Tuesday, September 2, 2008

September Big Question Response - "To Learn Lists"

This month's Learning Circuits 'Big Question' gets to the heart of an interesting query - how do we manage "Informal Learning" and how is that reconciled with our daily tasks?

Jim Collins, in an essay in Learning Journeys, wrote, "A true learning person also has a “to-learn” list, and the items on that list carry at least as much weight in how one organizes his or her time as the to-do list."

The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question for September "To Learn Lists"
  1. If you have a to-learn list and are willing to share, and willing to share how you work with that list, that would likely be helpful information.
  2. As Knowledge Workers, work and learning are the same, so how does a to-learn list really differ from a to-do list? How are they different than undirected learning through work, blogging, conferences, etc.?
  3. Are to-learn lists really important to have? Are they as important as what Jim Collins tells us?
  4. Should they be captured? If so how?
  5. How does a to-learn list impact something like a Learning Management System in a Workplace or Educational setting?
  6. What skills, practices, behaviors do modern knowledge workers need around to-learn lists?

Part 1 - Any Lists to Share?
I think it is important to examine what exactly we might be sharing because the topic that Jim has opened up is broader than it seems. What he is describing by a "To Learn List" in fact represents several distinct things, including:
  • Discovery (or query) Lists
  • Discovery Tracking (for ad hoc exploration)
  • Personal Learning Goals
  • Personal Dynamic Curricula (to support those goals and objectives)
  • Representation within a personal learning environment (now managed with non-standard tools as the architecture is not fully agreed upon or deployed yet)
So the "To Learn Lists" themselves can take the form of:
  • Outlines
  • Mind Maps
  • Concept Maps
  • Documents (HTML, Word, text, .ppt, .xsl, MS OneNote etc.)
  • Web 2.0 (Blog notes, wiki posts, etc)
All of this generally fits within the category of Informal Learning, which is why there is a diversity of approaches.

Part 2 - How do they Differ ? In all honesty, sometimes they don't. However, 'To Do' lists generally focus attention on immediate work-related tasks, whereas the To-Learn Lists involve activities that span days, weeks or months unless of course you happen to be involved immediate ad hoc discovery efforts (and in those cases especially the To-Learn and the To-Do tasks tend to merge). The primary difference that I think is being asked about here though is one of organization.

What tends to happen when we do merge our to do tasks and learning is that we often lose track of what we've gained. The 'To-Learn List' if we view it as both the learning goals and the learning activities targeted to meet those goals can allow us to reference our newly gained knowledge later rather than letting it all slip away. (and some of us have better longer term memory than others)

Part 3 - Are these types of organizational tools important ? Yes, they most certainly are. However their effectiveness is limited by the lack of tools available to support and automate this process. The most important tool lacking is the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A PLE is a combination discovery engine, visualization tool, knowledge management tool and ideation or strategy engine. It would allow someone to build up their own personal curricula and knowledge base for future reference and would help organize and prioritize learning tasks and link them to career goals & competencies.

Part 4 - Capturing Them As of now, I capture most of mine through a combination of tools including a mind map (for the topic area visualization) and MS OneNote, to capture web research within a unified set of taxonomies. The main problem with this however is that nearly half of what I end up querying is Ad Hoc based upon the initial responses I receive from the set of topics first place on the mind map or query list. In truth, there is often no way to predict where your research will lead you, but it is important to be able to capture that 'trail' and be able to see the relationships that develop. The highest level goals can be a very simple matter though of just writing down a few bullet points.

Part 5 - LMSs They will likely never impact them at all. This is because the LMS industry has done its best for the last decade to to completely neglect all aspects of personal learning endeavors. The LMS view of the world is top down and autocratic. "To Learn Lists" are all about personal freedom through learner control of their own educational experience.

Part 6 - What skills do you need to Exploit 'to learn' lists ? Most of them you have already; the ability to think for yourself, determine your own goals, follow your own interests and organize your efforts over a period of time. It's our job in this industry to make that process easier for the learner to facilitate their growth.

* Note "Undirected Learning" I do not believe that personal direction using blogs or what have you is the same as 'undirected', undirected implies that the effort might be frivolous, and this is certainly not the case with what many people are doing.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Informal Learning Survey

In an article in July's Learning Circuits magazine: Informal Learning, Overlooked or Overhyped?, there is an examination of a recent survey of Informal Learning adoption at various organizations. When I read though who was being queried and what the context was I was somewhat surprised:

"The core was an online survey of 1,104 human resource and learning professionals, who completed the survey between March and April 2008.
The majority of them (86 percent) were managers, directors, vice presidents, or C-level officers. Most of the respondents represented large enterprises (60 percent had workforces of at least 1,000 people) that operate in multiple nations."

