Everything Wrong (and Right) with eLearning in 2017

The night before last, my wife and I were talking about the radical difference in available opportunities between, say, 1990 (when I got out of the Air Force) and now.

In 1990, laptops and computers were expensive. Even if you had a laptop, there was no WiFi. Even if there were WiFi, what would you connect to? College — even community college (tuition plus books) — was expensive. Classes and majors for “non-traditional” students who worked during the day were non-existent. The only place you could access a computer if you couldn’t afford one of your own was the library (free but crappy hours unless you lived in Ann Arbor, MI) or you could rent one any time 24/7 at Kinko’s. But, again, what were you going to do with that computer to learn?

Everything Right with the State of eLearning in 2017

In the last several years:

  • laptops have plummeted in price
    • Free WiFi is everywhere
      •  YouTube tutorials (free) by experts ranging from grade-schoolers to experienced adults
      • Khan Academy
      • Codecademy
      • FreeCodeCamp
      • StackExchange
      • Reddit
      • Udacity
      • Udemy
      • EdX
      • Countless personal sites (free and paid)
      • Countless org/corp sites (free and paid)
      • Freaking Meetups!
      • and so on …
  • The public library
    • Overdrive

Education now is like porn — why would you ever pay for it when there’s so much quality product out there for free?

I wish these opportunities had existed from 1990-2000. My life would be very different.

Sadly, for many — myself included — another, extremely ironic, difference is we had all the time in the world back then to study … but no way to study*. Now, there’s so little precious time what with full-time job, wife, and children. Some people have multiple jobs.

*And, like I said, nothing really to study. And most of what I’m studying now didn’t even exist (or barely existed) in 2000. I didn’t know what to do with what I did have access to.

But, thanks to everything listed above, we can at least make every precious moment count.

Everything Wrong with eLearning in 2017

The idea for this post started off pretty negative but I changed it to begin with a positive (above). It was actually born as “everything wrong with Instructional Design in 2017” and inspired by …

All the culprits responsible for crimes against humanity (Powerpoint, Articulate, and iSpring) in one place. Well, Captivate isn’t there … like the Joker, it seems to be off somewhere else … watching the world burn. On my list of evil organizations, Articulate is above ISIS and the Nazis.

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Them High-Falootin’ Fancy Words

Like a lot of Storyline slaves users, I base my pieces on Powerpoint files people send me. After I’d had quite enough, I offered to teach a Powerpoint “lunch and learn” thing. I’m quite pleased with how well-received it was — it was everything I miss about teaching. The joy, discovery, thrills, happiness, etc. that I felt from the students was, as always, intoxicating.

And there was this:

When I mentioned Master Slides,–I swear I’m not making this up–a student said, “It’s really confusing when you use instructional design terms like that.”

Cheat Sheet Pet Peeve

You know what I hate almost (but, really, nowhere near) as much as criminals who aren’t moral and trustworthy enough to be child-molesters so they pursue calling PDFs “eBooks” as their super-villain avocation?

People who claim to provide “cheat sheets” that aren’t really cheat sheets, that’s who. Ever seen those cool cheat sheet pages in the Dummies books that are even perforated for easy removal? I thought the so-called Python for Data Science for Dummies “cheat sheet” would be like that.

Let me count the ways it’s not a cheat sheet:

  1. It’s not print-friendly.

That’s the only reason I need. I’ve clicked on far too many links lately being suckered into thinking I’m going to have a groovy, printable cheat sheet for Linux commands or some other topic and end up with the above or worse.

Let us count the ways a cheat sheet is a cheat sheet:

  1. Something you can conveniently have on hand (hence perforated) like, you know, a little sheet of paper up your sleeve during an exam.
  2. Nice page layout for quick & easy reference

That Dummies monstrosity has neither property. You know what file format that is not HTML that has both of those properties in, like, spades? PDFs.

This Conda Cheat Sheet (PDF) is a proper cheat sheet and even a dummy should be able to tell the difference.

Update Dec 15, 2015:

I find it pretty darn ironic that Dummies has the worst so-called “cheat sheets” given their books’ cheat sheets are so awesome. While searching for a perfect reference for Linux commands, I found their equally ugly Common Linux Commands page which, along with being hideous and useless has auto-play videos.

Hour of Code during Week of Comp Sci

In the midst of registering my younglings for CodeHS and CodeCombat for today’s Hour of Code. Making Homeschooling even nerdier for my future generations! Silver lining of being home for surgery recovery is spending time like this with my kids.

I’ve loved every second mentoring at CoderDojo so far and, today, get to try out those two sites with my own kids for today’s Hour of Code as part of Computer Science Education Week.

Each of my children has a different level of enthusiasm and, far more interestingly, a different agenda as to why they want to learn it and how they’ll use it. Students don’t have to stop at an hour and so neither of my two budding geeks have to choose — they can take as many courses as they like. Code.org even has printable certificates for Hour of Code and specialized certificates for certain courses. Oh, and stickers!

