Friday, March 30, 2007

Enciclomedia: Mexican Classrooms go hi-tech

Found via Slashdot, this BBC News article on the use of Enciclomedia in Mexican classrooms.

In a world where video game consoles, computers and television are already integral parts of young peoples lives, it was only a matter of time before someone harnessed them all in the classroom. This, is the world's first digitally-educated generation.

Obviously, this completely changes the role of the teacher in the classroom.

Video Games & Retirees

Interesting article in today's New York Times by Seth Schiesel about the increasing acceptance of video games among retirees/baby booomers, especially older women. Some of this due to the introduction of the Wii. Think Nintendo bowling league for seniors.

I think NYTs links don't last too long, so I'll quote some key nuggets here in case you can't get to the article later:

...the women of St. Mary are actually part of a vast and growing community of video-game-playing baby boomers and their parents, especially women.

Anxious about the mental cost of aging, older people are turning to games that rely on quick thinking to stimulate brain activity.

It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session.

“Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It’s kind of a MySpace for seniors.”

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blogging & Boundaries in the Professional Sphere

Karyn Romeis' recent post echoed stuff that's been rolling around in my mind about blogging, professionalism, sharing, confidentiality, roles, boundaries, etc. etc.

So first -- why have I started blogging about e-Learning with, not a vengence, but at least with some passion? Why am I blogging about e-Learning, and not about my kids or gardening?

  • To share thoughts, to learn, to grow: professional development (for free!)
  • To belong to a community -- to network -- to connect.
  • To create credibility and market value for myself -- on a professional level as an active member of the e-Learning industry. I want to stay relevant.
  • Because other people who's thoughts and ideas I admire are doing it. And I want to be just like all of you.
  • To work out my thoughts and ideas (hey, I'm an extrovert -- I need to talk about what's going on in my head in order to process it and take it to the next level).
  • Some amount of distraction, I'll admit. (I'm a new blogger -- not fully evolved). See Tom Haskins for a whole slew of posts on blog categorizations.

I am blogging as an individual. Out here, I represent me. But I also represent the company for which I work. By default. Can we really separate these spheres when blogging on a professional level? This brings up issues of confidentiality: not wanting to give away our secrets; not wanting to lose competitive advantage. By association, I should create more credibility for my company. At least, I would hope that's what I'm doing.

From the perspective of my company, I need to be honest about why I am blogging:
  • Create credibility for my company by association
  • To learn about industry trends as I help my organization determine our future direction and approach to the products and services we deliver
  • To stay current so I can innovate for my clients
  • All of the above so I can ensure that my company survives and thrives (and that I get to keep my job and do well)

Karyn wrote about her conference experience,
So I stopped being just me and started being a representative of my employer.

Ideally, we'd all be in the position to believe in the companies for which we work so that there won't be a huge disconnect. The reality is, this ain't always so. Plenty of people just do their jobs and tow the party line so they can get their paycheck.

In a comment to Karyn, Harold Jarche writes,
[C]onsider your employer as your primary client[...]Then ask yourself how you could best serve your client, while maintaining your own professionalism and market value. I would see no difficulty in sharing ideas with your contact, while maintaining client confidentiality.

This is great advice. I'll try to keep it in mind.

I will be attending the upcoming eLearning Guild Annual Event in a couple of weeks. I'm trembling with excitement (perhaps naively so), having never had the opportunity to attend an industry-related trade show. I'm excited to meet people whose blogs I have been reading. I'm excited to learn from all these thought leaders. I'm excited to ask questions in order to Be an Insanely Great Conference Attendee per Tony Karrer. I'm excited to be a part of this community, to become a better designer, to learn more about the new technologies.

But I'm also going to be working my booth. I want feedback on our product offerings. I want to learn what we should be doing differently in order to be the solution that companies want to buy. And I want people to want what we offer. I want us to get some new clients. I want us to look good.

Does that mean I have to stop being me?

It's a fuzzy line.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Games vs. Gaming

The topic that kept me thinking late last night: the difference between games and gaming; between people who play computer games and so-called gamers. Maybe this is an obvious distinction for those who have been long immersed in the immersive learning simulations discussion.

