reference Guides. What's interesting about this is that I normally wouldn't think about these as being "informal learning" mostly because while they aren't part of a formal learning setting, they are classic kinds of tools that we build as part of an overall learning intervention.

The other post was by Clark Aldrich, Is it self-defeating to write a book advocating Informal Learning over Formal? Where Clark says:

I am struck by a basic paradox. Can one criticize formal learning models in a
book? Isn't a book the epitome of what one is suggesting is the wrong model?

I don't really agree that you can't use formal learning techniques to tell or teach about a topic such as informal learning. This is the same as discussing virtual classroom tools at an in-person conference session. There's no problem, but it is ironic.

On the other hand, Clark's comment did make me think about the paradox that informal learning faces...

Once we give structure and form to a learning intervention, doesn't it stop
being informal?

This is much like the challenge of Artificial Intelligence that I was struck by back in the 80s. If you define a problem, such as playing chess and you say that requires intelligence - the moment you write a program that solves the problem, then you redefine what it means to be intelligent because in hindsight its pretty obvious how to play chess. It's just an algorithm. Intelligence must be more than that. It must be learning. But once you program a simple learning solution, then intelligence must be more than that.

Informal learning faces the same paradox. The moment you figure out the "form" of a solution - can it still be "informal" ??? Look at the words closely.

Blogging and Collaboration

Tom Haskins has written a couple interesting posts on collaboration in the Web 2.0 world: Four phases of collaboration and After blogging - collaboration.

I think his picture of and description of the Four Phases is fairly accurate, but I also think that there's likely a depth element to it. One of the wonderful things about blogging has been the ease with which collaboration occurs. It's natural. You quickly jump to Phase 4. However, part of it is that there's little risk and no expectation of an on-going relationship.

If you look at some of the posts around blogging from the LCB October Big Question and my summary: Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog, you can see the fear of blogging, fear of inequality, but the quick turnaround. That's why folks are talking about Blogs and Community more and more.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Significant Work Needed to Help Instructional Designers

The November LCB Big Question was "Are ISD / ADDIE / HPT relevant in a world of rapid elearning, faster time-to-performance, and informal learning?" I was planning to try to write up a summary at some point (similar to last month's eLearning Technology: Top Ten Reasons To Blog and Top Ten Not to Blog), but I must say this month it was a lot harder. My personal summary is very briefly (more below):

  • There’s general consensus that ISD, ADDIE, HPT provide a good foundation, but that they need to evolve.
  • There’s little practical advice that can assist Instructional Designers in what the evolved forms really are.
  • There are a few skeptics.

And I find that second bullet especially troubling given that the crux of the question as Mark Oehlert from e-Clippings put it:

If the question of whether or not your job is relevant fails to stir up some considerable heat - then I despair for us.

Well Mark start despairing for us...

I’m beginning to wonder if we are expected to just wing it until we become marginalized. As a Forbes article stated –

One thing is clear: In two decades, your job probably won't exist, at least not in the same form.

So let me step back and give some foundation for my summary. Oh and before I go any farther, I should point out that, as is always the case, there is general consensus that as Jay Cross put it:

This is the wrong question.

And as Russ Crumley put it:

we’ve already answered that.

So, again, Dave Lee and I are continuing our consistency in asking bad questions.

Also as background, there were quite a few people who said, ISD/ADDIE/HPT – huh? That was actually quite a big surprise to me. Maybe they are already irrelevant?

ISD, ADDIE, HPT are Good Foundations

There was general consensus that they provide a good foundation for the future.

Phil Charron:

More models will emerge, but they'll only be improvements on existing models. We'll always take shortcuts, but it's important to know what the original route was in case you get lost.

Harold Jarche:

SAT, ISD and ADDIE are excellent methods to develop training that is stable ... The Internet is forcing us out of our self-constructed disciplinary boxes. ... As work and learning become connected online, the barriers are blurring between organisational development, HR, training, education, HPT, etc. A new, amalgamated field of practice requires better tools and integrated theories from which to base our practice.

Russ Crumley:

The challenge we now face is not the creation of more tools, but better use of the tools we have, while applying the fundamentals of human behavior and performance, including the role of emotion, curiosity, discovery, and the desire to improve.

