Tag: blended learning

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1

Well I have finally bitten the bullet and published a selection of my blog musings in paperback form.

The book is entitled E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1 and my intent is to provoke deeper thinking across a range of themes in the modern workplace, including:

E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1•   social media
•   learning theory
•   pedagogy
•   instructional design
•   learning styles
•   blended learning
•   informal learning
•   mobile learning
•   augmented reality
•   virtual worlds
•   cloud computing
•   self publishing
•   employee engagement
•   corporate social responsibility
•   religion
•   the future of e-learning

The book is available now at Amazon.com.

Social media extremism

Since I wrote my article last week about critical theory, I have been more attuned to the messages being propagated by my peers.

For example, some of them have been blogging and tweeting about the role of social media in driving the pro-democracy protests in Egypt.

I see I’m not alone (here and here) in being a little less inclined.

The truth, I suspect, is that the protests in Egypt have been catalysed by the amassing of the population for prayer.

Good centuries-old social networking.

Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers in Egypt during the 2001 protests

Bloggers and the Twitterati are self-evident social media fans, so it’s to be expected that some of them will adopt an evangelical view of the role of Web 2.0 in world affairs.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to underplay the role of social media in connecting people with each other and with the outside world. It certainly played its part in Tunisia and Iran, for example. Besides, if it wasn’t useful, oppressive governments wouldn’t try to shut it down.

No, my point is that while social media is a significant component of the Egyptian pro-democracy movement, it is one among equally or even more significant components.

Put it this way: the protests would still have happened if the Internet did not exist.

The fact that it does exist means the people have a universal communications tool at their disposal.

Closer to home

Drawing all this down to the less heady world of e-learning, I can certainly see a parallel.

It’s important to recognise the role of social media in facilitating social learning in the workplace. However it’s not a panacea.

Relying on truisms such as “all learning is social” and on altruistic notions such as “collaborative learning” is a cop out.

Your learning architecture needs to include much more, such as on-demand self-paced learning resources (eg wikis, simulations, e-books) and – dare I say it – formal training (eg virtual classes, online courses, assessments).

My point here is that while social media is a significant component of the corporate learning model, it is one among equally or even more significant components.

Put it this way: learning would still happen in the workplace if social media did not exist.

The fact that it does exist means we have an effective learning environment we can leverage.

The ILE and the FLE in harmony

In my previous article Online courses must die! I advocated the development of Informal Learning Environments (ILEs).

Since then, Steve Wheeler’s thought-provoking article Anatomy of a PLE has prompted me to extend my argument a little further.

My updated premise is that an organisation – be it a corporation, university or otherwise – should facilitate two discrete but related virtual environments on behalf of its learning community:

  1. An Informal Learning Environment (ILE) which supports the learning process; and

  2. A Formal Learning Environment (FLE) which manages that learning.

The ILE will contain self-paced, self-directed, unmeasured learning resources such as readings, video clips, podcasts and discussion forums. The ILE might be called a learning portal, a learning centre, or some other friendly moniker.

In contrast, the FLE will contain administrative tools such as enrolment lists, formal assessments, grades and transcripts. The FLE might be called an MLE, VLE, LMS, or some other acronym.

Both the ILE and the FLE can be hosted on the same platform, but I think the front end of each needs to be demarcated in order to psychologically separate the “learning” from its administration.

Online courses must die!

A touch dramatic, isn’t it?

Now that I have your attention, please bear with me. There’s method in my madness…

The myth of rapid authoring

The proliferation of so-called rapid authoring tools over the last few years has coincided with an explosion in the number of online courses developed in-house.

In the bad old days, technically challenged L&D professionals had to pay exorbitant fees to development houses to produce simple modules. These days, however, everyone seems to be creating their own online courses and distributing them via an LMS.

In tandem with this trend, though, has been the increasingly familiar cry of “It’s not interactive!”. Critics rail against boring page turners – and rightly so.

