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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Special Treat: An Animated Season's Greeting from E-Learning Queen and PetroEd

High-quality animations and immersive experience captured from virtual worlds that can be accessed on all forms of mobile devices, ranging from smartphones, tablets, laptops, as well as desktop systems, are vital education, training, and professional development on emerging science, technology, and equipment. An example of a high-quality multimedia developer is PetroEd. E-Learning Queen is delighted to partner with interactive multimedia training provider PetroEd to share an animated Season's Greeting Card. Please click the appropriate link for high bandwidth or low bandwidth.

Please contact Susan at E-Learning Queen ( if you are interested in learning more, and developing a plan for developing affordable, rapid-deployment high-quality multimedia training. Also indicate if you would like a multi-language presentation capability.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with Josh Little, Bloomfire: E-Learning Innovators Series

New ways to share knowledge take advantage of innovative social networking. Welcome to an interview with Josh Little, CEO of Bloomfire.

1. What is your name and affiliation. What is your relation to e-learning?
My name is Josh Little and I'm the CEO of Bloomfire. Bloomfire is the third online learning company I've started. The first is Maestro eLearning, a creative agency focused on building engaging custom online learning experiences for major corporations and non-profits. The second is Wellness Works, an unparalleled interactive corporate wellness education system that teaches employees to live healthier, more productive lifestyles. Thousands of people all over the world engage in a learning experience from one of these three companies every day.

2. What is Bloomfire and what inspired you to develop it?
A platform that allows anyone to start a Bloomfire, which is a website geared specifically for easily sharing knowledge and the discussions that surround it. You can invite members to find and follow experts, ask questions, and share with others. Members can share and upload documents, videos, or presentations, record a video from their webcam, or create screencasts on the fly.

I developed Bloomfire out of the pain I felt along my career as a public school teacher, corporate trainer, and small business owner. In every one of these roles I felt like I was just scratching the surface of what my students, trainees, or employees needed to know to be successful. There needed to be a better way to rapidly share knowledge with people all over the world. Although traditional eLearning tools allow this, the time and cost to create content was still limiting. I knew that by using the power of the crowd, any organization could harness the the long talk of knowledge, how-to's and tricks if they had the right tool.

3. What makes Bloomfire different from wikis and other collaborative knowledge building tools?
Many people feel the same pain I did and attempt to fill the job with tools such as wikis, blogs, social networking tools, and the like. Unlike these tools, a Bloomfire is purpose built for learning with dirt-simple multimedia authoring tools, video streaming, mobile capability, and a strong set of analytics tools for managers. We can promise to forever deliver on one thing - simplicity. We work tirelessly to maintain a simple, clean, easy to use interface.

4. What are the benefits of informal and social learning?
The ability to harness the informal learning occurring in an organization, customer base, or fan club can bring several benefits. I feel the top three are engagement, reduced mistakes, and increased performance - I'll break these down.

Engagement - People love doing what they are good at and hate doing things that they are not. When I have the right information and support structure around me a stressful, risky task turns into an confidence building experience. Engagement comes when I can be successful at what I do and feel connected to the people around me.

Reduced mistakes - Information is moving at the speed of light. We are in a constant state of learning in order to stay on top of our game. In most instances, we have to figure things out on our own - even if there are other people doing the same thing we are. We are all reinventing the wheel because we have no other option. This practice is so common that it's been given names like "sink or swim" or "drinking from the fire hose." This is a rocky path riddled with pain and frustration. Collaborative learning allows others to groom the path for those that follow.

Increased performance - What if you could bottle the knowledge, skills, tips, and tricks of your top 10 performers? What if this could be shared with everyone else? What kind of difference would that make in your organization?

5. How can you be assured that social learning is accurate and not a way to disseminate misinformation or propagandistic / agenda-laden material?
This is the number #1 objection to social learning - what if someone says something bad or inaccurate? It's also the #1 myth about social learning. The fear is that by giving people tools to publish and share, they will go crazy and use the platform for public domination and destruction. This assumption is absolutely false. In fact, in the over 1000 Bloomfires that are burning today, some of our customers have reported the exact opposite. We have called this condition School Dance Syndrome (SDS) because people come in and sit along the walls watching the smaller number who contribute. And because of the very public nature of your identity in a Bloomfire, it makes for a bad place for subversion.

If someone posts something that is just plan inaccurate, it should be praised that there is a way to flesh out problems before they occur. These are teachable moments that can mitigate risk and prevent future mistakes. How else would an organization know if someone was spreading this misinformation. An online learning community should be viewed as an extension of the classroom. If it's OK to say inaccurate things or ask silly questions in the classroom, then it should also be acceptable that this is done in the online classroom.

6. Please recommend a book you recently read and enjoyed.
While it isn't related to social learning, it is related to building no-nonsense software that people love. The book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is packed full of smart practices and wisdom that could benefit just about every organization on the planet. I've read it twice now.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Updated Animations and Simulations for Cross-Delivery on Variable Devices, Platforms, Access


Flash-based animations, simulations using virtual worlds such as Second Life, and learning management system-hosted interactive quizzes and assessments have become mainstays of many training programs, college courses, and professional development experiences. Animations and simulations are clearly effective in technical training, but they are often equally useful for sociology, psychology, cultural studies, earth sciences, biology, and other courses. While some of the objects can be downloaded to mobile devices, there are often major gaps in coverage, compatibility, and access.

How can you quickly update your animations, simulations, and other interactive content so that you can deliver them on a wide array of devices, platforms, and in situations with variable access?

The key is organization, access, and flexibility.

You can repurpose your existing learning objects and update ones that need updating fairly easily.

Before you start, ask yourself a few key questions:

Question 1: What are my goals? Who are the learners and what do I want the outcomes to be? What should they be able to do at the end of their instructional experience?

Question 2: Precisely where can animation and simulation help achieve learning goals? What are the skills that need to be acquired, -- the ability to identify components and to participate in processes? What are the decisions to be made, and the collaborative / interactive experiences to be replicated?

For example, let's say that your learners consist of a group of geoscientists who wish to learn more about the potential for natural gas production from the Utica Shale in Quebec. At the present time, your graphics may consist of a few maps, diagrams, and photographs. However, in order for your learners to gain an ability to evaluate a wide variety of geological, geophysical, geochemical, petrophysical, and engineering data, they need to have a good sense of a dynamic system.

If you'd like them to understand how to be involved in successful exploration and production (drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production), then they will benefit from having an immersive experience -- and visualizing what exactly happens in the different activities.

Thus, you're really under pressure to update and improve the quality and dynamism of the training experience. You need better learning objects.

At the same time, you realize that not everyone has equal access to equipment. You need to be able to deliver as much as you can by means of small, easy-to-push objects that your learners can access on a wide variety of laptops and handheld devices -- ranging from smartphones to iPads and other tablets.

Storyboarding: Some of the best immersive experiences involve a series of experiences that range from reviewing diagrams and interactive animations to immersing yourself in a virtual world. You may have an avatar, or you simply move through various levels.

Nested Powerpoint Storyboards: Many storyboards consist of a series of bifurcating powerpoints -- which is to say that each option consists of a separate set of powerpoints. Such an approach is not always the best approach because it can lead to a rather flat presentation, especially if you're needing to look at something from multiple perspectives, or looking at a dynamic application.