I have several problems with what I saw in the article regarding the study:
  1. It's not clear whether they were asking these folks if Informal Learning was being sponsored or otherwise endorsed rather than spontaneously occurring.
  2. Depending on what they really wanted to ask and find out they may have been asking the wrong folks - i.e. if they wanted to know about true adoption that didn't happen to fall within the context of an organization's approved resources or practices, then many of these high level respondents might not have actually known what learning mechanisms their employees were or weren't using.
The questions that should have been asked then are these:
  • What if any Informal Learning programs and / or capabilities are being offered or supported by your organization ?
  • What Informal Learning do you think is occurring outside of that context and how do you track or other find out about such activities?
  • And of course, ordinary members of the organization should have constituted a larger proportion of those taking the survey (and perhaps could have been given their own specially tailored survey).
This would have provided a much more comprehensive view of who was really do what in the enterprise with Informal Learning and begins to provide a foundation to possibly bridge the gap between management and employees on this issue.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reconciling Web 2.0, KM & Learning Technology

Here we are in 2008, and the unification still hasn't happened yet? Why not? Why isn't standard operating procedure to combine Knowledge Management, Web Collaboration & Learning Technology solutions together into unified Enterprise Learning scenario ?

Let's go over the pieces again to this artifically separated puzzle in an attempt to perhaps explain what might be taking so long...

Knowledge Management - Traditionally, this has assumed the form of complex DBMS driven solutions with some minimal collaborative capability (in most cases never exploited). KM has never been viewed coherently within the context of the larger family of enterprise processes, hence few have understood how to gain value from it.

Web 2.0 - For the purposes of this discussion, Web 2.0 refers to the collaborative knowledge revolution brought about by use of blogging, wikis and other digital knowing / information sharing technologies combined with previous and emerging collaborative communications technologies / applications.

Learning Technology - This is still being separated into formal and informal flavors with the informal approaches making slow gains but not achieving their proper recognition. In many ways, informal learning overlaps with Web 2.0 technology, however what it has been lacking is the pedagogical pedigree that is currently only being extended to formal learning solutions (which are still very much LMS and SCORM-centric).

Is there overlap across all three areas ? yes...

Do all three areas serve a larger enterprise goal ? yes

Would all three be more effective combined than separated ? yes

so, why isn't it occuring ?

Answer # 1 - The field of E-learning has never yet developed a practice framework that encompassed the whole process of learning - and more importantly the necesary scope - i.e. across the entire enterprise while simultaneously focusing more on individual needs.

Answer # 2 - The thought leadership of the field of e-learning was coopted early on by a small handful of COTS vendors and thus lost their focus. They then left a void which users are now filling themselves, this however has signicantly slowed the progress which otherwise would be occuring.

Answer # 3 - The traditional educational community is still somewhat unsure of how to deal with Web 2.0 - the first reaction was merely to view it as a medium for potential plagiarism - an unbelieveable knee-jerk reflex but one we've still not recovered from yet.

Until we understand that blending is about more than integrating a small subset of learning technologies we're not going to realize the full potential of e-learning.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Response to July's Learning Circuits Big Question - Lead the Charge

I apologize for being away for some months, I was involved in a rather intense project and neglected the blogs for a bit. This post is in response to Tony Karrer's question/post on The Learning Circuit's Blog: "Leading the Charge."

I'm not sure whether this month's query is a question or a proposition, but I happen to agree with it whole-heartedly. I believe that this issue is not restricted to the technology du jour either, whether we're talking about Web 2.0 or Audio / Visual capability (remember language labs) or the introduction of computers or even typewriters it is part of our responsibility as educators to understand the technology that learners must use or that learners can exploit to help understand whatever it is they need to learn.

Some of us have taken this to different levels, myself for example. Originally I had pursued a degree in education but eventually switched to Information Technology. This led to an interesting mixture of motivations and projects which in turn got me involved in E-learning at its inception. I still consider myself an educator but in a new and different context. My view now is this: I can empower others to learn through the technology solutions I design and/or deploy rather than being directly responsible for 'teaching' or 'training' others within the context of a specific set of expectations.

