May 20, 2004

Look out, it's Outlook

Tomorrow I'm off to DC for a week, so I want to transfer my email and address files to my laptop. I couldn't remember where Outlook has put my .pst file, so I asked Outlook Help. Microsoft offered me a course. In only 45 minutes, I could learn how to find a file!

Do you know where Microsoft Outlook keeps your e-mail? Find out where your messages are stored, and then learn how to move, copy, or back them up to suit your needs.

Length: 40–50 minutes

It's not a good sign when you're offered a 45 minute course to learn something that should be either intuitively obvious or one click away.

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November 08, 2003

Peering into the crystal ball

At TechLearn, Mark Oehlert presented his findings on The Future of eLearning Models and the Language We Use to Describe Them. Mark calls it like he (and I) sees it. This is a perceptive, on-target summary of where eLearning is headed. Mark's key findings:

  • While a more expansive definition of e-learning has been much discussed, requirements are now emerging that seek to make real some of those ideas (e.g. performance support, augmented reality, on-demand personalized instruction).
  • While cultural change continues to be cited as one of the main hurdles to successful implementation of e-learning, no e-learning vendors seem to be packaging change management with their products.
  • M-learning continues to gain buzz and momentum
  • Economic models for selling e-learning will have to shift away from ‘catalog’ shopping to a service-oriented model.
  • Gaming and simulation are poised to make huge impacts in this market space.
  • Copyright and other legal issues pose potentially great problems for the future of e-learning.
  • The ‘course’, as a meaningful unit of instruction, may well be doomed.
  • The cell phone is almost universally considered a learning device.
  • A continuation of the move toward “pay as you go” could actually allow smaller shops to get up and competing by providing lower barriers to entry.
  • Globalization is forcing a hard focus on US-centric practices and content

Here's Mark's Power Point. The William Gibson quote is absolutely brilliant and will eventually show up on my Time page


Mark interviewed Stephen Downes at length. You must read his unexpurgated version to get the full flavor of the exchange. Stephen:

    We need to stop thinking of online content as analogous to things. That’s the beginning and the end of it. Even if the language of ‘things’ is more suited to both contemporary academic discourse and commercial discourse, the reality is that when you find yourself immersed on an online environment it becomes evident and apparent that online content is much more like a stream than a collection of objects. That’s why I use analogies like the electrical system or the water system, and not (as Elliott does) analogies like bookstores or warehouses.

    ...

    At this point in history we not only have much greater powers of communication and expression than ever before, we also have access to greater riches than ever before. But there is a sense that we are at a peak, and with shortages in raw materials looming, there is a retrenchment happening, a vigorous conflict over the control of ideas, over the control of resources, and in the end, over control of people.

Clearly Canadian, Stephen gives his view of cultural imperialism:

    is the worldwide export of American culture, usually draped in the clothing of values and ideals. Many writers have remarked on this and so I don't need to go into a lot of detail: this not merely the export of McDonalds and everything it represents (wage-labour, corporate subservience, fast food production, massive advertising, and more) and Mickey Mouse (Scrooge style capitalism, greed, individualism and more) but also the twin towers of individualism and capitalism (and yes, I did use the analogy deliberately). These are wrapped in a dressing of 'freedom' and 'democracy', but these values are viewed very differently in the rest of the world. Americans, of course, are free to hold to these values, but those that must see them impregnating every book, movie, television show, and learning material (and also the IMF, WTO, and more) exported from the U.S. into the educational fabric must offer some form of resistance.

    Most of the world is far more communually oriented than the United States, far more than most Americans realize, and the political and social agenda that is offered under the banners of 'freedom' and 'democracy' are perceived, even in modern industrial democracies as Canada, as undermining hard-won social and cultural values. This is not merely a cultural facade; it will not be addressed by merely 'localizing' materials; it runs deeply into the selection and presentation of learning. Renaming the 'French and Indian War' to the term everyone else in the world uses, 'The Seven Years War', isn't just relabeling, it is a change of context, of protagonists, of history. Rewriting the history of the War of 1812 to reflect what actually happened, an opportunistic (because of the Napoleonic wars) American invasion of Canada that was rebuffed by a rag-tag army of First Nations (ie., 'Indians') and militia volunteers, isn't just a case of rebranding.

The exchange between Mark and Stephen is a wonderful example of a new form of online learning: the email interview. Aside from baiting the U.S. right (Stephen would fit right in here in the People's Republic of Berkeley), Stephen makes some great observations -- and you must read them in his own words to grok the message.