Video Storyboarding: If you're working with equipment, processes, or dynamic interactions, video storyboarding can be a great way to go. You can make low-resolution spontaneous video snippets that record what you are doing. Let's take the case of drilling operations in the Utica Shale. You might storyboard a series of 15 - 30 second videos of such scenes as the video of a drill bit turning, the recording of live monitoring of geosteering, etc. The videos can be used "as is" for spontaneous graphics, or can be stylized by using various graphics programs that can then make your graphics virtual world-ready. Depending on the software package you use, you can give all your videos a stylized and consistent look and feel.

Organizing Your Materials:

Step 1: Inventory your learning objects. Determine which ones you can keep and build on.

Step 2: Gap analysis. Where will you need to develop / modify your learning objects in order to make your storyboards develop into learning modules?

Step 3. Prioritize your learning modules. Which processes, procedures, equipment, and content do you need most urgently?

Step 4. Create a schedule for developing the components you can easily transform into high-quality graphics. The components may include still photographs, diagrams, maps, charts, schematics, flowcharts, videos, and audio files.

Step 5. Review your assessment strategies. When / where will interactive quizzes allow you to achieve your goals? When will you need to do something more collaborative and/or interactive? Look at how you record your learners' progress. When / where do you keep a transcript? Do you tie it to a talent management program?

This is a brief overview of the steps you can take to get started with updating your animation and simulation content to meet the needs of learners who use a variety devices and interfaces. It's also a way to expand your use of simulations and animations in a low-cost way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with Josh Blank, OpenSesame: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Empowering elearning instructors and designers is a key element of making education widely available. While mentoring and tutoring sites are available through virtual worlds such as SecondLife, and many webinar platforms are available. However, packaging and marketing elearning courses is a different matter, and a place of great opportunity. Further, it may offer colleges and universities, both hybrid and online, an opportunity to share courses in an effective way. Hypothetically, the developer of a course, Anglo-American Folk Music, now offered through MIT's OpenCourseWare project could develop and offer a similar course. Or, an accounting instructor could develop a course that could be adopted by a college offering online accounting courses. Welcome to an interview with Josh Blank, OpenSesame, which offers a platform for creating and distributing elearning courses.

1. What is your name and connection to elearning?
I'm Josh Blank, and I am the cofounder and General Manager of OpenSesame, a new marketplace for buying and selling elearning courses. I started my career in web design and digital communications, and I started working in elearning ten years ago. In the elearning field, I lead companies that create and distribute elearning courses that meet the needs of diverse professionals. I am deeply committed to advancing the elearning field because I believe that elearning democratizes education. We are creating new possibilities and new opportunity for millions of people to advance themselves through personal effort.

2. What is OpenSesame? What is the content? How does it work? Where can people access it?
OpenSesame is an open, web-based marketplace connecting purchasers of elearning content, such as corporate learning officers, with an extensive library of courses provided by a wide range of content creators. OpenSesame simplifies the process of implementing elearning by connecting courses purchased in our OpenSesame marketplace to any Learning Management System (LMS).

The OpenSesame marketplace connects content developers with potential buyers of elearning courses. Course developers can sell previously built or newly created content to multiple buyers while maintaining security, control, and centralized management of their intellectual property. The OpenSesame marketplace enables content developers to connect with new customers, no matter where the buyers are located or what LMS they use. Furthermore, OpenSesame’s proprietary technology ensures that buyers cannot download or re-sell courses without the developer’s permission.

Buyers and sellers can access the OpenSesame marketplace by visiting and browsing our library of courses, classified in four categories: technical, business skills, compliance and safety. We are proud to offer an always-expanding library comprising courses as varied as "How to Respond to a Bomb Threat" and "XML Schema Definition".

3. Who are you trying to reach and what are your goals?
In our ten years in the elearning industry, we have consistently believed that the industry was at a tipping point -- on the cusp of fantastic growth -- but our growth remained slow and steady. Our team finally realized that our growth was limited by the lack of communication between the buyers and sellers of elearning courses. Content developers, subject matter experts and independent instructional designers need channels to publish their content, reach new customers and understand how their courses fit in the overall marketplace. Learners at all sizes of organizations need a marketplace where they can research and find the courses they need, purchase them simply and connect them easily to any learning management system.
Our goal is to create a community where both buyers and sellers thrive and elearning is accessible, easy to implement and rewarding for everyone.

4. What is your elearning philosophy?
Our philosophy is simple. We have a vision for a world where people can advance themselves through only personal desire and access to educational opportunities. OpenSesame is a competitive marketplace for buying and selling high quality educational content, where sellers will create courses to meet market demand, and learners can evaluate courses based on their reviews and success in the marketplace.

5. How do you see the future of m-learning evolving? What's the next breakthrough?
I believe that the next breakthrough in mlearning will be the killer app that takes any standards-compliant content and delivers it simply to a variety of mobile devices. This kind of app will enable learners to take their courses with them: to consult their training courses easily while actually employing the skills they are learning. I believe that well-designed elearning courses delivered through mobile applications will ease the transition from learning skills and abilities in the abstract to implementing them in your daily life.

6. Please recommend 2 books (can be fiction / non-fiction / technical)
Daily Drucker for the business book and anything by Vince Flynn for my fiction addiction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with James Caras, Sapling Learning: E-Learning Innovators Series

Science education online is often a hit or miss affair, and it is difficult to develop an instructional strategy that both engages the learner and incorporates effective assessments at higher levels of difficulty. Welcome to an interview with Dr. James Caras, Sapling Learning, who focuses on science education.

1. What is your name and connection to elearning?
Dr. James Caras. I am the Founder and President of Sapling Learning. I have been developing online instructional technologies and media for higher education science for over 17 years--ever since the NCSA Mosaic Web browser first became available.

2. What is Sapling Learning? What is the content? How does it work? Where can people access it?
Sapling Learning is a leading provider of engaging and interactive online homework and assessment software. The learning software can be accessed anytime through a Web browser, and delivers question-based assignments to students, providing them with real-time tutoring when they need help in the form of hints, feedback specific to misconceptions a student has, and detailed solutions. Sapling is focused on higher education science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), but also will roll out solutions for other problem-solving disciplines such as economics. For instructors, our software provides automatic grading and detailed performance statistics, saving them time and increasing the transparency by which they can gauge their students' progress and ability.

3. Who are you trying to reach and what are your goals?
Sapling's goal is to increase the quality of STEM education through adoption of our software by higher education faculty. Besides the quality of our content and software, we are accomplishing this because we help drive down the cost of educational materials to students, and promote student engagement through rich interactivity and immediate instruction when students struggle. If this country is going to be successful and competitive in the 21st century, we need bright people to have access to tools that remove barriers to understanding STEM concepts and promote their interest in science and engineering.

4. What is your elearning philosophy?
You can't fill a closed mind. Students are open and receptive to instruction if they are engaged with a problem and therefore open to receive information on how to solve it.

5. How do you see the future of m-learning evolving? What's the next breakthrough?
Sapling Learning has spent a lot of time thinking about this. Mobile learning is actually very different than learning at a computer, if you include phones, iPods, and other single-hand-held devices as the hardware for delivery of eLearning software. I don't include the iPad in this category. Students will not do scientifically rigorous homework on a cell phone. These devices are much better suited to other forms of learning that are more "quick-click" oriented. Memorization exercises like flashcards are perfect for the phone, as are drag-and-drop diagram labeling. Multiple choice quizzing as well. Video delivery for instruction is a good use of mobile devices. But as far as working through the equations and calculations of a multi-step physics problem, tutoring a student through each of those steps, or asking a student to perform a virtual experiment, you need a much larger screen.

