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.

A Reflection on Eight Years of Moodling

I’ve been more engaged in corporate e-learning as of late and away from the academic side of e-Learning. But recently I have been exploring options for blended learning activities, more specifically a hybrid mix of instructor-led online programs. It got me going back to one of my previous areas of expertise: Moodle.

I logged into Moodle this morning to finally get acquainted with Moodle 2.0 and I realized my profile has been active for 7 years 345 days. How time flies! My first experience with Moodle was in graduate school, developing a group project in 2003 for a Human Performance Technology course. I remember the awe on everyone’s face when they saw the application. I also recall them not understanding completely when I told them that I had not hand coded the whole site but rather was using an open-source system.

And how Moodle has evolved over the last 8 years. The interface is flexible and robust, the modules and plug-ins are extensive and cover all the bases. The new Moodle 2.0 has integrated many of the strong user generated plug-ins such as the feedback module, which I always found lacked in the standard Moodle installation. And I have only just begun rediscovering it and all the possibilities it offers. Moodle most certainly is a strong argument for community developed systems and how the strength of many practionners advance a concept or a system.

Online Learning and Development Strategy for Organizational Survival

One of the greatest challenges many of my clients share is convincing their organization’s decision makers and purse holders to invest in Learning and Development, and even more challenging—yes even now in 2011—is the argument for online learning and development.

Bob Lee comes up with some pretty convincing arguments and ties them directly to the bottom line in his latest blog post entitled Learning and the State of Business in 2011. In fact, he explains something that all of us in learning and development have known for a while: an efficient and effective learning and development strategy is necessary for organizational survival.

He first explains how globalization will increase the numbers of remote workers and virtual collaboration in the next decade, which will undeniably impact organizational culture. This directly impacts face-to-face training which is on the decline and audio and Web conferencing which is on the rise. The increase of remote access from just about anywhere is also a huge benefit to online learning.

The bottom line according to Lee is that online learning and development not only reduces the cost but also increases the efficiency and speed at which information is communicated and accessed.

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

Taking Into Account User Experience In Your E-learning Design

Two months ago, Tom Kuhlmann wrote a piece on the importance of thoroughly reviewing your e-learning courses before launching them. One of his key tips was to watch learners go through the course in order to understand how they experience it. Web and multimedia designers call this user experience design testing.

ZURB, a team of interaction designers and strategists, put together a guide to facilitating feedback on user design which can be implemented throughout the design process. These techniques are very useful for understanding the user experience while following an e-learning course.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Strategies for Making Content Accessible for Learners

Yesterday, I blogged about making content accessible to learners so that they might access it when they are ready to learn. Now the question is: how do we make this content accessible?

Ross Dawson has a few ideas. But they aren’t new ideas. He’s actually pulled them from his Living Networks book which he wrote 8 years ago to show how applicable they are today.

Positioning For Content Distribution
1. Build evolutionary business models
2. Define and refine strategies for standards and interfaces
3. Develop and implement aggregation strategies
4. Enable versatile syndication models
5. Rework your product versioning

His first two points address concerns about ever evolving technology interfaces to view content as well as the quickly changing landscapes of technology. His third and fourth points focus on the way content is gathered and distributed. His fifth point builds an argument for keeping content fresh and up-to-date.

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Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

From the Innovative Mind of Janey Clarey: Instructional Design by Example Blog

Janet Clarey is one of my favorite bloggers on the topic of training and developement. It is no surprise that she has kicked off this absolutely fabulous idea of blogging about real life instructional design examples.

I wish her the best of luck possible and am thinking up an example to contribute in the very near future.

Corporate e-learning needs another blog. Oh yes. It does.

In this blog, you’ll find examples of e-learning courses and details about the instructional design process used in creating them. You’ll also find specifics about the logistics of the courses. Anyone is welcome to submit an example using the submission form. The site is maintained by Janet Clarey.

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