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TechLearn 2001

October 28-31


Bad connection? Switch to the low-bandwidth (mainly text) version of this report.

Here's the official TechLearn follow-up site, a great resource of presentations and playthings.

The rolling schwag bag

Contents of the schwag bag.
A small fraction of the schwag bags.

Note use of industrial-era technology. Sometimes face-to-face and paper trump virtual and presentation software. The next day, Elliott advocated making TechLearn a slide-free zone. (No PowerPoint.) He also noted that eLearning has pushed out stand-up instruction in the training magazines, and traditional trainers have few places to carry on the conversation about improving classroom delivery.

Elliott kicked off with a preconference session on rethinking learning in difficult times.

What is the effect of 9/11? People have a hard time viewing the future. Make a decision? "I can't think about that now."

What's most at risk? Enterprisewide coordination. Vendors who are rebuffed from enterprise sales should go downstream to divisions and build up from there.

Getting it out is more important than getting it right. There's no time to dot the i's (e.g. formal instructional design, high production values). My take on this: corporations are learning that "quick & dirty" is good enough and that learning can happen without a learning management system. They will be reluctant to return to eye-candy bloat and over-engineered solutions.

Elliott predicts that digital collaboration is the next big thing. Changing one's title to "Director of Learning and Collaboration" would be a good career move. I like "Director of Field Readiness" a lot more.




Opening night. The theme is "Now more than ever." Sometimes this comes out "More now than ever," sort of eLearning á la Ram Dass.

1,600 people are attending TechLearn (out of an expected 3,200 before 9-11). Some people drove down. DisneyWorld is asking for photo-ID and searching handbags.

What's new? eLearning has become mainstream. The issue is not "Will we do it?" but "How are we going to do it?" The early adopters are saying, "Here's how we did it."

The important contribution of eLearning will be keeping organizations nimble and ready.

Our metaphors are off. Virtual classrooms? People want to avoid classrooms, not revisit them. Better to make virtual watercoolers. Our technology is ahead of our art. eLearning needs more pizzazz.


The Soundbytes led 1,600 of us singing God Bless America.

This amateur acapella group is amazingly good, and Diane Hessan's lyrics are a scream.

Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary)
is leading a crusade to rid the schools of bullying and ridicule. 30% of all school children are bullied. 15% of high school grads have contemplated suicide. Today's kids grow up on Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer and Howard Stern.

Peter led us in singing Puff the Magic Dragon, Blowing in the Wind, Leaving on a Jet Plane, and This Land is Your Land. The anthem of Peter's current movement says, "Don't laugh at me, don't call me names. In God's eyes, we're all the same." 1/8 of American schools have adopted this curriculum, and Peter is hoping that eLearning will spread the word.


The eLab. 183 computers. At times, every machine was in use. If two or three times as many people attend TechLearn next year, how many PCs we be required in the eLab?

This little ditty's 'bout Jack and Diane...

Jack Welch listening to the Soundbytes.

He loved them.

Jack tells Jay he loves www.InternetTime.com.*

*Not really. What I said was, "Jack, somebody's taking our picture. Act like I'm your long-lost brother."

Jack Welch answers Elliott's questions.

What's the business case for eLearning? Jack: Building people, increasing the organization's intellectual capital. It's the ultimate competitive advantage.

Jay watching Jack on the big screen.

How do you manage? Jack: By establishing a performance culture. In Jack's meritocracy, you do the bottom 10% a favor by firing them. You praise the top 20% to the hills. School has grades; why shouldn't business? It's all about winning.

What does it take for an organization to be successful? Jack: On a scale of 100, having the right people is worth about 100 points. Learning technology is important, too, but counts for maybe 3.

Schools? Jack: Just about everything is wrong with them. Probably best to detonate them and start over.

How do you motivate? Jack: Set stretch targets. Make budget reviews a time to work on how to grow the business, not a haggling session over budget numbers. Be positive. Don't be a victim. It's about finding a better way every day.

I've read about Jack Welch for years, but this was the first time I've seen him in person. He comes across as a scrappy, tough Boston Irish streetfighter. While I always strive to do my best and welcome performance measurement, I don't think I'd enjoy working for Jack.

Bare Truths: Total Cost of Ownership

eLearning is going to cost you a lot more money and twice as much time as you were planning on. Think of your initial implementation as a pilot and learning experience--because you're going to throw it away. Soft costs will top all others, e.g. the opportunity cost of subject-matter experts who help create content. You're going to need marketing and changes in management in order to succeed, and these aren't cheap.

Software cost is negligible. John Alonzo pointed out that the cost of an LCMS, spread over five years, comes to less than $10,000 a month -- cheap for enterprise software.