Breakthroughs are not the most pressing need for the evolution of m-learning--the current bottleneck is standardization. Online learning delivered through any device needs to be relevant to the discipline being studied. For STEM e-learning, there is a need for rich interactions such as drawing molecules or graphs, or performing virtual experiments. Rich interactions such as this benefit tremendously from Flash and Java, yet these are not fully supported on all mobile devices.

HTML5 is no answer because it is far from a standard, lacks easy-to-use and robust development environments, and has tremendous compatibility issues. All of these significantly drive up the costs of development and support, as well as degrade the user experience. Since student grades depend on Sapling's software being bullet-proof and widely compatible, we take these considerations very seriously.

6. Please recommend 2 books (can be fiction / non-fiction / technical)
I recently read two books that I enjoyed a great deal. For fiction, Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. For non-fiction, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Innovators in E-Learning: eStudies Weekly

Welcome to an interview with Ed Rickers, founder of Studies Weekly, and is interested in the format because the tight, condensed format is a good way to help students (and teachers) develop schemata for organizing what can often be an overwhelming amount of material. Their format also incorporates appropriate graphics and media which further help forge classification /organization schemes in the learner's mind. They take advantage of semiotic epistemological considerations (signs / symbols, etc), as well as text / audio / language-based ones. In addition to developing schemata for cognitive systems to help with data retrieval, the format can, when used within a solid instructional strategy, be used to optimize working memory. In the meantime, it's useful to note that the publication's stated design and information presentation objectives engage and create positive conditions for learning.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
We are Studies Weekly Publications with our electronic equivalent There are more than 1.5 million K-6 students per week that receive curriculum content fro Studies Weekly publications. eStudiesWeekly is the electronic version of those publications. Students with a subscription to Studies Weekly may login and take advantage of augmented learning opportunities available online.

2. What is eStudiesWeekly?
eStudiesWeekly is the online version of the print publications published by Studies Weekly. These are primarily science and social studies publications that cover the state standards at each grade level. Students can take assessments online, read all the content, search the content topically, take advantage of speed reading, or fluency, tools, point and click for on demand vocabulary and pronunciation. Developing readers can even have eStudiesWeekly read the content to them as the words light up on the screen.

3. What motivated you to put together the project?
Teachers have expressed a need for powerful online components that do more than deliver a PDF version of the print media. We've developed eStudiesWeekly to help teachers use time saving tools that help them have more time for their students. If a teacher can spend 15 minutes one-on-one with a student that she would have had to spend grading assessments, then we feel we've accomplished one of our goals.

4. Who is the targeted audience? Who will benefit and how?
The target audience of eStudiesWeekly are the print subscribers to our publications. There are 1.5 million students in grades K-6 that use Studies Weekly on a weekly basic to learn required learning objectives.

eStudiesWeekly is an augmentation of all the Studies Weekly content. We realize that it may not be in the next 2 years, but eventually more and more of educational content will be accessed online. We're building eStudies in preparation for that day and we're off to a good start.

Eventually, we think the day will come when we will deliver all or most of our content exclusively online. When that day comes, we'll be competing not only with other online systems, but with teachers themselves. Due to the capabilities inherent in multimedia platforms, economic factors may foster the necessity to transfer more and more of the responsibility of teaching required learning standards to the medium itself. In the future, online system that incorporate video presentations of master educators combined with media of all other forms, will be the most efficient way to transfer required knowledge to students.

However, one of the biggest challenges will be to develop systems that adapt to the individual aptitudes and capabilities of students. Currently, only teachers are intelligent enough to do this, but their ability to do this varies greatly. With computer-based systems this may be accomplished by providing a multitude of choices at each learning juncture by which the learner will self navigate to fulfill their utmost potential, yet still accomplish the goals set forth in the frameworks mandated by the state. The pace and depth of learning will finally be determined exclusively by the learner. Without computer-based individualized instruction that is scalable to accommodate an unlimited number of students we will not move forward in our effectiveness in educating our society to fulfill its highest potential.

This is not to say that computers will replace educators. This is to say that computers will enable society to extend the reach and influence of our greatest educators. Computers will give these great teachers access to unlimited teaching resources to teach an unlimited student audience.

Like all potentially good things there is an opposite negative potential. If this model is brought to maturity and offered to the public by a small number of providers—presumably large corporations and/or government agencies—there is an enormous potential for large scale bias transfer. Instead of our current system that relies on the collective goodwill and sensibilities of millions of educators, the future computer-based system would be controlled exclusively by relatively few people. This group that would choose tomorrow's educators and learning systems may have more direct influence on the minds of young people then any group in history. If this happens it may be said at some future point, "Never have so many been influenced, for good or for ill, by so few." That is the risk.

However, if competition is maintained among providers the dynamics of the free market system will as always safeguard the best interest of our common welfare.

With all this we're talking about what might happen in the future. Since this is the present, we believe that magazines with textbook content that is updated only as needed is the most efficient curriculum delivery system available. The magazines cover the standards; for the same cost as one textbook you can subscribe for 12 years; they are more fun; they don't require user names or passwords; you don't need the latest download of Flash in order to run them; no hard disk is required; no screen is needed; and they're available right now for an affordable subscription rate.

5. Is eStudiesWeekly mobile-friendly?
eStudiesWeekly is designed to be used on a classroom or home computer. However, we're just getting started. Later we hope to develop lots of other games and content that may be used on mobile devices, Kindles, iPads, etc.

Additional bio details:
Ed Rickers is a self-taught publisher / entrepreneur who started the business in his basement based on a publishing concept that was proven by his father-in-law a retired educator of 32 years. Paul Thompson (father-in-law) published Utah Studies Weekly, the first Studies Weekly publication, from 1984 to 1998. In 1998, Ed Rickers got involved and started hiring teachers, writers, and artists to create textbook substitutes in newspaper format that would teach state history to fourth grade students. Eventually this model was expanded to K-6 social studies and science. There were other relatives of Paul Thompson that also started publishing on the same concept at the same time. Eventually, Rickers' company acquired the other Studies Weekly publishing companies from the other relatives and has been building the Studies Weekly brand nationwide under one banner now since 2007.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Effective E-Learning for Technology Transfer in the Global, Multi-Generational Workplace

Podcast - download here. When you think of the best way to learn about the newest technology, what do you think of? Chances are, the first thing you'll do is to engage in informal e-learning, which is to say that you'll do a Google search and read articles, white papers, advertising, customer testimonials, and commercial promotions in order to familiarize yourself. At the same time, you may enroll in a master's degree program and start diversifying your knowledge, skills, and experience.

This post was made to accompany a presentation which you can download here:

What do you do, however, when you need your training to be a bit more systematic? Where do you turn to when you want to learn from an expert? How do you satisfy licensing, certification, and academic qualification requirements?

While face-to-face instruction continues to be a solid segment of the training and education community, it's important to realize that e-learning has come a long way in the last five years, primarily due to connectivity and access, as well as advances in mobile devices. The notion of any time, any place is truly a reality.

I remember sitting at a workstation at the local internet provider's office in Chimoio Province in northwest Mozambique near the Zimbabwe border. I was teaching an online course, and I loved the juxtaposition -- the high-tech office which sat squarely across the street from mud huts with grass roofs.

That was five years ago. If I were to be in the same situation today, I would not necessarily need to go to the internet cafe. Instead, I'd be able to use my smartphone to participate in online learning. Mobile learning has become important -- even when people want to be able to work on laptops in addition to their mobile devices.