Here's my novice view on the differences between games and gaming:

Games are short, finite experiences. A game can be used as a simple distraction to pass some time; to cleanse the intellectual palate between tasks at work. Tetris. Solitare. Advancing to the next level usually means an increase in speed (the tetris blocks fall faster); the environment doesn't generally change although the degree of difficulty may. They can be immersive, in the sense of addictive. I've said before how occasionally I like to play Counterfeit when in need of distraction and the chance to view a beautiful work of art. Just one more time and then I'll get back to work...

I am a person who occasionally plays computer games. I am not a gamer.

Gaming involves a plot and storyline. Character development. Virtual worlds. Advancement to the next level -- which may be a new environment in that world. Examples are games like World of Warcraft, Zelda, Turok (those limited few to which I have had any exposure). Gaming requires a real time commitment; it might takes weeks of concentrated play to get through an entire game world and finally kill the boss monster and save the world. And a gamer is someone who is willing and able to spend that amount of time. Building gaming games requires a vast amount of resources.

So in the corporate training world, can we ever hope -- and is this even a worthy goal? -- to build a gaming game? Or should e-Learning designers be focusing instead on just trying to build some really good and addictive and immersive games that teach the required topic and enhance the learning experience? I wonder if some of the resistance about using games/serious games/ILS into the corporate training environment stems from the perception that ILS = gaming.

Immersive = Addictive

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the eLearning Guild online presentation of their 360 Report on Immersive Learning Simulations hosted by Steve Wexler and Mark Oehlert. The conversation was initially focused on defining just what ILS is. I was of the naive mindset that ILS = dragons and virtual worlds and high-end 3D graphics and enormous budgets. Something that will be out of range for most organizations, at least for now.

Mark tried to set me straight on this point. By "immersive", what we actually mean is "addictive." A game that you don't want to stop playing. This could be tetris or solitare. Low-end on the graphic scale, but addictive nonetheless.

Lots of us e-Learning designers have built plenty of games into courses: crossword puzzles; mini-jeopardy; drag and drop. I often find the use of these kinds of games to be somewhat gratuitous. Look, we made a game! Aren't we fun? Aren't we creative? The client asked for a game, and, boy, did we deliver.

I suppose these types of games may actually add to the learning experience by providing repetition of learning points, but to call these games immersive or addictive? Learning designers will have to get a lot more creative in order to take these kinds of games to the next level....perhaps Patrick Dunn can provide us with some pointers on that. Karl Kapp often links to good examples of educational games, although these are typically created for the K-12 environment.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Auditory Advantage

Patrick Dunn, in his latest rant, Games are not an alternative vision has this to say:

The huge array of tools, techniques and approaches that games producers have developed with the benefit of their consumer-sized budgets are largely available to medium and low-end e-learning producers, if they would just apply their imagination. Here are a few things that I’ve tried in the last couple of years that I’ve pinched directly from my years in front of the Playstation:

  • The use of music to change emotional state; to bypass conscious processing of
    information. Have a look at Lozanov’s research on this.
I'll stop there. The use of music in e-Learning? Hmmm...

I looked at the Lozanov entry on Wikipedia and found some useful nuggets there. But I'm always in search of practical advice. How has this been implemented successfully? Who's really used music in e-Learning to good effect?

I think my resistance to using music in courses may have something to do with the notion of music not being taken seriously in a learning environment. Similar to that whole corporate resistance to games -- excuse me, I meant to say "immersive learning simulations". Because face it -- music, if incorporated poorly, can be so darn cheesy.

Back in the mid- to late-90s when we were designing rich, multimedia courses that were delivered via CD, we used a lot of video (talking head) and audio. Music? Well, I recall browsing our stock music CDs to find just the right music clip to fade up as the narrator/host launched into the course introduction. We might use the same clip as the course faded out to great dramatic effect. But did it actually enhance the learning experience? Don't think so. Of course, we also used sound effects -- ping if the user answered correctly, a deep "egggh" if the user answered incorrectly.... but you never wanted to overuse sound effects for fear of it being labeled as "gratuitous use".

On Learning Circuits site I found an article called The Auditory Advantage written by Lenn Millbower from January 2003. I thought this article gave some useful examples of how one might use music to good effect in an e-Learning program.

But I'd still like to be pointed in the direction of real life examples -- where music is used without being incredibly cheesy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How Does Gender Matter in the e-Learning Brain?

A post at the Eide Neurolearning blog on Gender Matters in the Learning Brain.

