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Notable Books

Recommended Books

  • Turning Research into Results: A Guide to Selecting the Right Performance Solutions, by Richard E. Clark, Fred Estes
  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, by National Research Council, edited by John Bransford, Ann L. Brown, Rodney R. Cocking
  • Criterion-Referenced Test Development 2nd Edition, by Sharon Shrock, William Coscarelli, Patricia Eyres
  • Michael Allen's Guide to E-Learning, by Michael Allen
  • e-Learning and the Science of Instruction, by Ruth Colvin Clark, Richard E. Mayer
  • Efficiency in E-Learning by Ruth Colvin Clark, Frank Nguyen, John Sweller (2006)

Best-Selling Books

  • The Long Tail

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Friday, 13 October 2006

Google for Educators

Google announced yesterday a special set of tools for educators (teachers).

Click here to check it out.

Monday, 10 July 2006

Sexual Harassment Training Required in California

California has implemented a law that requires all managers to have sexual harassment training at least once every two years, with new managers getting the training within six months of employment. An upcoming webinar on this issue is offered that includes the author of the amendment.

While the law's requirements will create mediocre learning design (because people need more frequent reminders to maximize spontaneous remembering), the law is newsworthy as a potential omen for what may come in the training-and-development industry (and not just for sexual harassment training).

The law as written may have benefits because it is certainly better than nothing, but unfortunately the law repeats several mistakes endemic in our field:

  1. It utilizes a "butts in seats" standard.
  2. It assumes training will be sufficient.
  3. It doesn't provide for any testing (except seat butts).
  4. It doesn't assess performance follow-through at all.

The law does say:

The training and education required by this section is
intended to establish a minimum threshold and should not discourage
or relieve any employer from providing for longer, more frequent, or
more elaborate training and education regarding workplace harassment
or other forms of unlawful discrimination in order to meet its
obligations to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent and
correct harassment and discrimination.

Employers who really care about minimizing sexual harassment will provide for "longer, more frequent, [and] more elaborate training."

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

US Graduation Rates. A Problem for Learning Professionals?

Education Week has just come out with a new report (dated 2006), funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, showing that only 69.6% of U. S. children graduate from high school.

Yes, you should read that again. It is stunning that in the richest, most powerful country in the world, that we are failing so many of our citizens. I can only think that if the trend continues, the United States is doomed to second-tier status.

Here is a graph from the PowerPoint's used to communicate the report:

National_graduation_rates_jpeg_6Looking at the rate by state is interesting as well. And, for you political junkies, you may get a real tingle by noticing the colors used on the map.


Chief Learning Officers providing advice on company location and recruitment strategies might want to take this into account. On the other hand, pretty pictures only tell part of the story. See below:


Comparisons to Other Countries

As Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist, pointed out in a recent column, other countries, notably China, are rapidly improving their educational systems, and their children are significantly outperforming U. S. children in K-12 education.

You can access Kristof's article here, but you have to be subscribed to the New York Times to read it (which isn't a bad idea), so I offer the following excerpt from his column:

Last month, the Asia Society published an excellent report, "Math and Science Education in a Global Age: What the U.S. Can Learn from China." It notes that China educates 20 percent of the world's students with 2 percent of the world's education resources. And the report finds many potential lessons in China's rigorous math and science programs.

Yet, there isn't any magic to it. One reason Chinese students learn more math and science than Americans is that they work harder at it. They spend twice as many hours studying, in school and out, as Americans.

Chinese students, for example, must do several hours of homework each day during their summer vacation, which lasts just two months. In contrast, American students have to spend each September relearning what they forgot over the summer.

China's government has developed a solid national curriculum, so that nearly all high school students study advanced biology and calculus. In contrast, only 13 percent of American high school pupils study calculus, and fewer than 18 percent take advanced biology.

