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Monday
Jun291998

49 - Special Report from Washington, DC - Federal Learning Initiative Briefing

1. LearnBots: Searching for Learning - In a recent focus group with corporate learners, the concept of a LearnBot was raised. The group brainstormed their needs in the learning arena and quickly "invented" the idea of a wizard that would automate a number of the dimensions of their quest for knowledge. Here is what they wanted:

* A friendly icon on their desktop, with intelligence and access to a deep set of data on their needs as learners, which would go out and get them the learning they needed. We dubbed this learning agent a LearnBot.
* LearnBot would look for learning in a variety of places. It would search formal on-line courses, go to intranet and external sites and be deeply linked into the knowledge management process of the organization.
* LearnBot would also add a learning perspective to traditional search engines, revealing which sites found during a search were offering content maximized or ideal for learning.
* LearnBot would take care of the registration and reminding process, so a worker could maintain involvement in a wide range of courses and on-line universities.
* LearnBot would learn from the reactions and critiques of other learners, within the organization and externally. It would find out if other folks found a specific piece of learning helpful.
* LearnBot would have a note taking capability, to allow small segments of learning to be gleamed for on-going access and linger value.

LearnBot does not exist today, but this group of learners really wanted it. Why? They felt that on-line learning would not be a series of structured courses, but rather a level of access to knowledge on demand. They wanted to be able to frame their searches for knowledge based on their desires for learning (eg: Find me a small video briefing on economic development in Ireland for a non-economics major!). And, they wanted to spend the majority of their time learning vs. administrative and accessing tasks. Are you listening developers? These were well-funded organizations ready to buy. Build us some LearnBots!

2. The Hidden Exit Costs of Learning Technology Choices. With the daily announcements of new products from the learning technology industry, there is a growing concern about the hidden costs of exit. Organizations considering major investments in authoring systems, delivery systems, on-line universities, media servers, video conferencing technology or other learning technologies need to plan for the almost inevitable need to switch platforms or systems. Some of this is natural and will be made painless by vendor supplied upgrades. The growing work on technology standards in our field will help in other instances. But, as sure as the stock market rises and falls, there will be continued flurry of mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, strategic shifts and plain failures that will force organizations to bear the cost of leaving a technology.

One interesting exercise to consider is to calculate the Cost of Exit (COE). What will it cost the organization, if the supplier of this technology ceases to exist or if the technology platform is made obsolete? How much effort and resources would it take to re-purpose the content or shift to a new hardware platform? While precise numbers are almost impossible to calculate, it is value to do the exercise. Ask your vendor what their strategy is to lower your exposure on COE. Push for compliance with standards, as a hedge against high COE costs. We don't mean to raise COE as a reason to delay a product selection, but add it to your awareness as your plan your learning technology choices.

3. Federal Learning Initiatives Push Forward. The Department of Defense, Department of Labor and the White House sponsored a gathering of government and industry leaders recently in DC. I was honored to be asked to facilitate this meeting, keynoted by Dr. Henry Kelly from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There were over 50 agencies represented and most of the major learning technology players. The issues of standards, emerging models of learning and collaborative strategies were the core of the meeting. It was exciting to see the levels of cooperation that are occurring between agencies as they face the same challenges as corporations in preparing for new learning delivery systems. Follow the work of these groups at http://www.adlnet.org

4. TechLearn '98 On-Line Seminar to Start in 3 Weeks. The more than 820 registrations in our TechLearn '98 Conference to be held this November, will start an on-line component via the internet in just three weeks. TechLearn is much more than a conference. The four days in Orlando are the core of the experience, but there will be a pre- and post- conference on-line seminar provided for all registrants in the program. The first course will focus on the Decisions for Learning! This will be delivered and facilitated over the internet and will start in the middle of July. If you have not already registered for TechLearn '98, go to http://www.techlearn98.com and sign up today. Details for the on-line seminar will be sent to registrants on July 15th.


5. Skills for On-Line Trainers: Diagnosis of Confusion. How do you read the eyes of your learners when you can't see their faces? That is one of the most critical questions dealt with in our popular Skills for On-Line Trainers Seminar. Here are some tips from the class:

* Use value continuums to help learners define and declare their confusion levels. Ask learners to rank their levels of confusion from 1 to 5, rather than asking if they are confused in a binary, yes or no.
* Ask for understanding first before confusion. When chatting with a learner, ask them which elements of the concept they understand, then follow with their arenas of confusion.
* Leverage peer learning groups. A peer developed "Mind Map" can be used to help small groups of learners chart their knowledge comfort, changing those topics that are still fuzzy to another color.

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