Elliott Masie is the chair and CLO of ‘The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many very “cool” new devices, technologies and platforms that are catching the attention of learning professionals. For example, I have my new iPad with me 95 percent of the day, my Skype connection puts me in touch with colleagues around the world, and my cloud of social networks includes Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It is a great time to be experimenting in the world of learning, and these innovations are clearly agents and products of change.
Yet the conversation about the cool is strangely disconnected from the “core.” Every day, hundreds of millions of employees around the world need new information and skills to do their jobs. To teach them, their organizations use a set of core approaches, including classroom instruction, on-the-job training, manual reading, traditional e-learning, mentoring, assessment and managerial feedback. These core approaches are central to the learning processes used by most of the world’s organizations.
The cool innovations have intriguing abilities to extend, stretch, enhance, refine and, in some instances, even replace a core element. But the conversations about them are increasingly flavored with a desire to define the core as “uncool” — industrial-aged and almost irrelevant to the coming revolution in learning. I confess my own contribution to this problem when I have been swept away by the opportunity that an emerging technology has to offer without reflecting on the change management of adoption.
It is time for us to take a strategic step forward. Let’s look at two examples of innovative technologies: Second Life and wikis.
When Second Life hit the scene in 2003, I was one of the early adopters. My company spent more than $60,000 building a virtual learning island and designed a very cool Elliott avatar. Predictions flew around that all meetings would take place in virtual worlds, and major corporations bluntly hyped the technology. Does it allow for interesting interactions? Yes! Are there elements that will evolve and be integrated into learning? Yes! Is it a significant part of the current learning landscape? No — and much of Second Life is a ghost town of overstated expectations.
Yes, we likely will have 3-D design capabilities that may use avatars to create learning environments in the future, but it will take work to get from the hype of today to the important work of tomorrow. Navigation will have to be accessible to all employees, not just those who play video games at home. And we will want to apply great design — including instructional design — knowledge to this brave new world.
The same goes for wikis. They provide simple and very powerful ways for a group to write and create processes collaboratively. Wikipedia is an awesome resource, and wikis can be a powerful component of an in-person or online learning design. But the language of many wiki advocates would have you believe that a wiki will evolve rapidly from cool to core. That may happen, but it is not the current reality. In fact, elements of wikis are showing up in core tools with evolving functionality in online Microsoft and Google apps.
The challenge is to embrace the possibilities that today’s and tomorrow’s innovations will create and to experiment in that wonderful “let’s try this and see what works and what doesn’t” way. Let’s label our cool innovations as just that: potent triggers for invention, reinvention and change. Let’s reduce the statements that “learning will forever be different” because of the cool, and let’s do the hard work of running research, experiments, beta projects and honest after-action analysis on the true impact of the cool.
I am very excited about the ability of our organizations to leverage video, user-created content, collaboration, tablets and mobile devices, social media, location presence, gaming, 3-D environments and community publishing as tools for our current and future learning designs. We are already seeing gains from the use of small, thin apps and open-source technology to make our learning processes more agile and responsive to business and learner needs. Let’s not waste these opportunities by positioning the cool as replacements for or as enemies of the core. Our designers need fluency in both to create the future assets that learners are already demanding.
Our learning leaders need to frame learning innovations as being in critical need of experimentation and integration with core technologies and learning models. We need to collect evidence about how these innovations actually help real workers learn.
Let’s combine the cool with the core to create a pathway to continuing learning improvement.
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