Tomorrow (September 25 at 8:30 Pacific), several of us from the eLearning Guild’s Immersive Learning Simulations research report will be holding a free webinar on the topic. If you’re interested in simulations and games, register. We’ll talk briefly from our areas, and answer questions. Hope to ‘see’ you there!
Archives for 2007
I’m not the least interested in fishing (traumatic childhood experience :), but my wife and kids are. Both kids have tried, but to no avail. Yesterday, our local community was hosting a festival, however, including a fishing clinic. So we signed the kids up. The clinic was arranged with quite a bit to ensure success.
First, they stocked the ‘lake’ (hardly more than a pond). Second, they conducted a class before going out to the water. Then, they provided scaffolded practice in a protected environment. And they ensured a parent attended as well as the kids.
The class was a little late starting, and rambled a bit, but had a very good approach. The presenter was relaxed, and included some chatter, but basically led the learners through the crucial steps to be ready to fish. He talked about tying on a hook, He used a big prop hook and rope to show the principles of tying the hook onto the line. He also talked about principles of things like weights and bobbers, while showing the basics. And had the kids answer questions along the way, to force them to think. There wasn’t divergence into other forms of fishing (e.g. flies), but just a focus on what you need to go. Then they enabled those who didn’t have their own equipment, ensured everyone was ready, and moved out of the room and into the practice environment.
The practice environment was a roped off section of the shoreline, and a net-enclosed section of the lake. There were worms, and cleaning and packing if you caught anything and wanted to keep it. A big deal was made of a big catfish caught earlier in the day. The team of instructors cruised around answering questions and advising if useful.
Our session was in the evening, and things eventually got hot, with two big bass being caught at our end, and something big at the other. Our boy caught a small sunfish (his first fish ever, he was thrilled), and later had a big one that got away. My daughter had one nibble which was lost to an equipment problem. But it couldn’t have been set up much better to optimize the chance to succeed. And we found out it’s stocked year-round, so they can go back and try some more.
It’s a great model to think about for novices who need motivation as well as some key skills. How can you better ensure success and consequent motivation as well as the ability to execute again?
Yesterday I was delighted to have lunch with Jay Cross, elearning guru, author, bon vivant, mentor, friend, (and now drummer). We’re almost neighbors (15 mi) and share passions for learning (and the meta-version), the capabilities technology can provide (not the technology itself), good food and drink. We’ve shared many adventures. I was helping him pick a new computer (a Mac), and of course having good conversation.
One of the things to talk about was performance support, as he’s writing an elegant update on the history and importance of this approach. It triggered many thoughts, not the least because performance support is the real focus of my mobile design piece I did for the recent eLearning Guild mobile research report.
It occurred to me that the new technologies make performance support even more effective. Semantic tagging, combined with user models, for instance, gives us opportunities to customize our support. As I’ve said before, mobile’s been a tale of convenience, making information available when needed, even if it’s a small screen, or over a small speaker, but the real opportunity still awaits: context sensitivity. We can track more than location, we can take a meeting, wrap support around it, and turn it into a learning event. Wrapping performance support around our lives, improving us as it improves our performance, is a true quantum shift in developing human capability.
Of course, we can also take performance support and meta- it, too! Our devices can not only support our performance on task, but support our performance on learning from the performance. It sounds a bit recursive, but I think that helping people become effective self-learners is a second great opportunity.
In Jay’s excellent book Informal Learning, he makes the point that “Dialogue is the most powerful learning technology on earth”, and it’s certainly true that when I get together with great thinkers, my own thinking gets sparked. I’m not a ‘big group’ person, but I love small conversations, and try to get together with folks and share conversation and comestibles. Let’s do lunch!
“Father, it’s been too many days since my last blog”, but it’s been a bit hectic. I’ve been dealing with some presentations, and more to come. Yesterday, one of them was a video conference for the Graduate School of Education (if I understand correctly!) at ITESM (Institute Technologica).
