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 learning...be 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 like...mobile, 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, because...it 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.


  1. Thanks Koreen for reminding us we need to solve a problem with the "new and Shiny" to be successful and make a difference. This criteria helps me in filtering all of the endless
    announcements of "stuff" It can be overwhelming to try and stay on top of everything.

    I have more trust in people that document their own use cases or take the time to research use cases of others when writing about technologies.

    Ray Deis @rdeis

  2. Can I help with case studies? Could we help each other? My clients, in order to do more than survive their transitions, need to develop better transition, networking, time management, and social media habits. Obtaining this skills will enable them to THRIVE in their transitions and careers. Can your methodology/technology help them change their behavior?

  3. re learning objects:
    picture the learner/doer gathering the objects as needed, in the course of learning/doing. That's the more likely future of learning objects, not as a library of plug-n-plays from which some deux ex machina of a designer cobbles instruction.
    The best a context can hope to be is a scaffold built on the fly, in response to where the learner/doer wants to go next. You can guess at where that might be, but only in the most predictable of tasks say just where that will be.

  4. I think a bigger innovation might be the instructionally appropriate use of cartoon foxes:


    They don't cost anything either :)