This is more or less what I've been describing for the past number of years as "The Learning Enterprise" or "Me-Learning." (see previous posts in this blog). Ultimately, I think that this philosophical shift is much more important than any particular technology that might be applied to Learning per se. The real revolution is one of personal empowerment; i.e. giving the Learners the freedom and responsibility to think for themselves. We preach "critical thinking' all the time but traditional education has practiced conformity since its inception. We are indeed at a cross-roads in our perception of what learning can or should be be. It is definitely a revolution, one that can be equally applied to both the personal and organizational level.

Those educators who truly believe that the learners come first and that learning is a continual process should not feel intimidated by whatever new technologies emerge that might be applied to education. This is not a threat - it is enhancement that enriches both learners and educators. The single best way that I can envision to help educators cope with and learn as their careers progress is an open-minded attitude, both on their part and the part of the organizations that support them. The expectation should be from day one as an educator that tools and methodologies will evolve and that this evolution is a good thing.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What is an LMS, Really?

The notion of a "Learning Management System" or LMS has long dominated the discussion and practice of E-learning. This was understandable at first; an LMS is essentially a large content tracking and delivery mechanism (built atop some database engine). It addressed immediate considerations for automation of learning delivery both for online and classroom education; those considerations included:
  • The ability to disseminate CBT and other electronic content over the web.
  • The ability to support online course registration / subscription.
  • The ability to support learner progress tracking.
  • The ability to support some form of online assessment.
At the heart of this issue was the desire to provide some type of virtual metaphor for the classroom and the desire to automate a number of traditional, existing processes while simultaneously opening up new channels for education delivery. The LMS helped accomplish some of this, but also acted as a barrier for further innovation by entrenching much of the status quo approach to Learning Management as a process and a philosophy. This has led to a number of resulting issues.

Core Definition
A Learning Management System provides web-based access to Learning Content and various Learning administration capabilities. The exact nature of the content available and the administration features provided varies based upon product vendor. Multiple content standards are utilized, most notably SCORM and AICC. The majority of LMS products have tended to couple content delivery with content / learning assessment and this is also reflected in the standards mentioned.

The one question that has been continually posed to vendors LMS and e-learning practitioners who view the LMS as the engine that drives a typical enterprise learning solution is this: can or should the LMS adopt a more open content model. This is not a new question, since 2000 many have looked at creating flexible "Learning Object" standards and many vendors have produced solutions that represent hybrid compositions of LMS and Content Management System (CMS) - otherwise known as a "LCMS." Others have extend the LMS in the direction of Performance Management (previously often referred to as competency management). This is a variant that is very focused on assessment.

However, at the same time another crop of solutions - originally referred to as Learning portals started attacking the virtual classroom metaphor more directly. These solutions tend to have some LMS (usually lite) capabilities built-in and are used to deliver learning at universities and other institutions. There a quite a number of ways to refer to them; Virtual Learning Environments, Collaborative Learning Environments, Personal and so forth.

Impact of the LMS
The true impact of the LMS seems to have been an arbitrary imposition of pedagogy on E-learning before such a consolidation of approach was warranted. This means simply that many assumed that there was a right way to provide E-learning before really understanding what their true options were and how those new options might impact the way that learning is managed as a process and an IT solution. Many if not most of us have found web-based technologies to be fairly liberating - we have come to expect that this will always be the case in most instances where traditional activities are made "virtual." This didn't happen in E-learning - with a world of content available to us we restricted ourselves to a very narrow interpretation of what was "appropriate." The content standards and pedagogy imposed by early E-learning solutions prevented them from achieving widespread adoption - this in fact explains why nearly all of the major universities and other educational institutions are now using the Learning Environment paradigm to deliver their offerings instead of the early LMS-driven solutions.

As noted in other posts, E-learning as a practice is and should always have been technology agnostic. In other words, the approach taken to what solution mix to use, what process mix to use what approach to content to use - should be flexible and not bound to any particular technology, product or pedagogy. The E-learning practice is about solving problems, not posturing to determine who is right or what is 'better.'

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The "Q" Word

The Q word, "quality" has presented problems for E-learning ever since its inception.

