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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:

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