Monday, 31 December 2007
This year I have:
Helped a client establish a corporate university
Helped a client initiate a talent management system
Helped a client implement company-wide e-learning
Written an e-learning strategy for a client
Helped a client review e-learning providers
Helped a client select an e-learning provider
Reviewed the strategy of an e-learning vendor
Helped a client review its approach to e-learning
Facilitated sessions on e-learning strategy for a client
Started to review a client's e-learning strategy
Started to organise trainer training for a client
Started to develop a further learning scheme for a client
Helped clients and prospects understand e-learning better
Facilitated a public workshop on e-learning strategy
Organised public workshops on e-learning tools and e-learning support
Written a chapter on e-learning for a learning and development manual
Written an article on e-learning strategy for a magazine
Written a newspaper column on e-learning
Started a blog!
It's been a good year. I hope 2008 is as productive, and as rewarding.
Friday, 21 December 2007
Not any more. Once you investigate talent management, it becomes clear that it's the sort of common sense, good practice that many managers and many organisations simply don't do. Therefore, it needs to be systematically explained, and it needs a name.
One of the problems with those who can see beyond the cynical view of the MD I spoke to is that they still tend to view it too narrowly. Some see it as being just about nurturing the most talented people in an organisation, while others see it as the new name for succession planning. It is these things, but it's also so much more.
One of the key concepts in talent management is about identifying key talent in your organisation and finding ways to retain and grow, manage and utilise, develop and reward them. Which, in defiance of the Peter Principle, can mean keeping good engineers as (recognised, respected, rewarded) engineers, rather than promoting them to managerial roles where their engineering skills are wasted, and where they may be of significantly less value to the organisation.
We need more converts to talent management, and we need more talent management programmes. As the Talent Management Pocketbook puts it, "every business needs a talent mindset".
Friday, 14 December 2007
But lately this has been questioned. Don Morrison, in his 2003 book E-learning Strategies, suggested ROI (Return on Investment) was a fifth level. Don and I will have to disagree on that one – I reckon ROI is just a measurement approach for the fourth level.
Meanwhile Valerie Anderson is questioning ROI, and suggesting we should instead consider ROE (Return on Expectations). http://www.cipd.co.uk/Bookstore/_catalogue/LearningAndDevelopment/9781843981961.htm?IsSrchRes=1
Then along comes Kaliym Islam with his book on Measuring Training the Six Sigma Way – the E-learning Guru website suggests this may be a valid alternative to the whole Kirkpatrick approach.
Have I mentioned Kevin Kruse’s E-learning Guru site before? For me, it’s the best American online reference source for e-learning – often contrarian, always thought-provoking (hope you appreciate the recommendation, Kevin!)
Overall, this has to be a good thing. If learning is to be taken more seriously, we need to get more serious about its impact. This debate helps.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
The Wikipedia entry basically slammed the criticism as political correctness gone wild, which pleased me so much, I emailed the info to all the workshop delegates.
This summer, I had a sense of déjà vu when I was facilitating a session for a corporate client, and somebody mentioned brainstorming ...
When I looked up the entry on Wikipedia to send my conclusive (!) email after the session, I was surprised to find a much more balanced consideration of the topic. Basically, the page had been ‘cleaned up’. Now there was a summary of both sides of the debate over whether it was politically correct or not, and a series of references at the end, supporting both cases.
On looking it up for this post, I find the entry has changed again, and once more leans heavily on the side of the pro-brainstormers. “It is an urban myth that the term ‘brainstorm’ is offensive to those people with epilepsy”. References support this conclusion.
This seems to me a good example of how an entry on Wikipedia evolves, and gradually becomes more authoritative. Which is not to say the current version is the definitive one, but then, that’s what the real world is like – the debate moves on, and attitudes change over time. Try picking something controversial and monitoring it over a period of a few months or more – see for yourself.
Friday, 23 November 2007
Then I remembered a conversation I had with a client last week (he'll be reading this, so hi, Steven!) when we agreed that the first place we both go to look up stuff now is Wikipedia. So I looked up Google on Wikipedia, and of course, that was much more helpful. For example, I didn't know what the Google slogan was, but I do now (it's the title of this post). Of course, there's always the possibility the Wikipedia entry is wrong ...