What is E-Learning? Let's review the concept so that we're on the same page with respect to the basics. E-learning consists of instructional material delivered via the Internet, and it can be used with a variety of devices, ranging from a desktop computer to smartphone and other mobile devices. E-learning can be "live" -- synchronous, or it can be asynchronous. Some of the advantages of asynchronous elearning include being able to download content to a mobile device and review it, even if you don't have a good connection. Also, you can think about your responses before sending them in, posting them, or interacting with others.

Don't forget e-learning's key benefits: you can take courses any time, any where, and in most cases, in an affordable way.

Let's revisit the fact that you're going to use elearning in order to educate yourself in technologies that you want to adopt and use in your life, business, etc.

How do you go about finding the best educational material? First, you need to identify why you want to learn about a technology -- the content, the skills, the future. Define your goals. What do you want to learn? Why? What are you going to do with it? Then, as you look at the offerings that are out there, match content with goals.

As you evaluate the instructional material that is available to you, be sure to be mindful of the real-life conditions of the people who will be taking the course. If you're taking an online course, where will you be? What kind of access to high-speed connections will you have? What kind of computer will you have? Will you be traveling or in one place? I know it might seem irrelevant, but the fact is, you really need to know the conditions beforehand. It will help you plan.

Do you have time to take a 4-week program?

Or, will you need to do your learning in 5-minute mini-chunks? It's imperative that you're honest with yourself about this.

What is e-learning anyway? I think that a convenient way to look at it is to take an object-oriented approach. Essentially, e-learning is comprised of digital learning objects which are organized in a way that is designed to create conditions of learning, and to facilitate the learning process, regardless of your learning styles / preferences.

What are these objects? They range from small to complex -- videos, audio, texts, presentations, images, digital flashcards, animations, interactive quizzes, are just a few.

How are you likely to encounter the objects? It depends. You may see them as stand-alones -- a video on Youtube, for example. Or, the video could be embedded in a large lesson with formal introduction, readings, learning objectives, activities, assessment.

So, you may take a course that's in a package -- a complex learning solution. Or, you could be a part of an event -- a webinar, for example -- that involves guidance and interaction. Also, the learning objects could be presented in a way that requires you to interact and engage in very absorbing activities.

What does e-learning look like? As you can see, it can be a rather complex structure that houses the standalone objects we mentioned earlier -- powerpoints, maps, texts, activities.

We mentioned earlier that elearning can be synchronous or asynchronous -- or a blend of the two.

In the case of synchronous elearning, you might find yourself in an informal learning situation where you're having a conversation via chat or by sending / receiving tweets.

Formal synchronous e-learning is not quite as free-formed and flexible. It will tend to look something much more structured and organized -- think of webinars, interactive synchronous events, and live events. Keep in mind that all can be archived for future replay, which means that synchronous can be converted into asynchronous fairly easily.

Asynchronous learning can involve stand-alone learning objects, and can be asynchronous, with little or no interaction.

The most effective asynchronous elearning involves interaction with others in your course, which means that you're establishing a learning community or, more specifically, a community of interest.

Chances are, if you're a busy professional and you have the foundational credentials needed to practice your profession, you may simply need to maintain and update your knowledge.

Knowledge transfer, especially as related to technology transfer, can be effective in "micro-bursts of learning" --

Micro-learning is becoming increasingly popular as 2 - 15 minute chunks of content are made accessible "just in time" and "right on the line" of the topic you're interested in.

Micro-learning does not have to be passive. You can read and then share your insights with your fellow learners, and you can build reaction pieces and post them in an open forum such as Youtube.

Let's step back for a moment and address the issue of finding the best learning solution for yourself and for your fellow learners.

The first step is to have a good understanding of yourself, and of diversity in the sense that all learners are likely to have different learning preferences.

We're in a multi-generational workplace, and, if trends are to be trusted, we're going to see the generational differences expand as the workforce ages, individuals delay retirement, and younger workers join earlier as they find ways to leverage their technological skills and earn money in the global, distributed workplace at a young age. It's not unheard of for a 18-year-old to be providing behind-the-scenes computing support for an organization that encourages people to work from home.

I don't like stereotypes and I feel uncomfortable embracing labels. However, for convenience, it does not hurt to be aware of how others are thinking about the generations / generational divide. Like it or not, the labels are there for a reason, and in some cases help identify sociological / demographic common characteristics.

How are the different generations unique? Boomers? WWII? Gen X? Gen Y? Millennials? As soon as you start believing certain stereotypes, you'll encounter something to break them down. For example, not all "millennials" are computer whizzes. It has a lot to do with economic access and one's home environment.

I think it's interesting to see how the various generations self-describe themselves. Notice that all seem to have similar characteristics / qualities / attributes -- as they describe themselves. Strong work ethic, ethical, etc -- these are attributes that are often heard as all groups describe themselves.

However, when they describe other groups, they are not so beneficient. Somehow, negativity intrudes. One challenge is to inform people of their commonalities.

If we look at the core reasons for generational differences, we can explain many of them by describing differences in the socialization process.

Understanding how and where groups developed their attitudes and beliefs is key in learning how to gain trust and to communicate effectively. It follows that they are also necessary in order to learn.

We're in a global context these days -- the workplace is global, and workers are distributed. So, what are the things we have to keep in mind if we're trying to learn a new technology and we're working with people in different places and cultures?

Also, what is the prevailing organizational culture -- not simply the background host-country culture.

For learning to take place and to be effective, it's important to learn to communicate and to collaborate.

We live in a world in which the rate of technological change seems to accelerate every day.
So, it's important to learn how to sift through the options and to determine where and what to study.

How do you make that determination?
Keep an eye on your overall goals / objectives.

Then, be sure to keep an appliation focus, while not disregarding the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings.

If you're a busy professional, how do you learn? We've talked about the kinds of content you'll encounter, and the differences between micro-learning and long-term multi-term courses and programs.

Regardless of the length of the course and the delivery method, the same elements are likely to be found in a good learning environment / setting.

Here are types of learning to keep in mind. Please refer to the powerpoint for brief descriptions.

Self-directed learning
Situated learning
Learning Communities
Process-oriented media creation
Social learning

To be a successful e-learner, you'll need to keep a good focus on self-regulation strategies, which include managing time, performance, access, content, and skills.

If you're trying to design an effective elearning program, how should you get started?
The key is to tie your training / education to organizational or individual goals and mission.

Then identify needs -- do you need to build skills? knowledge? competencies?

Who are your learners? What are the real conditions under which they'll be studying and working?

What kind of internet access do you have? What kind of hardware? Software?

The same kinds of considerations are important in Knowledge Transfer.
Keep an application focus. Be sure to have learners use their knowledge -- solve problems, analyze cases, propose solutions.

Is it expensive to develop an online learning program?

It can be surprisingly inexpensive, especially if you start with "micro-learning" and you start building the individual components and start assembling a learning object repository.

Be sure to offer a variety of elements -- video, powerpoints, text, audio, and more.
Make it easy for learners to share information and to learn with and from each other.

Perhaps you're considering pre-packaged solutions. Are they a good idea?
Yes, but use sparingly, judiciously, with caution.
Make sure that the knowledge is applied.
Avoid passive learning -- make sure that there's some sort of "live" component-- somewhere to post and to interact with peers if possible.

Depending on the kind of knowledge and technology you want to transfer, simulations and immersive environments can be absolutely fantastic. Simulations give individuals a chance to familiarize themselves with the appearance if items and also the processes. They can make mistakes in a simulated high-risk environment and if something goes terribly wrong, no one is hurt and nothing is lost (except perhaps a little bit of pride).

