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Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Tidal Flow of Technology

Just like the tide, the effects of technology also ebb and flow. What was yesterday’s hot topic can become tomorrow’s has-been. However, is this always the case?

The tidal flow of social media

When the concept of social media first burst on the L&D scene, I bet I was not alone in thinking that it might become another one-minute technology wonder. Last November, I was asked by the British Institute for Learning and Development (the BILD) to give a presentation at one of their Connect meetings on ‘Web 2.0’. I entitled my presentation ‘The New Face of Learning?’ – here’s the link to the slideshow for you so you can see what I talked about. Note, the ‘?’ mark in the title as that is particularly significant.

or click here

Recently I have been thinking some nine months on whether what I said on that occasion was still current or not. I must admit that my approach then was one of caution, not in terms of actually using Web 2.0 applications but more about the impact their use is likely to have on organisations, instructional designers and end users.

The impact issues which I raised then are still very current, if any thing they are becoming even more important. For example only the other day I read about an organisation which had banned its employees from using Twitter in the workplace – a trend which I think is likely to grow rather than to recede! Even in one’s private life the use of things like Twitter and Facebook needs to be done with due care and consideration if one’s professional life is not to be compromised. I know that every time I twitter I am extremely careful about what I say, unlike some people whom I couldn’t possibly name!

So, how do things stack up now? Has the social media tide flowed and ebbed or is it still flowing? My considered view is that it is still very much flowing and that there is a lot more flowing yet to come. I think that in the next few years the use of social media is going to result in a mixture of pleasure and pain; probably in roughly equal measure.

… and in case you are not convinced, then just remember this: “The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you're in control of your life. If you don't, life controls you.” Anthony Robbins.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Trendy Terms Alert (3)

Here is my third L&D ‘Trendy Term’ alert. Each Trendy Term Alert (TTA) will consider whether the term has any mileage or whether it should be consigned to the trash can.

TTA: Informal Learning

Jay Cross has largely been accredited with coining the term ‘Informal Learning’. However, at the moment there doesn’t appear to be any agreement about what activities actually constitute informal learning and in what circumstances it takes place. The only agreement seems to be that informal learning is everything that isn’t formal learning! So, at the moment people appear to be defining it in terms of what it is not. Interesting?

Different things to different folks

It would seem that informal learning means different things to different people, for example, whilst to most it means learning which is not structured or organised, some people see it as learning which takes place outside of a dedicated learning environment, and others as learning which is not formally organised into a programme, course, event, or curriculum.

Absurd claims?

“20% of learning is formal and 80% is informal”! Now, where on earth did this myth come from? Certainly not from empirical research I can assure you. I also very much doubt whether such a claim could ever be quantified so accurately and so consistently, simply because there is not, as yet, a clear, standard, and working definition of ‘informal learning’.

“Informal learning is only possible through the use of Social Media”! Complete rubbish, as long before educational and training institutions were established most people learned informally. Indeed, ask any enlightened teacher or trainer and they will tell you that there has always been informal learning and that for time immemorial it has contributed to how all us learn each and every day of our lives.

Much ado about nothing?

No, not really, because in many ways I believe that technological advances in recent years have been a catalyst for this apparently new found interest in informal learning. In most of its guises, informal learning requires a considerable degree of self-direction on behalf of the learner. In addition to this, the informal learner also needs access to appropriate resources. Technology in the form of networks and computers have opened up access to a vast range of learning resources including knowledge, materials, and people.

Technology, in the form of television, computers, mobile ‘phones, PDAs, iPods, and so on, now lets millions of us to communicate (eg via e-mail), to exchange information and knowledge (eg via Blogs and Wikis), to access learning materials (eg e-Learning modules). If any of these activities result in unplanned, unstructured, and unorganised learning then in my book they can be described as informal learning.


