Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Don Draper on e-learning

BBC Four has just finished the first series of Mad Men. If you haven’t caught this drama about advertising execs on Madison Avenue in 1960, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Super-cool creative Don Draper opens the climactic pitch to Kodak with these bon mots:

Technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash”.

He was talking about the slide carrousel (1960, remember) but today he could have been talking about e-learning.

Many people are drawn to new technology applications because of their “glittering lure”. Elsewhere, I’ve described this as the “gee whiz factor”. But just because technology is impressive doesn’t mean it’s going to work for e-learning. The reason certain applications engage the e-learning public is because they are effective tools to create interactive learning experiences. And that derives not just from the intrinsic properties of the technology, but also from how imaginatively the learning experience is designed.

I’ve seen some great technology applications that offer simulations, games, 3D panoramic images, avatars, dynamic mind maps, and all sorts of other techno-doowhackery. Without exception, each vendor believed theirs was a world-beating product, but most of them turned out to be no more than a “glittering lure”. The successful ones partner with learning and development professionals, if they want to get beyond flash and engage learners.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

New interfaces

How’s this for a piece of over-engineered old technology? I heard recently that the standard keyboard we take for granted is actually counter-intuitive. The QWERTY layout was apparently designed to slow down typists. In the 19th century, old manual typewriters had a design flaw – when typing speed increased, the keys used to stick. So some bright spark had the idea of laying out the letter-keys in such a way that it was more difficult to type quickly. The more commonly used letters (a, e, s, etc) were placed at the (weaker, for most people) left hand, and the more common letters were also placed towards the edges, so that they had to be struck by the weaker fingers like the pinkie.

Amazingly, nearly twenty years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, with almost everybody using a keyboard every day, we still haven’t got round to replacing it with something more intuitive, more natural to use.

But I don’t think that day is far off. Voice recognition software, touch-sensitive screens, handwriting recognition software are developments that point the way ahead. When Mr Spock first talked to the computer in Star Trek, it must have seemed impossibly futuristic, but now that day is near. And the keyboard and the mouse are on borrowed time.

Friday, 9 May 2008


I finally got around to joining LinkedIn yesterday. I say "finally", because it seems I've been a bit of a laggard on this.

Last year I accepted an invitation to a free month's trial of eAcademy, pursued it with enthusiasm, as it seemed like a great idea, but found it virtually useless, so didn't renew at the end of the month. Only to discover I'm still registered to this day, still get loads of emails from them, and can't unsubscribe without re-entering my (long-deleted) account. Hmm.

But at the time, a couple of contacts invited me to LinkedIn, and suggested I try that instead. I didn't - how many networks could I possibly need? But I've found more and more people mentioning it. A few weeks ago, in casual conversation with a couple of friends - one in HR, one in IT - I found they were both members.

So yesterday I joined. They told me the average new member already knows 15-20 people on LinkedIn - I found more than 40 within an hour. So I'm going to give it a whirl. Just with one of the free personal accounts - I'm not yet ready to spend whatever the Sterling equivalent of $200 for a souped-up business account. But we'll see what value there is in it. I'm open to suggestions as to how to make more of it.


Wednesday, 7 May 2008

New partnership needed

I must admit, I thought my last few posts would have generated more of a reaction. They could have been interpreted as a vendetta against vendors. But they’re not.

Software vendors have made a significant contribution to encouraging e-learning, by introducing learning and development professionals to useful applications of digital technology. But for the efforts of vendors, the ‘e-learning industry’ would never have got off the ground. And they have invested a lot of money in developing e-learning tools.

The downside is that they have misunderstood or underestimated what learning is about, and so have unwittingly set back the cause of e-learning.

But that doesn’t mean they should now be ignored. On the contrary, learning and development professionals need to engage more with e-learning vendors, and explore ways they can work together to create new and better e-learning solutions. This will involve binning most current offers from e-learning vendors, and this will be painful for them, but in the long run it is in everybody’s best interests. We need a new partnership to take us forward.

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