The problem with simulations and immersive virtual worlds is that they can be very expensive if you're having to build them yourself. If you can piggyback on Second Life's virtual worlds and "borrow" an island for a gathering, you're ahead of the game.

If you use World of Warcraft to make leadership decisions, that's good, too -- assuming everyone has more or less the same level of competency with WoW.

Social networking can make your elearning / mobile learning come alive -- and make it more relevant for your learners.

You can
*form virtual teams
* share responses to questions
* build cross-disciplinary teams / perspectives

But -- you may have some high costs:
* you might go off on a tangent & be distracted by the technology (how much time have you wasted in Second Life compulsively changing the appearance of your avatar? I've wasted hours (!))

Also, you need to make sure that your social network does not blend too much play with work. If you're using facebook to facilitate sharing / learning, then it's not a bad idea to set up a special account for your specific needs.

Be sure share your experiences -- use social networking in conjunction with formal online education / training.

Don't forget that optimal learning often involves a combination of elearning and mobile learning. Leverage the power of your smartphone and download audio, graphics, video, and even text. Then, the standalones lend themselves to effective "micro-learning" for "any time / any place" learning.

Remember that the best approach to effective technology transfer using elearning is to be as flexible as possible.

Here's the podcast:
Here's a pdf of the presentation:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mobile Learning: Is It Doing What It’s Supposed To?

Is mobile learning really doing what it’s supposed to be doing? The core allure of mobile learning is that you can engage in substantive, meaningful learning any time and any place. Ideally, mobile content and instructional strategies effectively create conditions for learning – you’re engaged, the content is relevant, you’re able to connect it to applications and real-life settings that mean something to you, and the activities prepare you to succeed in any outcomes assessment you might have to do. Interactivity, functionality, convenience, and just-in-time are key watchwords. Colleges and universities are using mobile applications for their online MBA programs, sustainability studies programs and project management, literature courses, and more.

I’d like to take a moment to suggest that mobile learning has yet to live up to its potential. Yes, it’s true that instructional materials are increasingly available, and that one can view presentations, listen to audio, read text, review maps and diagrams, and watch video. But, how often are the activities guided? Where does the material lead?

To ensure you maximize the benefits of m-learning projects, think about incorporating data collection, field work, location-based activities with team-members, sharing information with team members while working in a distributed field-based manner (in multiple locations).

It’s also true that there are any number of programs that provide flash cards, multiple-choice questions, and quizzes that you can take using your handheld. It used to be complicated to do so – it required awkward downloads and frustrating implementation. Now, it’s largely web-based, so all you have to do is access a URL that is mobile-friendly. It’s easy to do, but are the materials any more useful than ones you might access from your laptop? Again, it’s all in the instructional strategy. How are you supposed to interact? How do you keep from being either distracted by the materials, or simply passive?

Smartphones and other handheld devices are much more powerful and more flexible than ever. There are still some significant barriers, though. Let’s look at a few:

---iPhone and iPad do not accommodate Flash.
---BlackBerry apps are limited.

---Some screens are small and when you zoom it gets too pixelly for clarity.

---Incompatible text forms (not all eReaders will accommodate pdfs)

Interactivity is valuable. Finding the best way to interact means understanding the conditions and circumstances of your students and their environment.

Finally, the learning community building aspects of mobile learning are most definitely valuable. However, being social networking, simulations, and augmented reality activities need to be designed with care as they can quickly devolve into unfocused activities that do not contribute to achieving learning goals.

The key is to have a very robust instructional strategy and to make sure that the instructional content and the technology are aligned with what you want to accomplish.

OutStart Hot Lava Mobile -- Productivity Software

ProProfs Free flashcards maker

Moodle for Mobile

Quiz Creator by Wondershare


Hot Potatoes (version 6)

Articulate QuizMaker 09
Form-based editing with form view
Free-form editing with slide view
Demo: Think Like a Manager

Lessonbuilder for e-learning -- can be used within an LMS and also web-based (friendly for mobile devices)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Death and the Elderly: Caregiving, End-of-Life Issues, Family Challenges Research Paper Flowchart

Health care programs are important, quickly developing and evolving in colleges and universities. Nursing, health care administration, medical coding, nurse practitioners, physician assistant programs, medical billing, urgent care administrators, nursing home administration, and more are growing.

As our health care system changes, and the population ages, it is very important for all health care professionals to understand the inter-relationships between institutions, communities, and families.

Here is an effective flow chart / guide for structuring a research paper on topics dealing with caring for the elderly and end-of-life issues.

1. What is the research problem / social issue? Identify and define clearly.

You may wish to brainstorm and develop bullet points, and even do mind-mapping in order to arrive at a primary thesis / main topic. Here is an example / description of mindmaps and mind mapping:

It is often effective to look at the core primary problem and to find an article that contains a very thorough literature review:

Ethics: Ethical Challenges in the Care of Elderly Persons
Ludwick, R., Silva, M. (December 19, 2003). Ethics Column: "Ethical Challenges in the Care of Elderly Persons". Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 9 No. 1. Available:

2. What has been written about the problem in the past? What are the core issues?

It is often good to research and read an array of articles. This is a good opportunity to review articles in a repository.

National Institute of Health: Bioethics Resources
End of Life / Palliative Care

May extend to related issues. In this case, it is useful to look at ethical issues with respect to end-of-life issues, and it has to do with younger individuals
Boy On Life Support Stirs Debate On Faith, End-Of-Life Care

3. What are the facts? What do we know about the extent of the problem? Studies? Govt statistics? Describe.

Hospitals Ordered to Follow End-of-Life Wishes (with podcast)

4. What can we find in the following areas? (scroll down and click on the link to the search function)

also: investigative journalism? look up documentaries / investigative journalism, etc.

5. What have people done to address the issue? What are the various perspectives / solutions? Describe.

Caring for the Elderly and the Disabled Is a Family Affair

What to Do the Next Time Dad's Heart Stops (article, with podcast)

Ethics policies on euthanasia in nursing homes: a survey in Flanders, Belgium.

6. Case studies / examples / the human face...

Can search for examples, and also use statistics

Caregiving in the U.S. 2009

7. Your analysis -- what do the facts tell you? What are things that can be done? What is being tried? Is it working? Is it not? Why not?

This is a good place to list the key concerns and considerations that relate to the primary thesis.

For example, you could discuss the different approaches to health care, including home health care, nursing homes, and evaluate which ones work and which ones do not. You could then start to formulate recommendations.

Another example could be that you discuss new trends and issues with family dynamics, work issues, and financial considerations when it comes to the elderly.

Evaluating different responses to caregiver burnout and the psychological dimensions of having elderly family members could be discussed.

8. Conclusions and recommendations.

Your final paragraph should be substantive and it should have an in-depth discussion. Make sure that you use APA style, since this paper deals with social and psychological topics.

You may find a very helpful bibliography-making software program at ( For APA style questions, check out


APAStyle at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Assistive Technologies for Online Learning

For many -- not just those with special needs -- participating in an online course is very difficult without assistive technologies. Augmentive and alternative communication products can help students with disabilities. It is useful, however, to look at some assistive technologies as effective for learners who have specific learning preferences and who may benefit from being able to access content in more than one format.

Take a look at the different assistive technologies that are available. You may be surprised how affordable they are, and how helpful they might be for you, especially with respect to keyboards, touchscreens, screen-readers (and "talking books"), and speech recognition.

BAUM Retec AG: Products and services for the visually impaired (Germany)

Claro Software: speech technology, image technology and touch technology.

