Reports from the Field: “Getting Started With e-Learning 2.0”

February 6, 2011

To move beyond the common practice of seeing e-learning as little more than a way to save money in workplace learning and performance (training) programs, we need go no further than Patti Shank’s “Getting Started with e-Learning 2.0,” a first-rate report published by the eLearning Guild in late 2010.

Drawing from survey responses submitted by more than 850 Guild members—professionals working in e-learning—the report provides an intriguing snapshot of how social media tools are—or aren’t—being used in online learning and, more importantly, provides information about the “top five strategies that respondents feel they need for success with e-Learning 2.0 approaches”: “good content, upper management endorsement, user assistance, piloting, and testimonials” (p. 4).

We know from the beginning of this Guild publication that we’re among colleagues interested in learning. In talking about the increasing tendency to incorporate social networking tools including wikis, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Diigo, and others into online learning opportunities, the writer asks and answers a basic question—“Are these good learning opportunities? You betcha!” (p. 6)—and then delivers a cohesive and easy-to-follow summary of the eLearning Guild survey documentation supporting her conclusion.

The good news for trainers, teachers, and learners is that “social media has become a very big deal” and that its use is continuing to increase rapidly (p. 8). The not-so-good news is that most respondents “don’t feel a great deal of pressure to implement these approaches” (p. 14) and “more than 25% of respondents are making only limited use of e-Learning 2.0 approaches or researching how other organizations are using it” (p. 4).

This is hardly breaking news to those of us who enjoy and are involved in onsite and online education: there are still so many poorly organized and poorly presented workplace learning and performance offerings that it’s not surprising to find skeptical rather than enthusiastic presenters and learners. It also remains true that those trying their first webinar or online course are unlikely to give the medium a second chance if what they face is poorly designed PowerPoint presentations and sessions that lack the levels of engagement that lead to effective learning and the positive change that should follow.

Shank provides concise descriptions and suggested applications for blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, and other aspects of social networking that are becoming part of our online learning toolkit. She also offers useful sections on learning benefits (the fact that learning is socially grounded, so social networking tools are a natural match for the learning process—p. 26), challenges (managers and supervisors who see social networking tools as detracting from rather than adding to the value of their training programs and overall ability to conduct business—pp. 26-30), and results (sharing ideas across departments, improving team collaboration, increasing creativity and problem-solving—p. 31).

Three pages of online references and a two-page glossary round out this useful and learning-centric report, leaving us not only with encouragement about the positive impact e-learning is having, but also with sobering thoughts about how much more there is to accomplish before we have reached our—and its—full potential.

Next: ASTD’s Most Recent “State of the Industry” Report


Building Buzz: Microblogging, Learning, and Atlantic Monthly (Part 1 of 2)

February 13, 2010

Being the pseudo-troglodyte that I am, I have not joined Facebook, Twitter, or any number of social networking services that friends and colleagues enjoy on a daily basis. On the other hand, I’ve found LinkedIn, Ning, and a few other tools to be tremendously effective for what I value: using online tools as tools rather than letting them demand minutes and hours I simply cannot spare.

Google, this week, shifted my thinking a bit by pushing a new free and easy-to-use add-on into my Gmail account: Google Buzz. It turns out to be an interesting variation on the theme of microblogging a la Twitter and LinkedIn updates by allowing participants to connect to each other very easily through the posting of short messages back and forth over a shared network.

What really drew me to experiment with Buzz over the first few days of its existence was the realization that I could view—or not view—Buzz entries as time and desire allowed. Friends who use Twitter tell me that if I don’t want to check for updates frequently and respond rapidly, there’s really no point in using Twitter; Buzz, on the other hand, approaches me as I love being approached: it’s available, but not demanding.

Twitter, on its own website, bills itself as “a real-time information network powered by people all over the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now…[w]hether it’s breaking news, a local traffic jam, a deal at your favorite shop or a funny pick-me-up from a friend.” The result is that users post an overwhelming amount of personal information which can quickly drown readers in minutiae.

Facebook clearly provides a playfully social gathering place for people looking for the online equivalent of the “third place” away from home and work that Ray Oldenburg described so well in The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community more than 20 years ago. With the online Facebook community comes an expectation that responses from community members will be swift and plentiful.