Studies of students show that boys and girls and men and women tend to differ in terms of intrinsic motivation, study strategies, and learning strategies - females tend to prefer cooperation, note-taking, and task mastery, whereas men are more likely to prefer competition and independent work, and challenge, and avoid note-taking as a study strategy.

Another important reason to understand your audience when developing e-Learning, even along gender lines.

I'm wondering if any e-Learning designers out there consider these differences when creating courses. I know I've asked the question about gender split, but I can honestly say I've never designed a course with a specific gender in mind.

I may have the opportunity soon to do some design for a strictly-female audience, and I'm just starting to think about different tactics to take....suggestions?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Learning Mate Demo

I'm in search of good examples of cheap but effective e-Learning in the vein of the 21st century designer (web 2.0, ils, etc.).

Found this Learning Mate demo through the eLearning Guild's Immersive Learning Simulations Report Synopsis.

It's not high-end. Not even 3D. Doesn't have dragons. And the narrator (Clark Quinn) claimed it was produced for $15K. I checked out the Learning Mate site and it seems that all of their work is custom-produced; that this is not a template solution or authoring tool.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Learning from Observation

This post, from the Eide Neurolearning Blog got me thinking about motivation in e-learning. A study is cited in which researchers looked at brain activity while subjects learned how to build a structure with Tinker Toys.

Not surprisingly, a lot more activity was seen if test subjects were watching to
learn (anticipating that they were to do the task later) vs. watching only.

The very active area here was the cerebellum, which apparently has a big role in "motor learning and expertise".

I'm no neuroscientist, but these kinds of images get me excited -- seeing which areas of the brain light up. It goes to show, we've got to make sure that we're putting the right content into our courses -- so that the learner knows that he or she is actually going to be using this information later. Weed out the fluff. The brain does indeed pay attention.

Rise Up and sing you e-Learning designers of the 21st Century

He calls it unashamed promotion, which I guess it is. But it's more than that. I thought Patrick Dunn did a nice job presenting the difference between e-learning designers of the "last century" who follow the addie method to create courses (click me, read me) and thus bored learners, vs. today's e-learning designers who "create experiences".

At least they "create experiences" theoretically, under the best possible circumstances. I think the issue is that most of us e-learning designers are still trying to convince our clients to have us build experiences rather than lockstep page turners...

As a result, he says, for today's e-learning designers to do their jobs well, we need to:
  • revel in complexity and uncertainty
  • grow their theoretical knowledge daily
  • walk the (digital) walk
  • thrive on new ideas

I'm trying, man. I'm trying.

Games for Girls...

...and by girls, I mean women. Specifically me.

(Image of Torus Trooper -- a game I've never even heard of -- from yotophoto. CC License).

I've been trying to learn about games lately. Inspired by all this blog talk about simulations and immersive learning and Second Life and World of Warcraft. Apparently, I've been missing something that may be crucial to my job.

I've been reading "Everything Bad is Good for You" by Steven Johnson. This week I listened to Brent Shlenker's recent podcast with David Williamson Shaffer author of "How Computer Games Help Children Learn". I participated in the eLearning Guild online presentation of their 360 Report on Immersive Learning Simulations hosted by Steve Wexler and Mark Oehlert.

One of the piece of research that stuck out to me was the obvious gender gap. Men use games a lot more than women. There was little age gap -- "digital native" or not -- men use games more.

This gender gap is striking to me, too, in terms of who is talking about games/immersive learning and instructional design. Mostly men.

Wendy Wickham has blogged on her most recent gaming experiences, but she writes like an outsider peering into a foreign land. I'm right with you. See Playing Games: Big Mutha Trucker and Playing Games: Gauntlet.

Which brings me back to me. I now feel the need to chronicle my own experience in the world of games.

Step back in time to the late 70's/early 80's. Sitting with a group of friends on Mark's floor on a Saturday afternoon. Watching the boys play PONG. It was so exciting to watch that little blip go back and forth across the screen. I probably played a few times, but it wasn't my thing. The way that tennis wasn't my thing. All that hand-eye coordination.

7th grade -- 1981. Saturday afternoon after swim practice at a fast food joint. It may have been McDonald's. Watching Brad Woehl play Space Invaders. I like to watch, I guess.

