Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
June 3, 2002

CAUCE 2002 Today's newsletter comes to you live from the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE) conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Yes, that means some more snapshots in a day or two. Bet you can't wait! By Various Authors, CAUCE, June 3, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Jefferson and Education Short article in which I criticize Bob Heterick's recent article in Learning Marketplace. Heterick suggests that Thomas Jefferson would find much to recommend the privatization of education. On the contrary, I argue, it is likely Jefferson would oppose such plans. The effort to privatize learning faces some significant objections: a priovate system is not likely to achieve the sorts of social objectives Jefferson lists for a public education system, and as recent experience with private enterprise in other areas suggests, regulation will not provide any easy resolution of these issues. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, June 2, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Confessions of an E-learner "At a recent e-learning conference," writes the author, "one of the presenters said it was okay if students didn't complete a course.... Upon closer examination though, e-learning isn't failing. Instead, the existing course paradigm is failing." I don't think it was me who said that, but it could have been - I've said it enough over the last few months and years. I like this analysis of why courses represent a poor base structure for online learning (quoted from the article):

  • I don't want to be tortured with useless information;
  • I can't always know when I'll need to know something;
  • Learning is great, but I need to know how it fits into my job;
  • Sometimes learning objectives are just plain dumb - What I need is good reference material;
  • I'd like to show my boss that the training improved my performance.
Online learning is supposed to be learner centered, isn't it? And yet, so many online learning providers cannot even address learner needs when it comes to the basic unit of online learning. By Eve Drinis and Amy Corrigan, Online Learning Magazine, June 3, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Electronic Performance Support System So anyhow, someone wrote to me referencing the 'Confessions of an E-Learner' article and asked, what ever happened to EPSS. 'EPSS' stands for 'Electronic Performance Support System' and, yeah, it's a good question. So I toodled onto Google and picked up this reference (Google says it's June 2; the page itself is undated but I would bet ddollars to donuts it's a lot older). It turns out that EPSS has turned into a variant of wearable computing (which, when you think of it, makes sense). So what I think has happened is that EPSS has not disappeared, but rather, it has simply moved out of the online learning radar screen. I suppose if you were working on a production line and needed to access a design algorithm, a display that gave you the course objectives for a 40 hour course wouldn't be especially useful... heh. By Unknown, Georgia Tech, June 2, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Flash Critic to Coach Macromedia I think this is pretty funny. For years, self-styled usability guru Jakob Nielsen has been savaging the use of Macromedia's Flash on web pages. "About 99 percent of the time, the presence of Flash on a website constitutes a usability disease," he wrote. Now it turns out that Macromedia has hired Nielsen to provide guidelines for creating usable applications using Macromedia MX. So what made Nielsen change his mind (apart from the obvious financial transaction that must have taken place)? To read this article, Macromedia has been listening to Nielsen all along as evidenced by the "company's growing efforts to educate customers about design techniques." What, you mean that without Jakob Nielsen, Macromedia would never have thought about usability? Give me a break. By David Becker, CNet, June 2, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Why Does Corporate E-Learning Fail? This is a really good article. While it begins with a comprehensive list of the reasons e-learning fails, its real strength is the comprehensive list of "interventions" it suggests to address those causes of failure. Some of the suggestions are innovative - offering snacks as a reward, for example - and some are non-traditional - focus on competency, not completion. Good examples of successful practice are contained throughout, making this not just a source of solid advice but also a well documented source of solid advice. I cannot recommend this article highly enough: if you read only one item from today's newsletter, read this one. Vicky Phillips has surpassed herself. By Vicky Phillips, Virtual University Gazette, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Gaming the System: How Moderation Tools Can Backfire Interesting article about an odd side-effect of discussion list moderation tools. Looking at the example of Slashdot, which famously rates posts (and people who post) with 'karma points' - this to provide filters so people don't need to read flames, foments and 'me too' filler - the author observes that the collecting of karma points has become the primary motivation of many Slashdot community members, changing the dynamics of the discussion list into some sort of game. I'm not completely convinced that this is bad, but people designing scaffolding mechanisms for online class discussions should take into account the possibility that such scorekeeping may result. By Derek M. Powazek, Design for Community, May 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Features and Price Lead Learning Management Systems in 2002 A quick report summarizing Brandon-Hall's recent learning management system (LMS) review reports that they are "are more powerful, flexible and easy to use with expanded features." In what (to me) amounts to a whitewash, the report states that they now feature "more specific pricing." Why not just come out and say that LMSs are a lot more expensive this year than they were last year? By Brandon-Hall, Business Wire, June 3, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes