Why didn’t I think of this

Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate (and the consistently fantastic The Rapid Elearning Blog ) just posted: Is Google Making Our E-Learning Stupid? I love the phrase, the idea, and am certain the mere phrase resonates with everyone in the industry.

I might have taken the article in another direction, but, as always, Mr Kuhlmann makes it great, digestible and practical. He provides rapid elearning tips and approaches that transcend any specific tool (and apply to more than just rapid elearning). Bravo Tom.

Seattle Bunko Breakfast: Video Clip 1

Dan Pink, author of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need visited Seattle in late July and was kind enough to host a happy hour version of a “Bunko Breakfast” at the Arctic Club Hotel. There were 15-20 people in attendance including 3-4 from the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council, as well as designers, web designers, electrical engineers, school administrators, construction safety managers and a range of other individuals.

Recently, Dan called out that I was posting video, so I figured I better get to it. I pinged Aaron Silvers about how he converted his Spring time “Bunko Breakfast” Chicago session videos. Armed with his tips, I then went off and learned a bit about Vimeo as a nice hosting alternative, with some constraints (500MB/week upload limit).

The full video came off my flip Ultra video camera as a single 1 hour, 1.44GB file. (By the way, the camera is cheap, fast, easy and wonderfully effective for things like this— much better than the $400 Cannon ZR850 video camera I deliberately left at home. One might compare the flip to manga, as the clips will illuminate.)

I’m learning as I go, but it seems that 5 minute chunks might be the best way to post this. Here is the first segment, where Dan provides some of the backstory on the genesis of the book.


Dan Pink: Johnny Bunko Breakfast in Seattle Clip 1 from Tom King on Vimeo.

Over the next few days, I’ll upload more segments of about 5 minutes. Once I have 2-3 more uploaded, I’ll post again with a link to the Vimeo site where I will have the videos with titles and bullet point highlights for each clip.

UPDATE:I uploaded another video, perhaps with the quality setting too high. Apologies if the high bitrate makes the video hiccup for you. I’ll fall-back to the tighter encoding for future clips.

Both of the current clips and the remaining clips will be posted to the Vimeo Channel “SeattleBunko” found at:  http://www.vimeo.com/seattlebunko

iPod-based Language Learning w/Virtual Characters

I saw that 9to5 Mac picked up a story on iPods as mobile training devices for soldiers to learn new spoken languages. I immediately recognized this from some demos I’d seen from Carol Wideman of Vcom3D. Fantastic to see that this is in the field, well-received and effective. We’d met several years ago and a NATO training council meeting and this was mostly a concept then.

The story is written up on the Fort Hood 1st Cavalry web site, including some pictures of the ipod with battery and the wearable holder/case. (Note- The webmaster must like the yellow/black Purkinje effect.)

I’m glad to see Vcom3D get well-deserved recognition. Now its time for some forward-thinking corporate trainers to look at off-the-shelf and thinking-outside-the-box solutions like this too. I’m sure there’s plenty of time- and cost-effective training applications for virtual characters that model real language and cultural gestures— and plays back in common digital video and interactive Adobe Flash formats.

Paste Text into Web Forms on iPhone or iPod Touch

Here is a new utility web page to easily create javascript: bookmarks (bookmarklets) that paste a custom text string into a web page form in Mobile Safari on iPhone or iPod Touch– http://mobilemind.net/iphone.

On iPhone and Touch, that page will automatically re-direct to http://mobilemind.net/___, which includes all the instructions and code needed to make a bookmarklet that pastes text (an “iPastelet”).
Save an iPastelet (thumbnail)
On the iPhone/Touch, Save an iPastelet provides a form to enter your text string and a button to update the page URL. Then you need to save the bookmark, then immediately edit it to remove the http:// prefix and mobilemind URL. The directions on the page explain it all.

