Monday, October 08, 2007

Corporate Learning: Trends and Innovations

George Siemens is putting together a free virtual conference on corporate learning called Corporate Learning: Trends and Innovations and has asked me to present.

Here is the emerging wiki for the conference with speaker information.

Here is Tony Karrers' blog entry on the conference.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Research Knowledge Centre - Suggested enhancements

One of the reasons for the lack of front end activity was an investment in time at the back end on our IT infrastructure. The research knowledge centre is actually a Lotus Domino application, and we've recently upgraded our versions of Lotus Notes enabling us to do more creative stuff with the application and RSS feed.

Please email me if you have any suggestions on how to improve the EKC web interface or RSS feed.

Thanks, David

Research RSS feed - small fix

Have fixed a small problem in the RSS feed for the research knowledge centre. Hopefully now the published dates fields should be coming through correctly. Thanks to Mark Aberdour from Epic who pointed this out.

p.s. All the entries are set automatically to 9am GMT just in case you were wondering.

Too quiet!

Sorry the blogs been so quiet - no activity for 6 weeks. We've been very busy with some client advisory projects as well as doing some background research activities. Hope to start bringing these to the daylight soon ...

must try harder!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Jane Hart's Top Ten Tools

Jane asked me to submit my top ten tools for her listing. Reading the others, I thought this was quite an interesting exercise and can give some helpful pointers for anyone on tools to make themselves more productive.

Here's my list:

Firefox: My window onto the web. Much preferred to IE and loads of open source innovation.
MindManager: Our most important business tool. I use it to mindmap pretty much everything - research, interviews, analysis. Anyone that's worked with Elearnity will recognise this!
Google: The definitive search tool for the web.
Bloglines: My other window onto the web, this time for tracking blogs and news mainly. Read a huge volume via this.
Yugma: Tried a lot of live collaboration tools and this is one of the simplest and best for small group collaboration. Works well and very flexible.
MyBlogLog/Google Analytics: Real time analytics on our blogs and research sites. Also couple this with Google Analytics.
Dreamweaver: Great basic tool for maintaining our web sites
Blogger: Basic blogging tool. Not fab but simple and does the job.
Linked In: Been using this for some time and network seems to be slowly expanding. Sure I can make more use of it and Facebook (if I only had the time)
Lotus Notes: Been using this as our core infrastructure for 11 years, and still struggling to find a platform that offers the same breadth of flexibility for collaborative applications including our research knowledge centre. Email sucks but less virus targetted than Outlook.

Jane's list is prettier though with the logos and links!

Monday, June 11, 2007

The role of technology in Informal Learning

TrainingZone have just posted an article on the role of technology in informal learning which includes some input from me amongst others.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Is LMS a corporate competency?

I've recently had a number of conversations with some corporate L&D leaders where we've been debating the ability of large organisations to effectively implement and manage enterprise LMSs. I say debate, but most of the time they have been lamenting their organisations inability to "do LMS things properly". That's not to say that they weren't serious about it - they were very earnest in their procurement processes with requirements documents and business cases coming out of their ears. In fact, to mix my metaphors, they were struggling to see the woods for the trees (or at least the printed ITT responses!).

This prompted me back to some research we did a couple of years ago, when we questioned the approaches and skills/expertise that many large organisations were applying to their enterprise LMS projects. (click here for the original article). In this we highlighted a number of common failings, many of which are still true today.

  • Large corporates, particularly in the UK and Europe, are generally too slow in embracing LMSs and too limited in their aspiration for them. For large organisations, LMSs are fundamental to enabling a viable and sustainable future for corporate learning.

  • Many corporate LMS implementations are too focused on reducing the admin burden and not sufficiently focused on enabling the business to meet its future challenges.

  • LMS decisions are often plagued by corporate politics, poor organisational alignment and a lack of strategic understanding and vision, resulting in long and expensive procurement processes with a limited chance of delivering real value.

  • Corporates struggle with a lack of skilled implementation resources and poor support , focusing too heavily on technology, and insufficiently on process and cultural change.
How many of them would you recognise from your organisation or customers today???

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Searching for Meaning

After reading Tony Kareer's recent post on "e-learning or learning? - more to it" and watching the recent David Weinberger video I remembered a recent conversation that David Wilson and I had regarding how we describe what we do to others.

