Thursday, November 10, 2005

In Praise of Ignorance

I was reflecting on some of the eLearning projects on which I have worked in the past year and marveled at the variety of topics these covered. These have included career planning, financial reporting, dealing with workplace hazardous materials, landscape design and construction, golf course design, and greenhouse management, to name a few.

Am I an expert in any of these fields? No, not by any stretch of the imagination, but in each case I worked with a subject matter expert (SME) who was. However, NOT being an expert in these situations was, in my mind, an advantage. I could approach each topic with fresh eyes and an inquisitive mindset. I had the SMEs teach me, so I could help them design courses that could teach others. If I didn't get it, it was unlikely that any of the target learners would get it. As a non-expert, I was a good foil in this sense.

SMEs generally love their areas of expertise and often become wedded to content. We all have seen the results - static content dump. A learning designer who is not a subject expert can help the SME look at his / her subject in a different way, and encourage different ways of engaging learners in and with the content (not to mention with the SME and other learners as well).

So when I see the question raised about whether or not a learning designer needs subject expertise to be effective, I vote "no." In this case, ignorance is a virtue.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Reflections on Learning 2005

I attended the Learning 2005 conference last week, along with about 1,500 others in the training field. Sponsered by the Masie Center, this was one of the most innovative and thought-provoking conferences I have ever experienced.

Firstly, the Masie folks get it. Conferences are about making connections. They facilitated this in two important ways. Weeks before the event, particpants were able to post profiles and communicate with each other via an online Colleague Community. And conference partcipants can extend their interactions and learnings beyond the four days last week in Florida via a continuing Learning Wiki.

Another nice innovation was to bring in "thought leaders" from outside the training field to broaden our perspectives on how their macro ideas on how we think affect what we are trying to accomplish in training. Two such thought leaders were Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, and Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink.

Here are some interesting quotes I picked up at Learning 2005 (sorry, can't remember who said everything.....many are from participants of various concurrent sessions).

"Are you a training producer, or a performance management specialist?"

"If it is time to perform, it is too late to practice."

"Learning that isn't applied is scrap."

"Traditional learning environments are like user manuals."

"We are data rich and information poor."

"Attention is the commodity of the future."

"Learning is surviving / adapting."

"Perfection is the enemy of good."

"Content, in and of itself, has no value. It is only valuable when in context and when you need it."

What lessons from Learning 2005 will impact our business, particularly our Certificate in eLearning Management? We are going to provide our learners with:

  • more exposure to a wider range of eLearning technologies and methodologies (including real-time webinars, blogs, wikis, podcasting, mobile learning, etc.)
  • more chances to experiment with a range of eLearning technologies
  • personalized competency matrices and learning plans
It was a productive week. I have already marked down the dates (Nov. 5 - 8) for Learning 2006.