Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Air guitar as experiential learning

This past Saturday I attended the Philadelphia regional Air Guitar competition, the winner of which will be performing in the finals in Chicago on July 23rd (Congrats to Windhammer!).

Windhammer shot courtesy of Ben Hider
This was my first time seeing an Air Guitar show and I'd love to explain the awesomeness, but I'm not sure it can be captured in a blog post. I will say that my sides hurt from laughing and cheering for 3 hours straight and I would HIGHLY recommend if you have an opportunity to see a competition for yourself, you should go. Just go.

Performances in the competition were scored (very loosely) on three criteria: technical merit, stage presence, and "airness." Technical merit is how well you played your air guitar (including remembering you've actually got an imaginary guitar in your hands, catching it if you throw it in the air, etc). Stage presence included use of the stage, showmanship, and performance aspects. "Airness," as it were, is that unexplainable quality that melts your face off as you watch a performance. Scoring was explained in figure skating terms, ranging from 4.0 - 6.0, although I think the lowest score actually given was a 5.0.

What struck me about the air guitar performances, which ranged from over the top, heavily costumed and prop-heavy to straight up rock 'n roll badassness, was how much playing air guitar actually reminded me of simulation and experiential learning design. Granted, none of the performers will likely ever go on to become rockstars playing actual guitars. But the air guitar competition gave them the opportunity to role play what it would be like to be on stage, rocking out a guitar solo. There were a couple performances during which I sometimes actually forgot that they weren't playing real guitars. That level of immersion, of getting learners into character and practicing a role, is exactly the goal of immersive learning design.

Immersive learning design requires technical merit and stage presence, but its the "airness" that is the key. Making the learners feel like they are actually performing and the "realness" of the learning experience is what we all should be striving to design.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Innovations in E-Learning 2011: Conference Reflections

I'm not the best conference attendee. I am really selective about which sessions I'll attend and I find that most of the most valuable conversations I have actually happen outside of the sessions. I actually only attended a couple sessions, missing several that I was interested in, so this is not a post that is going to provide you with an overview of the conference. If you'd like that, Wendy Wickham did a smashing job of that here (including her notes on my session on ARGs).

With that caveat, I had some observations on the Innovations in E-Learning symposium last week that I wanted to document as a starting point for my evolving thoughts around where the training industry is currently, and where it might go.
  • People are still all wrapped up in "devices": There are altogether too many people who are still focused on the "cool" technology. To which I say, get over it. If ANY of these technologies are going to be useful for workplace learning, their creation and design should be guided by business needs. As far as I can tell, most of them are still being led by "wouldn't it be cool if?" thinking. 
  • Invest in Windex: If many of the new technologies showcased really are the future of prepared for a lot of glass. ("What?" you say. "Glass??") Yes, glass. Evidently our future looks like big touchable screens all over the place. Its a germaphobe's worst nightmare. All joking aside...I don't buy it. From a purely practical standpoint, there's no way that I'm outfitting my house with "smart" technology that my 3 kiddos and adorable puppy are going to render useless with their grimy little paws. And I LOVE new technology. I love the futuristic thinking, but the practical realities of life may put the brakes on many of these ideas.
  • Speaking of practical realities...: There was a session I attended during which I expressed my disbelief (on Twitter) that a systems model of learning, with interchangeable SCOs (shareable content objects), was being described as "the future of learning." I am admittedly completely biased on this subject: I do not believe that people learn through linear systems of interchangeable "chunks" of information that are linked together. Mainly, its because I believe that people learn through context, not content, and that the reason why we as a learning industry are moving towards immersive learning, games, social learning, etc. is because we have seen and realize the limitations of content delivery systems in changing people's behaviors. I do believe that there is a place for content delivery, but its a small, perhaps initial, part of the learning experience. I respected the obvious thought that went into developing a prototype of this SCO delivery system, what bothered me was the lack of explanation of how the system would work in context of broader learning goals and environments. Where's realistic practice? Where's coaching, mentoring, and communities of practice? There was talk of motivation, but the example shown looked like a scaffolded, incremental improvement model. At the risk of being the grumpy old lady shaking her fist and telling those darn kids to get off my lawn, we (the learning industry) tried to make purely SCO-based learning systems work in the late 90s, early 2000s. Its an appealing thought, for sure...developing a system that facilitates systematic learning for everyone. I just don't believe that's how we truly learn. 
  • How can we better bridge academia and workplace learning?: No surprise that I was thrilled to see Chris Dede's keynote on immersive learning environments in virtual worlds; the work he's doing is amazing. Unfortunately, there's a big bridge to cross between the work being done in academia and the business problems that new learning technologies such as virtual worlds can help solve. There ARE organizations that are designing learning and collaborative experiences in virtual worlds that are addressing real organizational issues. I'd like to see more of those stories in conjunction with the academic exploration of these technologies to help close the gap of understanding how new technologies can help organizations today.
  • What is the problem you're trying to solve?: Here is the crux of my observations at the conference: it was like seeing a bunch of solutions in search of a problem. I didn't hear a lot about the organizational issues to be addressed, but did hear a lot about what the "future" looks, social, virtual, game-based, augmented...these are all the waters I swim in with my projects and clients every day. What I think everyone struggles with is how to justify the "new" and that's because there haven't been a lot of case studies, examples, business problems that these new technologies have effectively tackled.
My conclusions? Its time for case studies. Its time for strategies to address organizational issues. Its time to focus on the design elements that will make these new technologies successful. Let's accept the fact that the future is mobile, social, virtual, game-based and augmented, is. I don't think the future is made of glass; I think the future is organizations implementing these new technologies to solve business issues in new and effective ways. Right now, I'm over "oooh shiny"--there's something new and shiny every day. Right now, I want real examples and real stories and yes, real data.