Dolphin screen-reader with Braille and speech support:

Provides large cursors

Dolphin Oceanic Ltd.: .Magnifies the screen or allows users to listen with screen readers and experience refreshable Braille. Dolphin software also creates altformat reading materials for people with vision impairments or dyslexia - Braille, large print, DAISY talking books or MP3s.

Enabling Technologies, Inc.: Braille embossers / printers

Extra Corporation (Japanese): Jaws for Windows in Japanese

Freedom Scientific Products

Freedom Scientific Products for Blindness
JAWS® screen reading software
PAC Mate Omni™ accessible Pocket PC
MAGic® screen magnification software
PEARL® portable reading solution
OpenBook® scanning and reading software
SARA™ scanning and reading appliance
PAC Mate™ Portable Braille Displays
Focus Braille Displays
Focus 40 Blue Wireless Bluetooth Braille Display
FSReader DAISY player
StreetTalk™ VIP GPS solution
ScanTalker® talking barcode reader solution
FSTTY deaf-blind telephone communications
FaceToFace™ deaf-blind personal communications

Freedom Scientific Products for Low Vision

TOPAZ® desktop video magnifier
TOPAZ® Connectivity Pack
ONYX® Portable Video Magnifiers
PEARL™ portable reading solution
SAPPHIRE® Handheld Video Magnifier
RUBY® Handheld Video Magnifier
SARA™ scanning and reading appliance
MAGic® screen magnification software

GW Micro: Window-Eyes, Notetakers, DAISY Readers, Braille Displays, Low Vision


Close-captioning software

Speech Recognition and Assistive Writing

Speech recognition is often considered as an assistive writing tool for people with learning disabilities such as:

Dyslexia-- a disability in which a person has trouble reading words, sentences, or paragraphs.

Dysgraphia-- a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters correctly or write within a defined space.

Acapela Group: Text to speech solutions

Dexterity and Mobility

Applied Human Factors: screen keyboard computer access

Madentec Ltd.: New keyboards and joysticks

Origin Instruments: The HeadMouse Extreme replaces the standard computer mouse for people who cannot use or have limited use of their hands.

Tobii Technology: Tobii Technology specializes in eye tracking and eye control. This technology makes it possible for computers to know exactly where users are looking.


Metroplex Voice Computing, Inc.: Speech-recognition mathematics

Browsealoud is designed to improve website accessibility for those who struggle to read content online. It works by reading website content aloud in a high quality, human-sounding voice at no cost to the end user and zero implementation for the web owner.

Language and Communication

ZYGO: The Optimist-MMX is usable like a laptop from the keyboard. It can easily convert to a touch-screen tablet. It's durable, drop and spill resistent, and will withstand the demands of every day use.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Capstone / Research Paper Guide: Sustainable Business

New degree and certificate programs that focus on sustainability and sustainable business continue to gain traction in the economy, particularly as there continues to be a need for energy efficiency, cost-savings, and positive public relations.

Many schools require capstone projects and extensive research papers. For example, Anaheim University offers a graduate diploma in sustainable management, and has a choice of two capstone projects. Dominican University requires either a service-learning practicum, which can be either an internship or a capstone project. The University of Denver's master's degree in Environmental Policy and Management offers an emphasis in Energy and Sustainability.

Planning your capstone / research project:

Primary thesis: start with a clear statement, and then narrow it down. Make sure your thesis gives an indication of the possibilities contained in the project.

Introductory paragraph: Include your thesis statement, and be sure to provide details and a general overview of the scope of your research paper.

Engaging Opening: Start with a clear statement of why this matters, and show it with an illustrative scene or reference to a core or controversial paper.

Definition: What is sustainability today? Why does it matter? Definition section.

Your focus: Your sustainability focus. Describe your focus and goals in an in-depth way.

Background and contexts. Provide give sufficient background, details, and history of the particular issues you're exploring. Sources can include statistics, journal articles, government documents, news sources, reliable websites.

Literature review / history of the idea: who has written on your topic? what have they said? Sources: refereed journals, You can use blogs and opinions, but it is important to discuss their agendas and bias.

**Importance / Priorities / Issues that come to the surface
**Conflicts / controversies

Case Study Analysis?

Elements to Include:
**Sustainability Project Goals / Vision / Core Mission
**Project Overview
**Review of the Project Elements
**Sequence / Timing / Project planning

Conclusion and Recommendations: What makes your capstone or research project valuable is a combination of the following items: a) thorough investigation of your primary thesis; b) solid research in multiple databases and sources; c) reliable, credible sources; d) insightful analysis; e) creative, innovative conclusion and recommendations.

Monday, July 05, 2010

New Directions in Certificates and Degree Programs

College degrees and certificate programs are constantly evolving to meet the ongoing and emerging needs of people seeking to keep their skills up to date. The recent economic crises, combined with an awareness of human impact on the environment have led to a new surge of innovation and new programs. Here are new directions in degrees and certificates programs.

Environmental LeadershipEven before the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there was a push to establish programs that examine the impact of human activity on the earth, and to bring together an interdisciplinary set of courses covering global and local interdependencies and the decision-making processes that are used to interlink the interests in a positive way. Focus areas include economic development, environmental science, energy policy, trade and commercial practices, ethics, responsible technology, climate change controversies, innovative entrepreneurship, and community sustainability.

An example of a program that falls into this category is Naropa University's MA in Environmental Leadership. The MA in Environmental Leadership is a "two-year, 39-credit residential program comprised of semester-long courses and an eight-day summer field course that involves a three-day wilderness solo. In the final year, students apply their leadership skills to a collaborative project within an organizational or community setting." (from the website). Naropa University is located in Boulder, CO. It is unfortunate that this program is residential; there are many ways to collaborate on projects in a distributed setting.

Environmental Design
Community planning, environmental science, economic development, and architecture come together to focus on all-encompassing "green design" -- not just for commercial, industrial, or trade, but also for residential and community development purposes. What is the best way to educate children in a way that optimizes learning environments, while maximizing energy efficiency, facilitating parental / family involvement, in a sustainable economic environment? Environmental design looks at how to facilitate functionality so that the processes and contexts allow the elements within a society to achieve sustainability goals.

University of Massachusetts Online offers a number of programs dealing with sustainability and the environment, including three launched in 2009 . They have a number of courses and certificate programs that involve green building, LEED certification, and a green built environment.

Sustainable Hospitality and TourismYou might be surprised to see the ways that the hospitality industry has transformed itself to achieve increased efficiencies and to respond to the need to be as green and sustainable as possible. The person entering the hospitality and tourism fields must be aware of how technology is being used to promote to market properties and programs, and how aggregators / bulk discounters have transformed the markets. Property managers must be able to implement and administer the "green" operations that incorporate alternative / renewable energy, waste reduction procedures, environmentally friendly chemicals and coolants, low-water plumbing, and locally-sourced inputs. In addition, hospitality professionals must understand the best ways to accommodate the evolving needs of conferences and conventions and to provide infrastructure for hybrid face-to-face / distance (web-conferencing, streaming media) delivery modes.

An example of a program / course in this category is LSM Business School's Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Sustainable Communities
Sustainability in difficult economic times may mean dramatic changes in the services that a community provides, as well as a vision for how to change and incorporate new technologies. A community that finds itself suddenly unsustainable may have to seek guidance in the following areas: innovative approaches to employment creation, launching and supporting web businesses, reconfigured educational structures and delivery, green building, alternative and renewable energy sources, reconfigured social safety nets, invigorating inclusion in training programs, community-centric law enforcement, smartgrids and smart growth.

