Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Learning Trends and the Learning Imperative

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 14, 2005

To be involved in learning today is to be involved in the process of change. And this requires a different and powerful view of learning - extreme learning. Six dimensions or components of extreme learning.

Basically, our model says that, when times are extreme, etc., it's a very critical moment for learning to ask whether learning is whether to operate in an extreme world, to operate in ways that match to the needs of the operation, the student.

Velocity - the ability of our organizations to create, deliver, invite, etc., more rapidly, for learners to learn and demonstrate competence, and get back to their business, more rapidly. We have to look at the velocity of learning more differently. Consider instructional design - "we can do that in 18 weeks." But today, 18 weeks is not acceptable - we need learning this afternoon. You don't have 18 weeks to assemble a needs analysis, assemble SMEs.

Example: Katrina. In the U.S. alone about 500,000 students were dislocated. So we put together a coalistion to see how they can continue their schooling online. We don't have 18 weeks to do that - we have maybe 14 days. The U.S. Navy said to their learning providers - we want the ability to create a new learning package in eight hours. Imagine being an instructional designer that's looking at 18 weeks.

Ask your neighbour - how long do you think it takes to put them to put together the Sunday newspaper? (Response from the audience: some done prior to Saturday night, which are not time critical, but it's the overnight stuff that gets cranked out, coming off the presses by morning.) How long do writers get? How often does the design change? We all know what the sports articles, etc, look like - we are using templates and we are pouring content into those templates.

If we're looking at velocity, we have got to look at different models. The newsroom is a good model - it's about content that's compelling, it's about using content that comes from many different sources - increasingly in learning, we're not creating the content that we're using. We may get it from associates, Thomson NetG, McGill university. We're aggregating content from many different sources. So how do we do this? And how do we plug it into a form, so it can be created rapidly. And notice, the newspaper that is wonderful on Monday is a wrapper for fish on Tuesday. The reality is, in a world of high velocity, we have to create content that is occasionally evaporative.

Scalability - the problem with training is that we by-and-large reach the people that are easy to train. The people at this conference are not the people I'm worried about - you're the interested ones, the willing ones. We have to learn how to reach the rest, to reach the far reaches of the enterprise.

Jack Welch, CEO of GE - we had an argument, there's a certain percentage that we don't want to train, they're already really good - we should give them a card, they don't need training; they've already found the secret, how never to have to go to training.

We've got to figure out scalability, not just to deliver to everybody, but how to people who don't like to learn. There are people who don't like what we have to offer. They don't want to learn - they retire in only nine years.

Personalization - we are moving and are now in an age of personalization. When you go to a website, and it takes more than a minute to load, we click off that site. When it says "last updated 2001" we click off. When it's stuff we already knew. When it's stuff we don't need for six months. We click off. That's how our learners feel.

Consider - the first module of some e-learning - a course on how to take the course. Now you wouldn't be laughing if there wasn't truth to this. Have you ever seen a children's game that starts that way? Do football games start with a short introduction to the rules?

Story: orientation. It's the most forgettable training there is - history of the company and vision statement. What does an employee want to know? Where are the bathrooms? When do I get paid? How do I get into email? What do we show them? A video of the CEO, some info on what to do if you're sexually harassed, and some retirement plan info. We try to teach them stuff that they don't want to know. The 100 pictures of the senior executive, and they all look alike.

Story: I (Elliott Masie) did it differently. "Your first day will be personalized with the CEO." The new employee replied, "Elliott, do I have to?" I said, "Why?" She said, "Isn't there a digital version of this?" She was asking for an e-Elliott. She said, "In the live version of you there's no fast-forward button. And some parts I will want to watch over and over again."

As training professionals, let's not focus on what we want to deliver, let's focus in a firm sense on what employees personally need to have right now. I want to deliver stuff they can't get online. Imagine you could do orientation 15 minutes a day for 40 days. Now I'm not saying I want to hold employers and staff less accountable - you have to cover sexual harassment - but 9:15 the first day isn't the time to do it.

