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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some Questions and Answers

Recently, someone sent me some questions about the field of e-learning and I thought I'd answer them here and give everyone a chance to provide input as well.

1) How is e-Learning Evolving?

I think it is evolving along four paths. The first is a "quick and dirty" path. This is e-learning that needs to be done quickly, has information that is not permanent and that needs to be provided to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. This uses simple development tools typically based on PowerPoint that have minimal functionality but maximum "ease-of-use."

The second path is toward greater interactivity and interactions through games and simulations. These efforts are being driven by the "gamer" generation and cost much more than option one but are used more for permanent information, high-end skills like leadership or operating complicated and difficult machinery or software and provide a high degree of fidelity.

The third path is toward Web 2.0 technologies. People are beginning to understand that learning is a process and not a one-time event. Since learning is a process, many people are beginning to understand the value of creating communities to foster the exchange of information and to use tools like blogs for capturing expert knowledge, wikis for collaboration and RSS feeds to help manage the overwhelming flow of data inundating employees in organizations and students in classes.

Finally, I see a movement, not just in e-learning but in business as well, toward virtual worlds for collaborative learning, design and transactions. People are naturally attracted to 3D environments and many people are beginning to scratch the surface on what is possible in virtual worlds. This is perhaps the most "far out" of the evolution I see but it is on the horizon.

Also, I hope that e-learning is evolving out of the course construct and into the "learning as a process" construct. We need to think of e-learning as supporting business operations and part of work and not as a separate event.

2) Business need for e-learning (business perspective) for instance how it would effect or impact that field?

If we look at the world in terms of cost of travel, risk associated with travel, time lost and other factors, I think business need and want e-learning more than ever. No longer is it practical to bring a salesforce together every quarter to have a meeting. Online tools are needed. Information is doubling at an unprecedented rate, we need to provide information and actionable knowledge to people more quickly. E-learning is one way this can be accomplished as well as Web 2.0 tools. So the need for online learning is being driven by the needs of businesses to continually reduce costs and increase productivity.

3. How IT is growing and developing the way businesses work?

New technologies are creating new ways of doing business and are shaping the world of work. Business-to-business online auctions, 3D spaces for collaborative design, RSS feeds to inform customers and clients, online marketplaces for the ranking items by consumers and the concept of "the long tail" are all IT related factors that are driving and shaping business decisions, even things like self-service interactive web sites created by insurance companies to help you manage your diseases and health care are all shaping interactions and the way businesses work. As we find new ways to create technologies, some clever person will find new ways to leverage them for business. It might be the same day or it might be a few months or years later but new technologies will be leverage for new business models.

4. The growing business need for development and e-learning activities.

One constant with new technologies and new business models is that people need to constantly learn...or constantly have access to instructions, directions or performance supporting materials...thus e-learning as performance support and as a way to keep employees up-to-date and skilled. The need continues to grow and is only increasing with the complexities that are surrounding our global economy.

5. Benefits of hiring a contractor vs. hiring an employee.

This requires the old consultant answer "it depends." A contractor provides the greatest amount of flexibility for the organization, it can also be a lower cost solution because once a project or specific task set is over, the contractor can be let go and can move on to her next job. It also provide the possiblity of hiring the best person with a specific skill set because the skills don't ever need to tranfer to other parts of the organization when a person's job inevtiably changes.

On the other hand, an employee should be hired with skills in an organizations core skill set, they can then bring their years of experience with a certain company to the table when working on problems or developing solutions, full time employees also can develop relationships with customers and clients that can be invaluable and provide a sense of stability to customers. They can be groomed for future leadership positions and provide organizational insights not possible from a contractor.

Having said all that, I think modern organizations need a mix of full-time permanent employees as well as contractors and a degree of churn to constantly bring in new ideas. The best organizations are diverse in terms of people, backgrounds, beliefs, ages and gender, religion, etc. including full and contractor positions.

Thanks to Danny for the questions. Please feel free to add your comments and answers to the discussion.


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1 comment:

Bart said...

Nice synopsis! Just two things to add:
- the four categories, at least how I view them, can potentially overlap. We're looking at combining virtual worlds and web 2.0 technologies to create an interesting learning environment for our senior capstone course in IST. Could be interesting.

- I've spent a lot of time thinking about informal learning lately, and how that is designed and facilitated. The time we spend in 'formal' learning environments (school, workforce training, etc) is absolutely TINY. If we can create learning environments that our audience(s) will 1) find and 2) enjoy...that's a fantastic formula. Games already provide a baseline for how this can be done (the game itself, the software around the game, the message boards, the communities, etc)

I've been coming back to a quote by Jim Gee a lot lately:

Games' greatest strength is not information delivery: it's about experiences and how they make you see the world in a different way

I think the best games create a shared experience for all the players that we, as designers, need to start looking at and attempting to leverage for learning.