The first implication for organisations, and in particular their learning and development functions, to realise is that informal learning exists and that probably a lot more could be done to encourage and support this type of learning. One way of doing this is to provide access to informal learning resources, such as technology, materials, and people. Another way is to encourage the use of informal learning activities as part of formal learning programmes and to foster and to support environments which are conducive to informal learning.

The second implication is for organisations to realise that there is a very fine dividing line between formal and informal learning. Informal learning, by its very nature of what it isn’t, is something of an untamed beast. Like Aslan, in the Chronicles of Narnia, informal learning will come and go as and when it chooses, it will be there when it is needed, it will always result in a positive experience for the person concerned (as negative learning is not a meaningful concept), and above all it cannot, by its very nature, be controlled, managed, or quantified.


with a dose of caution though!

N.B. This blog is based on an article I wrote for Croner’s Training Briefing, January 2007.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Delivering More For Less

If leaner is supposed to be meaner, then how can more L&D be delivered for less without compromising quality?

Tightening the L&D belt

It is a truism, budgets are being tightened during these financially challenging times. I also keep on reading about how we need to get more for less out of L&D provision. Indeed, I’ve just written an article for Croner’s Training & Development Briefing on this very topic as it seems to be of such current interest.

The current situation is affecting both suppliers and buyers/users of L&D. The conundrum is how to achieve more for less without affecting the quality of what is provided to the end user, i.e. the learner. On the face of it this may appear to be an unanswerable poser but judging from all the advice given the answer is blindingly obvious!

If I were to be given £1 for every time I have read that L&D provision must meet the needs of the organisation, the needs of learners, and use the most appropriate delivery media, I would by now be very well-off! However, it would appear that such practices are far from common place and I’m really finding it hard to believe this. Surely after all this time of preaching the ‘cost-effectiveness’ mantra everyone would know what is required but, alas, it seems not. Perhaps the current financial situation will be the very thing which forces them to realise it? For the life of me I hope so.

Talking about cost-effective delivery media, there’s also an increasing emphasis being placed on using ‘technology enabled learning solutions’ wherever feasible. Laura Overton of Towards Maturity fame has been busy giving some very useful advice on how learning technologies should be used to achieve a positive impact on staff and on business results. Laura cites 6 ‘strands’ or behaviours which successful organisations adopt, like defining the need and improving the relevance of L&D provision and considering the needs of learners, none of which are ‘rocket science’, just simply accepted (by some) as best practice.

So, achieving more for less in the present climate is not the conundrum that it might at first seem – you never know but it might even turn out to be a good use of L&D budgets and give people value for their money!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Trendy Terms Alert (2)

Here is my second L&D ‘Trendy Term’ alert. Each Trendy Term Alert (TTA) will consider whether the term has any mileage or whether it should be consigned to the trash can.

TTA: Web 2.0 – e-Learning 2.0 – Learning 2.0

By now millions of words must have been written about one or more of these ‘Trendy Terms’. It all started with Web 2.0, a clearly defined and meaningful concept, and this was then followed by e-Learning 2.0 and, fairly recently, Learning 2.0.

Web 2.0

According to Wikipedia, Web 2.0 refers "to what is perceived as a second generation of web development and web design. It is characterized as facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. It has led to the development and evolution of web-based communities, hosted services, and web applications. Examples include social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies.”. However, the WWW inventor, Tim Berners-Lee has called the term “a piece of jargon”!

Notwithstanding this, a lot of people understand what the term Web 2.0 stands for and its use. So, when someone says that they are using a Web 2.0 tool, such as I am here, then it’s quite clear to them what others mean.

e-Learning 2.0

This term was coined by those using e-Learning to specify the use of Web 2.0 tools. For some, including me, e-Learning has always encompassed the use of Web 2.0 tools but as the former is so often seen as re-versioned PowerPoint presentations or a modern day version of a computer-based training programme, then I can see why the term e-Learning 2.0 has come into being.