This is the same era in which the boys would mysteriously disappear for entire afternoons into dark rooms to play D&D. They had these cryptic grid maps and would talk about their characters. Again, not my thing. (Which is not to say that I don't like fantasy or dragons. Hey, I probably read Lord of the Rings at least ten times before I was 13. That, AND I played Bilbo in my 6th grade school play).

Fast forward about 16 years. It's 1997 and my now-husband turns me onto Myst. Once he showed me the basics for moving around and got me thinking about problem-solving in the right way, I was hooked. Immersed. Addicted. I got great pleasure out of that game and still like to quote from it..."the blue pages!"

New Year's 1998-99. 25 of us partied like it was 1999 in a rented mansion in Vermont. One of the guys brought up his Nintendo 64 along with games like Turok and James Bond. Now, these were creative hipsters from NYC who worked for cool companies like MTV and Nickelodeon. The played a lot of games. The ladies got a tutorial and took over. We had a blast, but we were mostly shooting floors and running into walls.

Soon after that, we got our own Nintendo. I really got into Turok and was surprised at how much joy I got out of killing dinosaurs. I liked playing with other people, but I would get killed pretty easily. The solo quest was fun, although I didn't get too deep in the game before it just got too hard. Zelda was even more fun, but again, I couldn't get past those witches and I gave up.

The CTO of my company recently had everyone download a trial version of WOW so we could play during lunch. Of course, my laptop doesn't have the right video card so I just watched over some guy's shoulder.

So now, here I am with young kids. Who's got the time? I'd much rather pass out than stay up until the wee hours wandering around Second Life or playing World of Warcraft.

I'm a female instructional designer in my late 30's. What should I do? Try to immerse myself into gaming because that's what everyone says is going to happen. Or just hire a 13 year old, like Karl Kapp suggests?

Or, perhaps I should get a Wii. According to David Williams Shaffer,

Wii’s are opening up a whole new market of gamers–I’ve had several colleagues
who say their spouses NEVER played games with them until the Wii.

(And I assume by "spouses" he means wives...)

One thing is definitely changing all of this, and that's my kids. My almost 4-year old son and 2-year old daughter are home all day with their dad, who used to play non-graphical games on his Commodore 64. (Now he says he'd be really into WOW if were in his 20s and didn't have kids). So these two kids are definitely digital natives. And it's not just the Elmo keyboard-o-rama game.

The other evening I came home and played Scooby Doo games for an hour before dinner. And I liked it. Our favorite was Mayan Mahem. Sort of Myst-like puzzles, although I'm definitely out of practice from that way of thinking....

Monday, March 12, 2007

Free the Learners -- Free the LMS

Jay Cross in Free the learners talks about his afternoon omelette and anarchy and then goes on:

People ask how to track informal learning in their LMS; my response is don’t. But how will we know if they are learning? I reply that it’s the same way we always do: check afterward to see if they’re performing up to expectation.

So my question is about LMSs. I'm wondering if people actually use all that data that does get tracked now for formal learning. I'm mean -- do they really use all that data? What if we got really crazy and didn't track much of formal learning either?

In What to track? Dan observes,

From this they are able to get stats on time spent elearning, who has completed
what and a whole host of stats that, at the end of it tell them nothing at all
about how the behaviour of the learner has changed as a result of the training.

I've always been on the vendor end of things in this equation. We build it because they ask for it. We make our courses comply with their so-called needs. Who can tell me what is actually used of all these piles and piles of data captured by all the piles and piles of LMSs out there? If you use it, what does it really tell you about your employees?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Open Simulations vs. Page Turners?

Thanks to Donald Clark for his post on Open Simulations vs. page-turners? :

"Open structures lead to better long term retention."

"...e-learning environments with high navigational freedom have better long-term retention."

So all of my clients who require that lockstep navigation be in place -- who want to force the user to go through the content in a linear fashion in order to ensure that the user has processed the information (but not necessarily learned it) -- all these folks have it wrong? Phew!

On the implementation level, this gets tricky if the clients wants to track page hits to ensure completion. And what about Compliance courses? Tracking has gotta all come down to the assessment.

I've got to take a stand and start educating our clients as to the better approach.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Games for the Brain

These brain games are from Phillip Lenssen, via Dean at my company who was thinking about how we could use brain teasers or games to get a learner prepped to learn. The warm up before the real e-Learning begins.