What You Can Do as a U. S. Training and Development Professional

  1. You've probably already heard about the massive talent gap (based largely on baby-boomer retirements) that is coming. Combine that with the aforementioned information about graduation rates, and you should start panicking.
  2. Figure out how to do remedial education.
  3. Figure out how to hire non-Americans as well as Americans.
  4. Start advocating within your company for an organizational commitment to your local K-12 educational institutions.
  5. Start with your own kids. Throw away their TV's and get them reading more and thinking more. Don't assume web-surfing is learning.
  6. Take a vacation day and volunteer in your kid's classroom.
  7. Become a big brother or big sister.
  8. Volunteer in your local schools. Take your experience as an instructional professional, and share what you know. Don't be heavy handed, be heavy on love and empathy.
  9. Stop fighting local property taxes. School funding does matter.
  10. Advocate for smaller class sizes.
  11. Insist on excellent teaching.
  12. Run for school board. Take inspiration from Marc Rosenberg, e-learning guru, who ran for his local school board because he knows the value of good learning.

A 69.6% high-school graduation rate is simply unacceptable and unsustainable. This is not only bad for our global and corporate competitiveness, it's bad for our democracy as well. Democracies only flourish when their citizens have access to information and know how to think about that information when they have it.

What the hell are we thinking?

Or more realistically, what the hell have we been thinking?

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Biased Myers-Briggs (MBTI) Research Wanted

CPP, Inc., known formerly as Consulting Psychologists Press, announces that it is offering research grants for research on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

This may seem commendable, but their research-grant program is biased. Here are the facts:

  1. CPP makes money by selling MBTI implementations, consulting, and paraphernalia.
  2. The MBTI (Myers-Briggs) is widely discredited by researchers. It is considered neither reliable nor valid. For example, see Pittenger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary Comments Regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57, 210-221.
  3. The research grant program is biased toward research findings that support the MBTI. Here are some details:
    • CPP, a biased party, selects the grantees.
    • One of the criteria for selection is "advancement of the MBTI assessment."
    • Money is distributed only for research reports selected by CPP for the "Best Paper Awards."
  4. Instead of these regrettable procedures, CPP should form a body of unbiased reviewers, have criteria that don't push toward a confirmatory bias, distribute money for good proposals not "favorable" results, and form an unbiased committee to select the best papers.

This Research Grant Program (as outlined in the publicly available materials produced by CPP) is clearly designed to produce results that support CPP's financial interests and resurrect the flagging image of the MBTI. Statements in the proposal requiring researchers to "conform to the Americal Psychological Association's Ethical Principles of Psychologists" do little to overcome the biases built into the program. As the materials make clear, the intention is to provide comfort to CPP's clients. How else are we to interpret the following statement in CPP's research-grant announcement?

"Abstracts from the papers will be used by CPP to communicate results with its customers."

This type of biased research program is completely unacceptable. Not only does it have the potential to create biased information and lead to suboptimal or dangerous recommendations, but it also casts a shadow on fair-and-balanced research that might be used to guide learning-and-performance agendas.

If you'd like to share your thoughts with CPP, it appears that the person to write is available through this email address.

Tuesday, 04 April 2006

Media Companies Doing E-learning?

Has anybody else noticed the rise in media companies entering the e-learning space?

Media companies are those that primarily do video and multimedia presentations, without a lot of instructional interactions---or learning effectiveness I might add.

Is anybody out there tracking this?

Sunday, 12 February 2006

Learning on Internet in Jeopardy?

Many people, including me, think the Internet is a great enabler of learning. But is it in jeopardy?

Right now the Internet provides relatively equal access for all people and organizations, from rich to poor, from powerful to oppressed. But might there be forces at work undermining Internet equality? Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy ( thinks that the internet as we know it may soon come to an end.

Writing in The Nation (a left-of-center publication that errors on the side of (and gives voice to) anti-corporate advocates), Chester describes how phone and cable companies are proposing to charge user's fees, capture personal data, and provide privileged services to those who can pay the most.

Check out the online article here. It's title: The End of the Internet.

Jeff Chester is author of a forthcoming book on US media politics, Digital Destiny, which will be published in the fall by The New Press.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Learning 2.0 Bootcamp

Two people I respect greatly as purveyors and thinkers regarding new web technologies, Kathleen Gilroy and Bill Ives, are coming together to provide an intensive learning experience on Learning 2.0.

What is Learning 2.0? It's the idea that the web is changing from one that is driven by user searching and initiative, to one that is more amenable to subscription services for information compilation, etc. Learning 2.0 also recognizes that new web-based technologies are becoming available that provide instructional designers more tools for learning design. Learning 2.0 also provides more opportunities for groups to support each other's learning.