A number of colleges and universities offer courses in green, sustainable building design, which often incorporates renewable energy. UC-Davis Extension has a certificate course in green buildings and sustainable design as a part of a cluster of sustainable programs certificates. Newer programs will need to metamorphose to incorporate innovative systems and "smart" systems that function not only to monitor and control, but also to link together previously unrelated activities in a kind of green energy mash-up.

Sustainable Health
For health care to be sustainable, it has to make sense on many different levels. The bottom line is that appropriate and effective access must be expanded. For example, it is important for the health system to avoid an over-reliance on hospitals and in hospital emergency rooms as sources for primary care. The trends now are to move primary care to urgent care facilities and even pharmacies for effective "one-stop shopping." There is also a trend toward expanded home health care to avoid, delay, or minimize institutionalization. Ethical issues, especially unexpected ones, are emerging. End-of-life issues, privacy, impact of new technologies, debates about medication, are a few.

Many programs incorporate public health care administration and health care infomatics. However, fewer programs focus on sustainability and bring in the interdisciplinary approach needed to fully appreciate the changes that will occur in the future. California State University East Bay's Management of Health Care Administration does include courses in sustainable and integrated health care. It could be argued that it's important to aggressively pursue more interdisciplinary elements, and to include psychology, sociology, ethics, and gerontology in addition to the other options.

Community, Environmental, Psychological, Social InterventionsThe media has made what was once hidden and denied a public preoccupation, if not a full-blown spectacle. There are popular web-streamable documentaries / news programs (60 Minutes, Vanguard, etc.) and reality television featuring (Intervention, Hoarders, Obsessed, etc.), along with countless blogs, wikis, and social networking sites. The result is a surge in demand for an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems that involve all levels of society, from the individual to family members, social services, businesses, and often even law enforcement.

While it's not a degree or certificate program, USC Marshall's "Reconnecting to Remain Competitive" event captures the spirit of what it will take to be able to adapt to changes and times.

Enhanced Recoveries and Community RevitalizationsCreating jobs for a community is not simply a matter of providing tax incentives to attract a manufacturing facility to your town. The new jobs are for the new economy, and while one might argue that they're still service-based, they involve an entirely different skill set. Communities must attract web businesses, and they must have the infrastructure capabilities to meet needs of the distributed workplace. More companies are hiring home-based workers, and where there are facilities, they often come in the form of server farms, or administrative offices, all of which have high energy and internet infrastructure needs. New education programs must provide students with opportunities to learn the new technologies, but, even more importantly, to display them in the form of portfolios and projects. "Show what you know" is the new assessment dictum.

Community and Economic Development Certificate Program at Penn State University is an example of an existing program that does not specifically relate to sustainability. However, with a flexible five-course program, courses themselves can start to incorporate new views and vistas. Technical and career colleges such as TCI offer courses and programs that can be combined with liberal arts programs to help with the nuts and bolts of economic development at the state, community, or neighborhood level.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview with Jonna Ward, Visionary Integration Professionals: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Lifelong e-learning is essential in one's professional development and career trajectory. Much of the ongoing training and development is available in a situated learning context, which is facilitated by the existence of integrated technology and content. Bringing the elements together is often challenging, but has been made possible because of the vision and sense of mission of individuals who are willing to take risks when bringing together human resources development and education. Welcome to an interview with Jonna Ward, founder and CEO of Visionary Integration Professionals. Her companies have been pivotal in increasing access to content and efficiency in processes.

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to e-learning?
My name is Jonna Ward; I'm the founder and chief executive officer of Visionary Integration Professionals, which is a global information technology solutions provider. VIP is the parent company of Meridian Knowledge Solutions, a company that provides software (including learning management systems) and services for delivering, tracking and analyzing training over the Internet. VIP employs approximately 800 people, and Meridian is one of our important divisions. We acquired Meridian in 2006 because we saw (and continue to see) repeated demand from our clients for integrated solutions that bring analytics, data, and learning management together.

How does your organization administer and / or develop e-learning resources?
Meridian takes the lead for us in this regard. Many of the employees who work for us at Meridian have been with the company since Meridian's founding in 1997, so they've seen the evolution of e-learning content, e-learning standards, LMS and LCMS technology and mobile learning. VIP's purview spans much more than developing e-learning. Because we're implementing IT systems across entire organizations we are always looking for ways in which learning can be woven into the fabric of everyday work.

Through contact with customers, industry pundits, primary research and our customer advisory board, Meridian's R&D team stays abreast of which e-learning trends are picking up traction and which are fads to be forgotten. For example, over a decade ago, Meridian was among the first, if not the first, LMS provider to incorporate collaboration features into its system.

Today, online collaboration is a prerequisite to having a competitive LMS, but Meridian's R&D team knew about this and developed a viable system well ahead of the trend. So we rely on some really great minds at Meridian to tell us what we should focus on as an organization, and, at an executive level, our divisions work with one another to capitalize on opportunities to incorporate e-learning into various enterprisewide projects.

How does elearning relate to your vision of developing human resources, and matching organizational needs with people?
Organizations of all kinds collect and rely on employee performance data to make decisions, but that data is rarely connected in a meaningful way to the information learning systems use to manage employees.

Our vision is that these disparate systems work together, so a company (i.e., managers, mentors and peers) can develop an employee in much the same way a sports team cultivates its talent. This stretches beyond employee performance, too. The performance data that's collected for business units, divisions and an entire organization ought to be synchronized with learning management information, too, so executives can spot a dip in performance, identify its cause and prescribe a course of action (which can include learning of some kind) to bring performance in line with goals.

What is your philosophy of learning? What are the elements of it that are perhaps a bit unusual and not seen every day?
Learning isn't something that happens at a particular place or time; we're always presented with opportunities to learn, but we don't always seize the opportunity. Other times we have the opportunity and desire, but not the tools. Identifying why someone doesn't capitalize on a chance to learn is the secret to not only motivating employees but helping your workforce, employees and business partners succeed.

When does e-learning matter most?
When you want to train people at a moment's notice or over a wide geographic area, e-learning really pays for itself. E-learning is obviously one way to learn, but within any e-learning course you can embed video, audio or even access a virtual world to conduct a training exercise that might be too expensive or dangerous. It's the maleability and versatility of e-learning that matters most.

How can e-learning tie in to the most pressing issues facing a corporation, association, or government group?
That's a great question, and the answer depends on the people who are in charge of training as well as their vendor partners. Top training professionals within any organization have to truly understand their employer's business in order to tie e-learning to the most pressing challenges. For example, if you're in charge of training for, say, an airline, you have to know how market forces are affecting your routes, customer attitudes, profit margins, government regulations, services, facilities, aircraft maintenance and the like before you can develop the strategies that e-learning can support.

If, on the other hand, you're an expert at training but have less insight about what's bearing down on the business, then you're flying blindly. Pun intended. Training vendors owe it to their clients to learn about more than the training organization's challenges, too. A great vendor assigns people to an account who know the industry dynamics, not just how to implement and troubleshoot software.

Finally, can you recommend a book that made you see the world in a different way?
Anyone who reads the book, The World is Flat, has no choice but to see the world in a different way. The book emphasizes the need for people to change and adapt to remain competitive in a global market where historical and geographical boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant. As the world becomes more able to collaborate and share with others of different cultures, languages, and religions – we will find that we need better education and training to compete with the most brilliant minds around the globe and to adapt to the needs of the world.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Interview with Sarah Elaine Eaton, University of Calgary: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Understanding how informal learning occurs is critical in e-learning. Welcome to an interview with Sarah Elaine Eaton, whose research has focused on how, where, and when people learn in informal settings including e-learning and mobile learning.

