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August 2009
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October 2009

It's Not the Tool That's Boring. It's You.


Great post from Sarah Horrigan on a training she did with University staff on using virtual learning environments (VLE's).  Apparently there were complaints prior to the session about VLEs being "boring," that Sarah decided to face head on, pointing out that it's not the VLE that's boring. It's what instructors do with it.

I asked, 'How many of you put your lecture PowerPoints in the VLE?'. Lots of hands. 'How many of you provide anything more than your lecture notes? Anyone put any additional activities in there?'... no hands. I asked them what that might feel like for their students. Was that an interesting or helpful place to be once you'd downloaded those PowerPoint? Were those PowerPoints really that helpful without anything else? Were they engaging? Have to say, there wasn't a great deal of nodding at this point!

I then got them to imagine a really great learning experience that they'd had while they were at school or university and what made it great. I then asked the group 'did anyone's great experience involve a great teacher?' Hands. 'A really great subject area?' A few more. 'A really great activity or experience?'. Lots of hands and nodding. 'Did anyone's great experience involve how brilliant the room was where the learning happened? How great the chair was they were sitting on? How great the desk was they were using? The pen? Anyone particularly excited by the pen they were using?'. No-one

That's the thing about technology and learning. People are quick to blame the tool, rather than looking first at their own behavior with it. It's PowerPoint that's the problem, rather than how it's used. Or they hate web conferencing because it's "dull." And don't even start with social media--blogs, social networks, Twitter et. al are just a "waste of time."

I understand why learners get sucked into thinking that the tools don't work, especially when they've been the victim of Death by Powerpoint or forced to endure an endless webinar. But for those of us designing the learning, that's just the lazy way out. I can blame PowerPoint or I can look at what Tom Kuhlmann and Cathy Moore do with it and rethink my strategies. I can say that social media is a "waste" or I can see the creative ways these tools are being used and modify my thinking accordingly.

That's not to say that we shouldn't ever complain about technology tools--some of them are clunky and not well-suited to the things that we want to do with them. (Blackboard comes to mind). But blaming a tool for being "boring?" That's just another way of saying "I don't want to be creative." As Sarah points out:

As adults we look at an empty cardboard box and see it as a storage device. Somewhere to put 'stuff'. As children we looked at that same cardboard box and saw a plane. A car. A train. An adventure waiting to happen. What happened to our own creativity? It seems like we get confronted by a 'virtual learning environment' and think that's enough. The learning will happen regardless of the effort we put into it. Wrong! So, so wrong! When eLearning works, it's an amazing, interesting, vibrant, evolving, engaging, rich space. When it's just a shell. A place to download PowerPoints... boy oh boy is it a sad bag.

A sad bag indeed.

Flickr photo via joshme17

Augmented Reality and the Future of Learning & Work

A few weeks ago I was doing a social media training and a couple of participants started talking to me about "augmented reality" and how it was going to change learning and work. I'd never heard of the concept and actually had a hard time picturing what they meant, so I tucked it away as something to explore further when I had more time. Now, via this article from Jeremiah Owyang, I see why they were so excited.

What Is Augmented Reality?

The best definition I could find for augmented reality is that it's  "a combination of the real scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computer that augments the scene with additional information." This video is a great example. 

In it you can see a phone being held up to view a street. Through the augmented reality program in the phone, real estate data appears next to each house, including the price of the house, its address, etc. If the house is for sale, then a link to call the real estate agent also appears. You can click on it to initiate the call.

This video is even more interesting from a business/networking perspective.

The presenter is able to create a public profile that connects him to whatever social networks he wants, including Twitter, Slideshare, Facebook, YouTube, etc. As he presents, attendees can view him (and other participants) through their phones and see each person's profiles and connections. In this example, you could also rate the presentation via your phone.

Implications of Augmented Reality for Learning & Work

Although still in extreme infancy, you can see where there are some really interesting possibilities here with big implications for learning and work.

First, as if we needed another reminder of this, memorizing facts, data, etc. will become even LESS important in a world of augmented reality. We can already look up just about anything we want. With augmented reality, the data that we need would be integrated into the physical environment where we needed it with no need for searches. 

Consider this example of how augmented reality could be used in manufacturing. The worker would wear a special headset that would do the following:

  • Directs the worker to a pile of parts and tells her which part to pick up. This is currently done by displaying textual instructions and playing a sound file containing verbal instructions.
  • Confirms that she has the correct piece. This is done by having her scan a barcode on the component.
  • Directs her to install the component. A 3D virtual image of the component indicates where to install the component and verbal instructions played from a sound file explain how to install it.
  • Verifies that the component is installed by asking her to scan the component with the tracked barcode scanner  This checks both the identity and position of the part.

No doubt as systems grew more sophisticated, they would include access to troubleshooting information, etc. that would virtually eliminate the need for the kinds of procedural training that currently goes on in many companies.