Here's what the organizers say you will learn:

  • How new “2.0” technologies and services, including weblogs, podcasts, wikis, and aggregators, can be deployed for learning programs.
  • How to build the new desktop: moving from browsing to searching to subscribing.
  • How to plan for and build a learning 2.0 program.
  • How to produce and distribute podcasts.
  • How to motivate and manage networked learners.
  • How to make the “wisdom of crowds” the outcome of your learning programs.

Click here to learn more.

HELPFUL HINT: After clicking on the link (just above), make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the small graphic of the document. This will provide detailed information in a PDF document.

Tuesday, 06 December 2005

Adobe Buys Macromedia

Yesterday, December 5th 2005, Adobe bought Macromedia.

Macromedia is dead. Adobe lives. Long live the king.

Who knows what this will mean (I'm no industry analyst---who has time for such a thing when one is serious about learning), but it's a very big deal because one of the learning-and-performance field's biggest technology-platform companies (Macromedia) just got blasted into the mainstream. Sure, they had Flash and Dreamweaver before, but this is much bigger given Adobe's breadth and depth.

My biggest hope is that Adobe (with Macromedia) puts more R&D muscle into learning design (and understanding human learning) to create really breakthrough learning innovations. PDF files may be the secret hidden killer learning app of today. With a little jiggering, the melding of print, multimedia, and iLMS's might be tomorrow's killer learning app. (I just made those two terms up, so I better explain ("killer learning app" and "iLMS"). An iLMS is an individual Learning Management System. It enables individual people to manage their own learning. More about this concept in later posts. It's bubbling up, but needs a bit more fermentation.

My biggest fear is that Adobe (with Macromedia) ignores human learning and assumes that a low-budget it's-fine-the-way-it-is mentality is all they need to do to maintain their market share. If they take this attitude, they deserve an eternity of purgatorious elearning page-turners.

To read more about the acquisition, click here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Internal Learning R&D; Efforts

At Elliott Masie's Learning 2005 Conference there was a session on Learning R&D efforts within organizations. This seems like a great idea to me. The Masie Center has offered to host a discussion on the conference's wiki, at this web address. It's just getting started, but I seeded the discussion with the following goals one might have for an Internal Learning Practice R&D effort. I repeat that here. Please comment.

Goals for Internal Learning R&D Group:

  1. Evaluate the possibilities for new learning technologies versus organizational needs and opportunities.
  2. Compile research-based best practices to share with internal instructional professionals.
  3. Look for opportunities to evaluate current training offerings on learning effectiveness, behavior change, and business results.
  4. Encourage an more entrepreneurial or experimental mindset within the organization's learning practice, to enable small test-case trials of learning innovations.
  5. Help the organization build a set of standards for the organization's learning practice, including ethical considerations related to effectiveness as well.

Thursday, 03 November 2005

Learning 2005 Review of Day 4

Yesterday was the final day of the conference. In the final general session, one of the speakers, Mike somebody (sorry, but there were no overheads to announce the general session speakers), warned the audience not to oversell Extreme Learning, Elliott's term for pushing the technological boundaries and creating very short and quick learning episodes. Actually, now that I think about it, "Extreme Learning" is not really that clear. I guess it has to do with technical innovation. Anyway, the warning seems reasonable to me. Every time there is a new technology, vendors and consultants and everybody oversells that technology and then there is the inevitable backlash. The key is to keep things aligned with the human learning system.

Bob Pike was the most prominent general-session speaker, and he spoke very knowledgeably about how to deal with difficult participants, and a few other things as well. He then literally went crazy and diagnosed 600 people's personality with just one question. He asked us to choose one of six animals---the one that we most resonated with. He then asked us to get out of our chairs and join our other fellow beavers, dolphins, owls, care bears, and two other animals I can't remember. These six groups were supposed to predict our behavior. It was freakin' unbelievable, and yet most of the participants seemed to buy into it completely. Actually, I probably shouldn't be so bold in that statement because I left the room after he divided us into groups. I sort of had to pee and I knew I wasn't going to miss anything. I returned in five or ten minutes just before we were all allowed to return to our chairs.