1. What is your name, affiliation, and connection with e-learning?

Sarah Elaine Eaton, Principal Consultant of Eaton International Consulting Inc. and Research Associate of the Language Research Centre at the University of Calgary. My connection with e-learning began in around 1999 or so, when I began using Blackboard in the Spanish classes I was teaching.

From there I went on to learn Centra and Elluminate. My first intensive experience with e-learning was being part of a multi-university team that was developing a comprehensive online English as a Second Language program for international students. I've also worked on projects involving video conferencing, You Tube, Skype, Moodle and Slideshare, and other types of e-learning tools and platforms. As part of my work now I give professional development webinars on learning and leadership to educators, program directors and administrators. I gave one in May of this year on using Skype in ESL and Literacy classes. There were participants there from all over Canada and the US and even as far away as Egypt and Kyrgyzstan. I have no idea how those folks found out about the webinar, but it was super cool that they were there. I just love e-learning because it allows us to transcend so many boundaries.

Sarah Elaine Eaton

2. What are your thoughts about informal learning?

I'm fascinated by the notion of informal learning. Over the past couple of years I've done more and more research into the areas of formal, non-formal and informal learning. I suspect that informal learning isn't sufficiently acknowledged because people overlook it or take it for granted.

I think, bold though it may sound, that we are on the brink of a major paradigm shift. This shift will dramatically change how we view learning and how we value it.

Such a paradigm shift may well pose a threat for schools, colleges, universities and other formal learning institutions because it will challenge the very foundation of education. Traditionally, formal learning has been revered and valued deeply. In the "olden days" only clerics were taught to read and write. Books and formal learning were reserved for men (and a very few women) of the cloth and for those trained in law and medicine. Learned people held positions of authority and were greatly respected. Today, you can't help but have respect for the 13-year old kid who knows how to fix your computer - and he taught himself or he learned how to do it on the Internet. His skills are highly valued and you just know he's going to get a job, if he doesn't already have one "informally".

Old notions of formal learning have been turned on their head in the past 25 years. We are beginning to value informal learning more and more. People understand on some level, that our notions of learning and how we acquire vital knowledge is changing. I'm not quite sure how universities and schools are going to deal with this, but I do know when I talk to my colleagues that there is concern. And the very least, they're perplexed. Some feel challenged that the "quality of learning" diminishes as the level of formality diminishes. Again, I refer back to the 13-year old who can teach you how to do something new on your computer. Has the quality of his learning been diminished because he didn't learn it from a book? It'd be hard to claim that when you need their help and they fix it for you in no time flat.

3. In your opinion, where and how does informal learning take place in an online environment?

Informal learning, I think, takes place in an online environment every day. Anytime you have a question, where do we turn today? To the Internet. We look up words we don't know at sites like We ask questions at sites like AnswerBag. If we want to learn the steps to do a particular task, we turn to sites like For those who prefer video or audio sites like YouTube, Vimeo and other video sites offer clips that teach people how to do new things. And the number lectures and learning opportunities available by podcast now is astounding.

The Internet offers us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in all kinds of learning, every day. And not only that, it allows us the opportunity to make those learning opportunities mobile. Today, you can look up all that same information on the move with a Blackberry or iPhone. It's great. I literally "learn on the run" because I load TED talks or podcasts onto my iPod and listen to them while I'm out running or walking. The Internet has transformed how we learn, how we access learning and how we want to learn.

4. Can informal learning be structured? How? Where?

The very nature of informal learning is that it is unstructured. I like to explain it like this: Formal learning is very organized and structured. It is offered by schools and institutions and guided by a curriculum. So, formal learning is very structured. Non-formal may or may not be arranged by an institution, but is usually structured in some way, even if it is loosely. Since there are no formal credits granted or earned, in non-formal learning, there's less need for structure. And then there's informal learning. Rather than being guided by a curriculum, it's much more spontaneous.

In the case of informal e-learning, I'd say it's much more learner-driven, too. People download podcasts or watch YouTube videos on things they're motivated to learn themselves, not because someone told them they had to do so. Once I was a bridesmaid for a bride who requested that all of her attendants wear fake eyelashes on the big day. I'd never worn fake eyelashes in my life, so I looked up videos on YouTube on how to put them on. I was motivated to learn (albeit for a specific and limited purpose), so I went on line and learned how.

Having said all that, I don't think the categories are as cut and dry as I've explained them here. Think of it more like a continuum. Formal, highly structured learning is at one end and at the other end there's spontaneous, impromptu learning. Non-formal learning is somewhere in the middle. So it could be that there are some types of learning that may be classified as informal, that are still a little bit structured. For example, when I shoot a YouTube video, even if it's only a few minutes long, I plan it, script it out and then do a few dry runs before we shoot it. So, it's not exactly spontaneous, but the result is meant to look spontaneous. For anyone who watches one of my YouTube videos, I hope they look informal and spontaneous. That's the point. :-)

5. What are some of the projects you've been involved with that you would like to share?

This project taught me so much about how we learn, how we can learn and how we value learning. My entire career has been spent in education and this project has literally transformed how I understand learning. I used to value formal learning to the nth degree, thinking that it was the only "real" type of valid learning. Now my understanding has both broadened and deepened. Despite the fact that I have a PhD, I believe that there are many more opportunities in the world for non-formal and informal learning. Not everyone has the means or opportunity to pursue formal education, but that doesn't mean that they are incapable or disinterested in learning. On the contrary. Thanks to the Internet, there are hundreds of thousands - likely even millions - of opportunities to learn new things every day - most of them for free.

The project started out small. It focused on languages and literacy, because that's my background. For anyone who's interested, the final report, "Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada" is available free of charge at:

I became so intrigued with the concepts of formal, non-formal and informal learning, that together with a research assistant who was a trained scientist with a background in geophysics, I began exploring those same notions in different disciplines. After languages and literacy, we started one on science, which is the one you graciously and generously lent us your expertise on. We're just wrapping that one up and it's much more comprehensive and robust than the first report. Now I'm starting to look at the same notions in business and entrepreneurship, together with another research assistant who has a background in business. By the time we're done, we'll have a set of reports that examines formal, non-formal and informal learning across the disciplines. I'm totally pumped about it!

6. What do you see as three new directions in learning?

1. Mobile learning. I think the iPad, and products like it that haven't even been invented yet, will replace desktop computers, particularly in schools. Textbooks will give way to "learning on the go".

2. Multi-sensory, interactive learning. We used to talk about "book learning". Books only involve visual learning - either words or pictures, but mostly words. The days of "book learning" are going-going-gone. Today people are after interactive, multi-sensory learning. They want to see it AND hear it. They want to write their own comments and questions. They want to ask questions in real time. And with the gravity sensor in the iPhone and the use of technology like SMART boards, we can now incorporate touch into our learning experiences, too. This is transforming learning in amazingly cool and effective ways.

3. Individualized learning. I truly believe that people are hungry to learn new things. But traditional learning confines us to stiff, stagnant curricula that are outdated and boring. If we temper rigid structure with some freedom, while still providing challenge and guidance, learners' motivation soars. I believe that people become more engaged when they have the ability to shape the experience themselves a bit. Learning will become more individualized and yet, more interactive at the same time.

Elevator to Nowhere ... fringejournaling on technology

Psychic Sponge's Guide to Zeitgeistland

Digital Textbook Sales in the U.S.: A 5-Year Projection -- free pdf from Rob Reynolds' the Xplanation :)

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