Reflections on #lrnchat: Learning Technology Standards

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week’s #lrnchat session was “Learning Technology Standards”. 

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) How do interoperability standards help your elearning efforts to succeed?
Q2) Finish this sentence: “With my elearning, I want to be able to ____.”
Q3) Finish this sentence, too: “With my elearning, I still can’t ____.”
Q4) What information about a learners experiences would be important to capture? How might you use that information?
Q5) What new, or newly viable technologies might have the most impact on elearning?
Q6) What about e-learning will change in 5 years? 10? What should change?

Key Learning Points

This week’s #lrnchat discussion focused on e-learning: what our challenges are today, and what our opportunities are for tomorrow.  The positioning and sequence of the discussion questions gave learning professionals a chance to examine the work they do from a perspective different than we often view our work from on a daily basis.  We get so wrapped up in learning objectives, design, and development workflows, that we don’t take the time to step back from a specific project and look at our e-learning as a whole. 

This discussion about learning technology standards enabled us to explore the current state of our own e-learning, and that of the industry, including what’s working and what may not be.  It also enabled us to look towards future projects and consider what we may want to capture, and what new technologies will help us on that journey.
The discussion started with a question related to interoperability standards, and how they help our learning efforts succeed. This was the type #lrnchat question that I have a love/hate relationship with.  Having limited knowledge on the phrase myself, it was a great learning opportunity, which I love. On the flip side, I didn’t really have much to contribute to the discussion, which I hate.
What surprised me was how many people in the discussion were in the same boat as me.  There were a larger than usual amount of “don’t understand the question” or “will lurk and learn” comments in response to this question.
When this happens to me in a #lrnchat discussion, I usually open up another page and Google the term or topic I want to brush up on so the context of the discussion is more meaningful to me.  My search on Interoperability Standards confirmed much of what I assumed the phrase would mean based on the separate meaning of each word and the associated context.  Here’s my Reader’s Digest description:
Standards are what enable us to know that if you have a bolt of a certain size, a nut of the same size will work with it, regardless of who manufactured it. Because there is this accepted standard, any manufacturers can build a nut and bolt, and consumers can focus on getting the right size without worrying that the nut and bolt are compatible with each other.
When it comes to e-Learning, the standards are not nearly as cut and dry as the nut and bolt example.  E-Learning emerged from CBTs (Computer Based Training), which often ran locally off CD-ROMs.  The only ‘standards’ that needed to be in place were to ensure that PCs had the hardware to run the CBT, as the CD-ROM held both the content and the program to run it..  As the Internet exploded it rapidly replaced CD-ROMs as the primary ‘delivery vehicle’, the Learning Management System (LMS) emerged as a primary distribution point for e-learning courses. Over the last decade the technology involved in e-Learning has enabled us to do many great things, yet we still struggle with a tremendous barrier of compatibility.  In today’s environment, it’s very likely that if you develop an e-learning ‘bolt’, that many of the LMS ‘nuts’ (no pun intended) would not be compatible with it.
So with that brief understanding, how do such standards help our eLearning efforts succeed?  The one thought that consistently comes to mind for me echoes the previous week’s #lrnchat topic: Focus.  If I am following accepted standards, I don’t have to worry about ‘getting it to work’ as much. If I know that my eLearning will be published using a standard accepted by all terminals in use at my organization, compatibility is no longer something I need to place a huge amount of focus on.  That enables me to focus more on the important task of creating a quality learning experience.
And to bring it back to the question originally posed, anything that enables me to focus less on the technical coding and setup of e-Learning and more on the learning design is helping my e-learning succeed.
The discussion then moved towards the challenges and opportunities we currently have with e-learning.  The first question asked participants to finish this sentence: “With my E-Learning, I want to be able to…”
There were a number of common themes in the responses, including creating meaningful engagement, having it impact the organization, and to improve the performance of the learner. 
Also included in the responses were ideas that showed people trying to move their e-learning forward (for lack of a better description).  Examples of this included breaking away from the ‘Next’ button, allowing the learner to pull on-demand, and creating opportunities for learners to connect with the content… and each other.