We both agreed that using elearning to describe what we do (what ever that is? - As Wikipedia says "It is used interchangeably in so many contexts that it is critical to be clear what one means when one speaks of 'eLearning'.") does seem a somewhat limiting term as most people associate this with e-learning content and what we do does have a much wider context. However, when I explain to friends or people what we do is help large organisations utilise technology effectively to help their people learn (a bit of a mouthful!) I normally receive blank looks until I add that it involves elearning. This "tag" helps people gain an understanding at a very base level of what we do. A term I've favoured more recently has been "learning technology" (or educational technology) rather than elearning as this seems to suggest to me a much wider remit but even this seems to have a multitude of interpretations and there is even less awareness of the term.

One of the challenges of the area we work in is the diversity of activities this covers. One day you could be discussing blended learning and learning styles the next interoperability and rapid content development. David Weinberger may argue that I should not be concerned how we classify what we do as it should be down to others to "tag" our activities in whatever way suits them. Whilst I see the validity in this it still feels important to define your own role and help others get an appreciation of what you do.

Although some people have celebrated the dropping of the "e" from elearning to me this just seems to muddy the waters. Yes, most people agree the learning is the most important element, but this is such a broad "tag" that it does very little to define our roles. I think maybe time will tell on an universally accepted term but I'm still waiting .......

Friday, May 18, 2007

Modern means of learning dominate - I'm not convinced

I was reading an article in People Management recently from a HR columnist entitled “Don’t rule out chalk and talk learning methods in favour of flexible approaches”. The article basically argued that due to the growth in remote home and mobile working, e-learning was now seen as the “modern means of learning” and we should not forget the importance of face to face learning. In the first few weeks outside of a corporate learning department the thing that strikes me is that this could not be more further from the truth.

The pace of change in society and in technology is incredibly rapid and with this the way how individuals learn is constantly evolving. E-learning though still seems to be a form of "black magic" for many learning professionals and they seem to view it with anything from mystical wonder to outright contempt. They seem too blinkered to recognise the benefits it offers in terms of flexibility and accessibility and the fact that for some learners they may even prefer it to face to face learning (Oh No!). Don’t get me wrong there are many organisations that are well down the road of utilising technology to help their people learn but these still seem to be in the minority.

It disappoints me to see so few learning professionals grasping the opportunities available to them, especially when you consider that learning is a process driven by the need to continually develop. When you look at last year’s National Training Award winners how many use technology? – I’d estimate it to be less than 20%. Face to face learning is incredibly important but to rely on it as the dominant choice in all circumstances is misguided, just as doing the same with e-learning is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thomson Corp exits Learning Market

Life is very busy at the Thomson Corporation these days. Not only have they just completed the sale of their NETg subsidiary to SkillSoft for $270 million, but they have also announced they are selling Higher Education assets of Thomson Learning to a couple of venture funds for $7.75 billion. This now leaves them better funded to pursue growth in "better aligned" to their core operating model. Currently that means acquiring Reuters.

All this is very interesting for Thomson, but shows another big player significantly exiting the learning market place. I remember maybe 10 years ago speculating with Peter Rothstein, then head of Lotus's LearningSpace business, that the big publishers/information companies had a significant potential to engage in and shape the emergent e-learning industry. The sentiment was proved to be right, but the reality wasn't. Certainly the publishers came to the market. But then they floundered, and largely they have gone south.

What does this say about the ability of large companies to make money from the learning industry? Not sure it is a positive message. If large owners of learning content assets such as the educational publishers struggle, then what hope is there for smaller providers? Personally, I think their strategies for developing the market were flawed and therefore likely to struggle, but its still an indictment of the learning market that they couldn't make enough money to stay around!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Welcome, Adrian Jones

I'd just like to welcome Adrian Jones, who's just joined Elearnity as Principal Analyst, (see press release here), and will be leading our research and advisory activities for e-learning and related areas, and will also be contributing to this Blog.

Adrian has been one of the leading corporate advocates for e-learning in the UK during his last six years at B&Q, and has won many related awards for his e-learning work at B&Q. Under Adrian’s leadership, B&Q became one of the earliest adopters of enterprise e-learning, e-assessment and learning management systems and a leading corporate reference for e-learning. Here's what Barry Sampson, Adrian's colleague at B&Q had to say about him.