We live in world of endless possibilities; the restrictions that do exist tend to be self-imposed. Recent discussions in the e-learning community continue to focus on what is ‘Good’ learning content or not. That is the wrong question to be asking at this point. Right now we should be looking at new forms of content and development techniques that can be added to our repertoire. Our focus on perceived quality has limited our possibilities, reduced content production and increased its production cost.

It is also important for us to consider how our content design and development fits into a larger world of dynamically accessible content. Assessment based learning content still has a role within this spectrum of possibilities, but that role must be matched to the appropriate scenarios for the content to be utilized properly. The design spectrum implies a variety of methodologies and approaches as well; each suited towards producing different types of content with varying levels of structure. Most of the current opportunities revolve around "lite," or flexible content - content that was traditionally deemed unsuitable based upon various assessment or pedagogical expectations.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Knowledge, Information & Content are Learning

There is an odd process of specialization at play in most enterprises that takes what essentially is the same set of resources and divides them across separate delivery and storage mechanisms and then associates them with different workflow processes. The simplicity of our alternative is staggering in its implication – ALL of the systems now referred to as: knowledge management, collaboration, content management, document management, knowledge bases, help systems, learning systems and courses, discovery portals are all essentially extensions to one core process – enterprise knowledge assimilation, i.e. Learning. Knowledge without the ability to assimilate it is like pouring water into a desert.

The purpose for all of the information is clear yet usually ignored – it must be accessible and integrated into the living fabric of the organization through the only mechanism that can accomplish such a feat, learning. Once the premise is accepted at the conceptual level, a number of obvious possibilities begin to emerge:
  • Redundant systems can be eliminated
  • Nearly a dozen or enterprise processes can be merged, greatly simplifying both the day to day operations of most organizations and their information infrastructures as well.
  • Discovery of information becomes greatly simplified as the unnecessary tangle of conflicting workflows, methodologies and philosophies are replaced by a single Learning-based paradigm.
  • Learning and information management becomes interactive; the enterprise is no longer the elephant graveyard for long-lost bytes never utilized or assimilated. A living culture emerges where learning content is created as regularly as it is consumed – the organization finally discovers its collective memory and builds a collective consciousness.
  • A sense of context is imbued to both the learning content and the process that finally grounds education in everyday reality, rather than perceived reality. Learning becomes a routine aspect of everyone’s job in the organization; allowing for more agile organizational evolution while reducing risk and backlash against new technologies and techniques.

Knowledge is captured in content—content can be complex or simple, the level of complexity determines the unit production cost...

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Learning 2.0 Glossary Blog

Semantech is pleased to announce that we are deploying a supplement to our Learning Leaders Blog. The Learning 2.0 Glossary project is now officially underway and the results of that effort will appear in our Learning 2.0 Glossary Blog. We anticipate that it will be completed sometime by the end of this Summer, but in the meantime, feel free to drop by and check on new additions as they arrive.

Our goal with the Glossary is to provide an updated set of terminology to help better understand what is already available and to help prepare for the Learning solutions of tomorrow. Any suggestions will of course be appreciated - we hope you get a chance to check it out from time to time. Eventually, when completed, the Glossary will become part of our online magazine.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Linkedin.com Response: CMS Classification

What is the consensus out there about whether Enterprise Content Management (ECM) suites are a good choice to answer an organization's Web CMS needs?

I think there is a larger question worth considering - whether or not the industry classifications for the toolsets in question really answer the key question involved with CMSs or ECMs. Back in the day, what these tools are doing might have be referred to as knowledge maangement or collaboration environments or document management solutions. Does the industry classification of today make them any more accessible than yesterday?

What we're really talking about is the management of unstructured data and related process workflows. The important question is not whether the separation of current generation tools (between web, enterprise or not) prepares us for the real challenge ahead, the merger of unstructured data, structured data and analytics. The other apsect to consider is whether storage of unstructured data actually supports knowledge retention, assmiliation and dissemination in an effective manner.

copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why E-learning Hasn't Yet Lived up to its Potential

Why did E-learning fail to catch on? There is no doubt that the Elearning
industry as it defines
itself came nowhere close to meeting its
original expectations regarding market penetration. It is hard to determine
exactly how much of market E-learning actually does possess because the
industry never properly defined its parameters. Quite a lot of work that
should be included as elements of e-learning are not considered as such.
This is something that can easily be remedied. We can correct this by
modifying many of the assumptions that went into the original definitions;
those modified assumptions include:

