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Contexts and Choices: Learning Strategies in 2012

by Bill Brandon

December 30, 2011

Feature

by Bill Brandon

December 30, 2011

“In 2012, we will be blessed by many choices for tools, methods, and models. Within each choice, we will have many options. Without a strategy, based on real context, we will be lost. Understand the context, and know the outcome you want, and you can define the strategy. Learn to go for ‘good enough,’ not ‘the best.’”

By all indications, 2012 will be an even more interesting year than 2011 was. A number of trends that have been building since 2010 now appear to be ready for prime time, particularly for the early mainstream.

At the risk of writing about some things that are already very familiar to many readers, I am going to look at the trends, name a few developments that I hope will happen, and identify what you might want to do in the next few months to leverage the new technologies as they come online. Not necessarily in that order.

It’s all about context

In 2012, we will be blessed by many choices for tools, methods, and models that we can adopt (or not) in our work as eLearning professionals. If you are new to eLearning, note the following: Within each choice, there will be options, and there will be limitations. Not every choice and every option will be relevant to every situation, by any means. At the same time, some technologies will present different opportunities for all of our contexts, from design and development to management and delivery of learning.

Thinking in terms of context will be important, whether you are a beginner or an experienced practitioner. Understand the context and know the outcome you want, and you can define a strategy. With an effective strategy, you can make more appropriate choices. Without a strategy based on context, it will be possible to spend a lot of time, money, and talent in 2012 without getting a good solution.

There are lots of contexts!

There are different ways to use the various eLearning-related tools, apps and methods, depending on your context. The principal contexts of concern for this article are: personal, individual, self-directed learning; the activity involved in producing resources that support learning (in other words, designing and developing eLearning); and the delivery and administration of those resources.

For example, for ongoing personal, self-directed professional learning, one tool category you will be hearing a lot about in 2012 is curation, using a service such as Scoop.it or Evernote (both of which have desktop and mobile versions, allowing you to both curate and to retrieve the information no matter where you are). But without a strategy aimed at your learning goals, curation can become a dead-end activity that you may soon abandon. You will also continue to hear about microblogging (e.g., Twitter) as a means of supporting learning, but this only works if it is an integrated part of the learning design, with appropriate guidelines and incentives for learners to participate in such a way that it does not become seen by them as a waste of time.

At the same time, with different goals, you could use each of these services in a different context: Twitter as part of your personal learning strategy, and Scoop.it as a way to support learning. It’s all in how you structure the use, so that the use is not an end in itself.

Look for “good enough”

My next suggestion is to take to heart what Voltaire advised long ago: “Le mieux es l’ennemi du bien” – the best is the enemy of good. Striving to find the “best” solution often results in less benefit than just accepting a less-than-perfect solution that gets the job done. The same is true of waiting for all the kinks to get ironed out of the new technologies.

In his 2005 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz examined the challenges that having a large number of choices presents, including overload when it comes to making a decision. Some of us are maximizers, who agonize over choosing the best thing, and who don’t stop looking for the best thing even after they’ve found a solution that meets their criteria. A lot of eLearning producers seem to be maximizers, and they (OK ... me too) suffer the regret, anxiety, and dissatisfaction (buyer’s remorse) associated with this approach. “Satisficers” – those who start with a set of criteria, and who stop searching once they’ve found something that meets those criteria – will fare much better in 2012.

As you consider your opportunities, Schwartz’ suggestions for five basic tactics in dealing with an overabundance of choices make sense for eLearning producers struggling to make critical decisions about the design and delivery of learning applications (even though he was concerned with consumer behavior):

  1. Place voluntary constraints on your choices.
  2. Look for what is “good enough,” not for what is “best.”
  3. Lower your expectations about the results of your decisions.
  4. Make decisions that you can’t back out of – non-reversible ones.
  5. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Disruptive technology: coming to your life

            There are three disruptive technologies that are going to play larger and larger parts in our work. These are not “new” in the sense that they have just appeared – in fact, we have literally been talking about them for years now. But mobile, social, and cloud technology are going to be changing business models, roles and relationships in more and more organizations in 2012, not just the early adopters.

Mobile

Mobile technology is already having an effect in secondary education as well as in higher education, where tablets and mobile phones are a standard part of the delivery system on many campuses. Mobile devices also affect consumer behavior; in 2011, the use of mobile devices to access the Web was closing in on desktop access, and most mobile phone owners used their devices for “social” purposes online. From texting to watching television to playing games, consumers have switched their behavior to smartphones. Finally, this year for the first time, time spent in mobile device use of apps passed the time spent using mobile devices to access the Web. These behavioral changes will increasingly show up in government and enterprise learning-related activities in 2012.

Social

Social technology is having similar effects on consumer behavior, but with interesting variations. For example, television producers have figured out how to make social comments on second screens (the iPad in the lap of a viewer while she watches television) part of the show. Social apps and sites are already a significant part of marketing products and ideas. Game designers increasingly add social features to their products. Could there be effects on learning in 2012? Ask yourself:

  • How can we engage individual learners on multiple platforms simultaneously? Are there learning goals in your organization that this would enhance?
  • How can we simultaneously engage multiple learners, including collaborative engagement across multiple platforms? Are there learning goals in your organization that this would enhance?
  • Can we socialize internal marketing of learning? Are there under-utilized resources for learning in your organization because nobody knows about them, or because nobody understands their value?
  • Can we make games acceptable within organizations as a learning venue, including social engagement during games? Are there learning goals in your organization that games and collaboration in problem solving could enhance?

The Cloud

The “Cloud” (a metaphor for the Internet, the unseen “cloud” of servers used as a utility to store information and host applications and services in real time) is another phenomenon that has been discussed for several years. But developments, from Amazon’s EC2 platform to Apple’s iCloud have made it more familiar and more accessible. In addition, more enterprises are creating their own on-premise “clouds” as a means of gaining the advantages of cloud computing while having (at least some) control over security of their data and reliability of services. Combinations of The Cloud and on-premise clouds are also becoming more common.

Why is The Cloud disruptive? The Cloud is not “just another way to do things” or “just another channel for delivery.” Although it is certainly possible to look at it as such, that completely misses the way in which it challenges existing ways of working, especially for “traditional” developers and designers of eLearning. The Cloud makes it possible to provide services directly to consumers (learners), bypassing training departments and courseware providers alike, while also offering the possibility of direct integration with an enterprise LMS, for example.

Cloud solutions also offer easier integration across systems and platforms, at least partially offsetting the challenge of platform diversity, especially in the mobile world. And finally, cloud solutions support collaboration by development teams and by learners to a far greater extent than do older ways of working. For development teams, the cloud allows a focus on making a better solution, instead of on the details of development and delivery. Established vendors may be at greatest risk from the cloud, since a startup competitor only has to be “good enough” to get started and established and to start taking market share away from older firms.

The cloud is disruptive because it changes entire business models in unexpected ways.

More changes

In addition to the disruptors, there are a number of new models of delivery, new information about how people learn, new wrinkles in the worlds of the learners, and new elements in the developer’s environment that will also affect practice in 2012. I’m just going to bullet these.

New models of delivery

  • Hybrid learning – possibly a new term of art for what we had called “blended” learning (And what’s the difference? Is there a difference? Nobody seems to know.)
  • Apps that provide performance support/Augmented Reality
  • The possibility to shift away from traditional models (book, classroom, linear/sequential approach) by using digital analogies. Examples: Interactive “books” such as TouchPress apps, e.g. The Waste Land or The Elements (which includes finger-rotatable 3D objects); “virtual classrooms”
  • Games/Alternate Reality Games (ARGs)
  • Curation for learners
  • Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are also not new, but they are now more widely adopted – even if that’s not what people call them.
  • The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is (if you will) a multi-player PLE.

Personal learning environments

  • Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are also not new, but they are now more widely adopted – even if that’s not what people call them.
  • The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is (if you will) a multi-player PLE.

New information about how people learn

We have the benefit of a lot of new research in this area.

The world of learners

These are pretty common knowledge, through the media and personal observation, but they affect the 2012 learning enterprise in very fundamental ways.