So welcome Adrian, and I look forward to your contributions to the Blog as well as to Elearnity's research and analysis!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Real metrics on Informal Learning

I was talking with Jay Cross at HRD last week, and I was asking him about real research into the investment and efficacy of formal versus informal learning. I am particularly interested in pulling apart the 20% of 20% argument that Jay (and now a lot of followers) are advocating about formal learning. I.e. is 20% of corporate learning really formal? And is the impact of this only 20% effective?

Does anyone have specific research (i.e. not anecdotal) on this?

I am not trying to decry the value of informal learning story, but I would, like Jay, like to see some substance underpinning it that can be interpreted and impact corporate strategies. At the moment it is in danger of becoming the latest fad that gets lots of powerpoint airplay, and then disappears into obscurity with the arrival of the next one. I want to make sure we are still holding the baby, long after the bath water has long since disappeared!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Malcolm Gladwell at LMS 2007

I'm currently at Elliot Masie's LMS 2007 event in Las Vegas. A typical Elliot event with lots of Elliot facilitated discussion with his Masie Fellows, and somtimes with the audience. Overall I'm not sure the format works for me. The interaction is good, but the discussions are often a bit superficial to carry the attention of the audience for prolongued periods.

Anyway, that's not the point of the post. Yesterday's keynote discussion was with Malcolm Gladwell which was (for me) quite thought provoking and interesting - both at a personal level, and also thinking about the implications for the learning market.

Here are my mindmap notes (there was no presentation slides).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Learning Content Management Research

We've just announced the results of our recent research into Learning Content Management which you might find interesting.

We believe the research strong indicates that large organisations need coherent strategies for producing and managing learning content that are geared to the needs and structure of their business ... and that, currently, they generally don't have them.

A copy of the exec paper can be downloaded from here.

I'm interested in your comments ...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kick out the Jams?

There is a very interesting discussion about whether the BBC is stifling innovation on TechCrunch, and follows some typically bold comments from TechCrunch commentator Michael Arrington on "dissolving the BBC". Separately, but relevant to the discussion, the BBC has also decided to suspend BBC Jam, its online education service.

I think this is a very interesting and valid discussion. The trouble is it tends to descend into the pro/anti BBC factions, which potentially obscures the central point of the discussion - is the remit of the BBC in the digital age sufficiently clear or robust? Where should and shouldn't the BBC be allowed to invest in producing services, and how does that impact the independent market in those areas?

In the case of Jam, the BBC has a well established pedigree and role in the children's educational content market in the UK. But does that mean it should be providing it as a service at the UK tax payers' expense, I'm less convinced. I know the BBC claims to have a process (referred to by someone on the video) for vetting whether it should be engaging in different market spaces, but who is this accountable to? Seemingly not to independent regulation, or to the tax payer? Largely it seems to be accountable to itself, and that is what causes concern. In this sense, Jam is definitely the thin end of a rapidly growing wedge.

My personal view is that this is a complex not a simple issue. Services like Jam can add a lot of value in the market, often to parts of the market that have limited choice in reality. That can be a boon, but it also comes at a heavy price - collectively to those funding the BBC, but also in stifling innovation, often in markets where that innovation is desperately needed. I'm sure it impacts venture capital investment in competitive organisations, but it also helps to validate a market space that may spawn better solutions.

Let's keep the debate about the issue of remit and market impact, not about whether paid advertising is nice to watch ... I'm sure we all have a similar answer to that!


Putting the Service in LMS

What proportion of corporate LMS projects fail because of issues with the way they are implemented or run, rather than inadequacies in the underlying LMS application?

This is a key question we have been exploring for some time in our LMS research and it seems to me to really challenge some of the vendor market messaging, and the corporate mindset on LMS procurement. Our historic research tends to point to the view that many LMS projects fail (or at least fail to meet their original expectations) because of poor ... insert your choice of ... implementation, customisation, integration, support, operations, administration, etc. In other words, poor service.

Many of the "lessons learnt" from our roundtables relate more to the services around the LMS, than the LMS itself. These can include: poor architecture design and performance, problematic HR integration, excess customisation and failure to upgrade, no change management inside L&D, lack of long term direction, poor expectation management. These are all largely indicative of "service" failure rather than application failure.

