E-Learning Innovation: Ground Rules for What Comes Next

E-Learning Innovation: Ground Rules for What Comes Next | KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas BlogDistance Learning has been a buzzword for awhile. But I’m not talking about an educational method that goes back to 1996, or 1982.

In fact, distance education dates to 1728, when a Boston when a local educator began offering distance correspondence courses (by post or mail). The first correspondence degree was offered by the University of London in 1858.

So the innovators go back aways. They aren’t just the people we read about today, like Daphne Koller, Richard Saul Wurman, or Salman Khan, who are certainly innovators in their own right. But they are standing on the shoulders of people who long ago realized that students didn’t have to be present to learn.

And someday, somebody will stand on theirs. But what kind of learning innovations will they dream up?

What’s Next In Online Learning?

Let’s parse out some critical components of distance education on which the next ideas will be built on.

  1. It will be flexible. If the fact that distance education began in the 18th century tells us anything, it’s that technology has little to do with it. The printing press, the postal system, the phone and fax machine, the internet, the social sites, mobile devices and virtual environments and devices like Google Glass shouldn’t matter. Any learning system should probably be built so that the next big thing doesn’t mean throwing the whole learning model out.

    This means there should be a focus on the lightest footprint possible for a course, whether it means crowdsourced data, cloud storage and delivery, or use of a peer-to-peer network. The course should be available on many platforms without too much modification.

  1. It will be enduring. Every item out there on the web is available to view and learn from. Many articles we find when gathering information may be several years old. That doesn’t mean they’re outdated. Despite advancements in healthcare, software, robotics, and other areas, many core principles remain stable. This could mean that the fundamentals of any curriculum area are easily translated to online learning, even years after the course was created.

    So there is no need for an innovative course platform to emphasize a finite duration overall, only for the individual learners. As long as teachers are available, numerous courses can run for long periods of time and educate thousands of users in an asynchronous manner.

  1. It will be measurable. Communication is critical in any kind of learning system, and a distance education makes it even more important. Besides having numerous ways to coordinate efforts between teachers, students, and other parties that have an interest in their education, an innovative course platform should include ways for the trainer or teacher to review feedback from students as well as monitor their progress. It should also give the students ways to see how they are doing over time, as well as see up-to-date responses from the teacher.

    Some online learning tools emphasize one type of measurement system over another, largely based on which kind of technology is their bread and butter. Content-based platforms focus on viewership stats, while tools that are communications platforms at heart focus on statistics related to discussion. True learning tools will include that, while focusing on feedback and outcomes as a snapshot and over a time period.

  1. It will be accessible. This word means many things. The learning tool should be easy enough to use that it doesn’t hinder the learning process, and it should be readily used by people who are disabled. It also means an innovative tool should not rely on one kind of device. If people are able to use technology they already own to take part in the course, that’s the best approach.

    The accessibility of a learning tool puts a great emphasis on the design of the course platform. Even more than the user-experience design practices favored by website and e-commerce designers, a learning platform needs to make clear what students are supposed to do throughout the process, as well as allow teachers to create and modify their courses easily.

  1. It will be visual. Whether that means users share a presence in video, animation, images, or graphics, making it easy for them to create ideas in a visual format will be paramount. Visible concepts are more readily grasped, and are more widely shared. Yet, most graphic design tools are still seen as the domain of professionals who specialize in their art. Infographic-building tools are on the rise, as well as visually-focused sharing platforms, and it’s no stretch to imagine that learning can take some pages from the social media and content marketing realms.

    A learning tool should include a way to gather data and details and display it in an immediately-publishable visual image. Barring that, the tool should integrate with other graphics-development platforms that emphasize ease and share-ability.

Obviously, these rules don’t have to be taken as dogma. It’s possible that the next big advancement in distance learning will be built for one type of platform, be difficult to use, be almost unmeasurable and yet be wildly popular. Stranger things have happened. I believe the ideas that will endure over time will be those that follow at least a couple of these ground rules.

At some point, we’ll be reading about another innovation from a visionary building on the accomplishments of those who have captured our admiration today.

Originally published on The KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.

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Innovative Disruption: The New Normal for Online Media

Innovative Disruption: The New Normal for Online Media | KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas BlogLast week I took my daughter to her first Red Sox game. We got there early, explored the ballpark, and enjoyed some Fenway Franks, peanuts and ice cream while we watched the first four innings. We left before the first rain delay of the 2013 season. This game was also a long-term milestone for the team, as it was their first non-sold-out game in ten years.

That’s disruption.

On the train ride to Boston’s North Station, I used a new payment system provided by the MBTA; mTicket, a mobile app that lets you buy your ticket and activate it when you board. I worried that it wouldn’t work, or that the T conductor had never heard of it, and we’d get tossed from the last car at a low speed. Instead, the app worked perfectly.