  • E-learning is defined by practice and not by vendor categories. In other words E-learning is not a product or even product-oriented, it is a solutions practice. The vendor categories are not logically tied to the actual practice and must be put aside in order for the practice area to be properly understood by the marketplace. The vendors can later reorganize within the practice sub-categories.
  • E-learning is primarily concerned with content. Delivery of content is and always was a secondary consideration. In fact, the entire notion of e-learning was to a large extent predicated upon the protocols and infrastructure inherent within the Internet (de facto delivery). Building secondary and tertiary delivery environments with divergent and idiosyncratic standards took away the primary advantage originally associated with the promise and potential of e-learning - universally accessible, inexpensive content.
  • E-learning never developed its own philosophy, opting rather to graft traditional approaches to instructional design and assessment based outcomes onto the emerging technologies. This led to a fundamental discontinuity between the medium and message. Web-based content and the emergence of social publishing have been rapidly pushing towards an open content model, one built on democratized production and review rather than top-down or bureaucratic micro-management. The assumption that experts know better than we do how we will learn best is anachronistic, and worst of all, expensive.
  • Traditional educational providers have demonstrated an unreasoning fear of the potential related to E-learning; this fear derives from an unwarranted assumption that if the true potential were adopted that their role would be marginalized. Nothing could be further from the truth – traditional education is under fire from every direction, budgets being cut, options being limited and the one tool that could help change that and actually expand opportunities is being ignored or sub-optimized. E-learning should lead the way to that new reality; not cater to the fear by perpetuating traditional solutions that were marginally effective before and less so now using learning technology.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Audio & Learning Solutions

I was reading through someone's Blog not too long ago and noticed some concerns about client requirements for audio. It was an interesting discussion as this is a topic that I've followed closely since 1999. So, was that an unreasonable for a client to make? What is the value of audio in Learning solutions?

Well, back in the day, say the 1980's, audio in learning conjured up fairly different images - I'm reminded of the configuration of 'language labs' used to help students though audio reinforcement using tapes of native language speakers or tapes designed to elicit learning through various type of audio repetition drills. For all I know that may still be the way it's handled today at various schools. However when we refer to 'Audio' in this Blog we're speaking of E-learning which means web-based or web 2.0 media capability. Is web 2.0 audio worth the trouble, what value does it add?

I think it is. But the value that it adds depends upon its application. Let's examine this in more detail...

Generic Value of Learning 2.0 Audio:
  1. If used properly it allows for quicker content development (i.e. it is usually faster to talk and record than to develop formal content).
  2. It can provide a sense of personalization to web-based learning that would otherwise be absent.
  3. It is much easier to produce than video.
  4. The Podcast format and various support mechanisms for online syndication have matured quite a bit and have largely eliminated concerns regarding hosting and streaming media.
  5. Within online course-rooms, it represents the best method for verbal communication from teacher to students.
Having said all of that, it must be noted here very strongly that most people are simply doing it wrong. Think about it for a moment - current audio formats don't lend themselves well (or at all) to internal content / meta-data tagging. What if your audience is only interested in one specific sub-topic, but the presenter rambles on creating a 25 minute long audio file. Now if you've used a web meeting service that records both audio and slideshow together you might be able to traverse that content to find the subsection you're looking for. But not everyone has access to those tools or may want to combine their audio with a slideshow.

The habit we need to get into is a very simple one - developing audio files based upon topical sections within a taxonomy (or potential taxonomy) with each file 3 minutes or less in duration. There is basic ID3 metadata that can be assigned to any Mp3 file so that content can be combined (or recombined into infinite combinations) into Playlists using any Mp3 software (like itunes). For those who care to provide their content as podcasts also can simply combine the smaller files for a Podcast which includes whatever combinations of content sections they like. All of this makes it easier for learners to exploit the content and for learning providers to produce it (and this approach applies many other authoring environments as well) .

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Learning Metadata - Are We There Yet?

For nearly 10 years there has been active debate regarding the nature and application of metadata frameworks in support of Learning solutions.

At first we only had the Dublin Core, the original set of elements contained in the specification were:


Not long after, the IMS Global Learning Consortium began building more detailed standards, specifically tailored to the Learning industry. Those specifications have proliferated and now include:
There are in fact more IMS Standards, but these are the recent and major ones. There are also other standards floating around - at one point the IEEE was working towards a Learning Object Model metadata standard but that effort has now been more or less merged into the SCORM standards.

