Posted tagged ‘myth’

The caveat of content curation

3 November 2015

At last week’s Learning @ Work conference in Sydney, Clark Quinn declared:

Curation trumps creation

And this resonated with me. Why spend time, effort and money reinventing the wheel?

However I’d like to explicate his implied caveat:

…if good content is available.

There is a belief prevailing among L&D folks that all the information we need is at our fingertips. We can learn anything online. Everything is googleable.

But this is a myth.

Empty fuel gauge

Anyone who’s spent 5 minutes in an organisational setting appreciates how difficult it can be to source relevant, actionable content. If it’s not hiding in a walled garden, it’s of terrible quality or doesn’t even exist.

We’ve all scoured user manuals and discussion forums and video libraries, seeking assistance for that one specific thing we need to do, only to give up dispirited and empty handed.

Under these circumstances – when the right content can not be found – there is nothing to curate, so we have no choice but to create it.

Half empty fuel gauge

Having said that, I recognise a halfway point.

Clark observes that finding good answers is more problematic than just finding an answer. In an agile environment, it is also important to realise that an answer will be useful if it is good enough.

By way of illustration, I am currently piloting what I call a “MOOC-like” training program at my workplace. Uncertain of whether this kind of L&D will fly with my colleagues – and mindful of failing fast and cheap – I have purposefully avoided investing big in scenario production. Instead, I have found a couple of videos on YouTube that are good enough to support my minimum viable product.

If the MVP proves to be a success, I’ll scale it up and invest in producing scenarios that press all the right buttons.

In other words, I’m taking Clark’s advice to create when I have to, but only then.

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The big myth of social networking

16 August 2011

A little while ago, someone tweeted his awe of the fact that over 600 million people are connected to each other on the one platform, ie Facebook.

Facebook friendships visualised

This got me thinking, are all these people really “connected”…?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Six Degrees of Separation principle. It holds that on average, anyone is only 6 personal relationships away from anyone else. Whether Facebook adds anything to the equation is questionable.

Take Madonna for example.

Madonna has a Facebook page – well, I think it’s her. There’s a problem already. For the sake of this argument, let’s accept it’s her.

I can write a message on her wall and hope she replies, but that’s not really the point. I could also mail her a letter or press the buzzer at her Hollywood mansion.

The point is connectedness. For the theory to hold up, I must be only 6 Facebook users away from the Material Girl, and thereby be able to engineer a personal introduction.

Maybe in theory I can, but while I know who I’m connected to, I don’t really know who they’re connected to, let alone who they are connected to. And that’s only a few degrees in.

Sure, I could ask “Does anyone know anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who knows Madonna?”, but that would be a tad silly. No one could possibly know.

Alternatively, I could say “I’m trying to meet Madonna – can you arrange an introduction? Pass it on…”

Again in theory, my message would reach someone who could indeed arrange an introduction, but the probability of that happening is ridiculously low. Human nature dictates that a rapidly diminishing number of people will pass it on, let alone to the extent required to get a hit.

So while 600 million people are technologically connected on Facebook, practically they aren’t because everyone’s effective network only stretches so far.

The best we can do is stretch it as far as possible.

Online courses must die!

7 July 2010

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.

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.

Businessman typing on keyboardAnyone (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.

Man working on computer

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.

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.

Happy professionalThe 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.

Ass

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.