Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Podcasting

I have never been one to get too excited over podcasts.   I know there are a good number of people who like to listen to audio content on their mobile devices or while driving in the car.  Me?  I prefer to listen to something like Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead when I have a little down time, so podcasts have never been my thing.   That being said, they do have their place among delivery media.  And since most of my learners are sales and service professionals who do spend a lot of time in their cars, I have had my team create a podcast library of downloadable resources for "learning on the go."

This week in the class that I'm currently taking at FSU, we discussed the benefits and limitations of podcasts as a medium for learning.  As good collaborative learners do, we created some very nice lists.   I thought they had a lot of good points, so I'm reprinting them here:

Potential Benefits of Using Audio Podcasts 
  1. Portability e.g. easy to load on an iPod or similar device and consume content on the fly
  2. Well suited for distributing content that doesn't require visual support e.g. facts, opinions, and the like
  3. Good for audiences who need information on the fly - salespeople and service people who spend a lot of time in cars can listen as they drive
  4. Good for content that is audio-oriented, such as learning a language, subtle or sensitive communication topics, learning how to play music, or create sound effects
  5. Make better sense of computer images when accompanied by audio by providing an explanation
  6. Encourage deeper thought when providing audio instruction by asking questions. (Not a benefit unique to audio podcasts?)
  7. Audio-only podcasts can be fairly inexpensive to produce (microphone, software)
  8. Audio-only podcasts allow students who have dyslexia the opportunity to learn material without being hindered by the challenges of reading words on a page (this was from our reading of Harris and Park, 2008)
  9. Can Provide specific customization of information to be learned by the learner as a stand alone, or in addition to original instruction
  10. Audio materials can be presented in multiple languages, to target a larger, more diverse audience of learners
  11. Podcasts can be used to reinforce lecture concepts
  12. Students can work at their own pace, starting and stopping when necessary, and replaying key points of the lecture/podcast as they deem necessary
  13. Good for relaying repeated information, leaving teachers more time for higher level instruction (i.e. podcast library or museum tour, as mentioned in the Harris and Park article)
  14. Podcasts are a medium that teens/younger students can identify with and be motivated to use
  15. Because sound effects are accessible in the public domain, you can create a unique environment that matches the sound and feeling of the content being taught fairly inexpensively vs. trying to create a classroom or video experience
  16. Hearing a voice and providing an "eye" break is a huge benefit to online learning. With all the book, article, online reading, sometimes it is nice to have a voice and a "eye" break
  17. Provides learners the opportunity to review and re-review information an unlimited number of times 
Potential Limitations of Using Audio Podcast
  1. Not well suited for complex subjects that necessitate visual support to fully comprehend e.g. mathematics for example
  2. Violates Mayer's multimedia effect when not designed correctly
  3. Can only be effective for short topics
  4. Passive medium
  5. Does not support learning if students are not attentive, therefore the audio must keep the student involved, e.g. asking questions (similar to & elaboration of item 4)
  6. The loss of non-verbal cues (body language, supportive material)from the speaker may affect the intent of the message/speaker
  7. Aural memory is limited in the retention of information, but this can be overcome in audio-only instruction by the learner being able to control the audio presentation by pausing and replaying the information
  8. Audio files take up a lot of space on a computer's hard drive
  9. Some people are visual/kinesthetic learners, that is they learn primarily by seeing someone do something or doing it themselves
  10. Audio output quality is only as good as its weakest component, which is often the system's speakers. It was pointed out that high quality sound it a necessity for us aging listeners and for those with other hearing losses
  11. Lacks feedback. Learner is unable to ask questions or clarify information being presented
  12. If targeted toward a specific audience, some previous knowledge of the subject matter is assumed(Difficult to gear toward a universal audience)
  13. Does not allow for multiple representations of the material, only auditory
  14. Audio only podcasts may be longer than necessary if using words to describe a concept that a picture could teach faster
  15. Requires an audio output device, which may not be present on all computers (no speakers on some public-access machines in offices, libraries, etc.)
  16. If the learner is not as proficient in the spoken language, it could be limiting especially when accents and territorial dialect are added in to the mix
  17. Does not allow for nonverbal cues (already listed in item 6)
This list comes to you courtesy of the Fall 2010 EME6415 class at Florida State University.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Instructional Design is Not Dying

Instructional Design has been on mind lately. Having just finished reflecting on my first year experiences as a blogger and as a member of the web 2.0 learning community, I realize that a lot of my focus over the last year has been on informal learning topics. I started this blog as a way to explore web 2.0 tools, partly to educate myself, and partly to contribute and share what I could with others about my experiences as I attempt to integrate these technologies into workplace learning. This got me thinking about how little of my explorations have been focused on instructional design for formal learning. Then I read this blog post Is Instructional Design Dying? over at the eLearning Authority this morning which compelled me to write this tonight.

I’ve been working in learning & development roles for a number of years. First and foremost I consider myself to be an instructional designer. And while I admit that I no longer spend as much of my time involved in rigorous design these days, it informs everything that I do. Yes, we are in the non-linear age of elearning programs and informal learning but does that mean we should abandon systems thinking? Just because we develop elearning rapidly, it doesn’t mean we have to do it poorly. Don’t we still need to analyze tasks and learner behavior to know what needs to go into a rapid elearning course? And even though we may not be able to prescribe the path our learners take as they pursue their learning goals through informal means, can’t we still be thoughtful and creative about what we place in their path?