In a future post we are going to contrast these with the evolution of metadata in other industries with particular focus on those industries which already are or might converge with Learning. The main question being asked in this post however covers the larger issue - how specialized should learning standards be ? Are they too specialized already and if so why is that important?

Standards are a bit of a double-edged sword at times, while they make many thing possible they also come with a conformance price-tag. The really hard question is also determining whether or not some of the same functionality is being recreated across different standards in different industries - this comes into play for Learning in regards to content management, knowledge management and as you might have noticed from earlier in this post, SOA as well.

It is my contention that Learning integration is not limited to Learning systems and that many of these standards can be stripped away and replaced be either simpler models or by industry standards emerging in other fields. This if followed would provide our industry the mechanism to embed learning capability and culture across many enterprise domains where it is currently not considered either important or viable.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Response to - The March ASTD Big Question

What is the Scope of our Responsibility as Learning Professionals?

[One was a Chief Learning Officer panel discussion where it seemed that supporting informal learning or communities of practice was not something they were considering. There was also discussion on my blog around the fact that in corporations there is a limit to what we can do as a training organization]

I think it is a good question, but I’m going to answer a bit differently perhaps than others on this forum might. First of all, I don’t believe the scope of Learning responsibility is by any means restricted to folks who consider themselves to be learning professionals. The whole notion of E-learning has been more or less predicated upon the ability for IT to provide Learning services (whether this occurs to end-users on Google, or college students exploiting Ipod university or folks receiving corporate training through an LMS makes no difference).

I’ve always had a problem with the term and title “Chief Learning Officer.” I once worked in a company that had one and found it to be more or less irrelevant. Worse than that though for our industry it tends to build up a wall or separation precisely where no such walls should exist. Learning is part of the other core lifecycles of any organization – when it is viewed as part of the whole rather than a disconnected after-thought it tends to be valued from entirely different perspective. I am not in the least bit surprised that the CLOs are slow to adopt social publishing for e-learning as many of these folks are the same ones who insisted that there is only one right way to teach, only one right set of e-learning software, only one set of standards etc.

The rest of the world has been inventing E-learning on their own for the past 5 years since many of our E-learning “experts” essentially turned their back on the core premise underlying the technology that makes E-learning possible. People whose heritage is traditional training may never fully get what E-learning is about and these folks represent a barrier – one that has prevented many organizations from taking advantage of capabilities that exist already, forcing their members or employees to do it on their own.

The short answer is that everyone in the enterprise (organization) has a responsibility to help both the collective group and the individual member grow through education. This is what I refer to as The Learning Enterprise and it represents the single most cost effective method of improving productivity. This isn’t an ivory tower exercise – it is a business survival imperative.

Part b -

Do educational institutions and corporate learning & development departments have responsibility for supporting Long Tail Learning? Do they have responsibility for learning beyond what can be delivered through instruction? If so, what is their responsibility? Where is the edge of responsibility?

Yes, but not the primary responsibility, they share in it of course but the CXO’s are ultimately responsible for all aspects of the organization and this one is perhaps the most important one (even if most of them don’t quite realize it yet). When the folks who are charged with delivering education finally see that their mission is understood and appreciated it will change their effectiveness and overall motivation – making the learning process even more efficient. Ultimately of course, every member of the organization must be motivated to both grow and contribute back…

Part c-

Similarly, does the instructor have a responsibility to help students make sense of or deal with content he or she did not teach the students? In other words, if a student finds information on the Internet or some other place, how much time and attention should the instructor allow for the discussion of such content? Should it be discussed at all if it is non-conventional or generally thought of as not credible or contradicts the instructor? Who determines credible research? Is all non-referred research questionable?

There is no such thing as 100% “credible” research. Every scientist, every researcher, every historian, every human being has agendas and biases. Whether a certain writer has been acknowledged by his or her community doesn’t necessarily validate the credibility of their work, merely the conformity of it. Being from the Dayton area, I’m often reminded of how the Wright Brothers were mocked by the established scientific community of their time. Should their research and findings then been banned because no one would cite them ? They reinvented their field step by step, piece by piece. The unbelievable power of the Internet is the ability to allow greater dissemination for a wider variety of voices – this is a good thing. Educators should not act as gatekeepers and guardians of the ‘sacred’ knowledge, they should be the mentors that help us to think for ourselves.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Dynamic Curriculum / Learning Paths

Traditional curriculums are for lack of a better description, predetermined discovery paths. They provide the shared parameters for group and individual learning in standardized assessment-based programs. Learners seldom if ever have any influence over the curriculums they are compelled to follow. Viewed another way, a curriculum is the structural framework upon which all content elements, learning activities and assessments are developed. Just as a lesson plan may provide the guide to one class session, the curriculum provides the path through entire courses and programs of study.