On desktop machines, the page does not re-direct, but instead takes you to the “classic” iPastelet Maker that I posted last December. The desktop browser version of iPasteletMaker creates a bookmarklet for you to save in your desktop browser (Mac or Win) and then sync to your device via iTunes.
iPastelet Maker(thumbnail)
This approach might be a little more handy if you already sync broswer bookmarks and want to create a bookmark Scrapbook folder with lots of these.

Thanks to Erica Sadun for the original bookmarklet code and inspiration. Special Thanks to Craig Hockenberry (IconFactory / Twitterific, Twitterific for iPhone), Joe Maller (Transmogrify), Joe Hewitt and the iUI team (http://code.google.com/p/iui/), and Ankur Kothari (Make the most of the iPhone SDK) for inspiration and examples.

Ping Pong with Brooks: Clarifying that Challenges != Death

PING– In response to my post, Call for Whitepapers on SCORM- Do SOMETHING please Brooks Andrus wrote a blog post titled, The Elearning Industry Is Dead. [That is a provocative statement that might leave one feeling a bit conflicted if one possessed 10 years experience with multimedia, Flash and elearning, and worked for TechSmith, makers of Camtasia Studio, a software product to: Train. Present. Persuade.] Kidding aside, I’m glad one of the 250+ subscribers of this feed thought enough to follow-up

I’m always ready to throw a few stones at learning and training, yet also ready to come to the aid of an industry that has comfortably paid the bills for me. [I’m a bit conflicted myself, but it is an industry that has provided cost-effective, mission critical training to sales associates, fighter pilots, jet mechanics, commercial aviation mechanics, construction managers, accountants, law enforcement personnel, healthcare professionals, and even software developers.]

PONG– So I wrote a comment to Brooks’ post, feebly defending the industry that is my patron. [Dang, I want to drive a Boxster again.] Seriously though, if the point is to raise awareness to improve things– I am all for it. Allow me a brief aside on criticism.

People have found fault with elearning, computer-based training and its precursors since the days of TICCIT and PLATO. It might just be endemic to any form of compulsory knowledge transfer; few text books or training films ever become a NY Times Bestseller or a box office smash.

All along the way the criticism has generally raised the capabilities, quality and effectiveness while lowering the costs. Expectations rise too. Things change. Cutting edge and high quality always has a price, but those expectations are a moving target. The green screen training that had text-based role plays, probably took as many development hours as a similar Flash-based piece with a digital avatar today. BUT it only played on the corporate or campus mainframe, and you were quite lucky if it did more than show text and beep.

So, Hail to the critics, they have challenged the industry and industry has responded. Likewise, Condemnation to shameful designers, they besmirch our trade with discouraging and unimaginative content. While I’ve been bored during presentations anchored with snazzy multimedia PowerPoint, I’ve been wrapt with fascination by compelling speakers with simple Kodachrome slides.

Thus my point, great content transcends technology. Great technology enables. Clever designers focus on the content first, and make good use what the technology enables. Was Shakespeare held back by the lack of Microsoft Office for Windows Vista or empowered by a simple quill? [Personally I think he would have used a Mac though.]

As I heard Dr. Michael Allen say earlier this year, “It is a poor craftsman who blames his tool.” And I might add, it is a poor industry that never improves its tools.

PING– Brooks posts again, Why Elearning Is Dead. And I respond here, to the problems he cites. With a veritable volley to each point. Hang on.

PONG– First point from Brooks.

  • Reusable content, the raison d’être of SCORM / AICCC [sic]…

PING– Actually, the AICC exists to…

  • Promote the economic and effective implementation of computer-based training (CBT) media.
  • Develop guidelines to enable interoperability.
  • Provide an open forum for the discussion of CBT (and other) training technologies

Quoted from the AICC FAQ page. As I recall, driving factors TWENTY YEARS AGO when the AICC formed, were economics and interoperability issues. Issues were things like the fact that there wasn’t a widely adopted digital audio file format (WAV didn’t exist). The CMI (Computer Managed Instruction, aka Learning Management System) specification work started a few years later, and focused on interoperability. At that time the desired level of re-use was the LMS itself. Believe me, it was NOT better when each set of training materials came with its own proprietary LMS silo capable only of running the corresponding proprietary content developed in that vendor’s proprietary authoring tool.