Sure, application choice has an impact on how these services are performed, and how difficult it is to achieve the outcome. I'm not saying it isn't important, just that it is not the only thing that is important. Maybe choosing the best implementation partner is more important than choosing the best application? And surely even choosing the LMS is itself a service proposition (clarifying strategy, building the business case, understanding requirements, shortlisting potential products, planning, negotiating the contract etc.).

We have doing quite a lot of thinking about the service proposition of LMS, but I would be interested in your thoughts on the matter.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Vendor Health Check

We're seeing a lot of renewed vendor activity at the moment which seems to reflect quite overt optimism and aspiration for the market. (Something slightly lacking for a few years after the dot com bubble).

Some of the patterns we're seeing include:

  • Increasing focus by the US-based learning technology vendors on the European market with an increase in local investment in resources and marketing.
    (There are also some similar signs from other international vendors e.g. from Asia-Pacific, and from continental European vendors in the UK market).
  • New market entrants, especially in the sub-enterprise space, often with niche tools leveraging Web 2.0 technology
  • Significant growth in managed learning services, ranging from SaaS/ASP technology platforms through to more comprehensive outsourcing
The e-learning content market is particularly interesting with consolidation amongst the generic and custom content vendors at the high-end, but increasing fragmentation at the bottom-end. I don't believe we yet seen any significant fall out from SkillSoft's acquisition of NETg yet, but the number of niche content vendors we are seeing activity from is increasing significantly.

Some vendor dynamics I'm watching closely are:-

In the technology market: LMS Consolidation/competition at the talent management level, increasing SaaS/ASP delivery in corporates, learning content management technologies and multi-modal content, marginalisation of specialist learning collaboration tools by Web 2.0 technologies, Open-Source platforms, etc.

In the content market: Specialisation and high net value content, content diversification away from e-courses, "rapid" vendors, reengineering supply chains and fragmented buying, changing economics of content production, content validity strategies, etc.

I'd be interested in your views of the above and the general state of the supply-side market ...


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Corporate Roundtables

I'm currently planning out our corporate roundtable agenda for the year, and am interested in the topics people are thinking would be most interesting. (See the general description of how the roundtables work). Some specific topics which I'm playing with include:
  • The reality of "talent management"
  • Rapid e-learning - fact and fiction
  • Open source learning technology
  • Learning Outsourcing
  • SaaS - Why implement inside the firewall?
Please provide comments on the above and suggest other hot topics as appropriate.

We probably plan to run 3 or 4 roundtables this year - personal invite only. Any UK/European corporates who are interesting in attending should email me.

thanks, DAVID


I've been playing around with MyBlogLog in the background as a potential tool to add a bit more identity to who's been accessing the blog. Let me know what you think.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Moodle for Corporate Learning?

A few weeks ago I put a question out to the Moodle community regarding the appropriateness and usage of Moodle in the corporate learning environment. I have to say, so far I have underwhelmed by the level of response and interest, with only a few prviate responses so far.

Elearnity is very interested in the potential for open source learning solutions in a corporate context, but frankly, we currently are skeptical at the degree of corporate fit and focus they have today. We know of some organisations who have been doing some successful work with Moodle in particular in the corporate arena, but would be keen to here from many more.

I am also happy to provide a summary of our research view to people making a good contribution to me/us. Happy to start a discussion here, or for more sensitive inputs please email me directly.


Monday, January 29, 2007

The future of LMS

Tony Karrer has put a post about the future directions of LMS.

It's funny because we've been working on some thinking similar to this internally within Elearnity. Some recent corporate discussions together with some of our futures research has also pointed us towards rethinking the model underlying the LMS, but to be honest, not necessarily many of the drivers for wanting an LMS.

Its interesing about you and Lee likening it to Google Analytics. Our current thinking is that the LMS will become like Google - a diversified mix of services and interfaces - anarchic but inherently with underlying structure and connectively. Systems that can optimise our experience of it are critical, but so are systems that can optimise how the connections work behind the scene. This is potentially what the LMS will become.

... an interesting discussion ...


Collaborative learning?

Donald Clark has turned his attentions to collaborative learning.