Be aware of the difference between cost savings and cost avoidance. A cost saving, for example less travel, is a one-time event because next year it won't be in the budget. However, avoiding a cost that is in your budget is a gift that keeps on giving.

Total cost of ownership is meaningless until it's linked to total benefit of ownership. Benefit is where you tie eLearning to business results. Quality is all-important, and upside benefit is where it comes into the equation.

When I hear "total cost of ownership," I recall the studies five years ago that found that companies were spending several times as much to maintain a PC as they paid for it in the first place. For dramatic effect, this was always expressed per PC. (Last year, your $2,000 workstation cost the company $4,500 in help desk, installs, upgrades, and whatnot!) It struck me as odd that no one on this panel had toted up total costs and divided by head-count. The industry rumor mill suggests that only one in five learners complete any eLearning experience.


Peg Maddocks (Cisco), Brook Manville (Saba)

Tom Graunke (KnowledgeNet), John Alonzo (Outstart)

Murry Christiansen (Goldman Sachs)

On the flight home, I read In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work. The book got me thinking about what makes TechLearn such a special event. TechLearn isn't a conference; it's a community. In 1998, I remember attending Diane Hessan's orientation, found that I'd been drafted into an immense improv group, and changed my presentation into a Q&A-driven collaboration.

In Good Company defines social capital as the networks, norms, and trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. Trust? Elliott and Cathy are readily accessible. People trust Elliott to play fair and call 'em like he sees 'em. Elliott plants ideas and asks participants to discuss them with others. At TechLearn, we're all seekers, all in this together. Round tables foster collaboration; every other eLearning event regiments people into theater-style rows. Musical interludes provide breaks for reflection. There's no expo floor to set up the confrontational me-sell-you-buy dynamic. I go to other conferences to do business; I come to TechLearn to learn things and to be with my pals (and the resulting karma leads to business).


Allison Rossett gave two presentations and I missed them both. Allison's a great speaker and people who attended her sessions gave them a high five. It's just that I read her new book on the way to TechLearn and didn't want to overdose. By the way, there's something for everybody in Beyond the Podium.
TechLearn Trends

Internet fanaticism
Experiment. Try it.

"The digital promise is extending, not supplanting, human relationships."

Learning portals
Magic's in the mix
Naive definitions of ROI


How do I sell this to management?

Creating an eLearning strategy.
People are the killer app.
Beware the hype.

How do I do eLearning?

ROI for real
Standards have arrived
eLearning is mainstream

Here's how we do eLearning.

2002 (?)
Experiences, proof, enterprise, deep integration

Maybe only on my list: Semantic Web
Intelligent agents

Don Tapscott, Bob Pike Michael Milken, Bill Cosby Tom Peters, Kevin Kelly, Benjamin Zander Jack Welch, Arturo Sandoval, Peter Yarrow, Ken Blanchard Tim Berners-Lee? Linus Torwalds? Ray Kurzweil?
Our 1998 report Our 1999 report

Our 2000 report




Arturo Sandoval is a classically trained musician, disciple of Dizzy Gillespie, and an awesome jazz talent.


Arturo hit the highest notes I have ever heard from a trumpet (and I've heard Dizzy himself at 15'.), and he also gave marvelous performances on piano, drums, keyboard; he sang; he told stories; he got a thousand of us to our feet, dancing to Cuban rhythms and shouting out "Sambuca" at the top of our lungs.

Arturo's amazing and energizing performance convinced me that music must be part of any complete "blended solution."

Many people encouraged me to forge ahead with The Meta-Learning Lab, a research group that believes that learning to learn is the key to improving eLearning results many times over. Let's improve the process.


You think your job is demanding?

Kerry Joels of the US Department of Health & Human Services has to get a distance learning program on anthrax to the nation's nurses and physicians in a matter of weeks.

Waiting in line for lunch


Wayne Hodgins conducted a skit on LMS, LCMS, metadata, and SCORM. At left, Wayne is an LMS and Cisco's Peg Maddocks is the learner. An LCMS has his back to us.

I was tapped to be "Pre-assessment" and took on a second role as a learning object. I couldn't resist snapping a picture of the audience from the stage.


Wayne delivered the message that standards have arrived at ninety miles an hour in half a dozen sessions, one of them a keynote. As Elliott described Wayne's unparalleled contributions to eLearning, Wayne cracked up the audience, signaling Elliott to speed it up.

Then, in a blazing riff, Wayne channeled rapid-fire excitement and enthusiasm that reminded me of Arturo Sandoval's tempo.

Standards are vital. After all, the Internet owes its existence to the TCP/IP standard. In eLearning, standards bring plug-and-play interoperability. They also make it possible to deliver just the right stuff to just the right destination at just the right time -- personalization. Just as a sequence of four amino acids writes the DNA blueprint for a unique human being, standards-compliant learning objects can be mixed and matched to create unique, optimal, tailored learning experiences.