The thing is, as Wikipedia gets more sophisticated, you can recognise more authoritative content - where there are sources and citations. And more and more entries are populated with this more reliable content. I also like the way it keeps me constantly thinking "is that right?" or "why would they say that?". This is the sort of enquiring but sceptical approach we should take to everything, from every source. I've got a good example of this, but I'm going to save it for another post, as now I'm starting to ramble on a bit.
The illustrations of this post will be meaningless to anyone who hasn't seen Frank Skinner on his current tour. Anyone who has should hopefully recognise the spirit in which it is intended.
Friday, 9 November 2007
But I draw the line at “E-learning 2.0”. At best this is bandwagon jumping. WikipediaLink. The same criticism as for the use of Web 2.0 applies, but I would go further. I’d call it techno-babble, a piece of mystification of learning, when what we should really be doing is making e-learning more accessible for all.
To someone who’s not familiar with the use of numerical suffixes denoting technical upgrades or new versions (not everyone’s a digital native!), the term is not meaningful. Indeed, it might prompt investigation into what was “E-learning 1.0”, and there would be nothing to find, as there’s no shared definition of what’s new about 2.0. It’s like an in-joke, except not a funny one. It’s just not helpful.
The failures of e-learning have been so widespread and frequent, and negative opinions based on bad experiences are so common, that e-learning advocates have repeatedly sought ways to distance new, better, e-learning from the bad old stuff. This tag is just the latest attempt. But it’s better to acknowledge what, explicitly, went wrong in the past, and to specify what’s better now, rather than hide behind a label that doesn’t offer an explanation.
I welcome improvements in e-learning, but you won’t find me using bad jargon like E-learning 2.0 (not even in the heading of this post). And I’m looking for ways to drop as much technological jargon from e-learning as possible – I’d welcome any further suggestions.
Friday, 2 November 2007
The course sandwich is one classic blend, where pre- and post-course work is offered online. This is online learning with a ‘traditional’ course as the sandwich filling.
Another classic model is to start with an online course and add on face-to-face training events (group-work or one-to-one) as milestones, which help to pace the programme.
A third is to use the online part of the blend for underpinning knowledge, while using a face-to-face approach for skill development.
But there must be countless others!
Offering learning resources for self-managed learning is a flexible option that can complement almost any learning programme, but the clever thing is to integrate the online learning seamlessly. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has experience of running another model successfully.
Wednesday, 17 October 2007
I’m still getting to grips with what are generic terms for commodities, and what are brand names – in the world of new technology, the two are often confused, such as when people say “google” instead of “search”, or when we talk of PowerPoint as though it was the only presentational software available.
But the piece of kit that particularly impressed me was the Smartboard. Electronic whiteboards have been around for years, and I frequently used one in the company I was with in the early ‘90s. But this is a step beyond. The Smartboard combines a screen for displaying presentations, or digital video clips, or documents the tutor wants to share with the group (Word docs, spreadsheets, etc), with a “whiteboard” using special pens and yielding content that can then be saved or printed as needed. And it’s touch-sensitive.
When you combine this with a network of terminals in the classroom, you have all the digital technology you need to lift even the dullest subject to a new level, to make the classroom experience exhilarating – even for digital natives.
And no, the guys at Smartboard (insert TM or C symbol or whatever) aren’t paying me to say this!
Friday, 12 October 2007
New entrants to the workplace today use digital technology in all aspects of their lives – for personal development, for communicating with friends and acquaintances, for games and leisure pursuits. They have been using computers since they were tots, they have sophisticated mobile phones with all sorts of add-on features, they participate in online communities, and they have their own Web space. They expect computers to support their work activities, and they have similar expectations about vocational learning.
When we design learning interventions, we need to take account of these people. They are not a minority who can be ignored: increasingly, they represent the norm in many organisations, and will be even more so in the future. It is not enough to offer traditional training events – we need to offer more.
Does this contradict my last post? No, the mix I’ll be implementing with that client will be mainly off-the-job, classroom-based, to accompany planned and recorded on-the-job training, with a ‘bridge’ comprising complementary learning resources made available online. This won’t be enough to satisfy the digital natives, but it’s a start.
(I assume the term ‘digital natives’ is now common currency, meaning those who have always inhabited a land of digital technology, as opposed to we ‘digital immigrants’ who have found our way to this land – there’s an interesting link here: http://www.digitalnative.org/Main_Page)
Monday, 8 October 2007
A work-based approach is often best. And classroom-based learning, face-to-face, may not be very fashionable, but it can still be one of the most powerful approaches to learning. For example, when you need to get people out of the workplace, away from the day-to-day pressures, but also need to get them involved in a collective discussion.
I’ve recently been working with a client where learning has taken place predominantly on-the-job, and they are anxious to develop a culture of off-the-job training. E-learning should have its place in the mix, but the imperative is to have some highly-visible training activity, and that means classroom-based. Am I missing an opportunity to by-pass the traditional approach and advocate going straight to online? I don’t think so. Advocates of e-learning from ten years ago would have been keen to replace the classroom with the digital alternative, but I think most of us now see the benefits of deploying a range of approaches, including the tatty old classroom.
In the situation I’m handling, the client expects to have lots of face-to-face training. Why divert them from that, when the company will glean enormous cultural benefits? E-learning can wait until the time is right.
Monday, 1 October 2007
I spoke to an experienced training manager last week who said “we need to treat learners like adults”. Without referencing any typology of models, he was arguing in favour of what I call the third model (see my blog post of Monday 30 July), in which learning resources are offered to be used as the learner sees fit, for self-managed learning. There seems to be increasing support for this model, and I can see further useful applications of it for CPD and for performance support, neither of which are loose or informal learning approaches.
I recently discovered Wikiversity for the first time. See http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Wikiversity:Main_Page. This is a third model project, which describes how members of its community originally intended to develop e-learning courses, but were re-directed by their trustees to take a different approach. The learning cycle diagram, above, comes from Wikiversity. This is an exciting development, with implications for everyone involved in e-learning.
I’d be interested to hear of other ‘third model’ applications.
Monday, 17 September 2007
I quoted a great saying of hers in my 2001 book on management development. She said "training is something they do to dogs". I much prefer "learning and development".
Anyway, I'm back from holiday, and looking forward to taking on a new assignment setting up a training academy for a well-known Scottish engineering company. I hope this won't lead to a reduction in posts to this blog, but it should mean I broaden my scope from my recent focus on e-learning. Time will tell.
Friday, 31 August 2007
Friday, 17 August 2007
Some people seem to have the mindset that e-learning is about loading content into a system and presenting it to the learners, so that the content can be spoon-fed to them. This sort of linear, didactic method was laughed out of the classroom decades ago, so why should be have to put up with it on the Web?
We need to shift the focus from providing learning content to creating a learning experience, and one good way to start is in the design of e-learning courses.
I advocate the ‘route-map’ method, in which learners are invited to go on a journey. The main road should have signposts, showing the route for learners to take; sometimes there will be more than one way of getting there, but the destination will always be clear. In this method, the main screens learners look at consist of headings, aims, instructions, key points, and illustrations of these. But nothing more.
Off the main road, clearly signed, learners will find some interesting and useful branches. These will include readings (attachments like PDFs, links to existing Websites and offline reading lists), activities (quizzes, games, simulations, etc), assessments and other resources (perhaps video or audio clips, animations, and so forth). Learners will choose what they fancy, with guidance as to what is mandatory and what is supplementary. But always, the main trunk road will be there, pointing them towards the end of the journey, course completion.
Friday, 10 August 2007
Wednesday, 8 August 2007
This is the sort of narrow frame of reference many people have of e-learning, and it’s very damaging. I constantly meet people who tell me “e-learning’s not for me” or “e-learning doesn’t suit my style”. In most cases, part of the problem is that they’ve got this narrow(-minded!) view.
Instead of using computers and the Web to provide an inferior form of learning, shouldn’t we be using all the power of these technologies to create something better? Obviously, I think so. Some of the preceding posts on this blog point the way – thinking about e-learning differently, reviewing the content/technology/design relationship, considering different models. In future posts, I want to expand on this theme – meantime, I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has examples of new, improved, expressions of e-learning.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
I spent most of the 1990s involved in blended learning, although we didn’t call it that then. My organisation designed and delivered management development programmes comprising a variety of inputs:
- study guides
- self-study workbooks
- audio and video tapes
- floppy disks and later CD-ROMs
- practical kits
- face-to-face tutoring (both one-to-one and in workshop groups)
- telephone, fax and later email support
- computer-marked multiple choice tests and postal assessments
(I don’t think I’ve missed anything!)
We called them mixed-media or mixed-mode programmes, if we called them anything at all.
The idea was that learners could select the inputs that they preferred and reject the ones that didn’t interest them. This was always a limited choice – it was hard to glean the essentials without using the self-study workbooks, for example. But the important difference from other options on the market at the time was that there was a degree of choice.