The Minecraft course — their first choice — is outstanding. It includes interviews and introductions from actual Minecraft employees. Totally awesome instructional design, Minecrafters!

Best moment was my son discovering the essence of Hacking: “I was able to use a glitch to my advantage.”

What is Instructional Design, really?

7 Job Requirements for Real Instructional Designers

Real Instructional Designers are teachers. We take knowledge from Subject Matter Experts who don’t have the skills, time, or desire to pass along their expertise effectively. Just because you can use Storyline, Camtasia, or Captivate doesn’t mean you’re an Instructional Designer–even the most anti-social or misanthropic SME can use Powerpoint (and those tools are mostly just overpriced Powerpoint). Grade-schoolers can use Powerpoint and master software more complex and advanced than Storyline faster than you. We intake complex and/or confusing material fast, dissect and analyze it, and output it in ways that are simply constructed and easily assimilated. And we can do that even without software.

Real Instructional Designers are editors. We identify what is essential, throw out the rest, and organize what remains in the order it makes the most sense to the student. Most of what an SME or project champion gives you is unnecessary at best.

Real Instructional Designers are detectives. What the client thinks they need might not be what they actually need. What the client thinks is the problem might not really be the problem. Maybe the end-user (the student) already has all that knowledge and doesn’t use it. The reason or motivation for not using existing knowledge is the problem and the solution. What they think is the only solution might not be the best solution. We help them ask the right questions and find the best answers.

Real Instructional Designers are researchers. Information provided by SMEs, project champions, and/or stakeholders might not be factually correct. We find the answers, not just regurgitate what’s given to us.

Real Instructional Designers are UX/UI designers. We present material in a way that is easy to use and understand. We instinctively know whether audio, images, video, text, simulations, or games are the best way to learn any given bit of knowledge. We find out how the end-users think and works so the students access and achieve everything required of them by following only their intuition. Students know what is expected of them, where they are in the training timeline, and how to navigate the learning process without being told via separate instructions or a tutorial.

Real Instructional Designers are Gamifiers. We make learning not only painless, not merely engaging, but fun. Players (end-users, students) know the objectives, how to play the game, and how to win (perform better, pass an assessment). We make learning active (not passive), challenging, and realistic (practical and relevant with real world examples and application).

Real Instructional Designers are Data Scientists and Data Visualizers. Students understand the purpose (why) of what they’re doing (not “you’ll learn to tie your shoes” objectives or key points) and the method (how) for achieving their objectives. We reshape dry, boring, complex, confusing information and make it not only palatable but appetizing and yummy–students should always want to come back for seconds. We provide concrete evidence for the validity and value of the time they’re investing. We evaluate the situation before designing and developing the material keeping the end in mind and evaluate the results which don’t end when the student takes a lame multiple-choice quiz. We provide the evidence of the need beforehand and the success afterward to the stakeholders in clear, dynamic, inspiring ways.

Steve Jobs Killed eLearning

I rant about this frequently both on this blog and in real life. I’m linking to the article below so I have easy access to it when I need to start ranting and want to quote it.

Full disclosure: I’ve actually launched Edge Animate only once or twice myself and examples I’ve seen are pretty impressive. However, those examples aren’t eLearning.

What Tom Arah writes about Edge Animate in The Shift from Flash to HTML Has Set Web Design Back 15 Years applies not just to Edge Animate but to toys like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate.

I used to say those toys were for people who didn’t care about what they did. Unfortunately, they are, increasingly, the only tools clients and employers use. Not only do they hurt eLearning as a medium and as an industry but they’ve hurt Instructional Design as a field and a career.

Over the last few years, “Instructional Designer” has come to mean, merely, “eLearning Developer.” No, it’s worse than that, it really just means “I can use Articulate Storyline” which, itself means nothing more than, “I can make really nice glorified Powerpoint presentations for companies so stupid they don’t realize they just paid $1400 for Storyline when they already owned Powerpoint.”

Don’t waste your breath listing things Storyline does that Powerpoint can’t because the list of what Flash can do that Storyline can’t is far, far longer.

Thanks, Boss

I was ready to quit my job and that is something I simply don’t do.

My boss and I recently had a shouting match (yes, another one) toward the end of which, he said, among other things*, “I hear you loud and clear. Give ’em hell.” That and related comments were great to hear but far better and far more important is this …

In two different meetings with separate clients, he said of me, “He’s not just an eLearning Developer, he’s an Instructional Designer. He has a lot more to offer.”

I can’t express how that healed so many months of damage, frustration, bitterness, and dragging all that home and unconsciously taking it out on my wife and kids.

So, last night, I went home and apologized to my wife and kids.

Let the healing begin.

*Things like, “That’s the passion I want to see–that’s why I hired you.”

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