More disruption.

On the subway ride to the ballpark, we saw several people reading books on Kindles and other handheld devices. During the game, a lot of people took pictures with their phones, of the game, the players, and each other. I joined in the fun, and we’ve all seen Facebook friends posting pics of themselves at the game. People take mobile pics at rock concerts, too. It harkens back to the (circa 2004) obnoxious use of cell phones while sitting behind home plate.

All of that is disruption.

Innovative Disruption: The New Normal

Innovation has made it possible to disrupt one industry after another, from home delivery of groceries to genetic RNA interference. In the realm of education and training, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, allow countless users to take part in university courses, which may be regular in-person courses or specialized for online learning.

In business, online video and online presentations have become a disruptive tool for sales and marketing, as more video communications tools emerge and more conferences occur online. I remember when we thought videoconferencing was a killer for the airline industry, but in reality online video and presentations have enhanced live events, while the real killer apps aren’t just about communication, but collaboration.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen has led the discussion on disruptive innovation for years. His books have focused on new technologies and mechanisms that have changed companies, industries, and the world. We think of mobile devices and social websites as disruptive innovations, and they are; but it doesn’t have to be technology. Business methods and ideas can also turn the tables on how things are.

What makes a concept disruptive?

It’s important to note that disruptive technologies and ideas are nearly impossible to identify, except to visionaries. This is because they should be characterized not by what they are, but for what they aren’t:

  • They are not a reason for change: Brian Solis says that disruption is a catalyst for change, but not the reason. Look at the current content marketing trend, which is considered disruptive, but it emerged partly because of social media, which required a constant flow of new, original, branded and unbranded content. Similarly, tablets like the Apple Newton existed for decades, without a clear purpose, before Apple launched the iPad and changed everything.
  • They lack refinement: Often, new technologies have no single organization driving best practices. MySpace and Friendster began as an expanded version of online chat, and only now, with the emergence of the Facebook Timeline and Google Plus, are we beginning to see design dominance in online social platforms. Or are we? Pinterest is driving a completely different look for social sharing, and Facebook’s frequent updates still drive people nuts.
  • They lack performance analytics: Views, shares, likes, retweets, leads, opportunities, influence, and engagement…the list goes on. These terms are still fairly new, and it’s unclear which of these communications metrics actually mean much to a company’s bottom line. More importantly, how marketers can best manipulate these numbers remains a mystery, as does how they can readily use these metrics to drive true business impact.
  • They lack an audience: A disruptive innovation is usually a simple fix to a product that is meaningful only to a small group of people, the way content management systems began as a better way to store documents and share them with people across internal networks. It mattered only to IT managers. Today, a CMS like WordPress allows any web publisher to share just about anything with the whole world, using customized designs and access levels.
  • They lack an application: It’s usually easy to see something emerge, but be unable to imagine a use for it. Look at the iPad, which sold well at the outset but originally stymied people as to its best use. The complaints included “no keyboard”, “too big to be a phone”, and “too underpowered to run desktop applications”. That didn’t matter. Mobile apps and cloud technology combined drove the success of these platforms, and now people can browse, read, search, communicate, and view videos while watching TV, working in retail or healthcare, sitting at the beach, or riding the train.

In online media, whether it is for communications or social sharing, disruption is driving incredible changes in the way we do things. It’s already hard to imagine how we got by without Facebook, and five years from now we’ll wonder how we survived without something some software developer is creating right now.

But disruption still has its holdouts. On the subway ride home, I saw a student reading Clayton Christensen’s book “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”.

In hardcover.

Originally published on The KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.

Online Presentation Basics: The Importance Of Being Useful

Online Presentation Basics: The Importance Of Being Useful | KnowledgeVisionUsability is more than just a buzzword. It’s the holy grail of web designers everywhere.

And it’s not just websites. Designers of operating systems, e-commerce sites, content management systems, online training tools, business intelligence systems, and social platforms always strive to make them more useful.

Why? The most basic driver of an interface’s popularity is that people have a productive time using it.

Usability means e-commerce sites that get found and help shoppers complete the sale. It means marketing automation tools that provide useful feedback for making sales and marketing decisions. It means interactive online games with intuitive controls that are easy to figure out.

It also means online presentation hosting platforms that make content easy to publish and share.

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Let’s Talk Tactics: How I Build An Online Presentation

Let’s Talk Tactics: How I Build An Online Presentation | KnowledgeVision

I’ve spent thousands of words on video strategy covering everything from production to social sharing to types of videos.

Enough! No more strategy today. It’s time to get tactical about online presentations.

It’s time to just document exactly what I do to put an online presentation together. Let’s pull back that curtain, so to speak, and go behind the scenes. Yes, I know, it’s a cliche.