This, in fact, is how we all learn, all the time, if we stop to think about it. We browse the range of options available to us in the world, picking out the ones that appeal to us, and blend them into something that makes sense to us.
“Blended learning”, then, is a tautology. It’s like saying “learning learning”. All learning is blended.
What my organisation was offering in the ‘90s was blended training. And what most providers of “blended learning“ offer today is really blended training. When it comes to learning, it’s the learners who do the blending.
I’m going to keep using the term, because it’s widely used and understood. But I’ll also continue to feel guilty about it.
Monday, 30 July 2007
e-learning, and I would describe these as different models.
There are at least three different models of e-learning:
Online courses that provide learning solely via the World Wide Web. Or via corporate intranets or networks. This had its origins in computer-based training in the 1980s and has evolved from there, and from video-based learning resources that because interactive CD-ROMs then migrated to online versions.
Programmes that integrate online learning with offline activities. Sometimes called blended learning, although I’m not keen on the term (but that’ll need to be the subject of another post). This had its origins in open, distance and flexible learning, which mixed self-study, distance tuition, and face-to-face training events before the advent of digital technology integrated these elements better.
The provision of online learning resources for self-managed learning. Or knowledge management, as some would call it. This had its origins in learning resource centres, or going back further, in libraries. Some call this informal e-learning, but when it’s the basis for an organisation’s continuous professional development offer, it can actually be rather formal.
I can’t claim to have invented this classification – it originates in Professor Martyn Sloman’s excellent book, Training in the Age of the Learner (amazonlink), but every time I think about it, I get to thinking there must be other models. Or if not now, there will be soon.
One possible candidate is Electronic Performance Support, or EPS. This is where instruction is delivered in the workplace, perhaps incorporated into a computerised system that performs a task, or perhaps held by the operative as an electronic form of instruction manual (on a desktop, a laptop, or a handheld). I am wary of falling into the trap of including any old form of technology-assisted information provision as a learning model, but as EPS becomes more commonplace, and more sophisticated, I think it could become the fourth model.
Another possible candidate is the digital classroom. Chalk-and-talk is history – the modern training room equips the trainer and the learners with a battery of digital aids: not just PowerPoint or other presentation software, but touch-sensitive screens and networked terminals, allowing for sharing of audio and video clips and other files. I think I prefer to regard classroom-based learning, however technologically-enhanced, as a distinct approach to learning, but I can see a case for including it as an e-learning model.
Can you think of any other models?
Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Some software developers and vendors tend to emphasise the technology as the defining characteristic of e-learning, and therefore the most important component. This is natural, as it is self-interest. But it’s not the whole picture.
Others slyly suggest their technology is subordinate to the content. This aims to flatter the client, and to divert criticism of enabling software, but it exposes the limits of their understanding of how learning works.
Learning online is about more than simply automated information. If all software does is manipulate content, then it’s generic software with no special application for learning.
In fact, there are three, interrelated, aspects to e-learning. There’s the technology, there’s content, and there’s learning design. Some prefer the term ‘pedagogy’. Not me. And I’m not going to get into a debate about whether ‘andragogy’ is better. ‘Learning design’ is good, plain English.
If we think of the three aspects as cogs in a machine, we can see that they move each other, and help create a greater whole.
As Elliott Masie says, "if we don't focus on the experience dimension of learning, we run the risk of mistaking the publishing of information for learning and training".
Successful e-learning is a combination of technology that works, meaningful content, and effective learning design. All three are important; none of them is ‘king’.
Thursday, 19 July 2007
In my 2001 book, A Guide to Management Development Techniques, I excluded a variety of stuff, including action-centred leadership, neuro-linguistic programming, Coverdale training, knowledge management, and emotional intelligence, which I characterised as concepts, approaches or systems rather than techniques.
(From the OED, ‘methods’, ‘techniques’ and ‘procedures’ are more-or-less synonymous.)
An approach is a more general term, a way of dealing with things, which may encompass one or more methods. This may sound like hair-splitting, but take a concrete example.
Classroom-based education or training isn’t a method. Lectures, discussion groups, audio-visual presentations, question-and-answer sessions, these are all methods used in the classroom. But the aggregate of these methods is an approach.
So there are a number of approaches to learning, including classroom-based learning, work-based (or on-the-job) learning, and e-learning. There is some cross-over among these approaches, and sometimes they may be combined, but there are still recognisably distinct categories.