In a defense of the participants, it was the last day of the conference, everybody was a bit burned out, many had been up late the night before at the MGM theme park that Elliott rented for participants (too many long falls from the Tower of Terror), and Pike used one of the oldest tricks in the persuasion handbook, introducing the topic as an area of rare scientific inquiry, in this case "The Science of Axiology," developed by Robert S. Hartman. The main idea of this brilliant science is that (and this is a direct quote I think) "something is good when it completely fulfills its characteristics."

What this means I'm not sure. In fact, I can't make sense of it. Let's see, I have many characteristics. What does it mean to fulfill a characteristic? I have brown eyes. How do I fulfill that characteristic? Since brown eyes are supposed to be more suited to climates with lots of sunlight (than blue eyes), can I only be good if I live near the equator? I have a tongue. Tongues can do many things. Must I do them all each day to be good? My nose can smell and help me breathe, but it can also run with boogers when I have a cold. Must it run each day if I am to be good? It would have to run with boogers if it was going to enable the tongue to fulfill all of its characteristics. I think I'll stop there with the body parts. Maybe Pike meant inanimate objects only. Let's take cars. Maybe cars can only be good if they fulfill the characteristic of reaching 120 miles per hour, which most are capable of. My car has never reached that speed, so it must be bad. Cars are large objects that go fast. These characteristics make them perfect for killing small animals and children. Can a car only be good if it fulfills its potential for killing (insects on the windshield count to)? Cars also have the characteristic of breaking down. Do cars have to be bad to be good?

I watched Elliott on the Jumbotron at the end of Pike's delusionary sermon. He looked to be in pain. But he saved the show remarkably by thanking Pike for pushing the boundaries of our thinking (or something like that). Nicely done Elliott.

Pike ended in a classy fashion, giving a rather heartfelt plug to Elliott, hailing him as "The Great Connector." It was a touching moment. And it was true. Throughout the conference, we learned again and again how many people Elliott knew. It was quite amazing, and impressive, really.

And then, the show was over, and everyone went home.

in a later post, I'm going to rate the Learning 2005 conference along several dimensions. Overall, it was one of the better conferences I attended, but it is not near to where our conferences need to be to really generate useful learning.

Tuesday, 01 November 2005

Learning 2005 Review of Day 3

One of the things Learning 2005 is experimenting with is a wiki, ala wikipedia, the citizen-created encyclopedia. The idea is that we can all help each other learn by having one place to comment on a specific topic. The Learning 2005 wiki is available to all. Check it out. I will include some of the specific links to the sessions I attended today so you can see whether it's working or not. Remember, that it may take some time for folks to generate comments.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and the current best seller, Blink, was the highlight of the day for me. I'd read and enjoyed Tipping Point, but hadn't read Blink because I heard some reviews of the book that suggested it oversold the power of intuition. Elliott Masie's interview with Gladwell was just stunning in its ability to showcase Gladwell's clarity of mind. It's not that the concepts were new---as a doctoral student in cognitive/educational psychology I learned about these basic cognitive concepts 15 years ago---but nevertheless, Gladwell's gift for simplicity and metaphor and example pushed the learning happily into my head. And judging by the book-signing line, which lasted at least half an hour, many others learned a lot too.

One of the examples Gladwell used was about driving. We get better at driving with practice because practice gives us the ability to automate the cognitive processing needed to evaluate the environmental stimuli and respond appropriately. Gladwell calls this automatic processing "thinslicing." He asked us to think about teenagers driving a car. Teenagers have better reflexes than any other age group, but they're lousy drivers (and get in many more car accidents than older people) because they haven't had enough practice to develop automatic thinking as drivers. Despite their very-fast reflexes, teenagers are actually really slow in making driving decisions because they don't have experience driving. It's the same in other areas of endeavor as well. "Experts get better at thinslicing as they get more and more experience," said Gladwell.

Gladwell offered many suggestions for performance improvement. He was quite dismayed that all the emphasis in automobile safety is focused on car design, when it could better be focused on training drivers better. He argued that we have the learning designs that could radically improve driving performance---simulators along the lines of what airplane pilots practice in---but we don't use these methodologies.

