Part II: Currency and Learning Technology: Keeping Up or Striking Out

The Importance of Currency in Maintaining Technological Awareness for Effective Teaching and Learning

In the last issue of Government Elearning!, we discussed how your organization fares in terms of conceptual adoption of learning technologies and the barriers to keeping current. This month, we discuss what you can do to eliminate those barriers and keep up with technology while maximizing your organization’s training efficiency.

THREE STRATEGIES

Staying caught up with learning technologies is not a one-time event. Since technology tools are constantly improving and changing instructors, designers, and learning leaders must implement strategies to keep on top of technologies. There are three practical strategies that can be implemented to help reduce the lag between the availability of learning technologies and their conceptual adoption (an understanding of their value in a learning context).

1)EXPLORE: SYSTEMATIZE    EXPLORATION THROUGH   EXISTING PROCESSES

Corporate thinking can fall behind technology advances simply because the process of exploring new technologies is not part of the established work routine. One easy way to systemize exploration is to couple it with existing business processes. For example, if employees submit a monthly report of their work, they could be asked to include a section on technological advances that they became aware of during that month. Perhaps the best opportunity to systematize exploration is to take advantage of design processes. For example, at an initial design review for a new course, the design team might be required to present an overview of learning technologies that could enhance the final product.

The type of design model that we use is very important when systematizing exploration of new technologies. Traditional design models (such as ADDIE) propose that delivery tools be considered after course objectives are set. The reality is that learning technologies actually shape and enable the learning objectives. If a designer has a tool that can virtually connect experts from the around the world to learners, the learning objectives will look very different than if a designer only has access to static documents about the content.

Consider the example shared by Cory Ondrejka, former CTO at Linden Lab, about a chemistry professor who wanted to build a learning space in Second Life. Even though this professor was using a new tool, he began creating a virtual space that looked very similar to a traditional classroom (four walls, desks, etc). Second Life, of course, has the power to provide much more engaging learning experiences than a simulation and replication of the traditional classroom.

Fortunately, by being open to iterative design practices, the professor ended up with a set of molecules that students could walk (or fly) through — learning about each part of the molecule while they are standing inside it within Second Life. Adopting iterative design models that allow the learning objectives and the learning technology to be mutually developed can be a very effective way to systematize the process of keeping our thinking caught up with advances in learning technologies. (More information about the iterative design approaches can be found at: www.instructionaldesign.org).

2)EXPLAIN: LEVERAGE LANGUAGE TO KEEP CURRENT

Ensuring that the language used in an organization is in sync with the rest of the field helps avoid misunderstandings that can slow down the ability to understand new technologies. However, leveraging language is more than simply learning new terms. To truly stay current with learning technologies, it is important for members of an organization to solidify their understanding of learning tools by explaining and discussing their potential impact on teaching and learning. This also means making shared decisions about the language used within the learning team in order to increase participation in the conversations about technology advances.

For example, members of CIA University, the organization responsible for training CIA officers worldwide, decided that it was important to keep current with advances in tools for managing online learning. They leveraged language to make this easier by deciding to distinguish between learning content repositories, learning delivery tools, and student information systems (three distinct functionalities that many organizations lump into the same “LMS” term). Simply by agreeing to use language that separated the functionalities made it easier for designers and instructional technologists to conceptually adopt the purpose of each and therefore keep up with the advances in the technologies that relate to each area.

Attending relevant conferences and participating in professional groups is another great opportunity to keep our language in sync with the rest of the world. It also provides an opportunity for members of a learning team to explain their use of technology to others – which in turn refines the use of language by both groups.

3) EXPERIMENT: USE TECHNOLOGY FOR “TECHNOLOGY’S SAKE”

A critical component of keeping thinking and advancing learning technologies on the same plane is having the opportunity to experiment hands-on with new tools. A dangerous philosophy that can completely marginalize experimentation in a learning organization is typified by statements such as “Don’t let the technology drive the training” or “Don’t use technology for technology’s sake.” These statements imply that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with technologies for delivering learning until we have a specific need that requires their use.While it is true that the delivery method should be consistent with the learning goals, how
would it be possible for an instructor to determine the utility of new delivery tools without experimentation?

The practical reality is that instructors and instructional designers teach in, and design for, delivery platforms with which they are familiar. The familiarity with traditional face-to-face instruction can mean that it is used in place of online instruction even if it is not the most effective. (Perhaps it would be good to remind ourselves “Not to use the classroom for the classroom’s sake.”)

Thus, one important strategy for keeping our thinking current with learning technology is to find ways for members of the organization to use technology for technology’s sake. Experimenting in a safe environment for no other reason than to expand their thinking about the possibilities of using learning technology is a valid use of employee time. The potential for improved productivity and cost saving is too great to avoid the investment.

An example of creating opportunities for experimentation is the “technology petting zoo” established at Booz Allen Hamilton. This is a place where employees are encouraged to experiment with the latest hardware and software without leaving their building. It is in the process of experimenting where the tweaks, modifications and mash-ups that provide real value-add are discovered.

TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS

In addition to improving the learning experience, there is an important side benefit to keeping our thinking current with improving learning technologies. When instructors and managers of learning organizations stay current with technology it puts them in a position to drive innovative future changes in the technology itself. By providing feedback and requirements to both commercial developers and open source communities, potential users can actually shape the creation of the next generation of learning tools. [Ron Abel, “Innovation, Adoption, and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT,” Educause Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, pages 12–30] This creates a positive symbiotic relationship. In order to shape the development of new technologies, we must understand the uses and limits of current tools and provide input into future modifications, which in turn helps us anticipate future designs.

CONCLUSION

Implementing strategies to help keep our thinking caught-up with technologies is important to continually provide effective learning experiences in a changing world. The ideas of exploring, explaining, and experimenting can be a useful way to reduce the lag between the availability of new learning technologies and their conceptual adoption. The faster the learning team is able to add new technologies to their conceptual toolkit, the greater their relevance to the rest of the organization becomes.

—Richard Culatta is the learning technologies program manager for the Central Intelligence Agency. John Wilkinson is an educational product developer for Brigham Young University’s McKay School of Education.

Leave a reply