I don’t have a problem with either the term ‘e-Learning’ or ‘e-Learning 2.0’, just as I don’t with ‘face-to-face learning’, ‘action learning’, ‘distance learning’, etc. because they tell me how the learning provision is being delivered, which can be extremely useful.

Learning 2.0

I’m not at all sure what this term means because for me it means virtually nothing. I suspect that it has been invented by those who don’t like the term ‘e-Learning’ and who want it removed from the L&D vocabulary but why, especially given my previous comments?

If ‘Learning 2.0’ = ‘e-Learning 2.0’, as I suspect it does, then why confuse the issue because it doesn’t make any sense? Neither does it help others to know what the person using the term is talking about! If it going to be used on an on-going basis then what is ‘Learning 1.0’? The latter needs to be defined and quickly in my view, and good luck to anyone who decides to take this particular task on.


Web 2.0 =

e-Learning 2.0 =

Learning 2.0 =

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Jack of ALL Trades?

There is a fast growing and disturbing trend which is becoming apparent in the e-Learning world – no longer is it good enough to be an instructional design specialist, you now have to be a graphic designer and a programer as well!

Jack or Master?

I have spent years (14 to be precise) perfecting my specialism as an instructional designer of blended learning. However, only the other day someone rang me and said “Hi there Judith, I’ve got the perfect job for you. We need an instructional designer for 20 days to get an e-Learning programme produced. I assume that you can program in Articulate?”.

My reply to this was along the lines of “... err, sorry, no, I’m not a programer, I am an instructional designer. I have written scripts which were to be programed in Articulate, so I know how the suite of tools work, but as I have said already, I am not a programer and neither am I a graphic designer. I know and specify what graphics I want but I couldn’t design them to save my life!”.

Now, if this was a one off, then OK, but it wasn’t. I’ve had and seen numerous job opportunities recently for the ‘Jack of all instructional designer trades’, which makes me wonder what on earth is going on and, far more importantly, what effect this trend is going to have on the job which I do and, from what others tell me, do very well.

Becoming a top notch instructional designer takes years of experience and I’m still learning and developing in this role. I haven’t the time, skills or inclination to stop my learning and development to learn how to program, even if the authoring tools to be used are in the ‘Rapid’ category. We need more quality instructional designers and not ‘Jacks of all Trades and Masters of None’! Each to their own, that’s what I say. There are plenty of people out their who are ace at graphic design and others who just love programing – so let them get on with it, that’s what I say.

So, what lies beneath this worry trend? The answer my friend, is ignorance and greed! Ignorance of what instructional design is all about and greed in wanting to get something produced as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. Just as I thought we were finally turning the corner in the production of quality e-Learning programmes, it would seem that we are now in real danger of turning the clock back by expecting people with real instructional design skills and experience to become something they are not.

My dilemma now is, that in order to earn a living, should I learn how to use authoring tools such as Captivate and Articulate? I hope, most sincerely, that the answer is ‘NO’!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Trendy Terms Alert (1)

From time to time I am going to blog about a current L&D ‘Trendy Term’. Each Trendy Term Alert (TTA) will consider whether the term has any mileage or whether it should be consigned to the trash can.

TTA: Social Learning

I have heard and seen the term ‘Social Learning’ more times than I’ve had hot dinners of late! So why the popularity?

I guess it has everything to do with Web 2.0 or e-Learning 2.0, where technology allows people to learn easily in a social environment by exchanging views, having discussions, using webinars, etc. But hasn’t this always been the case without technology? Think about seminars, tutorials and other face-to-face learning techniques. Apart from the dreaded and so often sterile lecture, learning with the involvement of others has been going on ad infinitum.

However, learning can only be an individual activity. Only I can learn something, you cannot learn it for me. So, in a sense, this particular TTA is an oxymoron. I can, of course, learn something by experience, without the help of or input from others. I can also learn from someone, like a teacher, tutor, trainer, coach or mentor, or even a blog, just as I can from being in a group with a number of people, without or with the assistance of technology.

