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 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: