Computers as Catalysts for Humanizing the Learning Experience

This TED Talks Video by Salman Khan is perhaps the most compelling case for technology-assisted learning, peer-to-peer learning and learning communities (and by extension, communities of practice) that I’ve ever seen. In fact, educational philanthropist Bill Gates liked Khan’s idea so much, he invested 1.5 million dollars into it.

This 20 minute video is truly inspiring and entertaining to watch. It focuses on K-12 students but I’m sure you’ll all make the leap on how this works with adults and professionals.

What is truly inspiring is his message of computers as a catalyst for humanizing the learning experience, which is a refreshing change from the message that it dehumanizes learning.

Apples and Oranges: How Tablets are Affecting E-Learning

For over 10 years,  I have been working with teams that develop interactive e-learning modules using Flash technology, and I am far from being the only one.

Recently, our clients have increasingly been acquiring tablets, and the majority of them have opted for the iPad. Of course, the common question that pops up is: “Why can I not view the e-learning modules on my iPad”.

The technical explanation is because Apple iPad decided not to support Adobe Flash on its device. We explain to our clients that this was a very controversial decision, but that it was defended by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs who sees HTML5 as the future of the interactive Web.  At first, this was regarded as an unwise move on their part, but one which does not seem to have affected their sales. There have been attempts to create applications to allow Flash content to be viewed on iPads, but we have not tested this yet with our content.

We also explain that, for the moment, there are tablets that support the Flash Player. This list might not be up to date, as it doesn’t list the BlackBerry Playbook, which supports Flash. That said, we have not tested our courses on them all these tablets either, nor can we guarantee that the screen resolution is high enough for the modules. There are also opinions that Flash-based content is not really compatible with tablets.

This explanation, though technically sound and legitimate, does not address the issue that more and more of our clients are acquiring the iPad, as well as other tablets, and would like to view their e-learning modules on them.

Unfortunately, our clients, the learners, are the ones stuck in the middle of this technology battle.

For the last 10 years, the Web has been interactive in large part because of Flash. A huge portion of the interactive e-learning modules segment of the e-learning industry runs on it. Some of the authoring tools created applications in Java or other technology, but they have historically been a smaller segment of the market.

So much like our firm, the industry right now is wondering “What we are going to do in the future?”

And to complicate the issue, last week, our firm had a huge upset in regards to Flash. We received some technical alerts from clients who could not view their e-learning modules, regardless of all the troubleshooting tips we prepared for them. We were finally able to isolate the issue after  extensive research, which is that the latest update of Flash (Flash 10,3,183,5) does not work with our online modules. Adobe has been sending mass updates for its Flash Plug-in, our clients have been installing it and as a result, they cannot view their e-learning modules. We have been working with them to uninstall their Flash Players and revert to an earlier stable version. For most of our clients, this is disconcerting, time consuming, frustratring, and I can understand them.

This whole ordeal was a shock to us, as our Flash-based authoring tool  has been successfully creating e-learning content for over 5 years now. Some research on the Web proved we were not the only ones who pulled our hair out with this update. In fact, the bug reports are increasing on the Adobe forums. The irony in this whole situation is that this Flash Player update fixed a problem with Apple’s Mac Operating System. Ouch!

I am certain this will be resolved soon, as Adobe has no interest in losing its dedicated Flash user base. The future of the interactive Web, according to some experts, is HTML5, though not all experts are in agreement. My opinion is that Adobe Flash is a state of the art technology that not only enabled the Web to be interactive and in-motion, but has grown with the demands of the Web.  As our expert Flash guru and Creative Director Stéphane Richer of Noise Communications points out to us, we have not seen the end of Flash yet.

That said, 3 weeks ago, Adobe launched an HTML 5 Web animation tool, most likely a strategic move to not lose its market share of interactive Web applications.

So getting back to our problem, in the future, we are going to have to consider how we build e-learning applications if we want them to be accessible to our client base. Some online discussions focus on whether or not Adobe Flash is still the appropriate technology for developing e-learning applications.

We will also have to give serious thought in product updates, and if we convert our e-learning module players to HTML5 or create different versions for different platforms. This however means a significant financial investment and I’m sure our firm isn’t the only one facing this issue right now. The bottom line is, no matter what we do, if we do not adapt our technology to meet the client demand, we are not going to be ahead of the game.

And as the Wind Changes Directions

Workplace Learning Today, where I’ve been focussing my blogging efforts for the last 15 months, was discontinued in June 2011. Since it’s inauguration in 2007, the team of bloggers contributed over 3,000.

In June 2010, a few months after I joined the team of bloggers at Workplace Learning Today, it was named one of the Top 50 Human Resources Blogs by Evan Carmichael and was 1st rated in the area of Talent Management. This was but one of the accolades that the blog received during its run.

And as the wind changes directions, we are sent forth on different journeys.

I will be focussing my blogging efforts on technogenii.net from here on, and on top of some of the posts that were cross-posted here, all of my blog posts will be available on http://brandon-hall.com/blogs/learning/. Special thanks to Richard Nantel, Co-CEO of the Brandon Hall Group for giving me the opportunity to blog alongside him and august bloggers Tom Werner and Gary Woodill.

I wish nothing but success to the Brandon Hall Group with their new venture in with a series of blogs, which will focus on highlighting the research they are working on.

