Masie on Learning Trends

Elliott Masie spoke via video-conference to the LearnNB – CSTD gathering in Fredericton yesterday. There was not much new for anyone who is closely following the learning field, but that’s not Elliott’s audience anyway. I see Elliott as someone who is there just as new methods and technologies cross the chasm, explaining them for the majority, not the innovators. Here are some of the points that I noted from his presentation on extreme learning:

  • Velocity is increasing in the learning field. This means that production (such as e-learning development) has to get quicker as the pace of technology, business and cultural change increase due to our interconnectivity.
  • Personalisation is being demanded for just-in-time learning (even staggered over time instead of a one-time intervention) that is aligned with learner motivation (just-for-me).
  • The mobile device is becoming the learning platform of choice, especially outside of North America.
  • Content is becoming democratised, as evidenced by the growth of blogs and wikis.

Being absorbed in this field, you sometimes forget that not everyone is a blogger or uses wikis for collaborative work and learning. Listening to Elliott is a good indicator of where customers/clients/users are in terms of willingness to try something new. I enjoyed Elliott’s anecdotes the most, as he’s a great storyteller.

Two other points that he made, which are not new but worth repeating, are that we need to create “sandboxes” for people to experiment and fail in a safe environment and that “War Games” can be good practice environments for the real world. Few work environments seem to have sandboxes to fool around with. At Mancomm, we have always created a sandbox (bac à sable) for ourselves and clients, before and during the implementation of a learning or collaboration environment. They work well, and with open source software, they’re cheap.

During my +20 years in the military I was involved in many war games, from ones inside a building with only a map, papers and a few radios to large scale operations with thousands of soldiers. A lot can learned from these “simulations”, which can be quite low-tech. We even had a popular technique called an “in-box exercise”, where you pretended to be in your office and were given an in-box of notes and memos that you had to sort and deal with. The instructors played the roles of various people whom you needed to talk to. Such an exercise could take all day but was a much better learning environment than sitting in a lecture.

The main lesson for me is that we have a lot of techniques and methodologies that can enhance learning. The trick is in matching the right one for the context.

2 Responses to “Masie on Learning Trends”

  1. Dave Ferguson

    “Sandbox” not a winning term for corporate culturesI’d like to agree heartily that "you sometimes forget that not everyone is a blogger or uses wikis for collaborative work and learning."  My own bias is that early adopters and pioneers like to talk and hang out with one another, forgetting that at least two-thirds of people are within one standard deviation of the mean.  The gap only widens when the early adopters / advocates get paid for being out where the buses don’t run.
    I would also suggest that in the mostly corporate and government projects I’ve worked on, you wouldn’t get far with decision-makers by calling something a sandbox when you meant an always-available tool for practice and skill-building. 
    (I know that’s not what was meant, but I think this point is worth stating directly, and it gives me a springboard for the rest of this comment.)
    Many of my own projects have involved helping people work with complex computer applications (the Amtrak reservation system, the employer’s customer sales-force-automation system, a financial service company’s system sold to retail banks).  Almost always it’s an intense struggle to get the organization to see the value in creating a robust, realistic test system.  By this I mean a structured sandbox, I suppose — a way for newly-trained people (or people learning on their own) to apply what they’re learning in a realistic way while minimizing the consequences of error.
    At Amtrak, we identified the different types of trains that travelers might use: long-distance trains with sleeping accommodations, short-to-mid-distance unreserved trains, reservation-only high-speed trains like the Metroliners.  We got the cooperation of both the marketing department (which controlled the reservation system) and the train operations department (which created and programmed trains in the system) to clone ten or twelve actual trains.  These followed the schedules and routes of existing trains; the only difference was that the ‘training trains’ had unique, four-digit numbers.
    The training trains pulled fare information from the actual fare database, so we didn’t have to do anything to keep that information fresh.  We created training-train logon numbers; you used one of these to make reservations on the training trains.  This prevented people from creating a reservation for an actual passenger on an imaginary train.
    (Sorry for the detail; I just wanted to show the thinking that went into this feature.)
    All too often, I think, inadequate development schedules and lack of resources are rationalized as "Internet speed" when in fact they’re shortsightedness.  It’s hard to build a business case for letting people work with the system in their own way, especially when some executives see individualized distance learning as something that happens off the clock.
    — Dave

  2. Harold

    Practice & Skill-buildingDave;  you’re right that perceived urgency, or Internet speed, is a cop-out for not thinking through the problem and possible solutions. I like the approach that you used – very systemic and performance-centered. The clone trains gave you all kinds of feedback without degrading business performance.
    As for the "sandbox" term, you’re right that it wouldn’t work well in many corporations. That’s why we used the term "professional journal" instead of blog for one of our projects. That small change made acceptance much easier. Perhaps we should rename our sandbox for future projects to corpo-speak in order to sell the idea –  like a "performance modelling scenario test-bench"  – just kidding 😉
    Really appreciate your comments 🙂


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