Training and Learning

I recently got back into doing some instructional design and teaching that is more closely related to workforce training than to traditional college coursework. Sometimes the line is very clear between the two - credits, degrees, prerequisites on the course side and certificates, promotions, and licensing being on the training side. Many colleges deliberately blur the line. They develop certificate programs with perhaps 15 credits of coursework and then offer students the opportunity to move that into a degree program.

Jane Hart has done three posts recently about training the "smart worker." She talks about these workers needing job aids rather than courses, continuous learning using social media and how these workers need immediate access to solutions.

Is this also useful to more traditional courses?

Are schools moving from their traditional role of creating, delivering and managing formal learning to another model?

Hart proposes "liberating courses from the LMS and making them available on the intranet where they were more likely to be accessed and used." Will we see courses moving out of the LMS to an intranet or the Internet (as in open courseware)?

But I also mentioned that the materials would need to be  provided in a format that was easily searchable so that relevant content was immediately accessible without having to work through the whole course.

She references a piece by Marc Rosenberg that is also concerned with situations when training is not the answer.

“Too often, there’s more talk about performance than action. Too often, we offer training solutions (including eLearning) for problems that we know are not training related. We know better, but for reasons that are often, but not always, out of our control, we revert to what’s comfortable and what’s expected.“

How often in your classroom is a student having a performance problem rather than a learning problem?

Hart offers several suggestions for developing content in those situations.

  • Consider how people are going to use that content - dipping in and out of the materials to get what they need or taking a linear path through them.  I like Jane's thought that, "People no longer want just-in-case learning, but just-in-time learning; when they need it.  They don’t want or need to have to memorize information just in case they need it; they only need to know where to find it, when they need it.

  • Focus on performance outcomes rather than learning outcomes that measure what they “know”

  • Keep the materials short and as simple

  • Ensure resources are readable in mobile devices

In modeling "job aids", Hart gives examples of several Google pages on using their tools. She also gives links to other examples of job aids in this format can be found at Producing effective job aids requires good information design skills. Here’s a meta-job aid (PDF) on creating Job aids.

A well-designed and simple cheat sheet/quickstart/job aid/web page of textual instructions or a short visual video is certainly something we sometimes use in courses and should probably be using more frequently, especially with adult learners and for performance support.

Goodbye Google Labs

logoI am disappointed that it was announced that Google Labs will be discontinued. It was Google's beta testing Web site for new products.

I saw the news on the Google blog with the explanation that it was “prioritizing...product efforts.”

Admittedly, some of the Lab projects have been frivolous, but that's also where GMail, Google Maps, Google alerts and Google Groups came from. It's not clear which projects will disappear but GMail and Google Maps Lab products will not be affected.

“We’ll continue to push speed and innovation—the driving forces behind Google Labs—across all our products, as the early launch of the Google+ field trial last month showed,” according to their blog.

Is Google+ For Educators?

beach laptopMaybe you have been exploring Google+ this summer and thinking about whether or not it has any applications for your classes.

Google+ is built to take you away from either Facebook or Twitter (or both), and it could do it, in time.

The live video chat feature is something that could be used for collaboration and you could create "Hangouts" for conferencing with students and "Circles" for classes or groups within a class.

If your school already uses Google Apps, there will be more and more ways to connect all these pieces.

Steven W. Anderson who does the blog at  has put together a LivBinder collection of links to resources on Understanding And Using Google+ In The Classroom And Beyond. (If you have never encountered LiveBinder, that's something you may want to explore also.)

If Google+ does eliminate the need for other services it might start with you NOT writing a blog post, emailing it or tweeting a link to it but simply using G+ to write it and then deciding how to share it. Make it "Public" and it's a blog post to the G+ world, direct it at a Circle (or Circles) and it's like a tweet.

Aim it at your class Circle and it's a post with a discussion below it. Direct it to one friend and it's email.

If you aren't using any social media tools already you may want to a) jump in now with G+ and have all the tools  b) continue to stay anti-social.  If you are already using the other tools for classes, I would think you'd want to start experimenting with G+ and compare the experience.

The World Is My School


Back to the Academy!

In an article by Maria H. Andersen ("The World Is My School: Welcome to the Era of Personalized Learning") she argues that future learning will become both more social and more personal.

I agree with her that learning WAS social to begin with and has always maintained a social aspect. Social is one reason that students come to school.

Humans have always been learning, but how we learn has changed over time. The earliest means of education were highly personal: Oral histories passed from adults to children, informal or formal apprenticeships, and one-on-one tutoring have all been used in the early history of most cultures. It’s only been in the last two centuries that we’ve used formalized systems of mass public education (aka industrialized education).
So, what is changing currently?