Like many who are using rapid elearning tools today, early in my career my approach to instructional design was based on intuition. Trial and error was my course development process. I remember my excitement when I first encountered the Dick & Carey model. It allowed me to be more deliberate in my approach to design and my results were consistently better.

Some people criticize the Dick & Carey model for being too rigid and inflexible for learning in today’s world. To those people I would say, “It’s a model.” It is a representation of our reality, but it is not our reality. It is up to us as learning professionals to bring insight, flexibility, and creativity to the design process.

A few years ago, I gave away my copy of The Systematic Design of Instruction - a great reference book on how to apply the Dick & Carey model - to a new staff member in my department who was just beginning her career as a course developer. Earlier this year, I bought a new copy for myself because even though things are changing, it is still important to my work.  But if I come across another enthusiastic novice course developer, I just might give this copy away too.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Many Ways to Learn!

Incredible as it may seem (to me anyway) today is the one year anniversary of the Many Ways to Learn blog. I posted my first entry on August 7, 2009. At the time, every training journal, magazine and newsletter was loaded with articles about social media. (It seems they still are!) Up until then, I had been indifferent to social media. My only experience with it was a half completed profile and a dozen connections on Linkedin, and watching my kids connect with their friends on Facebook. But after being bombarded and bludgeoned with articles on how social media was the biggest thing to hit the training industry since the advent of elearning, I thought I’d better investigate it. So I simultaneously started this blog, created a Twitter account, completed my profile on LinkedIn and began reaching out to people to see what would happen. It was going to be my own mini social experiment.

Not knowing what to expect, I approached all of this with a bit of skepticism. My perception of social media was that people were wasting time tweeting things like, “I’m taking a shower now” or “I’m moving from the couch to the loveseat.” At that time, I had no understanding of the value it could bring. I enjoyed writing the blog entries, but I never thought anyone would actually read them.

Here it is one year later. As I reflect on my social media experiences over this last year, I’d have to say they have been both fruitful and satisfying. Here are a few things, I have learned:

  • People are interested in what I have to say – incredible as it may seem to me, people do read my blog. Not by the thousands, but a by the hundreds each month. Each time I publish a new post, I get a spike in readers so I know I have a few subscribers out there. It is good to know that I can contribute to other people’s learning and enjoyment in at least some small way.
  • There are many thriving virtual communities – whatever you may be interested in, there are people out there who are interested in the same things. I love instructional design. I’ve been lucky enough to find a community of people who are interested in workplace learning. Many of them now are my Twitter and LinkedIn contacts. It is great to have people to talk to who are genuinely interested in what I like to do. My family and friends are bored to death by the things I write about in this blog.
  • Hobbyists, not professionals, make up the heart of virtual communities – within each community you will find experts, enthusiastic novices, and everything in between. And while there are many professionals on line, they are not the ones who do the bulk of the information sharing. Since they sell their content and expertise, they can’t really give it all away. On the other side of the coin, the hobbyists have no profit motive so they are free to share whatever they like.
  • Social media enables you to connect directly to thought leader and experts – the amazing thing about social media is that you can connect with just about anyone. Thought leaders, authors, and even celebrities (if you so choose) will not only accept you as a follower, but in some cases will follow you back. It is great to be able to discuss a topic with the person who originated the idea or wrote the book. Prior to social media, this ease of access was not possible.
  • There are no geographic boundaries on the connection possibilities – this is an obvious one but it is still worth mentioning. I live in Connecticut but I have social media contacts that I regularly engage with all over the country, in Canada, the UK, Germany, India and Australia. How wonderful is that?
  • Twitter can lead to real business opportunities – Some social media contacts can be converted into face-to-face business contacts. I recently hired a vendor to deliver Virtual Team Building training for a group of our managers who I met because she was following me on Twitter. I’ve had other contacts deliver proposals for services I might consider using in the future.
  • There are a myriad of web 2.0 tools out there, and many of them are free – there is way more to the Web 2.0 world than just blogging and tweeting. Thank goodness for people like Jane Hart, who aggregate lists of tools to save the rest of us the leg work.
  • It is possible to effectively collaborate at a distance – I manage a virtual team. I’m in Connecticut. I have two team members in Georgia, one in Ohio and one in Florida. We are able to work together at a distance by sharing our desktops, storing files in shared workspaces, and using online collaboration tools.
  • Real learning does take place through social media – I’m living proof of that. A year ago I knew nothing about social media. Now I use several different tools to regularly to connect with people inside and outside my company. I’m doing things inside my company that I learned from my external social media connections and experiences. The informal learning that takes place online is real and powerful.
There are probably a million other things I could list here, but I won’t - at least not now. One year into this “experiment” I am convinced that I’d be crazy to give it up. The connections I’ve made through social media are too valuable to cast aside. I contribute to the online learning community and I get a lot out of it too. Plus, I’m having fun!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Using Social Media for Learning

I put together this presentation for a Web 2.0 class I'm taking at Florida State University. It presents a process for learning through social media, an example of how the process works based on my personal experiences, and an invitation to connect with me to share bookmarks on del.icio.us. Check it out and let me know what you think. If you want to add me to your network on del.icio.us you can find me here.