Here are my thoughts ...
Collaborative learning is slow learning??? Donald - to be honest, I think that's rubbish as a generalisation, although I do agree that poor collaborative learning can be slow and ineffective - just as poor individual learning can be. Unfortunately there's probably far too much of both.

The issue, as with all learning, is to understand the dynamics of what will make collaborative learning more effective rather than to trash it completely. An awful lot of effective learning and education is heavily reliant on a collaborative learning as a fundamental part of the learning process - with or without the 'e' bit.

Gill Salmon has written extensively about her experiences in the academic space, and our experiences back that up. Were Epic's projects with Arena all failures?

Collaboration may be natural but it is also difficult - even face to face it is difficult. People learn to be good collaborators - unfortunately often compensating for poor early experiences in our education systems. My belief is that the nascent e-learning market was hijacked by the e-course companies - both generic and custom (!?). Using technology to enable people to people interaction for learning is as important as using technology for access to static and dynamic information and knowledge.

Much of the new parts of the Internet you advocate are reliant on people-centric approaches rather than content centric. Let's look for more of this, not less.

;) David

What is e-learning?

Clive Shepherd has posted a presentation on his site attempting to reposition e-learning away from just e-courses, to a more diversified view including collaboration, simulation, live e-learning and so on. A view I would strongly endorse.

Here's my comments on his post ...

Clive - I like the walkthrough, and predictably the de-emphasis on e-courses as the only form of e-learning. I've always felt that was wrong (see an old white paper from 2000).

But you still haven't actually defined what e-learning is ... just listed out a number of forms of it.

I also think the inclusion of informal learning as e-learning is mistaken. Why is informal learning e-learning any more than it is book learning or video learning or people-talking-together-learning??? I know it is trendy to bang the informal drum now, but artificially adding it to the e-list is not very illuminating or productive. Sure some aspects of e-learning are informal, but why is informal, e-learning?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Future for E-Learning

David Wilson is founder and Managing Director of Elearnity and one of the leading authorities on learning innovation and e-learning in Europe. He speaks to TrainingZONE about the present and the possibilities for e-learning.

Has e-learning come of age, or does it still have some way to go before it reaches its potential?
An interesting question Claire, in reality I think both are true. E-learning is definitely a mainstream capability in many of the leading corporate adopters, and there has been a well established and fairly robust supply-side market for e-learning for a number of years. So e-learning is now a fairly mature and is becoming increasingly pervasive in many market sectors and companies.

But that doesn’t mean it’s like that everywhere, or that e-learning is fixed in what it can do. We still encounter large organisations that have little use of e-learning, or are only piloting it. Whilst there is a perception that this is driven by learner acceptance, actually we see it as more of an L&D cultural issue first, and then a combination of infrastructure and learner acceptance second.

While e-learning might be a mature capability it’s still evolving rapidly. It’s diversifying away from the structured e-course model that came from computer/web-based training, towards a more holistic view of technology-enabled learning with many approaches and solutions.

Where does e-learning truly excel and where do you feel it has its limitations?
If by e-learning you mean e-courses, I would say they have a role in supporting basic knowledge or skills development in almost in any area. The key thing they deliver is a consistent learning approach on a scalable distributed basis. That’s a huge advantage for a large organisation or for training large numbers of people. This especially works well for the “acquisition” part of the learning process, and for some subjects, also for “practicing” it too. This is especially true for anything involving an IT system, or that can be modelled into an online role-play or simulation.

Other aspects of e-learning, such as e-assessment, can be used very broadly for all forms of learning, both for formal testing and assessment, and also for personal diagnosis to streamline the learning process. Both of these areas are very interesting now and very generally applicable in most mainstream learning programmes.

I haven’t just said use e-learning for compliance, which has been a massive driver for e-learning over the last few years. It’s not that I think e-learning isn’t any good for compliance, of course it is. But e-learning has been unnecessarily pigeon-holed as a tool purely for compliance and mandatory learning in many organisations. Clearly there are big benefits for compliance; both in terms of consistency and scalability, but also because of the automatic tracking and reporting benefits as well. But e-learning can and should be being applied more generally, both as a standalone solution and integrated into blended programmes, and also for assessment, performance support, specialist advanced learning and so on.