A Dynamic Curriculum is something that simply doesn’t exist today in formal education settings; however it is something that is practiced by most people unconsciously throughout their lives. The practice is entirely ad hoc though, and one person’s dynamic curriculum may be thoroughly documented while most merely exist in a logical sense.

This closely parallels the discover
y process most people use now both personally and for their work. Discovery is facilitated by search engine technology with minimal tracking capability usually in the form of “favorites” or “bookmarks” saved directly in the web browsers. The world’s largest technology firms have recognized that this is the single most significant target of opportunity for software exploitation. As we speak, new desktop search engines are being deployed by Google, Microsoft and others furiously working to begin taking control of the myriad data sources both on one’s computer and collected from the Internet.

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Response to Tony Karrer - PLEs

The question related to whether Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) are in fact different from or unconnected to workplace information: my response -

" thought I ought to weigh in on this. I'm pretty sure that I'm the first one to coin the term 'PLE,' back in 2002 on my group e-learning leaders.

It was / is meant to be an architectural construct. In other words, it would function as a stateless (web-based) platform for combining relevant information within a larger context of learning.

I do not now and have never differentiated the concept of a workspace from a learning space - in fact I believe that the arbitrary splitting of the two is why most of the solutions in IT are not as successful as they could be.

Until we get it clear within both solutions communities that all IT is in a sense a continuing learning platform we will continue to get both the processes and solutions wrong.

I intend to post some views of what a prototypical PLE ought to look like on my site."

As promised, I am going to provide a more from an architectural perspective here. This fits into the larger practice framework that Semantech has launched called Dynamic Learnign Orchestration - the diagram below presents an initial view into the Reference Model:

Friday, February 29, 2008

Response to Bill Gates's Question

Bill Gates posted the following question on Linkedin.com yesterday, over 1000 people responded within 8 hours:

"How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?"

The following was my response (#25):

“This is an issue that has come up recently in our region (Ohio) and a number of initiatives have arisen in response - the state just approved a new STEM high school (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) school at a local university (Wright State). However, I've been discussing this with the folks pushing those initiatives and I believe that while the intentions are good the implementations are not living up to their potential. Most STEM programs are viewing science & technology curriculum the same way it was viewed back in the 1960's.

Those approaches are more or less cookie cutter frameworks that are designed for mass production of certain nominal capabilities - what we need to teach is the art of thinking, and the way we need to reach young people is through motivation. The best way to achieve both of these goals is through the use of problem/contextual based curriculum and (virtual) dialectic - together these represent dynamic ways to both learn and assimilate knowledge and do it using technology and concepts that today's young people already know and enjoy...”

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Me-Learning Manifesto

Last Fall, I took time to write a philosophical view of where I thought the E-learning industry ought to be headed. It has become the basis for a new solutions practice that I refer to as Dynamic Learning Orchestration (DLO).

Here's the article:


Semantic Integration

Yes, there is a technical side to e-learning. This presentation was developed to provide an overview on the next generation of solution practices for enterprise integration - it will be especially important in helping to realize Dynamic Learning Orchestration (DLO).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Assimilation vs. Assessment

Why do people learn ? This may sound like a very basic question but we’re starting with some of the basics on the Learning Leaders blog so the question is fair game. There are two core reasons why people learn things:

Reason 1 – People learn because they want to…

Reason 2 – People learn because they have to…

In both cases, one factor is present in some degree – motivation. The character of the motivation involved in any learning experience though tends to influence the relative success of the endeavor. People who enjoy the learning process itself and are eager to understand and apply knowledge tend to have better assimilation rates.

So what is Knowledge Assimilation? Assimilation is the process of internalizing knowledge - this is different than short-term memorization techniques. When someone assimilates knowledge they are converting external information into internal understanding and this needs to occur with some level of relevance to the learner’s vantage point in life. Knowledge Assimilation is also an analytical process of interpretation; once a learner is able to place their ‘stamp’ of interpretation on information after reflection it then becomes uniquely theirs – they own it.