Malcolm's discussion reminded me of the statistics that show more accidents for drivers who use cell phones. Assuming the relationship is causal, and not just correlational, I wonder whether the higher accident rate is simply a function of all of us needing to develop automatic processing skills in how to use a cell phone and drive at the same time.

A few other interesting riffs from Malcolm Gladwell:

  • "I like music in the abstract, but I don't have time for music."
  • "The hiring processes we use should be specific for each job. For example, in hiring a perfume retail clerk, we ought to rate them on the impression we get from the first two seconds we see them. Interviews may be irrelevant for many hiring decisions. In hiring professors, we now hire them based on high-stakes presentations, but we should probably just read their articles, talk with the people who have worked with them, talk to their former students."
  • "New mothers have poor intuitions about their babies (because they're inexperienced)."
  • "Googling is fine, but it's not enough, especially for someone like me who is in an arms race with other thinkers and writers to create unique and important insights. If I can Google it, so can everybody else."

Elliott got Steve Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, to join Gladwell, and Johnson said a couple very interesting things that seem to have relevance in the design of learning. All my quotations are paraphrases since I'm not a verbatim note-taker.

  • "Games are really good at motivating players to persevere through multiple presentations of concepts. One of the reasons is that they are aware of the user's proficiency."
  • "Computers are really good today at pushing us toward multi-tasking, but sometimes we really want to be doing single-tasking, and software designers are just beginning to learn how to build this type of competency into their programs."

An aside. Elliott is not only great at doing interviews to get his keynote speakers to focus on what is important to the conference participants, but we all ought to thank him for choosing keynote speakers who have something to tell us about learning and performance. Elliott is fond of challenging the folks who join him onstage, asking them directly to champion specific change efforts going forward. By choosing his speakers so wisely, I hope he has thrown down the challenge to ASTD and other industry organizations to avoid celebrities who have little to contribute to our cause. There are other organizations that avoid the off-topic celebrities (the elearningguild comes to mind), but it's a good reminder for all of us.

I attended another great session on---and you may not believe this---but it was on corporate Learning/Training Research and Development departments. Yes, that's right. It appears that some companies actually have R&D departments within their training and development apparti. The session was led by two folks from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, but there were many other R&D practitioners in the room. As an upcoming area of interest, these departments are still finding their way, but they are often charged with evaluating technological innovations to determine whether they have merit. For example, in talking with the director of learning R&D at 3M after the session, he said, "I want to be able to separate the cool from that which is truly effective." I'm thrilled with this development, and a group of us from the session intend to create a special interest group. I'll report more on this later after I see how this takes off, or feel free to check out the session wiki.

Elliott interviewed six Chief Learning Officers during lunch. Do you get the sense that Elliott was everywhere? The panelists were great. And Elliott left them (and all of us audience members) the following challenge to commit to doing more of over the next year or so:

  1. Research
  2. Metrics
  3. Innovation

I couldn't agree more!!

I'd only add that we ought to remember the human learning-and-performance system in all this effort.

Another session I attended was an audience-generated discussion of Small Hidden Learning Chunks. It was fascinating because as the session got started, lots of people walked out. But as the discussion got going it was clear that the large number of people who stayed were really smart, knowledgable, thoughtful, and were willing to deal happily with the ambiguities that were surfaced in the discussion. Whether this was because of the self-selected group, or something else, I'm not sure. We didn't come to conclusions, but we generated a great brainstorm of ideas for which we may be able to riff with in the future. Ahhhhh, the wonder of the many types of learning. By the way, I learned at least two interesting terms in this session, including the term folksonomy, which I intend to look up, and Blog Fog, which I think I already understand (see my very first post). Wiki here.

Another session I attended---almost against my will (but I went to challenge my assumptions)---was about what the youngest adult learners want from training and learning. It was another well-designed audience-generated discussion. It started with a review of some kind of research on this "Millenial Generation." I can't vouch for the research or against it and I came in too late to hear the source. We split into teams to generate lists of the implications of the research. Reasonable lists were generated.

