Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

Engaging, Interactive – Engaging First Amongst Equals

Clive Shepherd writes in defense of page turners and I agree. It is not that page turners as such are boring but the way content is written and presented makes it boring. And the same could well happen to content with high level of interactivity.

To me content in any form needs to be engaging. Engaging content is more important than interactive content. I tell my team Harry Potter book is engaging, and it doesn’t have an iota of interactivity. In my personal learning environment, I read many blogs. None of them are interactive yet all of them are very engaging. Does interactivity make the content engaging? Not necessarily. I have seen many courses with interactivity for the sake of interactivity. Even interactivity needs to work towards making the content more engaging.

Blogs vs. Wikis

As I continue with my collaborative experiment eCube, I am attempting to integrate and popularize the organization Wiki. I am finding working with Wiki much harder than working with a Blog. I find Wikis more complex and less user-friendly, which sort of defeats the purpose I guess. With my blog, I find I have more control over what I want, how I want the content to appear, and linking other content in my blog. Wiki seems to present me complex codes to create a meaningful page. While I guess once I learn the ropes of Wikis I will be able to make the most of it, but for now the learning curve of the Wiki is much steeper. My worry is that my usage of Wiki will be limited to reading and not contributing.

Is it just me or are Wikis actually harder to learn than Blogs?

eCube – An Experiment to Create a Collaborative Learning Environment

Ray Sims recent blog post about motivation for technology adoption by end-users came in at an opportune time for me. Having blogged on my own for a while, I am now embarking on the journey of experiments. Inspired by the Bamboo Project, and challenged by the job of enhancing skills of a diverse and divergent (in more ways than one) large team of instructional designers and content developers, I have decided to experiment using Web 2.0 tools to bring in some convergence. And I need suggestions to make this succeed.

We’ve had a Web 2.0 equivalent environment “within the firewall” for many years now. Many of the tools have been available on our employee portal – discussion forums, blogs, wikis, project sites, knowledge base with new additions and frequently used tags, chat, survey questions, and even image galleries. We can argue and debate about semantics of whether these tools are indeed Web 2.0 tools, however the tools facilitated collaboration. We have had success in using these tools in pockets. Given our expectations of convergence I would say the success of this environment has been limited.

So why bother with creating a new collaborative learning environment “outside the firewall”? Well for one, the tools available outside the firewall seem to be a lot more user-friendly, and customizable. And I have more control over creating new environments without having to go to our systems and IT team. This in spite of my having significant influence over this team.

So in my current experiment, I have:
- Set up a collaborative blog on Blogger.
- Invited specific people to be authors to this blog.
- Identified a list of topics that I want the team to write on.
- Posted a few posts of my own and from a team member.
- Created a Flickr group to share photos on the blog.
- Made a very quiet launch of the blog with limited readership.
- Provided a link to the blog on our employee portal.

Issues I am still pondering over:
  • While blogs provide an informal forum for the team to write about their project and issues they are facing, I am uncomfortable about the “outside the firewall” bit in this particular case. It is always more comfortable for discussions about current project and issues to be held internally, or within the firewall. I could use blogger’s administrative features to restrict access but that is an administrative nightmare for me.
  • My role would require me to create guidelines/policies for professionals writing outside the firewall. I am torn between being an experimenter and being a manager. Are there pointers to create these policies and guidelines?
  • Wouldn’t putting firewall around this informal learning environment itself defeat the purpose of having an informal collaborative environment? Are there case studies of implementing something like this successfully for large teams?
  • Since most of the past initiatives have been pushed to the team, I want to make this one a pull initiative. What’s the best way to roll this out to get an active pull enrollment of the team?

Instructional Design - Art or ADDIE

Clive Shepherd makes a case for successive approximation in his recent blog post. Makes sense, after all, most learning professionals in the industry are arguing that ADDIE is not relevant today.

I have always thought that as a method, the E looped back to A in ADDIE. Clive talks about how those who work in classroom could teach instructional designers a thing or two. But aren’t trainers implementing ADDIE model, except perhaps in quick succession? Isn’t putting together a quick and dirty design and then trying it out in the class to tweak it the next time and time after that ADDIE with E looping back to A each time?

Enough’s been writing about the evolution of the ADDIE model. With rapid prototyping, we are crunching the time it takes in each phase. And since the time is short, the phases overlap and are repeated, making the process more iterative (successive approximation?). As Geetha Krishnan puts it, ADDIE has been interpreted as a rigid non-iterative process. The problem is not so much with the model as with the way it has been used (or misused).

However, the issue I have with this completely iterative process is not whether ADDIE is dead or alive. It is how do we know a project has ended and a new one is required to begin? ADDIE can help define a “project” – with a definite start and a definite end. I am envious of Clive’s new project. Clive has…

“warned them not to expect voluminous design documents and specifications. We'll sit down and assess the situation; I'll create something rough but functional for us to look at; we'll show this to real users and see what they think; we'll tweak it based on the feedback we receive and test it out again. This process won't ever really come to an end; we'll continue to monitor and enhance the offering long after it's gone live. After all, unlike content that's distributed in print or on CD, online content doesn't have to be right first time. It's just work in progress.”