The next question addressed obstacles, asking participants to finish another sentence: “With my elearning, I still can’t…”
Again, there were a number of common themes in the responses, including streamlining the review and revision process, and getting stakeholders to understand what it takes to build e-learning – the last of which there was a pretty passionate response to.
Another common theme with a number of different branches was the idea of breaking down the walls associated with e-learning.  One wall discussed was literal: The IT firewall.  But the theme covered any obstacle that constricted the e-learning.  This included the difficulty to access external resources, the inability to cross-pollinate courses (leverage Course A content while in Course B), and developing a user-defined flow to the content.
From there the discussion moved away from the past and present, as the remaining questions looked towards the future of e-learning. The first question in this theme asked what types of information we might want to capture regarding learners’ experiences, and how we might use the information. 
A good amount of the responses to this question involved finding a way to have the elearning somehow capture the type of feedback normally captured in a post-program evaluation.  There were comments regarding the effectiveness of job aids, how much is learned and being put into practice, and a number of other comments that seemed to fall under the heading “have the learner tell us how to make this experience better”.
As valuable as that type of feedback would be, I found another theme of the responses even more interesting.  A smaller percentage of the responses seemed to answer the question “what can the e-learning itself tell us about the user’s experience?”
Taking in-program analysis to the next level could really assist e-learning designers raise the bar.  For example, how many times did learners revisit content? How often did they go outside the structured content to leverage other resources, and if they did, what were those resources? As we move away from a linear, push-based environment towards one where the learners pull what they need and desire, what learning path are they taking?
This is the type of information that can help designers understand what learners need and are actively looking for, and will help us better deliver on those needs in the future.
The discussion then moved on to what types of emerging technologies will have the greatest effect on learning in the future.  This was one of those rare #lrnchat questions where there was almost complete consensus on three specific technologies that will impact future learning: Augmented Reality, Mobile Devices, and QR codes.  If #lrnchat has taught me anything, it’s to stay on top of things with such widespread consensus; they’re usually pretty critical. 
The discussion concluded by looking farther into the future to predict what will change in e-learning over the next 5-10 years.  What surprised me in this discussion was how many comments focused on what holds us back today.  In addition, I think this discussion represented the challenges that sometimes exist with labels.  Here are two examples:
The course should die.  This was a suggestion that actually came from me that was retreated a number of times, so it actually struck a chord with a number of people.  Then I saw a response from Thomas Stone that said: Its not clear to me why courses, as such, will go away. Some topics build on each other, and it is efficient to learn X after Y.  That’s very true, so maybe it’s not the ‘course’ that’s the issue; maybe it’s the event-based approach we use to deliver the courses that’s the true problem.
Another example: The classroom will go away in 10 years.  I think as technology continues to advance, there are more and more things that can be accomplished virtually that could previously only be experienced in-person.  That said, I don’t think the classroom will be gone in a decade.  Used less? Yes, but still very much there.
I think this is another label issue, that of the classroom.  The very name conjures up an image of grammar school, with everyone seated at their one desk in set rows with a definitive teacher at the front sharing assigned knowledge with students.  And yes, that environment in today’s adult learning world would be highly ineffective.  But that’s not the fault of the classroom.  One thing that in-person, e-learning, m-learning, and all other types of learning have in common is that they can be implemented well, or they can be implemented poorly.  How an approach is implemented should not be blamed on the approach itself.
This was another engaging chat that enabled us to look inward at ourselves and the further of our work.  I love using #lrnchat for just that purpose, and enjoy finding was to reflect on the discussion and look at it from different angles; this blog being a perfect example.
Another good example of finding another way to look at the themes of the chat came from Aaron Silvers a day or two after the chat.  He shared a Wordle he created that captured many of the common themes of the chat.  It in included below, in case you missed it.

Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

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