Friday, October 06, 2006

Challenge O' the Day: Does my opinion count?

I've blogged about it already, but we're in the middle of a big project that's (hopefully) nearing completion.  My honest feeling about it though, is that it's a huge waste of time.  Not only that, it's a waste of a LOT of time.
Back when I first started, I thought my role in the division was to create effective, interactive training for the intranet.  Just like the our workshop trainers will get together and figure out ways to keep the students engaged in the class, it seemed like my job was to do the same but online.  A few years ago, I realized that really wasn't my function.  Basically, I take the words that are given me, make them look "pretty", and tweak it until my bosses are happy.  Almost never do I actually think about the training's effectiveness... I'm only worried about the higher-up's contentment.
As we near the end of this current course development, I'm struggling with the fact that nothing we're doing is going to help anyone learn anything.  Again a few years ago, I had brought up similar issues with my direct supervisor, but I was told, "I understand your concern, but we need to make sure [the head person] is pleased with it first".  That is TOTALLY anti-thetical to what I know about Learning.  And it bothers me that they DON'T take that approach to the in-person training... or to put it better, it bothers me that they don't treat ONLINE learning with the same attitude as they treat in-person training.
After going to the eLearn DevCon thing a couple of months ago, I almost feel bad for complaining.  So may of those people were struggling with even having funding for online training -- and we've got a whole department.  At the same time, it should ALL be about effective learning, and not our superior's "egos".  Unfortunately, as it stands, my opinion only really matters on minute issues.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Seinfeld killed the "laugh track"

Not specifically eLearning-related, but it's on my mind right now.  If I tried, I could make a connection between audience/student perceptions, and the efforts of content creators to force a specific response... with disregard for an audience's/student's open and honest reaction. 
Anyway, I used to be an avid TV watcher.  From the time I got home to the time I went to bed, I was watching something -- anything.  Since I've been domesticated, my TV watching has dwindled to a few shows I make a point to Tivo.  Probably the first show I "got into", after marriage and kids, was Arrested Development... and a perennial favorite has always been The Daily Show.  Currently, I'm watching The Office and My Name is Earl, plus Sunday night's Adult Swim. I'm on-and-off with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and while it was (briefly) on, I loved the show Sons and Daughters. I'll also add that the whole family enjoys Whose Line is it Anyway? which airs a whole lot on ABC Family.
Looking through that list, I realized they all have one thing in common:  no laugh track.  Sure, The Daily Show and Whose Line have live audiences but, with the exception of Whose Line's first US season, the audience reaction is not coaxed.  If a joke fails... no one laughs.  And very often, the personality's response to the failure is the most funny thing of all.  The other shows in my list are all situational comedies,  but they don't insist, "Hey, we just made a joke. Let's make the laugh track laugh, so other people know it, too."  It becomes the TV watcher's prerogative as to whether something is funny or not.
Looking back to my youth, I used to LOVE watching "I Love Lucy" reruns.  They were/are still very funny, and since they were performed live-to-tape, the studio audience's reactions were honest... and they laughed because it was really funny.  Somewhere along the line, the TV execs decided that it wasn't enough to make the scripts ACTUALLY humorous -- they needed to inject the audience's response at every joke, whether it was funny or not.  For some reason, I want to blame "Three's Company"... while it had many funny situations, it seemed the stupid parts were eliciting the same reaction that the honestly funny parts were.  Very disingenuous.   Though, even earlier, "The Flintstones" decided that a cartoon needed a laugh track -- but I kind of appreciate the strangeness of that idea.
Throughout the 80's and 90's, the sit-com was very formulaic.  There were buddy comedies, family comedies, and ensemble comedies.  Some were really good, most were not.  But they all used the studio audience, and the laugh track, to broadcast exactly where the joke was supposed to be.  M*A*S*H was an enigma -- it started out as a fairly straight sit-com, but evolved into a deeper show... and the "audience" of the later years seemed to serve the function of just setting the tone.  Then came Seinfeld.
Seinfeld, on it's face, was straight-up, ensemble sit-com.  But somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd seasons, it become this twisted, original show... that just happened to have a laugh track.  After it ended, laugh tracks just seemed to be totally incapable of making an unfunny show funny... it really just made them pathetic.
Now, I've tried to watch some of the new sit-coms that have come out... but anytime the laughs kick in, it really irritates me.  I almost feel like the producers are taking me for an idiot, because without the laughs, I wouldn't know that a joke just occurred.  The Office doesn't do that... they play out the situations, and YOU get to decide if it works or not.
I guess I could tie it back to the recent interest in eLearning/ Learning 2.0 , or Web 2.0... the idea of a collaborative effort that doesn't FORCE the person into one direction.  Has the term "TV 2.0" been coined yet?  Or specifically "Sit-Com 2.0"?  Actually, it would be more like "1.5", since the viewer isn't actually creating the content... though, the success of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" may be an indication that a true "2.0" is coming.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Challenge o' the day:  making our modules/web apps "foolproof".
A couple of salient quotes:
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
      ---Douglas Adams
"His priority did not seem to be to teach them what he knew, but rather to impress upon them that nothing, not even... knowledge, was foolproof."
      ---- JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Specifically, I'm working on a registration/ login page in a Flash environment.  I think two input boxes, one labeled 'email' and the other labeled 'password', is quite sufficient and self-explanatory.  I've got a little blurb that says something like "if this is your first time here, the password you enter will become the password needed on any future visits"... and there's even a "forgot your password?" link.  There's also a "submit" button.   Sure, there will be some people that think, "but I don't have a password" or " I can't remember my password" or something, but those will be few... and a necessary evil.
However, in an effort to make the thing "foolproof", I'm now having to put two buttons on the front page, one buttons "Click here if this is your first time visiting this page"... which then takes you to a new frame that says "Enter your corporate Email address in the box that's labeled 'email'... then choose a password and enter that into the box labeled 'password'.  The password you type will be obscured for your safety, so please write it down before you enter it"  Please forget the fact that writing it down on a piece of paper completely forgoes the reason it's obscured in the first place.... but anyway....
The other button on the front page says "Click here if you've already registered and want to login".   Then you go to a page that says most of the same stuff, except for "Enter the password you chose during registration in the box labeled 'password'".
THEN... after you log in, there's a screen that says "You've successfully logged in, click here to continue".
So basically, two form fields and a short sentence on a single page turned into four pages, with paragraphs on each.  All in the name of "foolproofing".
From experience, I can tell you I'll be getting about 10 calls a day for the next 3 weeks, with people having problems logging on.

