MOOCs, open badges & the future of e-learning

Posted 10 December 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: blogging, e-learning

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Another year of blogging draws to a close, this time dominated by the themes of MOOCs, open badges and the future of e-learning.

This year my blog enjoyed more robust discussion, and I thank everyone who cared enough to comment. Comments are the lifeblood of bloggers, so cheers!

It would be remiss of me not to call out three commenters in particular – Crispin Weston, Chris Taylor and Matt Guyan. Thanks so much for your thoughtful, supportive and challenging comments: you improved my thinking.

I invite everyone to review my posts for 2013 – and yes, please comment!

Collage of blog images

MOOCs

Open badges

The future of e-learning

Miscellaneous

Merry Christmas, and here’s to a provocative 2014!

Would you like an education with that?

Posted 4 December 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: apps, gamification

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Last night I attended the official launch of the Tiny Shops Burgers app by Sydney-based startup, hawt.

The app is an educational game in which you are the manager of a busy little burger shop. The customers line up and place their orders – say, a burger, small fries and a drink – while you ring up their bill on the cash register, accept their payment and return their change.

If you keep the customers waiting too long, over-charge them or short-change them, they’ll become unhappy and you’ll lose them.

Screenshots from Tiny Shops Burgers

The time sensitivity of the game reminds me of Diner Dash in that it demands increasingly proficient priority management and faster performance as you work your way up the levels.

Beyond pure speed however, Tiny Shops Burgers also demands accuracy. Your success in the game is dependent on your getting the mathematics right, which must be done mentally (Heaven forbid!) while under pressure.

More screenshots from Tiny Shops Burgers

I recommend Tiny Shops Burgers because it gamifies a subject that plenty of school children dread. Not only can it develop their arithmetic skills, but also their financial literacy, awareness of foreign currencies, and (arguably) an appreciation of customer service.

But does it work?

I’ll answer that with a quote from a Year 5 student from Hurstville South Public School:

“I don’t like maths but I love this game!”

Funny business

Posted 27 November 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: instructional design

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Do you find yourself going to too many meetings? Or to meetings that don’t really achieve anything? I know I do.

Like many large organisations around the world, my employer is not immune to that most insidious of diseases: the ineffective meeting.

However, unlike other organisations that prefer to sweep the problem under the carpet, I’m proud to say that ours has chosen to tackle it head on. The term “proud” might seem somewhat of an over statement, but allow me to put it into context…

You see, in Australian terms at least, the company I work for is old. And with age comes a reputation for being risk averse, compliant, not really innovative, but big and safe. Perhaps we are some or all of those things, but in any case I think it sells us short.

I’ve been employed by the company for a while now, and I can personally vouch for the progressive changes that have occurred over that time. I think no better example of our evolution is a little video clip that we produced to combat the aforementioned spectre of the ineffective meeting.

In the clip, a woman in a supermarket asks the store attendant for directions to the bread aisle. The attendant dutifully escorts the customer to the bread and asks her what type she wants. What follows is an excruciating sequence as she defers to her colleagues for their opinions, everyone suggests conflicting ideas and alternative solutions, someone turns up late, no one is willing to make a decision, and eventually everyone departs, leaving the attendant holding a perfectly acceptable loaf of bread that no one wants.

Customer: Greg’s the key decision maker here.
Attendant: Greg…?
Customer: Greg’s not here.

It’s cheeky; it’s self-deprecating; and above all, it’s funny.

And it set the organisation alight. Our enterprise social network was deluged with positive comments, ranging from wishes of congratulations to urges to post it onto YouTube. Never before have I witnessed such a reaction to piece of training content.

Will it change the meeting culture of the organisation? Only time will tell. But given raising awareness of the problem is an objective, it’s off to a flying start.

Loaf of bread

All this got me thinking about the under-exploited role of comedy in education. Perfect timing – because just as I was contemplating this theme, my friend CJ Delling flew back into town.

CJ is a German-born comedian, cartoonist and “maker of stuff for the easily amused”. She has performed at the likes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Inevitably, the first observation anyone makes upon meeting CJ is the oxymoron of the German comedian. But that, of course, is a myth. I have met a surprising number of Germans over my lifetime and I have found the vast majority of them to be well humoured. CJ goes one step further by being hilarious.

But this post isn’t about the sociability of our continental cousins; it’s about e-learning – so I cornered CJ on the pretence of catching up for coffee and asked her the following questions:

     • Should comedy be used in education? (0:17)
     • What style of comedy is most effective for education? (0:56)
     • When should comedy not be used? (1:38)
     • What is your favourite example of comedy used in education? (1:55)

Typically creative, CJ illustrated her answers to my questions via the following animation…

I agree with CJ’s view that comedy should indeed be used in education. As she explains, it can improve the learner’s attention, interest and memory retention, while simultaneously reducing their stress and interpersonal barriers they may be experiencing.