As for SCORM, a few of us remember when the “R” stood for Repository. I don’t know the back-story of why it was changed or by who. I like to speculate that it was partially a marketing maneuver to secure political support and funding.

PONG– Later in that point, he continues.

…reuse just falls flat on its face. I’ve found it to be near impossible to achieve reuse across departments within a single organization

PING– I’ll generally agree. I recall having conversations with Phillip Dodds about my desire for a disposable content object model. Meaning content object wrappers so cheap and easy, they became to consistent quality learning what the disposable cup is to the Starbucks latte.

PONG– Next point.

  • Testing (SCORM + LMS) has been a failure. Despite all the fancy API features you still can’t reliably certify results. Physical environments and instructors are still required for anything needing mission critical result certification. We might as well be using simple survey tools rather than bloated standards.

PING– At first, I thought he meant the LMS certification test. I’d consider this point a “FOL” as I’ve seen in called some bug bases– a Fact Of Life, not a criticism of SCORM or AICC. Unattended remote testing for high stakes certifications (lives or livelihoods at risk) generally doesn’t make sense. If you must do medium or high stakes testing to do electronically there is just one way to go in my opinion, Questionmark. A great product, a company filled with people of great integrity, and they can more than manage low stakes testing, assessments and surveys too.

PONG– Next point on costs [or salesmanship].

  • The cost of developing lean forward elearning experiences is at least an order of magnitude greater than its pitched at. In fact elearning is pitched as a cost saver when in reality its usually a net loss. Most elearning is PPT based because the cost of creating a compelling experience from an SME’s physical course is so high (at least that’s been my experience).

PING– Almost too easy to rebute. We’ve all seen things oversold, maybe even been reluctant participants in some way. As a developer/consultant, I had to backpedal on sales promises made at more than one previous employer.

I’d feel sad and try to avoid projects where my work is (un)recognized as a net loss. As for PPT versus costs– not every piece of elearning replaces a SME’s course. And in many cases a great blended design might shorten the overall length of a classroom course, and allow the instructor to convey better/richer material. In such cases the elearning serves the role of individualized instructor allowing each student to slow down only when they need to do so. This as opposed to an instructor slowing down a whole class of 25 for the one student challenged at the current moment. This works great for classes where students may speak different languages. Likewise, a shorter footprint for classes can be real savings when you have high volumes of students to train or training must span the globe. Sending students or instructors across oceans isn’t cheap, and you’ll need classrooms and hotel rooms too.

PONG– Next point on failures [or bad situations].

  • Every LMS / LCMS vendor I’ve worked with gets a FAIL. They’re bloated, difficult to administer and use, and often require organizations to wrap their infrastructure around them (which just doesn’t happen too much). Again these tools are pitched as cost savers, but typically require full-time administrators and the large vendors have notoriously bad service track records.

PING Sigh. More sadness. I know it happens. I guess I’ve been fortunate, working with some wonderful customers and vendors. I’ve been tremendously impressed with Accenture, American Airlines, Boeing, Herman Miller and others. They all faced challenges with partners and vendors, and both sides dealt with it well.

PONG– On to more failures, such as discoverability.

  • Distributed content / repositories reign supreme whether on the Web or across organizations. Again the LMS / LCMS get a FAIL and SCORM SCOs have had little tangible value.

PING– Remember when the “R” stood for repository. Now I sigh for myself. I thought CORDRA was supposed to move things forward on this. It has not. Time for some good thoughts to be shared and popularized to solve this. [See original call for LETSI white papers]

As far as SCO’s having little tangible value, I think a few million Korean parents might disagree regarding the SCORM-based elearning their children receive. I believe Chrysler also has some hard numbers on savings they achieved with SCO’s, you can find it via this Google search.