Exercise: name your most influential instructor. How many of you remember that teacher as being a really easy marker? How many remember a teacher that asked a lot of you? How many remember a teacher that was always available, accessible, who knew how to reach out and grab you?

We've got to honour our past. It's not about disregarding what we know about instructional design, or other basics of our practice - indeed, it's about remembering them. "You can't ever twch until five minutes after the learner is ready to learn." What I'm talking about is using computer technology in order to raise the intensity of the learning. That's why I have you talk to each other - I wanted to raise the intensity.

Everything today is about intensity. I was asked, what is the best e-learning tool? I said, Google - it's so simple, it's intense. Type anything into it, and I get something else. It takes a quarter of a second. We are living in the age of Google. At the fingertips of the learner are multiple tools that give the learner an experience they consider more intense than our own e-learning. Our competitor is Google. Why am I interested in gaming? It's more intense.

Powerpoint is the single tool that has taken the learning out of learning. When is the last time you said, "I saw a great PowerPoint today." But you do repeat the stories. We have confused our tool with out product. When I see a PowerPoint presentation, I ask for a copy and leave - I have better things to do. Where does learning take place? Not online, not in the classroom - but in our interaction with the content.

Mobility - my mobile phone (eg) is the way the majority of the world is accessing data. Your PC on your desk will soon be legacy. This mobility allows me to do something and compute, rather than define my time as time at the computer. We (e-learning) are not ready for this. I was in South Africa, they use mobile phones, which send you a messege that said "Take the blue pill" Is that e-learning? Who cares - it's using technology to keep people alive. How m any of our courses do that?

Effective - the research, etc., isn't coming from e-learning companies, it's coming from gaming, social networking, Google. Our job is to harvest all that.

One other major shift has occurred, from being in an age of scarecity, to being in an age of abundance. I used to hand out bibliographies, and people would love it. Today, people don't take them. Six years ago, if you gave people knowledge, they were grateful. Today, it's just the opposite - today, you want less. You want something to filter your RSS pile, to give you not just-in-time, but just the good stuff.

Question: how do we know who the experts are?

Response: We have subject matter expert burnout. And people don't get promoted for this, so it merely adds to their job. Two things may happen. In the newsroom model - the SME there is not necessarily involved for a long time, involved as a reactor rather than as a creator. And we are looking at ways communities of SMEs.

New project with Microsoft: VistaLearn. MS has finally gotten it, that the community could probably build better content than they could.

Question: you call for personalization, while senior management wants standardization.

Response: They want standardization of outcomes. I'm a big believer of standardization of competency checking - but it doesn't follow that the way to get this is standardization of delivery.

Question: responding to RFPs, eg., "We would like all of our employees to know this thing that we present in a one-day workshop, to be presented in a half-day."

Response: maybe they want to do only a half-day in class, and the rest online? Eg., they've taken all the lectures out of the meeting, all the knowledge transfer out of the meetings, and when they meet they do simulations, role-play, etc. But certain learning takes a lot of time. But we learned that we spend a lot of time teaching a lot of things that don't need to be taught.

Question: my concern is that our clients will say that anyone can build a course in eight hours now. But I don't think every single course can be built in that time. And is technology ready for this?

Response: Well, look at the newspaper. Some things take three months to do. In learning, some learning is so important, they will spend months or years on it. Some things are the wire service in vestigative article. Or great movies come from syndicatgors. But ther percentage of this is low. A lot is disposable. Our job is to mix it. Sure, the technology isn't ready. But remember, 12 years ago, to send mail we licked a stamp.

Question: where are communities of practice used most effectively.

Response: four areas: customer knowledge - having customers teach each other. Areas having a high degree of ambiguity. Eg., soldiers using Yahoo bulletin boards instead of official training. Retailing field, allowing cstomers to design the next line.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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