Give shovelware the shove

I promised in my previous blog post, Learning alive!, that I would share with you some of my learnings from the recent AITD 2008 National Conference. I still intend to do that.

However, before I do, there are a few concepts that I want to discuss. The first is shovelware.

A gardener's boot pushing down on a shovel.

What is shovelware?

Wikipedia describes “shovelware” as:

…a derogatory computer jargon term that refers to software noted more for the quantity of what is included than for the quality or usefulness.

The metaphor implies that the creators chose the content material indiscriminately, as if with a shovel, rather than hand-picking quality works.

Shovelware in the e-learning space

One of my bugbears with rapid e-learning is that while anyone can do it, it’s rarely done well.

The typical scenario goes like this: Shell out for an authoring tool like Articulate or Lectora, cut & paste any old text from wherever you can get it, maybe add some clip art to pretty it up, then push it out as an “online course”.

Well, my friends, that’s shovelware.

Shovelware in the corporate sector

In the corporate sector, it’s all too tempting to shift our focus from instruction to production. With rapid e-learning tools we can produce many courses quickly, but you have to ask yourself why you would want to do that. Sure, you can shovel in content by the truckload and build up an impressive-looking library of courseware, but is it useful?

The key issue with shovelware is that it feeds the developer’s needs, not the learner’s. Uploading a certain number of courses to the corporate LMS may meet the developer’s KPI, but that doesn’t mean it will meet the training needs of the company’s employees.

Instead, a learning organisation will value quality over quantity — Development that is informed by training needs analysis and guided by instructional design principles, even if that means less product per unit time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of rapid e-learning and can see that tools like Articulate and Lectora are revolutionising L&D in the corporate sector. My point is it has to be done effectively.

At the end of the day, if the courseware doesn’t facilitate learning, it’s just junk.

Learning alive!

…that was the tag line of the AITD 2008 National Conference, which I attended last week at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney.

This year’s program had plenty of e-learning related sessions, and the ones I attended were informative and thought provoking.

Over the next few weeks I will share with you my learnings from these sessions, along with my two-cents’ worth of what it means for the corporate sector.

Is Facebook good for the workplace?

This question was posed by Myles Wearring in a news article last year, but it certainly hasn’t been answered yet.

The exponential popularity of Facebook has prompted some companies (such as ACP and Channel Seven) to block access to it in the workplace. The fear, of course, is that employees will fritter away precious work hours or engage in other inappropriate behaviour.

Three plush frogs covering ears, eyes and mouth respectively.

However, some companies (such as Flight Centre) actually support the use of Facebook. As I have discussed in my previous article, What is social networking?, it can build a sense of community and encourage information sharing. I also suggest it can help engage and motivate employees – especially the tech-savvy Gen-Y’s.

If you’re leaning towards the “Just ban it!” camp, this more recent article by Myles Wearring may temper your view.

BTW, this debate isn’t unique to the corporate sector. For example, this article by Natasha Elkington reports how a university threatened to expel a student for cheating because he set up a study group on Facebook!

I see the way forward as a balance. Organisations like companies and universities shouldn’t ban social networking outright. Instead, they should manage it to reduce the risks while availing us to the benefits.

What are your thoughts?

What is social networking?

Put simply, social networking is about connecting with other people. And there’s nothing new about that.

It’s common practice to attend a conference to meet other like-minded people in the industry, to get a job opportunity from someone you meet at a dinner party, or to find a good plumber by asking your friend who fixed his hot water system. These are all examples of connecting with someone else via your social network.

What is new, however, is that the Internet makes social networking easier than ever before.

Hand holding a mobile phone displaying social network app icons.

Online social networking

Social networking websites are all the rage at the moment. In fact, the last time I looked, seven of the top 20 most popular websites in the world were devoted to social networking (Alexa, 05/03/08):

These sites were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Google (4) and Wikipedia (9), and were even more popular than Microsoft (18), eBay (23) and Amazon (38).


I’ve joined Facebook, and I find it easy enough to use. Just register an account and you get your own little website.

Among other things, Facebook let’s you:

  • Share information about yourself (eg contact details, interests, favourite things).
  • Upload photos and videos.
  • Post weblinks.
  • Add in fun stuff like Chuck Norris Facts and trivia quizzes.

Arguably the most powerful feature of Facebook is its ability to connect to friends and see their websites too. You can then see the friends of your friends, and so your reach grows.

You can also join “groups” and “networks”, which are more-or-less collections of related people. For example, your old high school or university might have its own network on Facebook, allowing you to catch up with long-lost buddies.

Workplace applicability

Social networking sites like Facebook obviously target the entertainment market, but that’s not to say there aren’t any potential applications in the workplace.

For example, you could use it to:

  • Learn more about your colleagues than the corporate directory will tell you – What’s their personality? Are they into rock climbing too?
  • Find the right person for a project or a secondment – Who can speak Mandarin? Who can train my team in DiSC?
  • Inform your colleagues of news and events.
  • Let people know what you’re working on right now.

Potential Positives

The potential positives of social networking go beyond knowledge sharing.

Consider the following:

  • Staff engagement – especially among the tech-savvy Gen Y’s.
  • Job satisfaction – inject some fun into the work day.
  • Productivity – the power of a 5-minute break.
  • Collaboration – fostering a sense of community.

Potential Negatives

Wherever there are positives, there are negatives. One of the most obvious is the potential for employees to fritter away their work time on frivolous activities.

Other concerns include:

  • Privacy – Who can see your personal information?
  • Security – What can they do with that information?
  • Appropriate behaviour – Do you really want your boss to see a photo of you drunk at your mate’s party?
  • Copyright – Who own the rights over that video clip you’re uploading?


In the context of the possible pitfalls, it would be wise to approach social networking prudently.

Here are a few tips:

  • Update your privacy settings to restrict who can view your information.
  • Do you really need to broadcast your date of birth? At least withhold the year.
  • Consider creating two separate profiles – one for your mates, one for your colleagues.

The general rule of thumb is: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want the world to see!

More information

There’s a wealth of information about social networking on the web.

One of my favourite resources is Social Networking in Plain English.

Welcome to Ryan 2.0!

Welcome to my blog, Ryan 2.0.

This blog is a forum to share my thoughts and ideas about everything e‑learning, to explore new tools and technologies, and to highlight trends and changing behaviours in the online world.

Who am I…? Well, you can find out more at About me.

Why have I named my blog Ryan 2.0…? Because on a personal level, it represents my next big step in our evolving participatory culture.

Just as the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 represents a change from one-way transmission to two-way participation on the Internet, the shift from Ryan 1.0 to Ryan 2.0 represents a similar change in myself.

I am posting my thoughts and ideas to the world via this blog, and in so doing I hope to generate constructive feedback, conversation and collaboration.

I hope you find this blog useful, thought-provoking and fun, and I invite you to contribute!


Ryan Tracey