PONG– Home stretch now, second last point is on community and standards.

  • A real infrastructure and community never really developed, at least not on the scale we should reasonably expect. Actually you could say the Web raced ahead and that search (GOOGLE), Wikipedia, Creative Commons, etc. form the backbone of real elearning. Adding community features doesn’t mean your going to build a great community and standardization here might hurt more than it helps.

PING– I’m personally amazed that the little presentations I saw in 1996 and 1997 led to something the size, diversity and adoption level of SCORM. I don’t know what scale Brooks was expecting. It’s bigger than I ever expected when I helped form a tiny company to build an early standards-based CMI/LMS in 1993. Back then we had to explain what learning management was, it was all just content. The typical training management decision was build-versus-buy. The tools skills an CBT/elearning designer, developer or consultant had with one system had very little applicability to another

PING– Last point, on a failure to change the classroom paradigm (I’ll add, that is something that I never thought AICC or SCORM set out to do).

  • The elearning industry failed to fundamentally improve the old classroom led paradigm. Big institutions still employ SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) as course developers and instructors. The elearning movement as we know it has largely failed to create tools that can effectively allow SMEs to create elearning courseware. This meant the introduction of a new class employees–IDs (Instructional Designers) and Courseware Developers. In most cases we’re talking about new hires under different managers and even departments. There’s a huge level of distrust between these groups based on paranoia, ego and organizational allegiance. All of this results in increased operational overhead (financial and development).

PING– In my experiences, when big institutions change it is either almost imperceptible slowly or relatively quickly due to major disruption or catastrophe. The good news is that for big institutions, elearning has not been a major disruption or catastrophe. Lots of big organizations get lots of content out quick, almost too quick. I’d now argue for more filters, and shorter content, and less content, as much as better content (which I think such filters would also bring).

Even better, for small and medium institutions, elearning been a huge improvement. It allows them to time-shift training with self-paced e-learning, span geography with virtual classrooms, and keep training far more current than classroom approaches and scheduling would ever allow. It makes it worthwhile to send out 5, 10 or 30 minutes of training. Far below the threshold of the duration we might expect for a class (hours or days) to take.

We shake hands after a game well played. Finally, the denouement.

All this said, there are some really fantastic people in the elearning world–maybe they’re going to kick some ass and surprise me with SCORM 2.0. :-P

I hope so Brooks. I hope you’re surprised, and I hope you’re one of those fantastic people.

Call for Whitepapers on SCORM- Do SOMETHING please

LETSI is soliciting white papers on SCORM to help identify the issues and ideas that are key priorities for the learning and training community. The submission deadline is August 15, 2008 and more information can be found on the LETSI web site SCORM 2.0 page or in the PDF file LETSI White Paper Solicitation on SCORM.

I think this is important, as we could be at the cusp of a make-or-break situation for evolution (or revolution) of learning and training infrastructure. Much of the current e-learning and LMS infrastructure is grounded in the learning and training approaches of the 1990s (’80s? ’70s??). By comparison, today’s technical and learning environment is much more “read-write”, collaborative, social and nomadic– all while being more personal and individualized.

Excuse me while I meander, ramble and eventually get to the point of why it is important.

Recently, I realized I have been unwittingly (and somewhat weakly) channelling the thoughts of Dr. David Wiley regarding the isolated “read-only” static nature of LMS-centric training, by mentioning this in conversation and scattered bullet-points in presentations over the last year. I discovered this thanks to Brian Lamb, who I have never met, but who I remotely and greatly appreciate via his blog abject learning.