I also subscribe to CJ’s advocacy of observational comedy in education. While we view the scene from a safe distance, we still see ourselves in it and hence its relevance to our own worlds. It works because it’s true.

With this in mind, I can see why CJ’s favourite Air New Zealand safety videos work so well. Moreover, I recognise how some of my own favourites might be re-deployed to develop mindsets and capabilities in the workplace. For example…

     • Leadership

     • Followship

     • Teleconferencing

     • Writing skills

     • Influencing without authority

While the comedic device may be…

     • Facetious

     • Dry

     • Black

Yet as CJ also notes: it’s important not to over step the mark. For me, Dilbert springs to mind. While the comedy might be champagne and the message cringeworthingly accurate, the cutting style of Scott Adams might dig a little too deep.

According to the anonymous online employee survey, you don't trust management. What's up with that? Oh. Right.

Does it matter? Yes! You can’t forget your objective, which is essentially to change behaviour. So you can ill afford to alienate your target audience.

That’s why I consider our supermarket clip such a powerful force. It’s obviously a comedy and a fictional scenario, which lets our guard down and provides a psychological degree of separation. Yet it remains unequivocally familiar, and so drives its message home.

Because we ridicule it, we feel the imperative to change. Lest we ridicule ourselves.

How to become an eLearning Professional

Posted 19 November 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: roles

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That’s the title of a free e-book to which I was flattered to be invited to contribute a chapter.

The book is introduced by the editor, Christopher Pappas, as such:

This is not your average looking, cliché reproducing, metaphysical, theory-loving free eLearning eBook. Do not expect to read any speculations, rhetorical questions, and abstractions related to eLearning. This is merely a powerful weapon in the hands of those who are truly interested in becoming the field’s Top eLearning Professionals. Make no mistake however. It’s addressed only to those with a passion for eLearning, eagerness to evolve, desperate to reach their potential, hungry for uniqueness, and ambitious enough people that want to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Cover art for How to become an eLearning Professional

The free “How to Become an eLearning Professional” eBook is filled with the knowledge, wisdom, experience and inspiration of carefully selected eLearning professionals, with long-standing, successful eLearning careers, innovative projects up their sleeves, impressive eLearning portfolios and even more impressive CVs. All of them create a highly influential eLearning team of experts, but each one has his or her own distinctive path, skills and know-how, leading to the creation of a multidimensional, and highly helpful for those who want to advance their eLearning careers, professional mosaic.

This can only mean one thing. What you are about to read is not some generic eLearning advice you could easily find in any “eLearning for Dummies” manual. This free eLearning eBook contains hot eLearning tips, secret concepts, specific steps and insider information that will help you become a top-notch eLearning professional.

No pressure then!

But in all seriousness, I stand by the advice that I offer in the book, and I appreciate the insights shared by my eminent peers.

I recommend How to become an eLearning Professional for newbies and veterans alike.

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3

Posted 13 November 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: e-learning

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Hooray! My E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3 is now available.

This volume comprises my latest collation of articles from this blog. As in the earlier volumes, my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of e‑learning related themes in the workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3•   Mobile learning
•   Informal learning
•   MOOCs
•   Flipped classrooms
•   Social intranets
•   Open badges
•   Self publishing
•   Augmented reality
•   The future of e-learning

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 3 is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.

If you enjoy it, please review it on Amazon!

Boiling the backchannel

Posted 1 October 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: event management, social media

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I enjoy attending conferences.

Unfortunately I don’t attend as many as I’d like because so many of them are prohibitively expensive, are beyond my travel budget, or demand too much time out of the office.

Whenever I do attend, however, I enjoy hearing and seeing what other people have to say and show, because they validate my own ideas, introduce new ideas, and spark tangential ideas. I also like meeting new people in the industry and re-connecting with those whom I already know.

Another aspect of conferences that I enjoy is the real-time chat on Twitter – aka the “backchannel”. When I’m not at the conference, the backchannel clues me in to the key learnings; when I am at the conference, I can peruse the observations of my fellow audience members and share my own. It’s also a great way of putting a face to a name to facilitate the aforementioned networking.

Of course, healthy backchannel activity is in the interests of the conference organiser too. While it may seem counterintuitive, loads of attendees sharing their observations with the Twittersphere for free won’t discourage other people from attending (as the backchannel is inevitably an inferior substitute for the real thing). On the contrary, the backchannel is a vehicle for precious WOM that can raise awareness of the event among the Twitterati and – if it sounds appealing enough – encourage them to attend next time.

