Friday, 23 November 2007

Don't be evil

Last night I went to see a stand-up comedian - Frank Skinner - at the Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow. He was talking about Googling words, and stopped to wonder "how do you Google Google?" Not an original piece of comedy, granted, but it prompted me to try it today. Of course, if you Google Google, it just points you to the search engine, although my search yielded 3.4 billion returns, which shows how much we're talking about this phenomenon.

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

Bad jargon

Web 2.0 is a widely-used term for the significant new developments in Web design and use that mean greater user input and more participation, through the likes of social networking, Wikis and blogs. It seems a reasonable tag to me, with its play on second generation software, suggesting it’s a whole new version of the Web. Of course, it’s really a bit of clever promotion, since many of these ‘new’ technological developments have actually been around all along, and it’s just their widespread adoption that’s new. See this WikipediaLink.

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 right blends

I’m working with a client right now where we’re offering a range of new classroom-based courses, which we’re linking to on-the-job training via online learning resources. The online stuff includes course notes, facts, figures and formulae, plus animated diagrams (models of engineering products). This means the learners can refer back to coursework while they’re learning on-the-job. It’s a blend that works well, and it prompted me to consider what other models are effective.

The sandwich
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.

The milestone
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.