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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Instruction eLearning 2.0 and Quality

On my post Quick Wins, I received some questions around use of Web 2.0 in the workplace (really they relate to eLearning 2.0). My quick example of one strategy that I've seen repeated successfully in several organizations:
  • implement a small Wiki that has performance support materials that goes along with your eLearning on that new software application
  • at first have it only editable by the authors
  • then open it up to edit the FAQ and Common Issue pages by your help desk
  • and then open up editing to end-users
  • and to more pages.
The comments are interesting to see and discuss:
Can anyone tell me where QUALITY comes into play with these collaborative enterprise 2.0 technologies? Or does anyone even care about that anymore?
Later they say:
Invariably, quality will mean very different things to different elearning providers. Also, different needs will necessitate different solutions.

My quality concerns: Is it instructionally sound? What about the user experience? Above all, what are the learning outcomes? At what point do lowered standards become the standard?
This is partly the same instruction vs. support question we've had all along? If we provide information in the form of performance support, reference material, etc., then how do you know if the instruction was successful? The answer has always been:
Is the person able to perform?
Force marching someone through something that is high quality "instruction" - something deemed to be instructionally sound - doesn't make it any better and could be far worse since they probably won't actually go through it, will forget, etc. This will be highly variable on a case-by-case basis and really on a learner/performer basis. This hasn't changed. But our desire to move stuff to performance support has definitely increased and is more and more often the appropriate approach.

What has changed in my example is that the learner / performer or people who support the performance (e.g., the help desk) are able to change content in the support materials.

I'm not sure, but it seems that the commenter is making an assumption that this lowers quality. It theoretically could. Someone could add total garbage. But what's their incentive to do that. This is certainly something being discussed with revenge of the experts being pitted against the wisdom of crowds. I personally look at it in each case and consider what quality issues we are really talking about. Is it contributions by end-users that may be wrong? Do you have people monitoring? Maybe that gives us a great opportunity to intercept information that otherwise is being transmitted today in channels that aren't monitored. To me, it's often better to have it visible and discussed. In fact, I would claim that
Worries over quality is not something that should hold you back.
What really got me to post about this is the last question - "lowered standards" ... What? How does this equate to lower standards? The person who left the comment is expressing something I hear a lot at presentations and in client organizations. It's not at all the reality that goes along with most eLearning 2.0 implementations.

If you are going to worry about something, worry about lack of participation. Worry about lack of skills. The quality issue is a lot of hot air.


DrBob said...

Quality comments..

I deploy Web 2.0 technologies with ferocity at my University. I try anything and everything and in true Web 2.0 style - if it works I use it more -if it doesn't I junk it.

My main goal is to provide "quality" (i.e what the customer wants) to the digital natives and these are a demanding mutation of humankind. At a course committee a first year (freshman) student was asked about all the Web 2.0 instruments I'd thrown at her cohort over the previous month. She looked quizzical and then responded

"but isn't this normal in a University".

You could visibly see the blood drain from the faces of my whiteboard bound colleagues :)

Anonymous said...

Great feedback Tony and the reason I read your blog on a regular basis.

Perhaps much of my quality/standards fears relating to elearning 2.0 could be seen as a parallel to what happened when learning moved out of the classroom and onto the web. It's obvious these technologies are being adopted and utilized at a rapid pace, and all the more reason to take a critical look at them.

"Someone could add total garbage. But what's their incentive to do that." I think this comment speaks volumes about the entire collaborative learning the end, it will only be as strong as its community.

Tony Karrer said...

Bob - good point that "quality" depends heavily on how you define it. Your brethren may define it as only what is provided by them. You define it based on what the customer wants. Interesting difference.

Anon - really fantastic point - it's only going to be useful to the limit of what people do with it. That's very true in classroom discussion as well.

Brynna said...

I hear this concern about quality and control over and over again from learning professionals regarding the Web 2.0 world. The key is to provide the community with the tools they need to control the quality themselves -- help them identify the good stuff and design your system to learn from the community so that it promotes and highlights the "good stuff".

Tony Karrer said...

Brynna - well said. I believe the assumption being made is that they are somehow not capable of maintaining quality on their own?

In fairness, often the objection is closely associated with policies, procedures, etc. that have compliance, regulatory, liability aspects to them. In these cases, you do need moderation of the content. Of course, to Brynna's point - that just means put in moderation capabilities for the community.

dmcoxe said...

I think what we see with your commenter is the endgame in the battle between traditional training and the new world of knowledge building. Standing here with feet on both sides of the field of battle I can commiserate with the poster who frets over the quality of the information being built by both the experts and the learners together. Many of today's experts are not savvy with the web 2.0 world. And many in the corporate world correlate quality with slick appearances. Web 2.0 is not meant to be slick, but to facilitate communcation.

On the other hand I have seen multiple instances where companies drink the rapid design kool-aid, buy a copy of Adobe Presenter, and convert mind numbing PowerPoint presentations into a "courseware" and role it out as elearning. The learning they desire is lost within the detritus of the line upon line of text on the slide. And no one - not digital "natives" or digital "immigrants" - have the patience to sit through this stuff.

That said, I think it is incumbent upon us to find the happy medium between these two sides because there is something to be said about having the expert present a topical overview to give the learner a frame of reference in which to further explore and learn the topic information. But there must be performance support tools that are NOT buried inside an LMS that the learner can access at any time and that includes the experts themselves.

Anonymous said...

There's a big difference between what happens at a university and what happens in workplace performance support.

Quality remains important for a university - it's just that how we define quality needs a major change if we are to make effective use of Web 2.0 technology as well as meet the needs of students and other stakeholders.