Here you can see the setup, I was in a video conference center, and I could control whether they saw me or my slides, and I could see them. Well, actually, some of them, as others were at satellite centers. I’m not an experienced video presenter (I do a lot of webinars, like tomorrow’s eLearning Guild Online Forum introducing eLearning, but it’s my first videoconference), but tried to balance some of me talking to them directly (they had a translator, I don’t speak Spanish unfortunately) with my usual diagrams and voice over (their system wouldn’t allow them to see both me and my slides at the same time). They’re quite advanced technologically, even telling me before we began that they’re making mobile a part of their learning solutions, with vidcasts and audcasts as well as quizzes.
Which was relevant, as they’d asked me to speak on mobile learning. I spoke to mobile design, my pet passion, and emphasized as I have in the eLearning Guild’s mobile research report that you have to ‘think different’, not about courses, but about performance support. They asked some very good questions afterwards, including what competencies learners should have (to be effective self-directed learners, and not to take that for granted but scaffold it), how mobile could be incorporated into universities (separate content from display, while using more open tools), and what content makes sense for mobile (interactive, reactivating, not content dump).
In one sense, I missed that I didn’t get a trip to Monterrey, Mexico (love to see new places, particularly ones with good food!), but it was a learning experience both in the new medium for me, and of course in thinking anew about the topic. Every time I present, there’re always new thoughts, even if it’s the same topic, though I try to get to speak on new things to challenge myself (one of my learning strategies). Of course, I also offer to host one of my well-reviewed workshops on game or mobile design, as well. For instance, I’m talking about emotional elearning and mapping tools to learning needs at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn (in San Jose CA), about eLearning Strategy for SENA (in Columbia, this time I do get a trip), and on learning technology futures in Copenhagen for the Danish Research Network (another trip!). What would you like to hear about?
The Learning Circuits Blog big question of the month for September is “Where to work?” (PS I don’t know why I can’t get a straight URL just to the question.) It’s kind of a tough question, really. For whom? When?
When I look at the broad categories of who works in eLearning, first there’s a breakdown between ‘education’ and ‘the real world’, the latter of which roughly breaks down into corporate, government, and not-for-profit. The reason I separate out education is that there elearning is much more about education, not training. The others reverse. My definition of the distinction is a continuum from performance in very specific contexts (training) to broad applicability (education). Increasingly, we’re seeing pushes down on education, and up on training, however.
And we need to recognize that in many instances, we’re talking about a broader picture, where the a second dimension is performance support versus full instruction.
To be honest, though, it doesn’t so much matter where you work as what you do, who you work with, etc. The main thing is to align your job description with what you want to do: if you want to tinker with code and systems, be a develop, not a designer. If you want to figure out who should learn what, do curriculum development, if you want to create content, be a designer, etc. If you want to do a bit of each, work in a small organization.
Then choose based upon manager, company culture, location, and all the rest. Realize that you’ll never get the perfect fit, it’s all about tradeoffs. So know what’s important to you, and maximize your priorities. But that’s basic job counseling.
Of course, you have to be realistic with your strengths and styles too. Interestingly, a friend who has been doing counseling was interested in something new that involved teamwork and computers but not really software engineering. I thought elearning was a viable suggestion (though I did caveat with my ‘bias’). I do believe that understanding people, technology, and business (whether from interface design, learning design, or business intelligence perspective) is a valuable skill set going forward!
Harold Jarche writes about the need for critical thinking, and has a map of the skills mapped to particular tools. I agree, and added:
I’ve been a fan of critical thinking for years, since I was a grad student and TA’d for Jean Mandler’s class on it. We used Diane Halpern’s book as a text, and that approach is still relevant.
I think we need to do more, however. Just having the tools isn’t enough. To develop new skills, we need support: motivation, examples, guided practice. The received wisdom is that it has to be layered on to authentic tasks. Of course, I say build it into a game! (there’s a bit in Quest).