What is it not good for? I think e-courses definitely have their limitations, partly because of the constraints for doing them properly, and sometimes due to subject matter. People often focus on subject matter limitations but I am less convinced. I think you can find high quality and effective e-learning on almost any subject you can think of. But delivering structured e-courses that require 30 minutes plus to complete obviously creates constraints. Elearnity’s research shows a shift towards performance support and referenceware materials for just-in-time needs, and collaborative learning tools for deeper learning needs. It’s about horses for courses, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

When it comes to rapid e-learning, often members ask which tool is best. In your opinion is there much difference between products, and what are the limitations of rapid e-learning?
In my opinion, there’s much too much attention at the moment on the tools part of the rapid e-learning question. There’s no doubt that rapid e-learning is a growing area in nearly all corporates, and much of the current debate is about tool selection. But Elearnity’s research doesn’t endorse this. Yes a bad tool will be a barrier, but a good tool is not a guarantee of success. The biggest issues are around process and expertise rather than tool. And by process I mean the whole process, not just the development task.

Rapid e-learning for most companies is part of what I described as the diversifying of e-learning. It is about collapsing the supply-chain for e-content and pushing it closer to the subject expert, either directly with them doing it, or with someone they can work with closely. To do that you need tools than can be used by non-e-learning specialists, and you need to create valid learning, and that is the challenge. Companies have comprehensively proved with PowerPoint that they can generate tons of presentation materials, but how much of it is high-quality learning? Rapid tools can aggravate that problem further – especially if the people producing it don’t have instructional expertise or understanding. They may know about the subject matter, but do they understanding “learning”?

Content is only useful if its accessible and usable, and if its valid. There are big challenges for organisations with many people creating content, but then trying to push it through a narrow pipe (called their e-learning team) to get it loaded onto the corporate LMS.

In short, rapid e-learning concepts are an important part of the diversification of e-learning, and have a real role to play in enabling local content creation. But they are part of a much larger story, and the short term exclusive focus on tools is misplaced.

There is a good deal of talk about how a VLE/intranet can facilitate informal learning. Do you feel that the potential of technology is being explored by organisations in this respect?
Informal learning emerged last year as a big topic amongst the market commentators, but I don’t think it has really impacted mainstream corporate thinking yet. Some of the leading corporates have been publicly talking about it, but most organisations are still focusing on their formal learning agenda. I don’t expect this to change much this year, but maybe it will become more of an explicit issue in 2008 and beyond.

I do think that technology has a role to play with informal learning, but we need to understand what we mean by informal first. This is where all the discussion of “80% of all learning is informal” starts getting a bit vague. For example, is coaching formal or informal? Is spending some time with a colleague to learn how to do something, formal or informal? Is accessing some performance support materials live in the work process, formal or informal? A lot of learning in companies is not managed or tracked by L&D but that doesn’t make it informal. It can very structured, and facilitated or delivered by professional training staff or coaches, but it isn’t described centrally as a formal programme or course.

Technology can clearly help facilitate informal processes of learning, both through search and through access to content and to people. Arguably the biggest learning tool on the planet is called the Internet, and one of its main LMSs is called Google, but that’s not how people think about it. Adoption of more informal thinking internally within companies, coupled with tools for live collaboration will be the start. But I also expect to see more pressure on integration of learning processes and content with work processes and content. At the moment they tend to be pretty distinct in most companies, but informal learning will blur the boundaries. At the back-end, this will also mean growth in content management and integrated search as well.

How have technologies such as podcasting, wikis etc added to the potential of e-learning?
As someone who spends most of their life learning online and informally, especially over the Internet, I find podcasts on their own to be too limiting. I have to listen to the thing to find out whether it’s worth listening too, which is nonsense. Having said that, I still feel it’s an important direction, especially for delivery to mobile and non-visual devices.

In some recent research we did only 13% of early adopter companies were using Wikis for learning on a regular basis. So they are not mainstream yet (for learning). But the concept of collaborative self-generation of learning content is a really powerful idea – especially when if you can everyone engaged as an active participant. Research shows that retention of learning is significantly enhanced if you become the teacher rather than just the learner.

