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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Learning Circuits April Big Question: Are We There Yet

The Learning Circuit's Blog question for this month is "ILT and Off-The-Shelf Vendors, What Should they Do?"

I am going to answer that question by recanting a story from Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning.

In high school, I literally had a lesson on how to fold a map. The lesson was part of a six week class on how to read and use maps. I vividly remember the lesson because it confounded me how re-folding a simple piece of paper could be so darn frustrating. I always had the last flap inside out. Instead of the nice map cover, I had an obscure piece of Pennsylvania highway on the front. I did not do well folding a map and only a little better reading it.

When I got older, I always seemed to have jobs that required me to travel (someone has a warped sense of humor). Therefore, I always had various types of maps in various stages of being folded shoved into the glove compartment of my car—just enough so it would close (but eventually, they would spill out.)

The maps had highlighter all over them from my efforts to determine the quickest route to my destination. Then one day, after being forced to take my car because hers was in the shop, my wife bought me an atlas. It had all the maps in a nice neat book I could keep on the front seat. It was a great improvement for the aesthetics of my car.

Then, a few years ago, I started to use automated directions from the internet. It was fantastic; all I needed to do was type in my home address and the destination address. My printer would instantly provide turn-by-turn directions and even small pictures of the route highlighted in purple. I received a printed set of instructions guiding me to my final destination. I could throw away my atlas.

Whenever I traveled, the electronic directions provided pinpoint accuracy for about 99% of the trip. For some reason, they seemed to break down all time during the last mile. The last 5280 feet were always wrong. Leading me to believe that gas stations created the web-based directions so you would stop in and ask for directions. It was also a little scary trying to read the directions at 60 miles an hour to determine whether or not I should get off at the upcoming exit three lanes over.

Another unfortunate side effect, was that my car now had dozens of sheets of paper scattered about. Every trip required one set of directions for my destination and one set for the return trip. If I wanted to take a side trip, I needed to print directions for that little jaunt as well. These directions were a definite improvement over maps, no folding, but my car was back to being a mess.

Enter Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. I now have a small device that looks like a tiny television monitor stuck on the inside of my windshield and plugged into the outlet of my car. It is a GPS receiver. This receiver, no bigger than six inches, displays a map showing the route I need to follow and providing a visual image of my car on the highway. It also gives me verbal turn-by-turn directions from a female voice named “Jill.”

The GPS has eliminated both my need to print directions from the internet and the danger of trying to read instructions at 60 miles an hour. Technology has replaced the need to teach people how to read (and fold) maps and it made my car neater.

So, what should ILT and Off-the-Shelf Vendor focus on...creating embedded learning experiences within an organization, automation of information...not education. Create workflow learning, Just-in-time learning, replace the need to "know" something with the ability to look it up or to have the device, process or machine inform the user of the machine, process or device...focus on moving the burden of knowing from the person to the object or process. Just like fast food establishments with cash registers that automatically make change...vendors need to work on the same type of concept.

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