So why is it important to stress or mention the ‘social learning’ dimension? To be honest, I haven’t a clue, unless it is to hype the use of certain types of technology – surely not!

Conclusion? Well, I think we should consign this particular TTA to the …

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Twittering on and on!

I have been using the micro-blogging web site, Twitter, for nearly 4 months now.  So, I think this should be long enough to critique it, especially as it's been quite an interesting experience - to be honest some of which I wasn't even expecting!

So, here are my thoughts and experiences, in no particular order, as a member of the tweeting fraternity:

1. The name's all wrong!  How can you possibly twitter on and on when you only have 140 characters (including spaces) at your disposal?  Mind you, having said that some of the people I follow do manage to twitter on by sending multiple tweets!  But, and this is a big but, although I didn't like this limitation at first - it frustrated me considerably - I am now a great fan, as it makes you think carefully what you are going to say instead of rambling on and on, ah la like blogging in general eh?!!

2. As I am someone who texts on a mobile using full words and proper punctuation, I really can't be doing with tweeters who use text-speak in order to cram more into their tweet!  I can't read it, I can't understand it, and I forget to read it out loud (which usually transforms it into something reasonably intelligible) - I thought one of the ideas behind Twitter was quick and lucid communications but there I'm obviously a deluded soul.

3. Depending on the words you use in your tweets, you can find yourself attracting some very strange and dubious people as followers!  I will save my blushes by not telling you about some of the people who declared that they were following me.  Don't worry, I have blocked them all.

4. 'What are you doing?' - so starts a tweet but, unfortunately, this often misleads followers to tell you things that, quite frankly, you are not interested in one little bit.  I really don't want to know when someone I follow is going to bed, taking a walk, going to the pub, having a cup of coffee .... such a big yawn time .... what I want from the people I follow is a short of mini conversation about ideas, developments, things to read, what's hot, etc. in my world of L&D.  The problem is that a lot of people who do this are often using Twitter to satisfy two quite different sets of followers - those with whom they have a professional, i.e. in my case L&D, e-Learning, alliance and those with whom they are connected socially.  If I were to use Twitter socially then I would set up another profile and keep it distinct from my professional one.

5. An etiquette of tweeting is beginning to develop which is quite interesting in its own right.  For example, should you always follow those who follow you?  No, not necessarily.  I get quite concerned when someone wants to follow me and they are following over a thousand others and yet have very few followers - I normally block these people!  In fact my aim is to have more people following me than I follow - I know, big head!  On top of which how on earth can someone follow a thousand plus people - they must do nothing else than look at Twitter all day?!  How should you use the 'RT' abbreviation?  Currently there is quite a debate about this which centers around IPR and quoting others.  I tend to use this when I replying to a follower's tweet so that other followers who may not be following this person can understand my reply.  As for # tags, well I still have to get my head around this one!

6. To tweet or not to tweet (ah, indeed that is the question!)?  I think that after nearly 4 months I can say 'tweet' but do so wisely and with a purpose.  If that purpose is from a professional point of view then set out to find like-minded souls who you may never have found via other means (this is certainly something which has worked for me), to exchange news, content, and views which can lead to their and your development and learning, and don't get into the habit of centering your day around tweeting - some folk really don't know when to stop (see point 1 above).

OK, they are my 6 of the best for now.  I'll probably blog again after a few months if I can add to this list and I'd be surprised if I can't!!

I've given a brief description below of all the terms used above which are in italics.  Please feel free to add to this list or to challenge their descriptions.  Also, if you are tweeter, then please share your experiences as well.

Blocked = Stopping a person from following you.
Followers  = Those people who will receive all your tweets.
Follow = Those people whose tweets you receive.
Profile = Your account, containing your details, etc.
RT = To re-tweet, i.e. allow your followers to see what one of your followers has written.
Tweeting = The process of sending tweets.
Tweets = Sending or receiving 140 character messages.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Working as an Instructional Designer

What's it like to be an Instructional Designer?  Well, you are often underpaid, held in low esteem, ignored, expected to churn out sausages and used as a scapegoat.  But you can also find yourself treated with respect and courtesy, listened to at all times and, most importantly of all, getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction from a job well done.