It would be interesting to know if Clive’s client is paying for the project a fixed amount or on hourly rate based on time spent. And how do they control their budget for the project? Is there even a budget for this? How do we finally measure success of a project? I am very sure clients are not expecting instructional design projects to be perpetual research projects.

Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

I first read about PLE in Viplav Baxi’s blog. Then I came across it again in a blog that I am currently following with great interest – Michele Martin’s The Bamboo Project. Michele’s blog has many posts about PLE and her blog and the Bamboo project make an interesting case study for using Web 2.0 tools for collaborative learning. And of course my much revered blogger Tony Karrer has many posts on PLE. And with a little more research, I realize that I am about 6 months behind in discussions on PLEs :-).

I guess my top 10 learning tools are basically my personal learning environment. To define my PLE further, I could probably identify the blogs/sites I visit more often for learning.

There is also an ongoing discussion on enterprises having PLEs within the firewall. In the process I discovered Tom Haskin’s blog and quickly added it to my PLE. I understand that PLE stands for Personal Learning Environment (well, in most contexts anyway but Tom provides more descriptions of the P in PLE). An organization can provide a "learning environment" within the firewall for employees to learn. If it is indeed used by employees to learn, the inside the firewall learning environment becomes part of the employee's PLE. I am not sure how a corporate can provide PLE. At best it can attempt to encourage employees to recognize their own PLEs and try to provide them with learning environments that the employees will adopt in their PLEs.

Mobile Learning

I was required to do some research on mobile learning. I am not particularly enthused by the idea of formal learning on mobile phones and don’t have much insight into mobile learning or the use of mobile devices in education. However some thoughts emerged after my digging around:

  • Mobile phones will play a major role in social networking. They will be a key tool for social networking.
  • Downloading songs, ring tones and wallpapers will be the main applications. Gaming on mobile phones is also increasing. Major content revenue from mobile phones will be from these applications.
  • M-Learning still needs to be explored. There are educational institutes in New Zealand that are using a system that allows students to send SMS and receive on demand learning and supporting information.
  • Mobile devices can be used in schools to teach students simple applications like calendar to build time tables, address books, voice recorders etc. Other applications could be conversational language learning, online research, group learning etc.
  • There will be social resistance to using cell phones in schools as learning devices. Currently cell phones are banned in most schools and to start using them as learning devices will require a change in social mindset. Like any other technology (e.g. television, computer games), cell phones will be prone to causing a bad influence on children and as a society we will need to learn to deal with it, while using it for the benefits the technology can provide. Schools haven’t changed while technology has evolved significantly. See presentation on Disruptive Mobile Learning. Parental Control on mobiles will be a good application to have. That's the parent in me talking :-).
  • Mobile phones will primarily be used for informal learning. Formal learning through mobile phones is still some time away.
  • Mobile phones can be used in our context for test preparation. Short practice tests can be taken via SMS.
  • PDAs and high end phones hold greater possibilities of providing richer applications that allow learning. The iPhone has great applications for flash cards. These applications can be used for learning much like physical flash cards.
  • Mobility is not limited to phones. Podcasts are increasingly popular in adult learning. These are audio recordings that can be downloaded on to iPod (or any mp3 player). The audio recordings can be heard while on the move. So are podcasts mobile learning?

eLearning Growth Areas and Client Satisfaction

I recently was responding to journalist questions about the elearning industry. While most answers could be found in innumerable industry reports, there were two that caught my attention. I would be interested in hearing more about these.

Do you see demand for e-learning from any particular sectors in the economy?

As a vendor organization, we have seen elearning clients grow in almost all sectors. Technology has been an all time favorite and demand for technology training has been consistent across the years. Other sectors are banking and finance, retail, engineering, and education, not in any particular order. In terms of areas of training, sales training, compliance training, application training, new hire training, and online education stand out more amongst a plethora of training areas.

What I am interested in hearing about is whether there are any particular sectors or areas in which elearning is growing faster than others? Any sectors/areas that are experiencing a slowdown? Is there a report that highlights sector/area wise trends in elearning? What are you seeing as trends?

Are companies happy with the quality of e-learning contractors?

Now this one was quite interesting. What are you experiencing, as a customer and as a vendor organization?

As a customer, are you generally happy with the services provided by independent contractors and vendor organizations? What qualities do you like to see in your vendor? What kind of vendor provides you with the service levels that you find satisfactory? What are the common mistakes and pitfalls for vendors when they work with you? What do you think vendors should do to make outsourcing successful for you?

As a vendor, what are you experiencing? What are customers looking for? Are they hard to please or are you able to satisfy them with ease? What are the common mistakes and pitfalls for customers when they work with you? What do you think customers should do to make outsourcing successful?

It would be interesting to see responses.

Instructional Design - If, When and How Much?

Learning Circuit's big question for Feb 2008 Instructional Design - If, When and How Much? seems relevant to the ongoing discussion we've been having in my blog.

Starting with Death of the Instructional Designer and continuing in Instructional Designer Competencies.

There are many related questions asked in Learning Circuit's big question and it will be interesting to see responses to those.



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

Creative Commons License This work by Manish Mohan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.