Thursday, March 08, 2007

Plug-and-Play eLearning

Back about 12 years ago a colleague introduced me to Mosaic, an early web browser. After playing with it for an hour or so, I remember thinking that this would change the world. I was excited and wanted to create a web site right away. Silly me; I thought I would bring up a blank page on my computer, write and format something, click a button, and be up and running. Unfortunately, I discovered that one had to be able to use the arcane language of HTML (all those damnable brackets, slashes, and short forms!). Even with the advent of user-friendly HTML editors, you still required some IT support and guidance to get something up on a web site that worked and looked half-decent.

Well, we have certainly come a long way since then. Today, you do not have to be geek or a code-monkey to be able to quickly and easily publish to the web and interact with others in the virtual world. There are a plethora of free (or nearly free) tools and services out there that remove the middle-man (aka technical experts / gatekeepers) from the equation. From blogs and wikis, to social networking software, to online messaging, to voice-over-Internet applications, to web widgets and mash up software, it is becoming increasingly easy to publish and interact with others online. Most of these tools, usually hosted somewhere else, have intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces and templates that allow users to create the kinds of web environments that only web-heads could in the past.

This trend has major implications for eLearning. We come across many organizations - particularly smaller professional associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - that feel that technology (access to it, knowledge of it, cost of it) is still the big barrier to getting started with eLearning. Sure, there are open source learning management systems such as Moodle and The Sakai Project that bring the cost barrier down. But these still require some technical and IT infrastructure to support. There are all kinds of simpler options open for smaller organizations just starting out and finding their way with eLearning.

Suppose, for example, that an NGO wanted to do some leadership development training for a geographically-dispersed group of its representatives. Using free and widely-available web-based applications, the organization could take very different approaches to this challenge, as follows:

Coaching / Mentorship Model
  • A blog (via Blogger, Word Press, etc.) is set up for a leadership coach, who posts best practice leadership principles, stories and anecdotes, audio recordings, RRS feeds from top leadership sites, etc.;
  • Participants post remarks, questions, feedback in comments section;
  • Coach provides one-on-one mentorship to participants via synchronous online sessions with Skype or Elluminate's vRoom.
Collaborative Model
  • Create a wiki (e.g. SeedWiki) where all participants can collaboratively build a leadership model for the organization, under the direction of a skilled facilitator;
  • Participants complete self-assessments and interview each other on how their competencies compare to the organization's leadership model;
  • Personal leadership development plans are submitted to the facilitator and the group for comment and feedback.
Community of Practice Model
  • Using social networking software such as Ning, create a leadership development site that includes postings, personal profiles of participants, resource links, guided discussions, videos, etc.;
  • Participants provide on-going support to each other via an online community of leadership practice.
Of course, with any of these approaches, you still need to pay attention to principles of good learning design, facilitation and support. However, the biggest barrier to eLearning is no longer the cost of buying and supporting technology. There are so many plug-and-play options available today. The only barriers are the limits of your own creativity and imagination.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great post Rick. One place people can go to learn about some of these web 2.0 tools and some other less expensive solutions is The eLearning Society at

Thanks for such a great blog!

7:57 PM  

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