View The Presentation Here.

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The Spirit Of Edison: Advancing Online Content Technology

The Spirit Of Edison: Advancing Online Content Technology | KnowledgeVisionWhy do we communicate?

With so many advanced tools out there, it’s easy to think of communications technology as something we’ve always had. We wake up in the morning, and there’s yet another social media platform to learn about.

Books are written to show us why we should use them, and how we can best use them for… sharing content, making money, spreading knowledge, promoting music and making people laugh with clever pictures of cats.

It should be amazing.

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E-Learning Goes Mainstream: How To Upgrade Your Strategy

E-Learning Goes Mainstream: How To Upgrade Your Strategy | KnowledgeVisionRecently, e-Learning has been covered in numerous high-profile articles in mainstream media outlets, such as the New York Times and Forbes Magazine.

It was a topic of discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s even been the topic of a Thomas Friedman column.

What does this mean?

Is e-Learning mainstream? Does the guy in accounting who still uses a Palm Pilot know about it yet? He probably does, and his aunt Gertrude told him (Thanks, Gert!).

e-Learning At A Crossroads

It’s a funny thing, being part of a trend. You feel like the guy at the wedding who starts a new dance routine, and some of the cool people join in. Then when everybody else picks it up you head back to your table. It’s not cool anymore. There’s a sweet spot you need to be in: not the first one to try something; but the one who observes, learns the weaknesses, and improves upon it.

“Oh, I see, let’s tie the bungee cord to the bridge this time.”

This is where e-Learning, including organizations like edX, Coursera, Blackboard, Skillsoft, Udacity, lynda.com and nearly a hundred others choose a path to become tomorrow’s Googles and Apples (or DECs).

Did you know that college enrollment fell for the first time in 15 years, while enrollment in online courses rose for the 9th straight year? The numbers are of course incomparable, but the trends are telling. So is the fact that enrollment in accredited online courses is rising more than 10% each year.

How To Choose Your Next Platform

Whether you’re part of a university, or a company building its own training courses, you should probably think not just about making e-Learning technology part of your programs, but centering your strategy around e-Learning tools. Beyond the standard features like ease of use, LMS integration, SCORM compliance, test management, and internal communications tools, the capabilities you should demand are:

  • Mobile-Readiness: These days, trainees and students are going to use all sorts of devices for online learning, and mobile tablets are likely to become a primary tool for them. Unfortunately, mobile devices come in several different sizes and run on two or three major operating systems that don’t use the same technologies for dynamic media. The ability to display your training content in Flash, Javascript and HTML5, as well as the ability to detect mobile devices are all potential requirements for any learning platform.
  • Rich Media Compatibility: How are you going to interface with your trainees? Are you going to use video, Flash, audio, Podcasts, PowerPoint slides, PDFs, high-resolution graphics? No matter what you want to use, your e-Learning platform should be capable of integrating all of it into the learning interface. It should also be possible for end users to select the method that works best for them and control the playback.
  • Social Integration: It’s possible to use social tools as a major avenue of communications for your online training programs. If you choose a learning platform that can integrate social media into the user interface, you’ll be better able to create a community around your courses and communicate in a way that students and trainees have become used to.
  • Cloud Hosting: There is little need to store all of your materials in your own servers any longer. Unless your IT department requires a high measure of security, using cloud storage makes it easier for students to take part in your courses anywhere, anytime, without using a VPN or specialized software applications. Cloud hosting also alleviates your responsibility for the immense storage and memory requirements of an e-Learning program.
  • Personalization: Trainees and students interface with your organization and its brand, not the learning platform’s brand. Why should they be forced to jump from the experience you wish to provide to a different one dictated by someone else’s design? An e-Learning platform should be configurable to match your look and feel, and beyond that, it should be possible for the trainees to define their own experience.
  • Accessibility: This can’t be stressed enough. Trainees will have different learning preferences and may have trouble dealing with one method or another. Your chosen e-Learning platform should be capable of making courses accessible to people with hearing or vision impairments by using captioning, selectable text sizes, audio controls, and specialized downloadable materials.

e-Learning has hit the big-time, but it’s still only the beginning. You should definitely evaluate as many of the latest tools as you have the patience for, but beyond picking a platform, it’s your strategy that is most important. It should combine the latest technologies, communications tools, and storage capabilities, to stay ahead of the curve.

Originally published on The KnowledgeVision Fresh Ideas Blog.

How To Maximize The Micro-Learning Phenomenon

How To Maximize The Micro-Learning Phenomenon | KnowledgeVisionIn the online training world, numerous software platforms and applications have made it possible to build very specific course topics. The phenomenon is called micro-learning, and it’s driving a revolutionary shift in corporate and academic e-learning. How can you build your own courses using these new tools and techniques?

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