Should All Learning Professionals be Blogging?

A new feature from the Learning Circuits Blog -- The Big Question: Should all learning professionals be blogging?

My answer: Maybe.

Thank you, and good night.

But seriously, the question itself is (intentionally?) nebulous. Because "blogging" is a nebulous concept. People blog for various reasons, and in various forms. I'm doing this simply as a matter of emotional release for the challenges I face throughout the day. That way, my wife doesn't have to hear me complain when I get home. However, most of the eLearning blogs I read, like eLearning Technology (thanks for the "shout out", btw) tend to be more of an information clearinghouse and tips, for lack of a better word. Harold Jarche has a lot of theory. Brent Schlenker focuses on a lot of new products and the future of eLearning. It's different strokes, for different folks.

I think a great justification for all Learning Pros to be blogging is as a matter of communication with students and co-workers. In my company, specifically, I think it would be great to have an internal blog about new courses we're rolling out... things we're considering... and feedback from all of our current courses. It could even be useful for new ideas and theories about "selling" that we may come across, and want to get out there... but don't have the time to make a new course or add it to a previous course. And don't think I haven't raised the issue before...

As with anything, people respond differently to different challeneges. And honestly, I know some people that would get nothing out of blogging, and may even be distracted by it. So again, should everyone be blogging? Maybe.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Who controls the content?

My big issue right now: content control.
I was hired to create/maintain the online elements of our training.  But in reality, I just take what my bosses want, and put it into Flash.  Like my previous post, when there was an opportunity to create some wonderful eLearning, I was overruled and forced to do something less effective.  It also happened a couple of weeks ago, when I had a "cool" idea about adding some interactions to a new training module we were working on -- but, because it would've added a few days onto the completion date, I was told to scrap it.  It's a bit disheartening at times, but I really don't control any of the content.
I've had years of training experience... and I've seen first-hand what works.  So when I approach a job, my first thought is, "What's the best way to get the student to learn?" I think I may be only person that actually approaches the online training in that way.  When they talk about the in-person training workshops, it's ALL about student interactions... and keeping people engaged.  However, "online" is relegated to "just get the information out there".
I guess it's like my internal voice keeps saying, "baby steps"....

Software simulation tutorials

We've got an online application that needs to be explained.  My thought is "great, we can build a mock app. in Flash and have the student 'try it out' ".  They'll be prompted to click on specific links, enter specific information... and it'll be a great interactive demo.  Then again, maybe not....
We're now doing a straight, instructional module... with no interactions.  As far as instructional modules go, it's really not that bad.  But I know it could be SO much better if it were an actual simulation.  "Experiential" learning is the BEST way to teach ANYTHING.  That's a fact that it seems everyone knows.  So then, why do people insist on doing non-experiential modules, especially when there's this much potential on this particular topic?  Mind-boggling....