Show me THOSE innovations. If you can, I promise to pass them on.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Walking with a Purpose

On Tuesday night, I had the honor of being art.

My jacket: Data Mind, with the artist, Courtney Mazza
In April I had been invited by Regina Holliday to participate in The Walking Gallery and wear a mural on one of my jackets that represented a message related to patient rights. I was humbled to be invited, and maybe a little surprised. Although I have worked extensively in the pharma and healthcare industries, my career has focused on education and engagement of the providers in these industries...not as much on the patients.

I met Regina at the ePatient Connections conference in October 2010. We talked at the first evening's reception about kids, single mom travel issues, and we started following each other on Twitter. Regina was attending the conference to create paintings during the conference that were to be auctioned off on the last day. Just before the auction, Regina spoke.

Maybe you've met someone like Regina before. Someone who you meet casually and like immediately, without any idea who they are and what they are capable of. When Regina took the stage, I don't think most people knew what was about to hit them. She is a powerhouse, a force, and no one in that room was immune to the power of her message.

Regina's story is everyone's story as much as it is uniquely hers. Her husband hadn't been feeling well, was repeatedly misdiagnosed, and when it finally became clear what was wrong, there wasn't much time. He had Stage 4 kidney cancer. They had two young sons, the oldest of which is autistic. They were repeatedly treated as less than human by a healthcare system that is cumbersome, expensive, and doesn't put patients and families first. Regina's story of her husband's diagnosis, treatment, and death is sad, tragic and could have been much, much different.

She could have accepted what happened. She could have fallen apart. She could have become angry and bitter. She could have just moved on.

Instead, Regina has taken her story, her pain, and her outrage and used the gift of her art to inspire others to action. The truth? We don't have to accept the status quo. All of us are patients, caregivers, and people. We don't have to accept callous treatment from a system that perpetuates our depersonalization, our dehumanization. Yes, Regina is advocating for changes in the healthcare system, but her message isn't limited to patient rights. In education, in practically any government agency...we accept the limitations of the system. We live with red tape and outdated processes and cumbersome systems and we drudge through, thinking we have no right to better. We all deserve better.

Regina has a powerful voice and message, but she can't do it alone. She asked me, and many, many others, to help her communicate this message as part of The Walking Gallery. We are all patients. We are all caregivers. We are all people. We should not settle for being treated like insignificant cogs in a wheel, like numbers on a spreadsheet. Her story is all of our stories.

I wore my jacket proudly in The Walking Gallery. I'll wear it proudly at other conferences and events. I'll tell Regina's story, and my story too. I will tell you not to accept the status quo. And I'll ask you to pass that message on. One story, one jacket, one person can start a revolution. Thank you, Regina, for reminding all of us that we deserve better and for sharing your story and message. You have stood up in the face of adversity and inspired us to fight for change. I carry that responsibility with honor.