E-learning is an approach that includes many methods, such as online courses, e-assessment, Webinars (or virtual tutorials), e-reading, online libraries of learning resources, Web-based discussion forums, tuition by email, etc.
If you revisit my definition of e-learning in yesterday’s post, I hope it now makes a bit more sense.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
American dictionaries may be different – I haven’t seen any, but the discussion page on e-learning in Wikipedia refers to Webster’s etymology of e-learning (which, as an interesting aside, dates the first use of the term to 1997).
Wiktionary offers this: “learning conducted via electronic media, especially via the Internet”. This, I would argue, is a limiting vision. My problem with this way of discussing e-learning is that it equates it with online learning, and thus misses out on a lot of the potential.
The CIPD definition is “learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic technology for the explicit purpose of training in organisations”. This is better. The last bit is daft, as it suggests e-learning for purposes other than “training in organisations” is something else, which it clearly isn’t. But I like the first bit, because it takes a broad view of the use of technology, and doesn’t regard it as the be-all-and-end-all of learning.
Try a Google search for e-learning definition – you’ll be amazed at the variety of answers. It’s easy to spot the ones from techies who don’t understand learning, but there’s an incredible diversity beyond that.
So here’s my definition.
E-learning is an approach to learning and development: a collection of tools and techniques utilising digital technologies, which enable, distribute and enhance learning.
I’d love to shorten it. I’d love to have one snappy phrase that would work for dictionaries as well as learning and development professionals. But so far, I haven’t worked out how to do that.
In my next post, I’ll look at what I mean by an approach.
Friday, 29 June 2007
Maybe there isn't much of a debate; maybe it's only pedants like me who care, but it irritates me every time I see a different spelling, especially when different spellings appear in the same piece of work (you'd be surprised how common this is -have a look at the Wikipedia entry on e-learning).
So which is it to be? e-learning? elearning? E-Learning? e-Learning? eLearning? I think these are the main contenders. The UK's leading journal on the subject prefers the idiosyncratic e.learning for its title, but I suppose that's just a brand. Then there's italicisation of the e. And surely any other options are just too weird?
When I set up the eLearning Alliance in 2001, I chose that spelling because that organisation enjoyed European Union funding, and the EU explicitly preferred "eLearning". I don't know if it still does - there was a page on their website that stated this policy (without explaining it), and I cited it in the 2002 economic report 'eLearning in Scotland', but that page seems to have gone, or at least that link doesn't work any more.
For years since, I have followed the eLearning spelling, but I'm getting nervous about it. It's a bit 1980s, isn't it? This sort of quirky insertion of capitals where none are called for (in the middle of a word, for crying out loud!) Rules is rules, after all - you don't have to be a fan of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, or a lover of the Oxford comma (if in doubt, see Eats, Shoots and Leaves) to acknowledge there are conventions about spelling new words.
So what's the answer? You could just stick an e on the front, as in email, but the most common version seems to be e-learning, so that's what I'm going for now. A kind of Damascene conversion. When the EPD Website gets its summer makeover, it'll change to consistent use of this spelling. And that's that - for the moment, anyway. I reserve the right to change my mind again.
Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Info here: http://www.cipd.co.uk/Bookstore/_subscriptions/landd/default.htm?IsSrchRes=1. The manual is a subscription product, with quarterly updates.
My contribution is the e-learning chapter. As I write this, the chapter summaries in the link above don't include e-learning, but I'll write the 'theory' part that will accompany the Crown Prosecution Service case study (7b). It's about 10,000 words so that should keep me busy for a few weeks! I understand it will be included with the October update.
Friday, 15 June 2007
Anyway, my cynicism vanished when I won a webcam and headset in the prize draw at the end of the seminar! It turned out to be a profitable afternoon after all.
There was one interesting discussion point - one of the presenters, Billy Ward, talked about the mantra of reusable learning objects being passe, and advocated instead disposable learning objects (actually his slide read "deposable" but we all knew what he meant). When challenged on this, he said his point was to emphasise how cheap and easy it now is to produce content, and therefore why store and re-use old objects when you can just create fresh ones. I tend to agree - reusability's a great theory, but how many people actually live by it?
What follows will be my personal ramblings around and beyond this theme, and hopefully some feedback from readers. I'm very involved in e-learning, in all its aspects (more on this later). I'm very interested in innovative approaches to learning and development (again, more to follow). And I'd like to explore other learning issues.
If you read this, and you're provoked to comment, I'd love to hear from you.
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