Certainly, personalized learning is the more effective method. In 1984, educational researcher Benjamin Bloom found that average students who were tutored one-on-one outperformed 98% of students who were learning via conventional methods (this is referred to as Bloom’s two-sigma problem). However, personal learning is not cost-effective, and so we currently educate students in batches of 20, 30, or even 200 students at a time. This is likely to get worse before it gets better, with prominent philanthropists like Bill Gates declaring that “the best lectures in the world” will be online within the next five years. Certainly we can use technology to deliver those lectures to thousands, or even millions, of students at a time, but a lecture does not automatically produce learning any more than attending a class does.

Is this idea of education as personalized learning new? No. The article references Neal Stephenson’s speculative 1995 novel The Diamond Age which contains a kind of interactive book with a "conversational interface" and “pseudo-intelligence.”

Whether Google+, Diigo, Delicious, Kindles, iPads and all the rest will move us towards that new learning is yet to be seen.

It is happening fast and in unpredictable ways.

These innovative social disruptions have happened quickly, but not from within the existing organizational structures. For example, Facebook did not disrupt phone communication by changing the nature of phone calls or phones. Facebook built an entirely new system that eventually circled back around to phones by the way of phone apps. In the same way, the trick to developing a personal learning system is to abandon thinking about how to build it from within the existing educational system and to begin pondering how such a system could be developed outside of education. 

Read the rest of Andersen's article at

An Email Charter

Reading and replying to email requires a lot of time. Smartphones and texting may be the thing now, but email is still the killer app, especially in the workplace.

I recently saw that Chris Anderson (WIRED editor, author, TED conference guy) created an "Email Charter" and posted 10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral. He figures that you can't solve this problem acting alone - despite lots of articles about how to have a "zero inbox". He thinks we need to change the ground rules. He is particularly perturbed by email that takes more time to respond to than it took to generate.

I also saw a response to the Charter by The New York Times’ technology columnist, David Pogue, who admits to his own public-figure email problems, but also sees changing other people's habits as the only workable solution.

I agree but I'm less than confident that we can change the world than I was as a college sophomore. Still, I am a lifelong teacher, so here is my list culled from their lists (see, I'm already saving you time) of things we all can do that will help the problem.

  1. The big goal is to minimize the time your email will take to process and that does require taking more time at your end before sending.

  2. It's OK if replies take a while coming and if they don't give detailed responses to all your questions

  3. Clarity - use relevant subject lines - and change them when the conversation changes

  4. No odd fonts and colors

  5. Avoid open-ended questions (Status? Thoughts? What's next?) These short queries require a lot of time to answer. Administrators seem to like them. ("How can we use social media effectively? Thoughts?)

  6. Think twice on cc's - at work, they are often cya's (Cover Your Ass) but it fills other inboxes and increases the chance of you getting multiple replies

  7. Think three times before you click "Reply All" Wow, can you get in trouble doing that too quickly!

  8. Cut the thread - the thread is all of those earlier emails that are at the bottom of your mail. If there are more than three, maybe you need to make a phonecall or visit their office (especially when the person you're mailing is in the same office/building)

  9. Graphics files (logos, signatures) that appear as attachments suck.

  10. Why do I have to open a Word or PDF file attachment to read something that could have been in the email itself?

  11. Trim your signature lines - I get ones that are quite a bit longer than the message. You can have different ones and you probably don't need to send everyone your fax number or include Bible quotes. David Pogue calls those legal disclaimers that some companies use "Legal Vomit". Has that silliness ever protected a company from anything? They are like the tags on mattresses that say "Don't remove this tag".

  12. How about ending a note with “no reply necessary” so that's clear? Maybe we can make NRN a popular shortcut.

  13. If you really must blast out a message (or joke or whatever) use BCC and protect your friends' e-mail address and privacy. Those mails get forwarded and eventually someone scrapes those addresses for spamming or hits "Reply All" to tell you (and now all 35 of the rest of us) that they are ROFL.

  14. And about those Forwarded mails... get rid of the carets (>>>>>>) and earlier parts of the thread. Remember when people passed jokes along in the office by photocopying the photocopy? By copy number 25, bits of dust were the size of letters. Carets are the dust motes of electronic mail.

  15. And was that really worth forwarding? If you had to pay for a stamp to forward it, you probably would forward about 1% of the things you pass along electronically.

  16. When replying to that email that has multiple statements or questions, you can reply inline - hit the Return after each one and type your answer there, creating a little dialogue. (Some people use bold, caps or colors, but a line return or two should be sufficient).

The Email Charter says that "If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we'd all get less email" and that's true. It also suggests that we consider "calendaring half-days at work where you can't go online" which is much more difficult. If the Internet goes down at the college where I work, I feel like we should send everyone home as you hear the work gears grind to a halt.

Email-free weekends are a nice idea. Unfortunately, they lead to stuffed-inbox Mondays...