I'd like to comment on the design of the session. First, this would be an excellent design if we could trust the research that was cited and we all left knowing that we had just developed a list of hypotheses that we should all go back and test. Unfortunately, I'm guessing most people in the room trusted the research and will go back ready to implement it. If the research is bad, or the implications are right generally, but wrong in a particular context, trouble will ensue. What we should have said to ourselves is, "We've had some fun and brainstormed some ideas, but we now have some due-diligence to do. We need to verify that the research has a good methodology and is generalizable to our context. If it isn't we should do better research with our own target audience of young people. If the research is good, we should still do some prototyping and testing of our designs to see if they will really work with our folks. We should make improvements based on our real-world results. And we have to remember, not to just look at how our millenial colleagues like the learning designs, but how well they learn from those designs, and how effective those designs are at improving the millenials on-the-job performance." Wiki here.

Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend was one of the afternoon keynote-interviewees. Former lieutenant governor of Maryland, she has been a national advocate for better education for kids. What struck me most in her comments---probably because I'm the father of a 2.5 year old---was her description of how important learning and courage were in her family. She's the daughter of Robert Kennedy, former Senator and Secretary of Defense under his brother John F. Kennedy. Whether we agree with their politics or not, we have to agree that the Kennedy family has been very influential in American society and politics. When she was growing up, their grandmother would return their letters with red corrections. They'd be quizzed about current events during dinner. Instead of being sent off to daycare, Kennedy-Townsend remembers her siblings and her being taken to Senate hearings when they were 3 years old. Courage was always emphasized. It was always expected that you would try to make a difference in what you did. As I heard these comments, I wanted her to write a book on child-rearing.

That's it for Day 3. Apologies of the lack of pictures, but I'm ready for sleep.

Learning 2005 Review of Day 2

The first full day of the conference, and what I wanted to know most was whether Learning 2005 would reach the goals Elliott Masie had set for it. Would it:

  1. Enable high levels of audience participation and knowledge creation.
  2. Avoid vendor-sponsored sales pitches.
  3. Move away from PowerPoint.

On all three counts it failed, but I think I was asking the wrong question. A better question might have been, "Yo Will, did you learn anything?" On that count Day 2 at Learning 2005 was a great success!

Img_1671smallerThe first session I attended was on Myths in our industry. This was the most audience-oriented session I attended in the day, but something seemed to be missing. The audience created a list of myths that were typed and posted on a big screen. We talked about the myths. Unfortunately, we didn't all agree with the myths, and the discussions generated around each myth were not very enlightening.

Img_1674smaller_1The second session I attended was led by Michael Allen, author of Michael Allen's Guide to E-Learning, and founder of Allen Interactions. Michael broke the "No PowerPoint" rule, but it was damn well worth it with slides like the one showing "an honest e-learning menu" (at left). Although Michael had a few introductory words, his wisdom and warmth created the perfect environment for an intelligent discussion. His question to prompt audience participation was "Top ten things we know about e-learning?" The audience discussion was fascinating, leading to a series of analogies of e-learning as diet-food, "Where the nutrition and fun is stripped away, but people buy it because they feel they have to" and fast-food, "Where learners are enticed by a meal that satisfies superficially but delivers only empty calories." Someone cited the hopeful sign that the fast food industry has begun to improve its food choices, and so eventually the e-learning field may improve its product as well. Can we wait 50 years like we've had to do in McDonald-Land? I don't think so.

Michael finished the session with a brilliantly elegant demo of an e-learning course Allen Interactions built for Apple on sexual harassment. No video. No audio. Just extremely well-designed scenarios. Apple folks in the room attested to the unusually high marks Apple's finicky employees have given the program. "They never do this, but we've been receiving emails by the tons from employees who found the program really valuable and enjoyable." The trick to this product's success may have been in the needs-analysis research that the designers did. They found out that (1) most people already think they know about sexual harassment and how to handle it, and (2) they don't know. The design incorporated scenarios that proved to the learners that they really didn't know. My only disappointment with this part of the talk, is that I seemed to be only one of the few who found any irony in the fact that it was Arnold Schwarzenegger (the gropinator) who mandated two-hours of sexual harassment training for all California companies.

The next session was an Elliott-led keynote. As it turns out all the keynotes are facilitated by Elliott. And miraculously, that's a really good thing. Elliott has a real talent as a presenter. He keeps things moving. He incorporates humor, sideshows, fancy technology, and a human touch. He also prevents keynote speakers from delivering canned monologues. Elliott basically interviews everyone. And most of the time it works great.