This dynamic is under explored currently and I think it has potential to be very useful, particularly for developmental learning rather than basic knowledge acquisition. But as with any collaborative approach, there are the problems of non-contribution (lurking), editorial control, and so on. But these can be resolved. I expect we will see more use of Wiki-like approaches in the future, although probably with embedded learning structure in the Wiki templates to make it easier to manage and validate the learning process and outcomes.

And finally, how do you feel we will be learning in five years time?
Ah the million dollar question! Well I guess that partly depends a bit on how you are learning now!

If you are currently (individual or organisation) still pretty much focused on formal and traditional learning approaches, then I think the next five years will see slow but increasing change. Increasing pressure of business will force you to change your assumptions about how, where and when you learn. You will have to be learning online and probably by mobile devices just to keep up, and keep compliant.

You will be using e-assessment to focus your learning time as well as to certify you’ve completed it successfully. Much of your learning time will be tracked and reported (you’re in that kind of company), and tracking will help you access learning that is more relevant. Much of this is available today, but it will have become pervasive, at least within large organisations.

If you already learn online, and mainly informally or through your own research on the Internet or through your personal network, then I think things will change even more significantly.

Learning anywhere will become a key requirement, via any connected device. Much of your learning will be informally delivered, but through formal mechanisms to help you find it, access it, and deliver it using a variety of media types depending on your context. Much of this will be about access to people, not just access to content. All of it will need to be focused on your specific needs or context, and to be integrated with other learning mechanisms to add more depth or context when you need it. More learning will be collaborative rather than individual, both synchronous and asynchronous.

Companies will need to offer a holistic learning environment, skewed to delivering the above services rather than generic learning content. Formal learning programmes will still exist but be a lower proportion of recognised learning time. Programmes will be blended learning processes, utilising e-learning and face-to-face learning time to maximise value and impact, and to maximise flexibility.

There are other new areas of learning for which we expect to see increasing adoption. I have talked about wikis and collaborative tools already. We also expect to see increasing use of gaming and complex simulations, and use of intelligent learning agents to aggregate and to personalise learning for you. Will this happen in five years? Yes, at least in part, but many of the mainstream implications of it will be beyond that period.

In summary, much of the technology to do this is around today, but it’s not well-connected or pervasive. The challenge for many big organisations will be to be able to consume this fast enough to stay up with some of their more nimble competitors. This is especially difficult on a global stage, and when you have to migrate a corporate IT infrastructure. But there will be an increasing realisation that not learning like this is an indulgence that the majority cannot afford, either in cost, but most of all in terms of time.

David Wilson will speaking at the Learning Technologies Conference on 31 January.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Big Question - Rapid or Quality

Clive Sheppard has posted an interesting response to Learning Circuits Big Question for January. As I quite like the point he is making, I'm commenting to that rather than the original question per say. I like the sentiments but think he's (maybe deliberately to state his point) misinterpretting the question.

Rapid e-learning is a marketing label being put on the use of a new form of tools for use by non-elearning specialists for creation of e-learning content. This will tend to be done rapidly as its a more collapsed development model - especially if its the SME doing the development. Or that's the theory anyway - and quite a popular one at this point in time.

But I don't really buy that.

If tools are more rapid, then they should be being used by the professional developers anyway. That's unless they turn out not to be very good, flexible, reliable or expensive. The reality is that these tools often have limitations. The ones that don't are often complex to use and therefore are just a more modern authoring tool.

But the issue for rapid e-learning is not about the tools, it is about the process, and about the expertise of people in the process. A collapsed development model also means collapsing the expertise involved. With SME production that means minimal e-learning or even learning expertise (e.g. instructional design). It also often means limited technology understanding or knowledge of the tools and associated standards. "What do I have to do to get this to create SCORM 2005 conformant content that can be uploaded into the LMS?" is not necessarily a question we would expect a SME to ask.

In many ways, this the essence of the debate; rapid versus professional content production.

Our (Elearnity) view is that rapid is a necessary part of a diversification of e-learning away from a pure e-course model (which was always too limiting) towards a more holistic technology enabled learning model. We also believe that tools for supporting mass internal production need to be more connected or shared in order to be more scalable and manageable. Individual local content production replicates the bad experiences of unmanageable document-based content. Finally, for the "rapid" elements, the whole process must be rapid, not just the development process. Rapid content needs to be able to be quality assured and tested, uploaded deployed and accessable, and maintainable or removable all in a rapid timescale at low cost.