For me, working as an instructional designer is the job I most want to do whenever I get the chance.  Some people might think that I must have masochistic tendencies by admitting to such a thing because they have tried instructional design and found it to be a most disagreeable experience.  In particular, when working as an e-Learning instructional designer the art and science of the job are so often pushed to their limits, which is either a good thing if you are good at what you are doing or a really bad thing if you aren't!

In an ideal world the instructional designer is someone who is respected and who takes the lead on what learners need to be able to do, how content will be structured and sequenced, what delivery media will be used, and how assessment will be used.  When e-Learning is either a part of or the whole solution, instructional designers should also take the lead on how assets will be used, the look and feel of the GUI, and the use of navigation and function buttons.  Why?  Well, it's because they know about such things and how they can be used best to help people learn - they need to be the leaders of the team and not the tea-makers.

However, all too often reality is far removed from the ideal world.  Far too often, even with nearly 14 years instructional design experience, I have found myself being dictated to by graphic designers and programers, most of whom have very little idea about instructional designers and how people learn.  If you pay peanuts then you usually get monkeys but more and more instructional designers are expected to work for extremely low rates of pay.  They are often kept in the dark, a bit like mushrooms, only to be let out into the light when it's far too late.  Their advice is not heeded and when the inevitable happens they get the blame for a poor programme or end result.  If this wasn't bad enough, they are also expected to mimic a sausage-making factory, by churning out designs, learning materials and scripts to order in a robotic, machine-like fashion whilst working in an environment akin to a sweat-shop!

The environment in which instructional designers work is incredibly important to them if they are to produce quality stuff.  The more experienced the person the more they will know what works best for them.  For example, I simply cannot do instructional design work in an office, surrounded by a whole load of people.  I'm far too nosey for a start and easily get distracted by what those around me are doing!  To produce quality work I need a conducive environment, one which is quiet and where I feel most comfortable.  I need time to reflect and my own space in which to feel inspired because I don't churn out sausages!  Yet I am constantly amazed at the number of clients who insist that instructional designers work on-site at all times - how 20th Century is that?

If a client wants an experienced, mature instructional designer then why do they insist on treating them like children who can't be left to their own devices and who have to be under the watchful eye of the project manager or whomever at all times?  In addition, I wonder just how many clients have missed out on employing quality instructional designers on short, fixed-term contracts because they expect them to commute many miles each day to be on-site?  Somehow we need to get over to these people that we are now in the 21st Century with reliable and powerful communication technologies at our disposal and that their 'Victorian' attitude is doing no favours whatsoever to the provision of quality and effective learning solutions.

To this end I am currently engaged in trying to convince recruitment agencies of the futility of this outmoded and draconian approach, in the hope that they will be able to help turn the tide so that working as an instructional designer becomes far more of a pleasure instead of a pain.  Wish me well!

Monday, 30 March 2009

What's in a name?

It has annoyed me for some time now how the word 'Learning' is used with frequent regularity as if it is something which is provided, i.e. an input, instead of an outcome as a result of what has been provided.  Only the other day someone asked me about what had happened to the term 'Training and Development' and I found myself answering that 'Learning and Development' is a modern substitution for Training and Development, where the word 'training' has been dropped in favour of 'learning' so as to stress the outcome as well as the means.  But has it?  I'm not so sure now and here's why ...