Brian in a passing credit mentioned that David provided a lot of meat for many of his own presentations last year, and then lead me straight to Dr. Wiley’s 2007 presentation Openness, Localization and the Future of Learning Objects. If you can’t take the time to watch/listen to the whole presentation, I’d strongly encourage you to advance the slides and time marker to the following points:

  • 30:37 Engineer invasion and the next slide, Technical standards soup (Tom adds, Mea Culpa– and I’m not even an engineer)
  • 15:27 Education vs Everday (a more cogent expression of some ideas I discussed at AICC in Hamburg last month)
  • 13:27 Innovative in 1995 and next slide, Education v Everyday (revisited)

If that doesn’t inspire you to respond to the call for papers, perhaps it might get the attention of Dr. Wiley or Brian Lamb.

E-learning isn’t completely broken, but current specifications and infrastructure don’t match how we live, learn and work.

Interoperability specifications can’t completely fix that, but maybe, maybe, the specification efforts can be oriented to enable and facilitate more effective and more congruent approaches. Too often they seem resistant and brittle towards innovation.

I’m certain that LETSI looks forward to learning from and sharing your white paper ideas.

Develop iPhone Web Apps w/out an iPhone

I saw my friend Aaron twitter a question about this topic, so I thought I’d pull together a quick post with some resources for those with a Mac (and 1-2 for Mac or Win Firefox) and general tips. Briefly the tips are:

Safari– Go to Preferences and check the box for Show Develop menu in menu bar.
thumbnail view of Safari Preferences
Then you can use the menu Develop > User Agent > Mobile Safari 1.1.3 – iPhone. That will allow Safari to present itself to website (and your code) as the iPhone web browser. Hovering over a menu option will also display the full User Agent string.
thumbnail view of Develop menu - User Agent - Mobile Safari

iPhoney- iPhoney from MarketCircle is basically a shell around WebKit that acts like the iPhone browser, Mobile Safari. It does support rotation, but isn’t exactly like iPhone (address bar can’t scroll (but can be hidden), it does add vertical/horizontal scroll bars in some cases were iPhone wouldn’t). That said, it is a nice way to get a quick “iPhone Preview” of any site from your laptop or desktop computer.

iPhoney in horizontal/landscape view

Tip: I found that I get more “iPhone-like” results with many sites by having iPhoney use a custom user-agent. The User Agent string below matches exactly what a web server sees for my iPhone user agent with the current firmware, whereas the iPhoney returns a slightly different version (Mobile/1A538a). Just use the appropriate menu item to enter the text below as “Custom User Agent”.

Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/420.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/3.0 Mobile/4A93 Safari/419.3

Switch User Agent- Firefox users (even those already using Firefox 3.0) can use the User Agent Switcher extension to also mimic the iPhone web browser user agent, with the same User Agent string as above.

Firefox extensions for Javascript development- While you’re at it, you may also want to get a couple of other Firefox extension that are generally useful for web development– the Web Developer extension is from the same author as User Agent Switcher, and the latest Firebug extension beta release seems to work well with Firefox 3 (and help a lot with debugging). Firesizer isn’t is compatible with Firefox 3 (yet) now, and it allows you to quickly switch Firefox to different screen sizes… helping you preview an iPhone sized window of (or even test other web sites & apps at common sizes like 1024×768).

iUI- iUI is set of CSS, HTML and Javascript that hails from Joe Hewitt of Facebook, who also originated Firebug. iUI is available from the Google code site, and includes code to provide a more iPhone-like look and feel to your web applications while providing the ability to handle page orientation changes (rotation between landscape & portrait views).

Apple Developer pages and Google Groups- There are a bunch of resources on the Apple site and there is an active iPhone Web Development Google Group too. Visit the Apple Web Apps Development Center and Apple iPhone Dev Center. Then check out the Google Groups iPhoneWebDev.

iPhoneDevCamp- Finally, there will be a second iPhoneDevCamp at the Adobe offices in San Francisco. It is scheduled for August 1-3 2008, and you should watch the official iPhoneDevCamp 2 website for more information.