So I see heating up the backchannel as a critical aspect of the conference organiser’s role. Here are my suggestions for getting it to boil…

Pan on a gas burner

1. Inform everyone of the official hashtag.

If you don’t, your audience will splinter and they will use various permutations of acronyms and digits which will then dilute the conversation.

So tell everyone up front what the official hashtag is. Even better, include it on your marketing material to get the conversation going before Day 1.

2. Explicitly invite the audience to tweet.

Not only does this give many in the audience the moral authority they seek, but it also reminds those who might otherwise have forgotten.

3. Provide free Wi-Fi.

I realise this might be pricey, but if you want your audience to use the Internet, this is a big juicy carrot.

And if you do offer free Wi-Fi, for crying out loud inform everyone of the access details.

4. Host a charging kiosk.

Even the most ardent of tweeters can’t do much with a dead device.

5. Inform the audience of the presenter’s handle.

Tweeters like quoting the presenter, but they’re less likely to do so if he or she isn’t on Twitter. Even if they are on Twitter, the search function is so awful that it can be difficult to find them.

Putting the presenter’s handle on the last slide is comically late. Put it on the first slide instead, and in the official program too.

6. Resist dressing mutton up as lamb.

I’m constantly amazed by the number of presenters who try to pass off a product flog as a pedagogical exposition. I’m not so much amazed by the fact that they try it on, but that they think we’re dumb enough to fall for it.

Conference organisers need to know that any self-respecting Tweeter will withhold social mention of this imposture in protest.

So change its title to reflect what it really is: a product demonstration. Plenty of people will want to see that, and they’ll tweet about it in kind.

7. Join in.

The conference organiser should actively participate in the backchannel too.

Favouriting and re-tweeting others is a nice way of acknowledging their contributions (and motivating them to continue), while tweeting your own observations keeps the activity humming during flat periods.

Adding extra hashtags (eg #edtech, #gamification, #mobile) will also extend your reach.

Kid saying to his mum - How do you think my first day of kindergarten went? They didn't even have Wi-Fi.

So if you’re a conference organiser, I hope my suggestions help you improve the experience for your attendees and promote your event to potential newcomers.

And if you have a free ticket to give away, I’ll tweet up a storm!

Face time

Posted 16 September 2013 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: blended learning, instructional design

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My wife and I are studying Foundations of Business Strategy together. And by “studying”, I mean we are watching the videos – which are excellent, by the way.

My wife is a marketing professional, while I’ve been in the corporate sector for most of my working life, so we find ourselves regularly pausing the videos and launching into conversation about what was said. And it’s great!

I’m learning from her, she’s learning from me, and we’re both learning from the professor. Much more so than if either of us were studying alone.

A Moai in a field on Rapa Nui

Of course, peer-to-peer interaction isn’t a novel concept in e-learning. We have asynchronous tools such as online discussion forums, synchronous tools such as instant messaging, and semi-synchronous tools such as Twitter.

To add voice to the conversation we can use teleconferencing or VoIP. To add faces we can use webcams and maybe, one day, holograms.

But what strikes me about my interaction with my study buddy is that it’s so natural. Of course we know each other well, but being at the same place at the same time means we can read each other’s body language, recognise non-verbal cues, and follow the rhythm of the conversation. Which makes for a rich learning experience.

I recall thinking along similar lines after attending the local meetups that I organised for my colleagues and members of the public who were participating in a particularly popular mooc. I had never attended a mooc meetup before, and I severely underestimated it. The opportunity for the attendees to put a face to a name, share their experiences, gripe about common problems, suggest ways to solve them, and simply feel less alone left a lasting impression on me.

Then for good measure, I read Helen Blunden’s gorgeous Sometimes You Just Need to Meet Your PLN Face-to-Face, in which she recounts her experience meeting up with her Twitter buddies while on holiday in the UK. My favourite part appears towards the end of her post:

Reflecting on the LPITweetUp, the gathering made me realise that the relationship with our PLN is strengthened when we include a face-to-face connection – and you only need one of those to transform what was a digital online relationship to a whole new different level to one which has impact, meaningful and memorable.

Helen's tweetup partners enjoying a refreshing beverage

So my suggestion is to face up to better instructional design.

By all means, continue to facilitate asynchronous discussions – they’re incredibly important. And if you can, organise synchronous sessions, preferably featuring the participants’ voices and faces.

But if you want to transform the digital online relationship to a whole new different level which has meaningful and memorable impact, the answer is clear: you need face time.


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