Woman bored at the computer

But you know what? Even when L&D professionals consciously integrate interactivity into their online courseware, I usually don’t think it’s all that engaging anyway. Increasing the number of clicks required to view the content does not make it more interactive. It just makes it annoying, especially for time-poor employees in the corporate sector.

Yes, I know you can embed real interactivity into courseware via games, branched simulations, virtual worlds etc, but hardly anyone does that. It requires time – which you don’t have because you’re too busy building the online course – or dollars – which defeats the purpose of developing it in-house!

So what’s the alternative?

Frankly, there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. Think about it: PDFs display structured text and pretty pictures. Just like a typical online course, without the fancy software or specialist skills.

Anyone (and I mean just about anyone) can create and update a PDF. Suddenly SMEs are back in the game… Write up a Word doc and convert it? Easy. Update the Word doc and re-convert it? Easy.

Now that’s what I call rapid.

The best of both worlds

If we dispense with online courses in favour of PDFs, how can we incorporate interactivity into the learning experience?

Enter the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

Occupying a place on the continuum somewhere between a VLE and a PLE, an ILE is an informal learning environment that a facilitator manages on behalf of a group of learners.

Essentially, an ILE is a space (like a website or intranet site) that centralises relevant learning resources in a particular domain. The site may host some of those resources and point to others that exist elsewhere.

So your PDFs can go in there, but so too can your audio clips, videos, puzzles, games, quizzes and simulations. Don’t forget podcasts, RSS feeds, slideshows, infographics, animations, articles and real-life case studies. Not to mention blogs, wikis, discussion forums and social bookmarks.

Unlike a VLE, an ILE is strictly informal. The learners can explore its resources at their own pace and at their own discretion. No forced navigation, no completion status. In this sense, the pedagogy is constructivist.

Unlike a PLE, an ILE is communal. It exists to support a community of practice, whose members can (or more accurately, should) incorporate it into their own respective PLEs. In this sense, the pedagogy is connectivist.

But that’s not to say that the pedagogy of an ILE can’t be instructivist either. The facilitator should provide a learning plan for novice learners which defines a sequence of study, identifying specific resources among the potentially overwhelming array of options.

The sky’s the limit

An ILE is a scalable and flexible learning environment. If we view each resource within that environment as a learning object, we can appreciate how easy it is to add new content, update old content, and remove obsolete content.

Four marbles

It’s incredibly inefficient to use up the precious time of an L&D professional to build, publish, test and upload an online course, only to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload it later, just because a few words need to be changed and a graph replaced. Instead, the SME can create and update the object via Word.

If you are keen on creating interactive tutorials, games or virtual worlds, now you can go for it! You have more time, and new tools are coming out that are making these kinds of thing easier to do. The finished product can be added to the ILE as another learning object. Again, if it needs to be updated later, there’s no need to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload a whole course – just that object.

If you commission an external developer to build a smokin’ hot immersive scenario, guess what: you add it to the ILE as another learning object. When it needs to be updated, you pay the developer to work on that object and that object only.

In this age of iPhones and Flip cameras, why not encourage your learners to generate their own content too? It’s another rich source of objects to add to the mix.

All these examples illustrate my central premise: when content is managed in the form of independent learning objects, it remains open and flexible, which means you can keep it current, relevant and organic.

Rockin’ role

Under the ILE model, the role of the L&D professional finally evolves.

The SME is empowered to produce content, which frees you up to apply your own expertise: instructional design. This may involve a greater focus on engagement and interactivity.

The responsibility of learning is assigned back to the learners, which frees you up to guide, scaffold, encourage, discuss, prompt, probe, challenge and clarify. In other words, facilitate learning.

Your value in the organisation goes through the roof!

Take the ass out of assessment

I claimed earlier that there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. I glaringly omitted assessment. Please note I left it out on purpose.

There are just some things that the company must know that you know. You get no argument from me on that.