I suspect these developments would accelerate the trend toward commoditization of work and, therefore, the capacity to send it to places where labor is the cheapest. It will also impact our notions of "knowledge work" and, I think, create even more "blue collar" knowledge jobs

Because of the impact on skill requirements in jobs, this will necessarily impact training, both the types of training we do and how we deliver it. We've already been moving in the direction of performance support systems and this adds a new layer that could take us in some entirely new directions.

Augmented reality has a long way to go before it becomes a major force in the workplace, but I don't think it's too early to start thinking about how it will impact what we do and how we do it.

What are your thoughts? How do you see augmented reality impacting the learning business? How do you see it being applied to work?

An "Admirable Use" Policy


Will Richardson has an excellent post, Don't, Don't, Don't vs. Do, Do, Do, in which he muses on "acceptable use" policies of social media in schools and how restrictive and anti-learning they can be. Having spent the past several months working with clients on integrating social media into their organizations, this post really resonated with me. I'm finding that while a few places embrace social media as an exciting opportunity, many more are worried about defining and restricting every possible misuse of social media they can imagine. And I have to say that I'm consistently amazed at how imaginative people are in identifying potential problems. Where's that creativity when they're thinking about using this stuff?

Anyway, Will suggests that instead of a 10-page list of "dont's," we need an "Admirable Use" policy that positively describes the ways in which we'd like to see people using social media for learning. The items he would include are:

“Do use our network to connect to other students and adults who share your passions with whom you can learn.”

“Do use our network to help your teachers find experts and other teachers from around the world.”

“Do use our network to publish your best work in text and multimedia for a global audience.”

“Do use our network to explore your own creativity and passions, to ask questions and seek answers from other teachers online.”

“Do use our network to download resources that you can use to remix and republish your own learning online.”

“Do use our network to collaborate with others to change the world in meaningful, positive ways.”

For companies and organizations, I'd modify this list and add a few other items, as follows:

  • Do use our network to connect to colleagues and peers with whom you can share your passions and learn together.
  • Do use our network to find experts both within and outside of our organization to gain knowledge, information and perspectives from around the world. Use our network to reach outside of your normal geographic and interest groups to connect with people in a variety of disciplines and from a range of cultures. 
  • Do use our network to publish and share your best thinking and ideas. Seek out feedback and opportunities to refine your thinking. Use multimedia (visualizations, video, audio) to further explore and process your thinking.
  • Do use our network to explore your own creativity and passions, to ask questions and seek answers from other peers and colleagues online. We know that creativity at work results from exploring a variety of questions and answers across disciplines and we support your ability to do this.
  • Do use our network to download resources that you can re-use and remix or that will improve your productivity and ability to collaborate with others.
  • Do use our network to track trends and to listen to what people are saying about our industry, your profession, our customers and key problems and issues facing the people with whom we work.
  • Do use our network to identify problems and to respond to customer issues and complaints using the same standards of professionalism and courtesy you bring to your daily work. We trust you to use phones and email and to conduct yourself professionally in face-to-face meetings, so we know you will do the same in your social networking contacts.
  • Do use our network to collaborate with others--both within and outside of our organization--to change the world in meaningful and positive ways.

What do you think? Would you add others to the list?

Flickr photo via Luc Legay

Community Conversations

I'm currently at the USBLN Conference in Maryland, where we're exploring various "business to business strategies to promote the business imperative of including people with disabilities in the workforce."

Yesterday I attended a great session co-facilitated by Manpower, Inc. where they shared an interesting model they've been using to build awareness about diversity issues. They call it Community Conversations. Essentially it consists of bringing together a bunch of people to experience a unique, diversity-related event or experience and then using follow-up debrief conversations to help participants process the experience and discuss follow-up next steps.

The example Community Conversation they shared was one called "Dialog in the Dark." They brought together CEOS and high-level executives from various companies, along with other community members and had them go through the Dialog in the Dark exhibit in Atlanta. Participants spend an hour in complete pitch-black darkness and must navigate their way through several scenarios, including a grocery store and a "park." It's designed to simulate blindness and the guides who take people through the experience are blind, although participants didn't find this out until after they'd been through the exhibit.

After going through the exhibit, Manpower then sponsored a luncheon and discussion about the experience designed to help the group explore ideas about "disability." They also discussed specific action steps they could take to build on this new knowledge.  The feedback they've received has been incredibly positive. The participants gained a real, visceral sense of what it means to have a disability and the blind guides enjoyed the role-reversal of being the experts in navigating the environment.

From a learning perspective, this model is incredibly potent. The experience is very emotional and taps into people's primal fears about blindness. Apparently even three years after the event, participants vividly recalled the experience. And of course the dialog process is a great way to explore what people have learned through the experience.

I'm starting to think about ways that the model of bringing diverse community members together to go through an emotional learning experience and then have a discussion about it could be applied in other settings. Also thinking about how social media might be able to support the process, particularly in facilitating follow-up discussions and activities. And I'm wondering when I can get down to Atlanta, because I would LOVE to go through the exhibit. 

For more info on Dialog in the Dark (especially if you are in Atlanta), I'm including some links.