Wouldn't it be great if the tragedy of 9-11 proved to be the tipping point for worldwide learning? Imagine global understanding, a leveling of inequalities, and metatags that preserve cultures.

Census of the Global Village

If we shrunk the world's population of six billion to a village of 100 people, it would contain:

70 would be nonwhite
70 would be non-Christian
11 would be gay
6 people would own 59% of the wealth and all 6 would be from the United States.
80 would live in poor housing conditions or not have a home at all
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be about to die
1 would be about to be born
1 would have a college education
2 would own computers.


Beth Thomas and an admirer

Peg Maddocks


Diane Hessan

Cisco has been inventing eLearning longer than anyone else, and Tom Kelly described the ups and downs of its journey. Cisco avoids semantic arguments in favor of practicality by defining eLearning as all web-delivered information, communication, education and training. Chunks of eLearning come in 10- to 20-minute packages, small enough to be imbedded in work.

Tom described the impact of eLearning on the learner (violet line on the graph) and the business (the gray line) throughout the cycle from initial implementation to business results. Warning: you'll hit some air pockets along the way. Learners are delighted at first but become dissatisfied as expectations soar. Management discovers that eLearning is not a cure-all. Over the course of three and a half years, the impact of eLearning has moved from Duh! to Wow! eLearning has saved Cisco $40 to $70 million, but it's been important to have a Learning Council of executive boosters to keep things on target and get over the rough spots. Check out Cisco's Implementation Success Factors.

Cisco's experience with learning management systems was both humorous and sad. They experimented with six LMS, some purchased and some homegrown. The homegrown systems are inevitably someone's baby. Its parents keep its picture on their desks and work to get it ready to go to college. In the long run, maintaining a one-off LMS proves cost-prohibitive. Taking away the parent's baby is neither easy nor fun. Nonetheless, one must focus on core and outsource everything else. Eventually, Saba was, uh, re-implemented, and became Cisco's standard. Implementation was likened to Private Ryan storming the beach in Normandy.



For several years, we've heard that learning and knowledge management will converge but the specifics have generally be pretty fuzzy. The issue is becoming more and more important, because within the next five years, about half of the knowledge workers in America will be up for retirement, taking their brains with them.

What's knowledge? Eric Vogt tells us it's the product of conversations in a community. It's what we learn outside of class. Perhaps appointing a few "knowledge pioneers" will nurture this informal learning.

Eric Vogt
Marc Rosenberg pointed out that traditionally we think of learning as a sequence of courses.
If conversation and collaboration produce knowledge, a more complete learning process might look like this:
In fact, wouldn't it make more sense to begin with the conversations? Put in another form of eLearning when you need it.
Wayne Hodgins conducted a Q&A with the LCMS Vendor Council. If you don't know what an LCMS is, you'd better find out. This will be big.
I recruited a number of members for eLearning Forum. It's free. Please join us. We'd love to have you aboard, even if it's only virtual.

SCORM-compliant instructor.



The TechLearn Chorus

Man and mouse




Comments? Here's our discussion space.

Information on the camera, an Olympus D510

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Scenes from a parallel universe just outside the walls of Disney World.

This is Kissimmee, Florida.

25' high orange in the parking lot of my motel.
For $31 a night at the Travelodge, I can live with it.

One of 400 stalls in the "flea market" next door to my motel. This twelve-year-old boy is checking out the jungle knives and commando daggers.

Knives can be kind of cool. But ninja stars and brass knuckles? And dental instruments? What the hell goes on down here?


Crustacean humping bug at all-you-can-eat lobster joint.

The Florida Keys? Not hardly. Read on.


"Some new planned communities--Disney's Celebration has gotten the most publicity--have been designed with community-building spaces specifically in mind. Sidewalks and front porches encourage people to see one another and meet and mingle, the garages that seem to dominate so many contemporary homes banished to service roads in the rear. Plazas and parks abound. These communities raise some still-unanswered questions. Commentators have asked whether their somewhat nostalgic designs represent missed opportunities to reimagine what contemporary communal environments should look like. There is also the issue of whether they may be excessively planned and controlled and therefore lose some of the spontaneity and naturalness that contribute to authentic connection. Again , though, Celebration recognizes and celebrates the important connection between community spaces and community."

In Good Company, p. 84

Just outside of Walt Disney World, bordering Kissimmee, is this manicured, ersatz village developed by Disney. It's very pretty, in a Stepford Wives sort of way.


Architectural elements appear to be selected
from Chistopher Alexander's A Pattern Language.


Faux or not, I love the food
in this clone of a Cuban restaurant.

Celebration's main shopping street.

Artificial. But very pretty nonetheless.

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