If learning is an outcome and development (e.g. training, tutoring, coaching, mentoring) is an input then why are the two so often referred to in the same breath as if they are both inputs?  OK just think about this, if I were being extremely pedantic (if such a thing's possible) then the term learning and development is an oxymoron!  Back in 2005 I wrote an article entitled 'Training Fads and Fancies' and in it I stated the following ...
"One of the latest fads to hit training is to avoid any reference to it wherever possible.  For many, the term training is now a definite ‘no-no’.  Use the term and you risk a response of almost non-politically correct proportions in some quarters.  Now I know I might be treading on dangerous ground here, but it has to be faced that ‘learning’ is the new fad term.  As a result its unquestioned use has given rise to such contradictory terms as ‘learning and development’, ‘learning and resources’, ‘learning and development departments’, ‘learning managers’, and ‘learning consultants’.  I know I am not alone in thinking that training is an outward process, whereas learning is an inward one.  Whilst people in a department, or an association come to that, might be concerned with how and what people learn, they do not and cannot learn on behalf of others.  I don’t have a problem with terms like learning materials, learning workbooks, open learning, distance learning, e-Learning, The British Learning Association (now the British Institute for Learning and Development), or those who set out to provide effective learning solutions (well, I wouldn’t would I?), as all these use the word ‘learning’ in its proper context, but I do have a problem when it is used to replace ‘training’, especially when the latter describes perfectly adequately where a person’s or a department’s responsibilities lie.  I am sure that it won’t come as any surprise to know that I regard this latest development as faddism in the extreme."
... and, what's more, four years later I still do!

As long as we are clear about what we mean by 'Learning and Development' then no problem.  For example, I am passionately interested in how people learn and throughout my entire career I have sought to help people of all ages by providing solutions and inputs designed to aid their development, be these through teaching, training, coaching, consultancy, blended learning programmes, and so on.  I provide what I hope are quality development opportunities and advice but only the person at the receiving end can do the learning - I can't do it for them.  However, I am becoming increasingly worried about the growing trend to avoid any reference to or use of the word 'Training' as, in the end, I believe this to be extremely short-sighted and counter-productive.

Perhaps, if there are other like-minded souls out there, we should start a campaign to put the word TRAINING back on the map!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Horses for courses

I've just spent an enjoyable 45 minutes talking to a very nice lady who was researching the current state and future of e-Learning for the organisers of Learning Technologies following the mind-boggling article by Rob Chapman on Training Zone a few days ago:  in which he denounced e-Learning as a passing fad without one piece of factual evidence!

"So, is e-Learning the best delivery method then?" she asked me.  To which I replied "No, it's just one of many delivery methods available to us."  I then went on to explain that, whatever delivery method or methods is or are chosen, this decision should always depend on a number of factors.  First there is why people need to learn and what they need to learn, for example, for a qualification, for workplace performance, for their own needs/satisfaction.  Identifying the need then enables us to see whether the learning needs to be achieved through a training course, a development programme or an educational course.

Having decided the nature of the beast, it is then possible to produce a learning or instructional design for it.  This involves structuring and sequencing the content in relation to previously identified learning objectives and a detailed profile of the target audience, and deciding on the most cost-effective means of delivery.  The latter decision requires an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of all delivery methods as well as those which are available to both the organisation and to the end users, i.e. the learners.  Yes, it's horses for courses and in my view for the true training and development professional it has always been thus! 

Where people adopt this systematic approach, a 'blended solution' is often the end result as there is no one perfect delivery method.  For sure, sometimes e-Learning, particularly of the 'Rapid' kind, might form the total solution and that's not a problem when a proper needs analysis and instructional design has been undertaken.  However, far too often these essential steps or stages are ignored on the basis that "we don't have the time for all that" and this is where the rot sets in and does so very quickly.  I'm not a betting person but if I were I'd bet you a penny to a pound that the really bad examples of e-Learning which exist today were produced in the absence of any needs analysis and instructional design.

So, as far as I am concerned, e-Learning in all its many guises is definitely here to stay and will continue to grow in its use across the board.  However, the demands which this means of delivery places on those involved in its design, development and production is another matter altogether and definitely the subject of another blog!