Img_1678smaller In the first keynote of the day, one of the most notable interchanges involved Vice Admiral Moran of the Navy. Elliott gave him one of only a handful of Learning Pioneer awards distributed at the conference. Moran was very impressive and received the longest sustained applause of the day. His most stunning pronouncement was when he said that the U.S. military constantly had to compete with one of the best learning organizations in the world, Al Qaida. "Al Qaida improves their tactics every ten days. We have to be better than the competition. We have to learn faster than they do." Moran and his team developed ways to get information from the field---for example after a roadside bomb detonates---bring that information back stateside, figure out what it means and then send that information back to the soldiers in the field.

The next regular session I attended was led by one of the learning industry's most expansive thinkers, Jay Cross, who is writing a book on informal learning. Although sometimes I find Jay's ideas completely nuts, I like his work because it pushes against our old boundaries and forces us to rethink what we're doing. Jay is a collector of ideas and inspirations. In fact, his talk got me thinking about informal learning and how to make sense of what it is and what it can do for us. Here is a sampling of those ideas:

  1. One key distinction is between intentional and non-intentional informal learning. Non-intentional learning is important because humans are cue-reactive entities. The question is can we design learning and workplace situations to prompt informal learning.
  2. How much can we use social traditions or human tendencies to engender group-enabled learning. For example, if I know Sally is interested in learning objects, I can send her articles on that topic that I encounter. Can we build technologies or ways of working that prompt this sort of thing?
  3. How to we handle the information-validation problem when learning happens from the ground up? What ideas do we trust? What ideas do we discard? How to we build structures into out informal learning to facilitate the rise of the good information?
  4. Jay presented a pie-chart, which I see everywhere, showing how formal learning is just a small part of the pie and informal learning is the dominant form of learning. I'd like to know how that data was created. How does one measure such a thing? But even if accepted at face value, we need to know how much of informal learning is under our control ("our" could be us as learning designers, or us as learners). One person in the audience wondered whether we should worry that creating intentional informal learning might hurt the more organic informal learning.
  5. How do we measure this beast? (So that we're sure we are making things better, not worse).
  6. Jay offered an interesting thought (which I concur with) that experts aren't always the best teachers because they may not know how they do what they do, they may be so advanced that they can't bring it down to the level that it would be understood, etc. Jay's implication was that the masses will do fine in creating information, but maybe the expert is needed in this process at some point.
  7. Can we prime learners to learn in future situations when they encounter relevant stimuli in their environments? Obviously we can. Research on learning objectives demonstrates that in formal learning situations---where they actually prompt attention on relevant stimuli. And research I did as a grad student at Columbia (research on infogoals---information acquisition goals) found that priming people with questions about certain objects in their day to day environments, spurred them to learn more about those objects in the week following the questioning.

Img_1682smallerBy the way, Jay was the only presenter, besides Elliott, to avoid PowerPoint's, which you can verify in the picture.

During the next session slot, I experienced two horrible sessions, having to leave the first session halfway through the time. It was simply a sales presentation with no audience participation at all.

The second session scared me even more, where the topic was compliance training, and one of the panelists said she really didn't care if one of her learners got help taking the assessment.

I asked a question about whether the compliance assessments were delivered immediately at the end of learning, and all the panelists said yes. They understood the dangers of that, but couldn't conceive that it would be logistically possible to do it any other way. These were intelligent folks and I had a chance to talk one-on-one with several of them after the session. They helped me understand how difficult it would be, but I hold out hope that we can brainstorm a way out of this fix. The bottom line is that a test immediately after learning cannot predict how well the learners will be able to remember the information on the job.

I think I'm discovering that too much took place today to write about it so thoroughly. And there is sleep that is needed. Anyway, let me highlight a few other things.

Grant Thornton, the fifth-largest accounting firm, won an award because they changed the way they choose their partners (the owners of the firm). Instead of interviews and secret decision-making meetings, they opened up the process and invited potential partner candidates into a "Partner Candidate Program" where they provide the candidates with learning-and-performance opportunities. It has been a great success and one of the key reasons is that it enables the current partners to "get many more data points on each candidate." A great idea, especially when we know that interviewing is inherently a poor selection method.

