Monday, July 16, 2007

Day 1 eLearnDevCon - Keeping it Simple

From what I've seen from the presentations today (not including mine), one overarching message I've heard - keep it simple and don't scare the learner.

The emphasis is on easing people into the technology.

Thomas Reinartz's presentation provided an excellent example of this process.

He discussed a study looking at the differences between online learning vs. classroom learning. He had a very technophobic audience (teachers).

To mitigate their hesitancy with the technology, he eased them into it during the class. So - week 1, he had them do a straight text exercise. Blog, Wiki, other tool. Whichever they found easiest, but they had to post it online using one of those tools. Week 2 - online journal with pictures. Week 3 - add images. Each week, he encouraged people to learn something new. He also made interaction within the environment MANDATORY. This way, they HAD to use the tool.

By midsemester, they had developed small communities (he found 4 person groups worked best) around the tools and the technophobic students looked forward to using them. Even better, at the end of the course the students felt they knew more about the material.

The next semester, When the professors went back to a more "traditional" format (face-to-face lecture), the instructors discovered that the students disengaged early and even claimed they knew LESS about the material than before the class.

Throughout the course, even though it was almost all online (save for a 3 hour "bootcamp" session), the professors focused on whether the students used the technology and the quality of the content. They emphasized that they did not care about the appearance. The goal was engagement.

I think engagement is the key for those of us not blessed with an audience of techies.

You don't need to build fancy. In the mobile learning session I attended - A.J. Ripin, the presenter, noted that text worked perfectly well. Text is less likely to cause technical hiccups. Also, many users are perfectly fine with reading text, particularly on a mobile when staring at reference information. Movies, flash, etc are great - but wireless protocols and mobile devices still don't quite provide the speed to really make it work flawlessly at all times.

Of course, I work in a DC healthcare environment with regular interference from the machines, pagers, and the MAN. Plus I've had iPAQs thrown at me because of dropped signals. So I guess I'm jaded.

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