However, how we assess that knowledge is bizarrely old fashioned.

A donkey

While it’s convenient to wrap up some content and a quiz into a single package, I just don’t see the point from an instructional design perspective. Forcing someone to register into a course, just to pass a dinky quiz at the end, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal. From exploring an ILE to chatting around the water cooler, there is a myriad of ways that people learn stuff. Assessment should represent the sum of that learning.

This is where the LMS comes in. In my view it should manage assessment, not content. More specifically, it should deliver, track and record standalone tests that are linked to particular competencies.

When the LMS is used in this way, the L&D model aligns more closely with the learning process. The employees learn informally all over the place, using an ILE as their central support resource, then (if necessary) they record their competence. The focus of measurement shifts from activity to outcome.

This unorthodox approach makes many people nervous. Their primary concern is that someone can jump straight onto the test and pass it immediately, without ever “doing the course”. In response, I make these three points:

  1. You can jump straight to the assessment in most online courses anyway.
  2. If someone bluffs their way through the assessment and passes, clearly it wasn’t robust enough. That’s your fault.
  3. Conversely, if someone passes the assessment because they already have the knowledge, what’s the problem? You are recording competence, not making people’s lives difficult.

Of course, this kind of nervousness isn’t confined to the corporate sector nor to e-learning. For example, many universities have a minimum 80% attendance policy for face-to-face lectures. I don’t see the point of turning up just to fall asleep with my eyes open, but that’s another story!

The method in my madness

Online courses must die because they are unsustainable in the modern workplace. They aren’t rapid, flexible or scalable, and they usually don’t take full advantage of their medium anyway.

So unlock your content and manage it in the form of individual learning objects in an ILE.

Shift the bulk of the content to PDF. In the age of e-readers, no one will notice much difference.

By all means invest in authoring tools, but only in ones that will help you create interactive and engaging objects – easily.

Exploit Web 2.0.

Use standalone tests to record competence on your LMS. They cover all sources of knowledge.

Informalise learning. Formalise assessment.

My award-winning IQ

Ryan collects awardToday I had the honour of collecting a Best Blended Learning Solution Award (Gold Level) at the 2010 LearnX Asia Pacific Conference.

The blended learning solution in question is “IQ”, an intranet-based portal that I developed for my colleagues at my workplace.

My driver for creating this portal was the realisation that, in a big corporation like the one I work for, knowledge is distributed everywhere – on random intranet pages, in obscure folders, in people’s heads – which makes it really hard to find.

As an L&D professional, my concern was: if someone wants to learn something, where do they start?

The answer is IQ

Essentially, IQ is a site that centralises learning resources for staff. It doesn’t host content itself, but rather points you in the right direction.

For example, if you want to attend an advanced negotiation skills workshop, you can look up the sessions delivered by our preferred training providers.

If you want to read about leadership, you can refer to our book list or search our e‑book catalogue.

If you want to do a self-paced course on Java programming, you can jump onto our e-learning platform.

In this way, IQ covers the full range of delivery modes that are available to our staff, from face-to-face classes and online courses, to books, e‑books, podcasts, blogs, wikis and other social media. I’m also keen to add information about our mentoring and coaching programs.

It’s our first port of call for learning.

5 Stages of Workscape Evolution

So what?

Reading this, you might be scratching your head and asking yourself what all the fuss is about.

I’m the first one to put up my hand and say, as a blended learning solution, IQ is really simple. It doesn’t involve any new whizz-bang technology. After all, it’s an intranet site.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that it’s also an important step in the evolution of the learning model at my workplace.

It shifts an instructivist pedagogy towards a more constructivist and connectivist one.

It transforms a formal learning environment into a more informal one.

It returns the power (and responsibility) of learning back to the learner.

That’s why I’m so pleased to claim this award. It’s not just a pretty trophy to sit on my desk; it’s the validation of my instructional design by my peers in the industry.