Extreme Productivity: Secrets of a Very Busy Man

Justin Fox interviews Bob Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author for HBR and HBR Blogs, who shares with us his tips and trips for being more productivity in and HBR IdeaCast. The following are the key points discussed:

  • Focus on results, not on time spent. For a long time, and perhaps still in many organizations, much value is placed on the employee who works long hours to complete a project. It is seen as a sign of dedication, devotion and commitment. The problem is that it’s completely inefficient. Pozen suggests that  finding efficient ways of getting results should be the focus and priority. He mentions that in the past, he has told clients that he worked work twice as fast but charge them double his time and they had no objections. In the organization that I work for, more often than not, we charge by deliverable and by results rather than by time, which is another way of tackling this issue.
  • Know your comparative advantage. Most of us are familiar with the notion of competitive advantage: what it is that we do better than our competitors. But in an organization, our peers are not our competitors, or at least, they should not be. When thinking of an organization as a system, being competitive within the system is inefficient. Rather, according to Pozen, you should be thinking about your comparative advantage, that is what does your organization needs most from you. Management-level individuals need to focus on the question: “What are the functions that I and only I can do” and delegate the rest. Even in work teams, individuals need to focus on their strengths and unique abilities.
  • Think first. Read or write second. This one really hit home. I’ve been applying this principle since as early as I can remember, instinctively. I always hid it, thinking it would be seen as taking shortcuts, which in turn could be perceived as laziness. Now I’m so thrilled to learn that this is simply efficiency! Pozen explains that when you think before you read and think about what it is that you are looking for, you know better what to focus and know what to skip over. Thinking before you write means developing an outline as soon as possible (which can be revised) to steer your research and what arguments you want to write.
  • Prepare your plan, but be ready to change it. What are the highest priorities you need to achieve today? Whether you plan these the night before or early in the day, identify what it is that you absolutely need to get done today. If you start the day with that approach and something comes along to disturb your schedule, which for extremely busy people is very likely to happen, you’ll know what are the key things you need to focus on getting done and you’ll be able to defer the less important things. An additional note on this last point: My professional coach Nancy gave me an extremely helpful tool designed by Stephen Covey:  The four-quadrant matrix for importance andurgency, which is an amazing tool for priority management.
  • Naps are also high on Pozen’s top tips for productivity. The benefits of reenergizing through sleep are well know, and it’s a wonder we aren’t better equipped in our modern offices to allow for this. According to Pozen, research shows that a 30 minute nap can let you refresh and be more productive. He does this by putting his feet up on his desk and dozing off.
  • Being boring, or perhaps what I like to call having a routine, such as having the same simple breakfasts and lunches, is a way to take away some of the non-necessary thinking out of your day. Again, this is something I instinctively do because he’s right, it is a huge time saver. I spend a lot of time thinking of what I should be eating in general, that is what kinds of foods I should be buying for nutritional and health reasons, but very little time being creative about breakfasts and lunches on weekdays. That said, I keep the creativity for supper when I’m relaxing.

You may want to listen to the podcast on the HBR site or download this podcast in mp3 format. For more blog posts by Prozen, check out a list of blogs on productivity which he co-wrote with Justin Fox on HBR Blogs.

Reference:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Tips to Not Suck as A Presenter

A few months ago, I wrote a post on Tips to Stop Sucking at PowerPoint. But as we all know, you may have the  snazziest presentation on the block, but you’re only half-way there. You, yourself, have to bring your A game. In other words, you have to offer the total package.

Clive Shepherd shares with us his 50 tips for better presentations, a little gem he found in his archives and a fantastic list that cover all the bases with a touch of humour. In addition, I’ll share another resources from my bookmarked archives that compliments Clive’s post: The TED Commandments.

Reference:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

I Know What Learners Need

Last Saturday, I was talking with a past colleague and good friend Virginie, an instructional designer working in the field for 10 years now. We talked about some of the struggles we go through in this profession. We tried to pin point what was the one character quality that all instructional designers should have. We both agreed that it was empathy, that is the ability to put one’s self in the learner’s seat and anticipate their needs. This, coupled with competency in applying sound instructional design techniques is what makes an instructional designer great.

When I read a recent post by Archana Narayan, I heard her strongly say “I know what learners need“. As professionals in the field of development and training, we all need to say it stronger and louder if we want to be respected as the professionals that we are. It can be a constant struggle to have our expert opinion heard, but it’s crucial that we do, both for the learner and for our professional integrity.

Whether it’s with dealing with clients who want to micromanage their learners, whether it’s dealing with outrageous requests or whether it’s dealing with subject matter experts and trainers that dismiss the instructional design process, Archana provides some great tips to get you started.

Reference:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Enhancing Our Creativity by Tackling Others Challenges

In a recent research report published in the Personality and social psychology bulletin, Polman and Emich demonstrate how when we make decisions for others, we are going to make decisions that are more creative than the ones we make for ourselves.

This is just the latest extension of research into construal level theory, an intriguing concept that suggests various aspects of psychological distance can affect our thinking style. (link from quote)

I see this as a important validation of one of the benefits of case studies and problem-based learning for boosting the creativity of participants.

In addition, it is yet another argument for the importance of communities of practice which promotes the community-based tackling of issues in order to find creative solutions to advance the practice.

Again, this only further promotes the benefits of open innovation which consists of the gathering of external inputs to advance a concept, a product or a technology.

Reference:

How thinking for others can boost your creativity | Research Digest | Christian Jarrett | 1 Mar 2010

This post is cross-posted with Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today