What type of motivation are we dealing with when folks are motivated by Reason 2? It depends on whether we can combine elements of Reason 1 into the process – in other words can we make learning something that we’re not interested in enjoyable? The one thing that tends to characterize much of the learning associated with Reason 2 is an emphasis on assessment. Assessment is a mechanism that recognizes perhaps above all else that the learner is not terribly motivated or interested in the subject and the only way to determine if information is being absorbed is through painful introspection.

So, then we end up with two types of learning strategies:

Strategy 1 – Learning to know.

Strategy 2 – Learning to pass.

These involve very different techniques and tend to exhibit different outcomes as well. Most people recognize that it is entirely possible to pass or even excel in a topic and not know the material when you’re finished. The IT industry ran into this over the past decade or so with various certification programs that seemed to demonstrate certain types of technical knowledge based on test results that in the real world in fact did not exist.

The truth is clear to most people – Assessment does not equal Assimilation and in many cases tends to discourage it in favor of other tactics designed to “survive the test.”

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc. http://www.semantech-inc.com

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Are Learning Objects ?

This is a question that has been posed since 1999, yet today there is still no proper consensus as to what these ought to be. SCORM, The Sharable Content Object Reference Model is the industry standard now most often associated with the concept of Learning Objects, yet it is fundamentally flawed.

Why is that the case? SCORM which is largely an outgrowth or expansion of a previous paradigm for CBT development called AICC, assumes that content ought to be tightly coupled with the both the learning delivery environment as well as assessment expectations.

So what's the impact of that?

1 - More expensive content.
2 - Less flexible content.
3 - Turning content production and delivery into enterprise integration.
4 - More difficulty in combining information or unstructured learning content.
5 - A continuation regarding assumptions of how learners learn - assumptions which were never validated by AICC or CBTs, much less with SCORM and LMSs.

For the record, a Learning Object represents any digital resource that can be combined in a useful manner with other content elements to produce a viable learning experience. The learners determine and validate viability and viability does not require assessment - only relevance.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The E-learning Paradigm Shift

“Never has an IT discipline held so much promise and failed so completely to fulfill its potential…”

I recall distinctly in 1999 when John Chambers, (Cisco’s CEO), proclaimed that e-Learning was the Internet’s Killer App and next big thing. I was working at Cisco at the time as part of their E-learning Architecture Team. I believed that message and was utterly convinced that nothing would stop us from proving it. I however, was wrong. Something did stop us and that something was the industry that sprang up and came to be known as e-Learning.

The e-Learning industry that arose differed from the vision that I had come to believe would allow learning to emerge as the Internet’s killer application. Much of that industry is still in place and is ever so slowly beginning to realize that the vision one adopts does make quite a difference in the resulting outcome.

The vision we need embrace is simple; e-Learning should be about a convergence of technology, philosophy and practice designed to liberate learners in the same manner that the Internet itself liberates users within a community of unlimited global discovery. E-learning is about trusting that people can in fact think for themselves and design their own learning strategies and learning paths.

Most importantly though, the true revelation behind e-Learning is this; learning does not end when school ends – in fact in many ways that’s when the real-world learning begins. Moreover, unlike at school, knowledge learned is relevant to your daily tasks, thus knowledge gained within your daily work paradigm can and should be integrated into the learning experience. Learning is the proactive mechanism by which all organizations add value to or receive value from knowledge – thus it should be at the heart of every enterprise IT solution, not as an afterthought but as the core driving process.

This represents a massive paradigm shift – one that will change the nature not only of the e-Learning industry but also for IT itself and the organizational cultures of any enterprise that adopts this paradigm. That is the vision that was missed – but we are fortunate, we can still achieve that vision. - Stephen Lahanas


Hello and welcome to the Learning Leaders Blog.

This publication is a rebirth of sorts, a sequel to the e-Learning Leaders Yahoo group I founded in 2000 and retired in 2003. I haven’t actively worked in the e-learning industry since 2001 but I’ve kept pace with what’s going on and have tried to find ways to infuse emerging learning technology into larger enterprise IT projects.

This blog will be dedicated to presenting a fundamentally divergent view of e-learning as a practice, a ‘pedagogical enabler’ and as a set of technology solutions. I certainly hope you will enjoy the discussions, topics and insights shared here – Stephen Lahanas