    The learning environment merges with the work environment; each, in turn, an extension of the worker, who with a new capacity for empowerment and self-actualization increasingly enters relationships of mutual association with a corporate structure - it is a dynamic relationship, full of tacit assumptions and convenient fictions (the corporation promises security, which the employee knows is an outright lie; and conversely the employee promises loyalty, which the employer knows will last only as long as the good times do). Learning, then, becomes a tacit agreement between employee and employer, selected by the employee with an eye to personal empowerment and development, aided by the employer, with an eye to developing native talent in- house (if not, any more, specific skills).


Another gem is Daniel Schneider's Conception and implementation of rich pedagogical scenarios through collaborative portal sites, although as the title alone tips you off, this one's quite academic in tone. I have yet to make it through all 40 pages but the topic is intriguing:

    Often, one associates new rich and open pedagogies are with “learner-centered”. We believe that being “learner-centered” is not sufficient, since main-stream content-transmission- centered e-learning also rightly claims to be learner-centered, since students can look at contents and do exercises and tests at their own speed. Good learner-centered pedagogics may also be very teacher-centered, since the role of the teacher can become very complex and demanding. Let’s recall the three principle roles that we attribute to the teacher-designer of structured, but active, open and rich educational scenarios:
    • His role as a manger is to ensure productivity, i.e. that learners do things.
    • His role as a facilitator is the help them in their choices and to suggest resources and tools that will help them to solve problems and get tasks done.
    • His role as an orchestrator is to create “story-boards”, i.e. to break down projects into scenarios, and scenarios into phases. He also may decompose problems into manageable sub-problems or alternatively encourage and help students to do so themselves.

    It is very important to respect a principle of “harmony”, to find an equilibrium of different
    pedagogical strategies and tactics and not (and we insist on this) to be tempted by
    over-scripting. In our philosophy, a teacher should think of himself primarily as a “landscaper” who uses ICT to build places where learners can “sculpt” according to some rule and with as much help as appropriate. Because of their modular architecture, a well trained teacher can configure portals and its “tools” according to his own needs. He can also hunt down new modules. He can re-purpose tools, e.g. he could use quizzes which are normally used for assessment as discussion openers. He can also suggest to the increasing number of technical support people that can be found in the school system to develop new tools. Since this technology is focused on “orchestration” and not content delivery, we believe that it will spread in the nearer future with almost the same ease as web pages did, but it will bring new functionalities. Teachers should have control over their environment and they can share their experience within teacher portals using the same technology and both fit the C3MS philosophy.

    [C3MS = Community, Content and Collaboration Management Systems]

    Finally, C3MS may be a chance to promote the open and sharing “Internet
    Spirit” to education, which is threatened by the philosophy of the closed so-called “educational platforms”, e-learning systems or whatever are called today’s main stream systems sold without as much success as they claim to the educational system. According to
    our initial experience, and despite many difficulties - like administrative hurdles, the time
    it takes to accommodate new pedagogical strategies, the disputable ergonomics of some
    software that we will have to overcome - teachers who engaged themselves “love it” and
    their students too.

    (via EdTech Post)


    The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview by Clay Shirky.

      The W3C's Semantic Web project has been described in many ways over the last few years: an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, a place where machines can analyze all the data on the Web, even a Web in which machine reasoning will be ubiquitous and devastatingly powerful. The problem with descriptions this general, however, is that they don't answer the obvious question: What is the Semantic Web good for?

      The simple answer is this: The Semantic Web is a machine for creating syllogisms. A syllogism is a form of logic, first described by Aristotle, where "...certain things being stated, something other than what is stated follows of necessity from their being so." [Organon]

      The canonical syllogism is:

      • Humans are mortal
      • Greeks are human
      • Therefore, Greeks are mortal

      with the third statement derived from the previous two.

      The Semantic Web specifies ways of exposing these kinds of assertions on the Web, so that third parties can combine them to discover things that are true but not specified directly. This is the promise of the Semantic Web -- it will improve all the areas of your life where you currently use syllogisms.

      Which is to say, almost nowhere.

    To which I say, damn, damn, damn. I drank the KoolAde when Tim Berners-Lee wrote about the Semantic Web in Scientific American. This was supposed to solve problems, not compound them.

      Despite their appealing simplicity, syllogisms don't work well in the real world, because most of the data we use is not amenable to such effortless recombination. As a result, the Semantic Web will not be very useful either.