  • Young people: dropouts from school, no jobs
  • Older people: delaying retirement
  • Middle-aged people: caring for their children AND for their elders
  • No money in business budgets

The producers’ world

eLearning producers in 2012 will be most affected by changes in tools and in media.

Tools

  • Tools supporting mobile development: App Cooker/App Taster, Explain Everything
  • More focus on collaboration
  • More tools that support or allow building apps on mobile devices
  • “Rapid” not going away
  • Tools are not dealing well with platform diversity
  • Curation for designers and developers
  • Changes to SCORM/alternatives to SCORM
  • Effects from mobile adoption (Flash vs HTML5)
  • Video

Media

  • Effects from mobile adoption (Flash vs HTML5)
  • Video

What’s really likely to happen in 2012?

I don’t know, but here’s what I’m hoping will happen.

The evolution of authoring tools and practice

  • Pressure to find/provide cross-platform solutions (pressure on developers and on authoring system vendors)
  • Collaboration, SaaS, cloud, enterprise social networking applications. The problem has been that these become another system for employees to manage alongside all their email – getting everyone to do everything within a single collaboration app is very difficult, if not impossible. One alternative is to provide collaboration software that integrates email within the collaboration application, or to make the collaboration app a plug-in within the development tool that a team is using. Problem area – some decision makers don’t trust collaboration apps. Yet research shows that 75% of enterprises plan to increase the use of communication and collaboration technologies in 2012.
  • Evolution of tracking systems (SCORM, etc.)
  • Talent management connection to LMS 
  • Transformation of social networking into coaching/mentoring
  • Flipped classrooms
  • Blended/hybrid strategies
  • Adaptive learning
  • Incorporation of more game elements into eLearning (leader boards, etc.)
  • More use of mobile technology to implement spaced repetition for certain types of learning tasks, supporting transfer of knowledge and skills to long-term memory.
  • Performance support may begin to come directly from devices as the “internet of things” continues to grow – in other words, smart devices will be more capable of operating with minimum human attention, and will also provide performance support functionality for their human users “out of the box.” Also note the trend toward interacting with the environment by using mobile devices – QR codes (or something similar) as visual links/cues to caches of data and to virtual locations.
  • More on-the-job “learning by doing” (the only way to keep up with rapid change)
  • More widespread use of  “experiment – test – evaluate – iterate” as the model for development rather than rigid lockstep ADDIE approaches.

The evolution of instructional design

  • Transformation of social networking into coaching/mentoring
  • Flipped classrooms
  • Blended/hybrid strategies
  • Adaptive learning
  • Incorporation of more game elements into eLearning (leader boards, etc.)
  • More use of mobile technology to implement spaced repetition for certain types of learning tasks, supporting transfer of knowledge and skills to long-term memory.

Scope and practice changes for instructional design

  • Performance support may begin to come directly from devices as the “internet of things” continues to grow – in other words, smart devices will be more capable of operating with minimum human attention, and will also provide performance support functionality for their human users “out of the box.” Also, note the trend toward interacting with the environment by using mobile devices – QR codes (or something similar) as visual links/cues to caches of data and to virtual locations.
  • More on-the-job “learning by doing” (the only way to keep up with rapid change)
  • More widespread use of  “experiment – test – evaluate – iterate” as the model for development rather than rigid lockstep ADDIE approaches.

Happy 2012!



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Nice!
I so appreciate this article. I have been a Learning Performance professional for over 20 years and have been preaching these concepts.

Thank you!
Bill, excellent observations and predictions about the direction of approaches to learning and training for the year that's quickly unfolding. Content curation continues to be a huge part of managing the disruptive nature of massive flows of information, as the self-selected guides of our Personal Learning Networks assist in both winnowing the best resources and inundating us with yet more choices. It's been interesting to note in the last half of 2011 the growth of Google+ as a way to expand our PLNs, and now Pinterest emerging as the most rapidly growing social site this year. With all the disruptions coming at us, it's good to have Barry Schwartz's recipe for coping to fall back on. Thanks for a thought-provoking essay.
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