Steve Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, gave insightful perspective on online gaming. For example, I wouldn't have guessed that the number one demographic segment that plays games online is women aged 40 to 60. They play board games and card games online. I also didn't really understand the complexity of the video games that kids play these days, or how very few of the most popular games are actually violent in nature.

Frances Hesselbein was also a keynote speaker and we sang happy birthday to her twice. Elliott did a wonderful job of connecting on a human level to this ancient leadership guru. She was funny and wise, and the whole interaction reminded us all that we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Img_1693smallerTo summarize my learning day, I was humbled at how much there is to know. And thanks to Elliott and the awards he distributed, the donations he made to charitable organizations, the way he reminded us of the human element in what we do, I was proud to be a part of our learning community and inspired to keep up the hard work.

And yes, that is Elliott on his Segway.

Monday, 31 October 2005

Learning 2005 by Elliott Masie

For the Learning 2005 conference, starting today in Orlando within the movie-set sterility the Disney empire, Elliott Masie of the Masie Center has promised a new type of training-industry conference. No Powerpoints. No exhibit halls. No more conference sessions dominated by vendors and consultants. Instead, Elliott has promised to experiment with the medium, create a community-dominated discussion where conference-goers can learn from each other.

Will this effort at innovation succeed or fall flat?

Certainly, most conferences in the training and e-learning space are a mixed bag. Some excellent sessions. Some engaging. Some spewing misinformation. Some spewing platitudes. But the real problem with most conferences is that there is no way to validate the information learned---and since the information is largely vendor-driven, the information is a bit suspect in the first place.

Can a "1500-heads-are-better-than-one" format work? We shall see. I have my doubts. How will we know whether an idea put forward is a good one or not? How will we know whether the person with the idea is a genius or a nut?

In preparing to come to the conference, I have been impressed with the meeting and interactive technologies in place, though I admit to not fully understanding them. Learning 2005 has a "learning wiki" enabling conference participants to connect with each other, comment on the sessions, etc. As of today however, not much communication has occurred between the participants. This should increase once the sessions plant the seeds for discussion, but not too much prework has been done.

Img_1668_smaller_1 In tonight's Keynote, Elliott told some jokes, talked to a humorous computer-generated talking head (very impressive if really computer-generated, but I'm betting on a human comedian behind the funny banter), interviewed a 19-year old intern to show us how different this generation is (one data point, isn't it?), gave money and awards to a couple of non-profits, gave an award to CNN for their innovative learning design (which seemed to be for one-on-one coaching, but couldn't really be, could it?), and talked with the Chairman and Founder of Boston Scientific, John Abele, who offered the best learning tidbits of the evening.

Abele started by answering Elliott's query about why CEO's worry about learning by saying that it is very simple from a business perspective, "If we can't do learning better and faster, someone else will." Twice Abele mentioned the importance of give and take to get to wisdom. He talked about a live-demonstration course Boston Scientific developed to change the way the marketplace (doctors and medical institutions) viewed the company's new medical methods. The amazing thing about the course was that they invited the world's best surgeons to witness real surgeries and vote on what to do next by using a vote-response system. One example he cited was asking the doctors whether the medical device ought to be inserted half an inch more into the heart. The discussions and arguments that went on were a great learning vehicle. To augment these sessions, the commentators were chosen for being contrarians.

Abele also gave us the audience advice on choosing a doctor if we're going in for surgery. Ask the doctor what research papers show the benefits of the surgery, and what research papers show that the procedure doesn't work that well. Again, the benefits of experts fighting it out.

Finally, Abele talked about how doctors these days are beginning to do simulated surgeries on real people. If you have an abdominal aneurysms, your doctor may "take pictures" of the aneurysm and then basically perform your surgery on your images before he or she does surgery on you. What a great way of aligning the learning and performance contexts, a research topic I've written about many times.

Elliott's main theme in his remarks is that the world is faster and more confusing then ever. Learning design must move from 18 weeks to 18 hours. That's almost an exact quote, by the way.

The keynote was two hours long, but felt longer. Still, it was much better than listening to some celebrity deliver a canned speech, with no learning content to speak of.

I give Elliott lots of credit for this experiment. Whether it's a noble effort, an ingenious publicity stunt, or both, I'm looking forward to the sunrise when we get down to the audience-generated learning.