      The people working on the Semantic Web greatly overestimate the value of deductive reasoning (a persistent theme in Artificial Intelligence projects generally.) The great popularizer of this error was Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories have done more damage to people's understanding of human intelligence than anyone other than Rene Descartes. Doyle has convinced generations of readers that what seriously smart people do when they think is to arrive at inevitable conclusions by linking antecedent facts. As Holmes famously put it "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

      This sentiment is attractive precisely because it describes a world simpler than our own. In the real world, we are usually operating with partial, inconclusive or context-sensitive information. When we have to make a decision based on this information, we guess, extrapolate, intuit, we do what we did last time, we do what we think our friends would do or what Jesus or Joan Jett would have done, we do all of those things and more, but we almost never use actual deductive logic.

    Shirky is great. Consider:

      ...the pattern for descriptions of the Semantic Web. First, take some well-known problem. Next, misconstrue it so that the hard part is made to seem trivial and the trivial part hard. Finally, congratulate yourself for solving the trivial part.

      ...After 50 years of work, the performance of machines designed to think about the world the way humans do has remained, to put it politely, sub-optimal. The Semantic Web sets out to address this by reversing the problem. Since it's hard to make machines think about the world, the new goal is to describe the world in ways that are easy for machines to think about.

      There is a list of technologies that are actually political philosophy masquerading as code, a list that includes Xanadu, Freenet, and now the Semantic Web. The Semantic Web's philosophical argument -- the world should make more sense than it does -- is hard to argue with. The Semantic Web, with its neat ontologies and its syllogistic logic, is a nice vision. However, like many visions that project future benefits but ignore present costs, it requires too much coordination and too much energy to effect in the real world, where deductive logic is less effective and shared worldview is harder to create than we often want to admit.

      Much of the proposed value of the Semantic Web is coming, but it is not coming because of the Semantic Web. The amount of meta-data we generate is increasing dramatically, and it is being exposed for consumption by machines as well as, or instead of, people. But it is being designed a bit at a time, out of self-interest and without regard for global ontology. It is also being adopted piecemeal, and it will bring with it with all the incompatibilities and complexities that implies. There are significant disadvantages to this process relative to the shining vision of the Semantic Web, but the big advantage of this bottom-up design and adoption is that it is actually working now.

    Bravo! Check his home page for more.

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September 06, 2003

Personalized learning

Personalization is important

Did you ever read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People? Written in 1937, and still in print 15,000,000 copies later, How to… was the first people-skills book. “Deal with people so that they feel important and appreciated” is Carnegie’s timeless formula. “*Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

I contend that much of what passes for eLearning would benefit mightily from Carnegie’s advice.

Fifty years after Carnegie, Stan Davis coined the term mass customization to describe the ability to provide individualized services and goods with the efficiency of mass production. Mass customization was supposed to be one of the foundations of eLearning, but somehow it slipped through the cracks as vendors raced for quick fixes and quarterly revenue.

Up the revolution

Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, I think first-generation eLearning ran off the tracks because investors thought the learning revolution would be a repeat of the industrial revolution. What VC wouldn’t fight for a piece of that action?

The industrial revolution succeeded because of the specialization of labor and the substitution of machines for labor; it took most of the people out of the equation. eLearning attempted to do the same thing. In the early days, eLearning was justified by the savings in instructor salaries and airplane tickets when learning migrated from the classroom to the desktop.

Of course, people aren’t bales of cotton and learning is social, so most of the early eLearning programs went down in flames.

Come into my store

Imagine if I operated a store that treated customers the way early eLearning treats learners. You bought an expensive item last week and come back into the store. No one acknowledges you or says hello. No one calls you by name. They’re already forgotten you were here before. They have no memory of your purchase. There isn’t much merchandise on the shelves and you’re not allowed to try anything on before you buy it. We never follow up. You want a personal shopper? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That’s a good one.

Most eLearning is like this. Is it any wonder people don’t buy it?

Drop outs?

Lance Dublin and I interviewed dozens of companies while researching our book, Implementing eLearning. Why were so many people dropping out of eLearning? They told us:

  1. It was irrelvant to their jobs.
  2. They already knew the material.
  3. They hit roadblocks and had no one to turn to.
  4. The material was dull as dishwater.

If eLearning were personalized, these irritants would evaporate. (Well, perhaps not #4.)

Even my online bookstore remembers who I am and suggests new things for me to look at based on my previous selections and those of people like me. It’s always learning how to serve me better. It lets me go at my own pace, providing lots of directions so I’ll stay interested. I’ve yet to see an LMS that learns as well as Amazon does.