Virtual Classrooms - do we need specialist tools?

Donald Clark has raised a point about Virtual Classrooms tools as part of a post he made on Vapid Development Tools. "And while we're at it, why bother with all of this fancy virtual classroom stuff when we have messenger, netmeeting and Skype. If you want collaboration, it's already there, usually on your toolbar!"

I agree with the sentiment, the case for VC as distinct tools is much more marginal than it use to be. That was always part of Microsoft's long game - to embed the capabilities for collaboration into their core infrastrastructure. Don't forget that Microsoft bought Placeware (one of those VC tools) to for a core component of its Live Meeting capabilities.

Innovation with messenger/sametime tools and voice over ip services like Skype have accelerated this further, but more importantly made these services highly available with a very low cost of entry, i.e. free or virtually free, especially for the individual user. But there is still a reality gap for those stuck in corporate IT infrastructures. For those of us outside them who are able to use any tool we think will add some value to how we work it is much easier. As a small business we frequently find our options for live collaboration and virtual meetings decrease with corporate clients! A virtual classroom that provides a single integrated capability can still have some value here, but less than it used to.

The other key factor with VC tools is the specialist functionality they have embedded to streamline use of the tool for supporting learning events. This used to (5 years ago) include whiteboard tools and app sharing but now this is common in the collaboration tools. But there's other functionality too. Standard web collaboration tools can be fine for virtual meetings, and webinar tools are fine for large 1 to many events, but running high-quality structured learning with a group of 10-20 people can require additional help to make it work effectively. A good example of this is virtual break-out rooms.

But this kind of functionality will also make its way into the basic web collaboration tools too - if it proves to be really useful. That's why I find the discussion of functionality has become second in this post rather than first. A few years ago it would have been the other round. Now the limitations of the popular web collaboration tools are much less and their reach is much greater. The challenge for the VC vendors is to continue to differentiate their products or to integrate them into other solutions that have sufficient commercial value to give the VC away within an integrated offer. Our guess is that this is where the LMS/e-learning suite vendors will be forced over time, even if (as in Saba's case) it currently represents a significant revenue stream currently.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

5 things meme

I'm not a lover of chain letters or similar but Don Taylor has just tagged me with a 5 things meme, after he himself was tagged by Clive Sheppard. So in the spirit of the new year and peer collaboration, here goes nothing ... five things you may not know about me:

1. It's now been over ten years since I escaped serious employment and founded Elearnity. My longest period of serial employment in one organisation, and means I'm probably borderline unemployable by anyone else!

2. At 6 foot 7" (or 2.01m in new money) I have significant challenges with door ways, cute cotswold cottages and beds with foot-boards. All of which result in recurring headaches and occassional lacks of consciousness. Or maybe that's the alcohol ...

3. I would describe my taste in music as eclectic. My wife describes it as awful. Afraid my early rock roots were well as truly polluted by a hairy-hatted cousin who introduced me to Gong, resulting in life-long interest in the off-the-wall view, as well as the music! Ou est mon camembert?

4. About ten years ago, I started playing golf, after seeing all these corporate sales guys spending half of their "work" time on the golf course. This turned out to be more challenging than I expected - both to get the time to play, and then to manage to hit the ball in the direction it was supposed to be going. I now play off 17 handicap on an irregular basis, but working in the L&D/HR field is seemingly not a rich vain for potential golf matches. All reasonable offers gratefully received.

5. And vaguely back to subject, I spend almost my entire working life learning, but haven't been on a formal training course in years. I guess being an analyst is almost the perfect role for an habitual learner as I spend most of my time trying to understand the story beneath the story, both corporate and vendor. The downside of this that sometimes Elearnity becomes too interested in the exceptions rather than the rules, the alternative rather than the mainstream. But heh, I guess we should reference point 3 above for the cause of that!

Not sure who to stitch if anyone on this, but for variation let's try:

Barry Sampson

Susan Smith Nash


Ron Edwards

John Curran

Have fun .... David

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy new year and best wishes for a busy and prosperous 2007. Work life is looking good at the moment with some really interesting research and client advisory work on the table, which hopefully is reflecting a positive direction and commitment for innovation in corporate learning!