Dennis Coxe:

The role of the instructional designer will be to use the ADDIE model to determine what baseline structure can be built into the formal piece of the learning and what parts of the knowledge base are fluid and need to maintained delivered in an informal venue, be it a blog, a podcast, or talking points delivered by a project manager to his or her team.

Karl Kapp

We need these models now more than ever ... Would you ask a builder to skip the design step for a building? No need for the architect, just build the building.

Clive Shepherd

We need to be reminded of this discipline to avoid jumping to solutions, without having a proper understanding of the problem.

ISD, ADDIE, HPT need to Change

There was also general consensus that while they provide a foundation, they need to change.

Jacob McNulty:

In a world where products, targets and strategies adjust constantly the application of these models (ISD, ADDIE, HPT) will be greatly diminished. As the roles of knowledge workers expand and require them to use information that changes quickly it will be more important for the workforce to have easy access to information rather than them be required to retain it as the result of a well-designed course.

I use the term ‘greatly diminished’ because I don’t feel the models will become obsolete or completely irrelevant.

The models listed in this month’s Big Question were designed for a type of training that was relevant for the needs of an environment different from today’s.

Geetha Krishnan

my argument: A, D, D, I, and E are relevant. ADDIE may not be

Karyn Romeis

some method still needs to be applied to decide what features to provide and the look and feel of the vehicle -if we are completely without strategy, we are likely to wind up with a resource like Homer's car

Little Practical Advice

While the consensus was that the models were changing, I found myself wondering what that really means in practice. How will they change? What do I need to do differently? And I didn’t see a lot of advice. Here's a few of the things I saw...

Karl Kapp

You can do the model in an abbreviated format. For example, for the analysis phase of ADDIE, hold a one hour focus group. Yes, one hour for analysis. Now, will you get the best analysis in the world? No, but you will get some insightful information. Instead this step gets skipped, even just doing a one hour analysis can save learners hours of time in terms of focusing the instruction.

Tony Karrer

  • Figure out Rapid HPT, ISD, ADDIE
  • Increase the Breadth and Improve Your Understanding of New Models / Tools
  • Become Meta-learning Experts
  • Learn to become guides, aggregators
  • Anol Bhattacharya:

    Don’t work in Silos – integrate with learners, produce rapid prototypes - the content development team work in silos and deliver the final product to the ‘client’ for evaluation.

    Clark Quinn

    Without knowing what we’re trying to achieve, metrics that let us know how we’re doing, and ownership of the outcomes, among other things, you don’t have any idea what you’re doing.

    Anil Mammen

    the problem lies not with the models, but in how we approach them and what we take out of them. models like ISD, if used creatively, can help produce highly effective learning programs.

    Clive Shepherd

    I would recommend anyone interested in the design and development of learning experiences to explore the various models relating to instructional design and to develop their own views on the strengths, weaknesses and general applicability of these models.
    Jay Cross
    Think like a great chef. - Great designers use the models as a great chef uses a recipe.

    Skeptics Among Us

    There were several notable comments that suggested that we should move away from these models and these terms:

    Wendy Wickham:

    Even in the classroom these models disconnect from reality ... The longer I work, the more I realize that the old roles of "Trainer" and "Instructional Designer" are becoming irrelevant.

    Clark Quinn

    training and instructional design don’t cut the mustard ... Keeping the labels is not good ... It’s not going to fall into a course or job aid.

    This Leaves Me With More Questions Than When I Started

    I’m questioning whether we really know what the next generation of ISD, ADDIE, HPT really looks like. I’m being told to not just do D & I, but I’m also not given time to do A, D, E like the models suggest. I’m told to at least spend an hour with the learners or in a focus group. Is that enough? How do I know if that’s enough? When should I demand more?

    The kinds of interventions I’m using are changing. How does informal learning change what I do in A&D? How about in E? How does Rapid Learning change it?

    I’m personally surprised at the lack of depth in the responses. I’m also surprised that some of the real visionaries such as Allison Rossett doesn’t have better suggestions. Do the experts really just think we should learn the models as a good foundation and wing it from there? That is what we are doing, but is that it?

    I hope this isn't the end of the discussion.