What others think

71 people responded to a short poll about the value of personalized learning. I’ll provide a summary here; I’ve posted the details on the web.


  1. Most respondents say personalization makes a difference or is very important. (But only 7% rate their own efforts better than so-so.)

  2. A solid majority think it important to avoid redundancy by automatically skipping over material the learner has already mastered. (But only half do it.)

  3. More than 90% think it’s important for learners to be able to annotate and highlight materials and “dogear” virtual pages. (But only 27% have implemented it.)

  4. Four out of five think it’s important for learners to be able to share notes, annotations, and content with other learners. (But only one in five do so.)

  5. Everyone thinks it important to tailor learning to the learner’s job requirement and competencies. (And 38% do it.)

  6. Everyone thinks collaboration with peers is important. (And 42% do it.)

  7. Most people deem it important to have a live mentor or learning coach to asnwer questions and help learners over rough spots. (But less than half do it.)

The bottom line

Most people think personalized learning is important. Less than half do anything about it. I sense lots of unrealized potential to be gained by “dealing with learners so that they will feel important and appreciated.”

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March 02, 2003

Customer Empathy

If only more businesses would take the message of The Cluetrain Manifesto to heart! Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking.

I just visited the site of The Ultimate Business Resource, companion site to a weighty tome I thoroughly enjoy. I click “Latest Updates,” get a little useful information, and am greeted with:

    Microsoft VBScript runtime error ‘800a0009’
    Subscript out of range: ‘[object]’
    /updates.asp, line 81

Friendly sort that I am, I click back to the Home Page, figuring I’ll inform the webmaster of the error. (I always appreciate it when a Good Samaritan emails me about glitches at Internet Time Group’s sites.)

Search as I may, there’s no link to the webmaster. Or to anyone but people who want to sell me the book. There’s no way to open a conversation. Funny that the site of a book on the best ways to do business is either so arrogant they figure no reader has anything to offer or inept that they forgot to put a link to someone who can deal with glitches.

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December 23, 2002

Awwww

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September 04, 2002

Garbage disposal with a sense of humor

Our garbage disposal just stopped working. I'm reading the Troubleshooting Guide at In-Sink-Erator.

Disposer Jams No, these are not recipes for marmalade. This is where you can learn how to fix your food waste disposer if it gets jammed. Like when you lose a dish rag down the disposer, or when you try to grind up a piece of your silverware, or even when you just shoved too much food waste in it at once (see Do's and Don'ts.) But don't worry, we've all done these things a few times.

I sauntered into the living room to announce another reason to be glad we're in the 21st century. Ah-ha! The Trouble Shooting Guide has told me what to do.

Alas, the disposal is still inert. Like the Monty Python parrot. It's a former disposal.

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August 28, 2002

Why customer eLearning?

A list of benefits from Powered

  1. Increase Conversion & Revenue - Powered drives transactions. Our customers average direct, online conversion rates of 25% through their PowerCenters. Offline purchase rates average 43%.

  2. Reduce Customer Acquisition Costs - Powered solutions are a compelling offer to use in advertising and promotion campaigns, with click-through rates on demand generation emails as high as 33%.

  3. Increase Customer Retention - PowerCenters give companies a reason to stay in contact with their customers and customers a reason to come back. Our performance statistics show that 47% of customers who engage with a PowerCenter return to use it again.

  4. Reduce Inconsistency in the Channel– Powered provides the capability to deliver consistent messaging, branding and positioning across your company and your channel partners. In addition, the Powered solution serves to increase demand and drive more volume, strengthening the vendor-channel relationship.

  5. Increase Customer Satisfaction - Customers spend smarter, making an informed purchase decision they can feel good about. Surveys show that 62% of customers said they made “more purchases than before” after engaging with a PowerCenter and 43% stated the company offering the PowerCenter had become their “preferred purchase destination.”

  6. Reduce Risk – Understanding and anticipating a customer’s interests gives insights into where markets are headed. With PowerCenters, your efforts to enter new markets are based on clear insights, drastically reducing the risks of entering and competing in those markets.

  7. Increase Purchase Size - Topical knowledge is a means to cross-sell or up-sell additional services, accessories and solutions. One of our customers recognizes a 138% increase in purchase size through its PowerCenter.

  8. Reduce Support Inefficiency – All companies look at support as a required cost of doing business. But what if you could turn support into a profit center? PowerCenters help your customers to get the most out of their purchases and create a touch point for driving new cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Not that Powered is alone in claiming these. Any customer eLearning can deliver many of these goods.

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