LinkedIn offers a relatively unobtrusive business- and career-oriented variation on the theme, serving as a way to “find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you need to work with to accomplish your goals.” Controlling the flow of incoming information is easy to manage, which is one of its most attractive features for me.

And now we reach Buzz, which attempts to provide a way to “start conversations about the things you find interesting,” according to the introductory video posted by Google. It’s already clear that much of the information overload seen through other microblogging tools is possible, and it’s equally clear that its success as a valuable information source depends on how we all use it.

While it’s far too soon to know how it will play out, I have to admit that I’ve already been delighted with a few of the results. While several people are posting exactly the sort of personal ephemeral updates which keep me away from Twitter and Facebook, a few are exploring the possibilities of sharing useful resources along the lines of meeting notices and professional print and online resources we might otherwise overlook.

UC Berkeley E-Learning Librarian Char Booth, for example, posted a link providing information on her forthcoming book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators right at a time when I had been exploring and writing about the need for more reflection in learning. Writer-instructor-librarian Meredith Farkas initiated an exchange soliciting recommendations for “a really good book (or books) with concrete suggestions for engaging library instruction activities.” And ALA Learning colleague and co-writer Lori Reed posted a link to “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the March 2010 issue of The Atlantic, a fascinating article with interesting repercussions for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning.

So I’ve been Buzzed. And I’ve already absorbed that wonderful article from The Atlantic. And am now ready to Buzz others with thoughts about what that article suggests to the trainer-teacher-learners among us.

Next: What the Atlantic Article Suggests for Trainer-Teacher-Learners


Small Groups, Big Results: Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Points, and Learning

February 3, 2010

In a world in which people face far more information than they can possibly absorb, the spread of innovation depends on simple, memorable, and trusted means of information, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The Tipping Point a decade ago.

The fact that the book remains frequently discussed and extremely popular among users of libraries—there were 194 reserves on the 37 copies of the book owned by the Seattle Public Library, 84 reserves on the 27 copies of the book owned by the San Francisco Public Library, and several other libraries reporting all copies checked out yesterday—tells us that trainer-teacher-learners need to be paying attention as we attempt to support change within the organizations we support—which is, after all the point of training-teaching-learning.

What is tremendously encouraging from Gladwell is the confirmation that change doesn’t necessarily require large numbers of people in its initial stages. Nor does change and innovation require huge groups of people to be efficacious. The power of smaller rather than larger groups in the change process receives ample attention in his chapter “The Power of Context (Part Two).” Citing the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, Gladwell shows how groups ranging from baboons to hunter-gather tribes to religious groups including the Hutterites (pp. 177-181) work most effectively in smaller rather than larger conglomerations, with groups comprised of approximately 150 members being about the largest effective unit: “The Rule of 150 suggests that the size of a group is another one of those subtle contextual factors that can make a big difference” (p. 182). One repercussion of this proposal is explicitly addressed in an afterward to the 2002 edition of the book.

“We are about to enter the age of word of mouth,” Gladwell wrote shortly before Web 2.0 tools boosted the pervasiveness of word of mouth diffusion of ideas through the use of Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon.com book recommendations, and many other resources key players—what Gladwell calls “connectors,” “mavens,” and “salesmen”—use to expand their reach beyond the social and professional groups in which they are most intimately and personally involved.

LinkedIn itself demonstrates how easy it has become to build these ever-expanding groups of connections. As Gladwell notes, “Connectors…are people whom all of us can reach in only a few steps because, for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches” (p. 48). As LinkedIn makes the process easier, previously separated connectors become connected; ideas which would otherwise have been known to small numbers of people leap from person to person and social network to social network in a viral way.

The conclusion of Gladwell’s work returns readers to its beginning: “When people are overwhelmed with information and develop immunity to traditional forms of communication, they turn instead for advice and information to the people in their lives whom they respect, admire, and trust…Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen” (p. 275). And there’s every reason in the world for trainer-teacher-learners to recognize their role in that process—and use it to the advantage of those with whom they interact.


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