My favorite game is Counterfeit. Get me started and I can't stop.

What if you did something like this, but tried to connect it with the content? Use your brain game as a pre-question to focus the learner on the program's learning objectives. Use a game like this instead of a pre-test. I've posted on pre-testing before, in response to some questions raised by Clark Quinn at Learning Circuits.

Anyone have any experience doing something like that?

Super-Close Google Map Zooms

How low can you go?

I stumbled across this blog entry today from Phillip Lennsen, Google Blogoscoped. That's pretty crazy. I like the folks playing ping pong in the pool.

His blog is pretty much all google all the time.

Rock On with e-Learning from ZVEX

...Simple video (one shot, no edits)
+ Super high-quality audio (which you'd expect from this source)
+ Nice voice
+ Humor
+ Good hand gestures

= Really Cool Product Training

I'm no guitar player, but I thoroughly enjoyed these little demo videos of "handmade stompboxes" (pedals used to create crazy effects with electric guitars.)

Check it out. Click on one of the pedals (they're all hand painted, wow!) and then click demo video at the top.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Informal/DIY Learning: Montessori School for Adults?

We've been exploring the notion of sending our son to a local Montessori school come this fall. He'll be 4. So last week, we had the chance to take a tour of the school, peek in on some classrooms, and ask a lot of questions.

My first response was, "I want to go to Montessori School." It looks awesome.

Now, I don't know all the theory and I've only read a bit about Maria Montessori (the founder of this approach) and the Montessori Method. But there seem to be some similarities between that and informal learning/DIY learning -- all this adult stuff we've been talking about lately.

A brief description of the Montessori Method from the website:

It is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development
of children. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity,
problem solving, social, and time-management skills, to contribute to society
and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time
and place on Earth. The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is
respected individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted
concentration rather than group lessons led by an adult.

Here's what I see:

Kids get to choose what they want to do for their "work" each day. If your kid just wants to polish brass for three hours, so be it. That's where he needs to be . And he's learning some great skills. Self-directed.

Kids go at their own pace. Polish brass for 10 minutes. Pick up a puzzle. Eat a snack when you feel like it. (How revolutionary! The snack table is ALWAYS set up. I like that.) No forced transitions. No "Now is the time we color. Now is the time we sit on carpets and listen."

Kids define their workspace. Role out a mat on the floor and voila! -- you've got your boundaries and your workspace -- your "office" all set up.

Learn from your peers -- water cooler style. Classrooms are made up of mixed ages. Big kids model new activities for the little ones. Little ones learn by observing big ones and asking questions. Mentoring occurs at the peer level.

Teacher is often in observe mode. When the teacher sees that the child is ready for the next challenge, he or she may step in and do some one-on-one instruction. I guess this is the "formal" part. The seminar or workshop. But again, it's customized for the child. "I see you've mastered the sandpaper letters....let's see what you can do with the block letters." It's the manager seeing what questions need to be asked next and stepping in.

This informal style is the rule, even at the middle school level. Classrooms have tables in circles. And couches. Kids work on their geometry homework together or alone. Whatever works best. The conversation seems fluid and open. And learning is going on all around.

So, the question is, can we make the Montessori Method a part of the coporate learning environment? Is that what all this informal/DIY/learning 2.0 stuff is all about?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

This job ain't dead yet....

It's ok Dan. We're not dead yet.

What strikes me about this whole DIY/informal learning/death of ISD conversation is that what we're really talking about are those so-called motivated knowledge workers. These are the folks in the corporate world. These are guys who will take informal learning by the horns and run with it. And they do. They get raises and promotions for being smart.

Not the maintenance guys working on the line in manufacturing (and for whom I've been creating a lot of e-learning these days). These folks are described to us by their managers as wanting to do their jobs and then go home and crack a few beers. (Although that describes most of us, right?) They're certainly not going to take the initiative to take e-learning courses on their own time. At least, this is what I'm told.

I cringe a bit seeing what I've wrote here -- it sounds sort of elitist, which is not my intent.

In Brent Schenkler's response to Dan, he says
There are many people still willing to be led blindly by others and doing as they're this, do that, go get training, etc. And as long as companies still pay for it we are all sittin' pretty making some coin crankin' out the Captivate movies sippin' a cold pint.
Yes...many many good years of living ahead...if you call this living.