I sympathize with  cynicism, but I believe it can be taught, and there’s evidence to support my position. But we do it by making it a priority (before college), and making it part of what we test (meaning a whole new type of testing, but that’s what we need anyway).
We need to build critical thinking on top of our systems, into our content (Pellegrino’s brilliant article for the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce has a section on this, it’s available from this page), and make it a priority. Not to put too big a point on it, our future’s at stake!
In addition to working on the mobile learning report, I’m speaking on mobile to Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey via videoconference next week on mobile. As an part of my ongoing efforts to capture my thinking as graphics (for lots of reasons including my visual conceptualization approach, making my powerpoints more worthwhile, communicating, etc), I took a stab at graphically representing my generic model of a mobile device:
In this model, I’m trying to show that a mobile device is, at core, a processor and memory unit with a variety of possible means of connection (personal, local, and wide-area ways to network), input to the device (e.g. keys, touchscreen), output from the device (e.g. screen, speakers), and sensors that can do things like take pictures, capture audio, and sense position both in the larger context (e.g. GPS), and relative (like whether it’s tilted sideways or upright). Also, we have certain types of prototypical software that can be included: Personal Information Management, data viewing, capture, editing, communication, etc.
The point is that there are lots of form factors, but at heart we have this digital communication device with certain affordances (there’s that word again :) that we can map to our learning needs and goals. I think it’s valuable to try to abstract away from particular devices as they are continually changing (well, increasingly multi-capable), and consider more fundamentally what capabilities are available and how they might be used. What do you think?
BJ Schone contacted me and I sent him some feedback on a document he was preparing. He’s now finished with his Engaging Interactions For eLearning, and making it freely available at the site. It’s in the form of an eBook (PDF), and he’s also promised to blog each interaction at the site, to support discussion around them.
It’s compendium of 25 activities for learning that map to various learning goals. There are the familiar things like drag-and-drop, and more complex activities as well. The activities aren’t academically categorized, but it is focused on the learning outcome, not just different interaction modality. The interactions cover a range from simple exercises such as re-ordering steps, to more complex activities like virtual labs.
It’s a useful resource, and if you’re looking for some inspiration it’s worth a look. Thanks, BJ!
It continues to amaze me how new eLearning can be to some folks. In June I spoke on behalf of a colleague to a group of HR managers, introducing eLearning. I also was interviewed on elearning for a small business magazine in New York in July. Now I’m opening the eLearning Guild’s September Online Forum Introduction to eLearning.
I’ll try to put eLearning into perspective, about how technology gives us new affordances to meet organizational needs, dispel some elearning myths, and of course talk about eLearning strategy. Of course I’ll briefly cover games as part of taking instructional design beyond content-and-quiz or classroom online, and mobile as part of increasing reach.
It’s sometimes hard to realize, when you’ve been using technology to support learning for 30 years, that some people are just coming up to scratch, but that’s the reality, and I do try to live in reality (guided by concept, of course ;). That’s OK, I’m certainly happy to share lessons learned rather than have folks keep making the same mistakes. Maybe we can save them some money now, so they have more for some of the fun stuff that’s just waiting to be done!
If you’re just getting up to speed, I suspect that the Online Forum will be a great way to do it. Hope to see you there!
(with Stop Making Sense playing in the background…)
On a discussion list, someone complained about using subject matter experts, not trained as trainers, as instructors. Well, it can be bad, but there are times it makes sense. So I replied:
When you think of the full spectrum of learning needs, and you’ve an unmotivated newbie, you need a well-done, full course. If they’re already motivated, you can make it pretty lean.
If they’re already a practitioner, motivated and with the foundations, they may just need an update, e.g. hearing someone they respect present the new thoughts, and it doesn’t have to be pretty, just meaningful content. This is when experts talking makes sense.
I did point out that this rational assessment doesn’t characterize much of corporate training. We know that there’re heaps of problems including SMEs focusing on knowledge instead of skills because they no longer have access to their expertise, evaluation by smiley faces, etc, but I also concluded “don’t assume everything’s got to be a course”.