Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Will the iPad Change Interactive Learning?

One of the things that has always bothered me about m-learning is the small form factor of a smartphone device. The key idea of e-learning is engagement, and the more you can immerse the learner in an online experience the better. The optimal balance of screen size and handling convenience has long been elusive. Now the iPad shows a ray of hope. You get a good size screen that you can hold and carry around easily - just like the Kindle. And it seems capable of doing much more than the Kindle - although it lacks the glare-free e-ink of Kindle.

Sporting a 9.7 inch multi-touch screen, the iPad is supposed to revolutionize the way we surf the internet, watch television and movies, read books and newspapers. Can it revolutionize the way we learn?

As learning professionals we will need to design learning applications that effectively exploit the new capabilities iPad offers. We will have a lot to learn from app developers. It will be interesting to see how app developers render richer applications for iPad - it is almost certain that they will be different from laptop browser apps and smartphone apps. There is a new unlearning and learning curve waiting here for app developers. They need to take advantage of the larger size and touch capabilities while reducing the dependence on keyboard.

With devices like iPad and its competition, which will soon follow, I see the potential for a sea change in interactive learning. If these devices are affordable and ubiquitous, you get a cruicial new property to host learning experiences. The handling experience mimics a book - something learners are familiar with. Two or more learners can easily work together with such devices - with better off-angle display capabilities. Intuitive touchscreens and accelerometers make it easy to allow interaction. Being connected at all times will mean the opportunity to embed social learning experiences in structured learning.

Nearly all advantages of m-learning will be available to users of these devices. No need to be near a laptop, greater mobility, easier access to learning at the point of performace, to name a few. All this without the limitations of screen size. What a blessing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Podcast for Training Magazine

Here is a summary of the podcast I recently did with Training magazine Senior Writer Margery Weinstein about a better way to learn.

Margery Weinstein: When you say "interactivity in training," what are you referring to?
VJ: Learners are better engaged when their trainer establishes a two-way dialog. Monolog, as we know, is boring. This is true regardless of the learning modality – be it classroom instruction or e-learning. By “interactivity” I mean an artifact (such as a piece of software) that allows for a two-way dialog that is non-trivial. I would say a button-click is too trivial to qualify being called interactivity. A multiple-choice question isn’t a whole lot more interactive either. On the other hand, a jeopardy game, or a sales simulation are examples of interactivity. Here the learner is fully engaged in a dialog with the computer, or the teacher or another learner.

Margery Weinstein: How can technology be used to enhance, rather than hinder, interactivity during training?
VJ: That’s a great question. Contrary to common intuition, the initial use of technology in any form of dialog can actually hinder, rather than enhance, interactivity. Consider PowerPoint presentations – many of them are simply quite boring. Or consider a variety of e-learning courses that are online page flippers at-best. Why does this happen? The problem is not the technology, but the way we use it. By introducing technology, we eliminate some of the direct interaction. However, we don’t always provide equivalent technology-based interaction in its place. What we do provide is menus and buttons. Meaningful interactions go beyond mindless button clicking. They provide a context that is sufficiently engrossing and invite action from the learner. Once the learner acts, they provide a response and build a two-way dialog. When technology is used to build such experiences, you will see it enhancing, rather than hindering interactivity.

Margery Weinstein: What is the biggest mistake trainers make when it comes to interactivity, and what's the best way for them to avoid making this mistake?
VJ: We see trainers approaching interactivity in a couple of different ways, and both have their problems. Some trainers confuse slide transitions and bullets and special effects and navigation buttons with meaningful interactivity. They implicitly assume these mere interface elements will somehow deliver interactivity. No wonder, learners are disappointed with the results. On the other hand, some training professionals flex their programming muscles and build highly interactive experiences from scratch. This delivers highly engaging courses, but only at considerable cost, time and maintenance overhead. The best way to enhance training with interactivity is to re-use interactive templates that are customizable. Rapid interactivity is a great paradigm for trainers that want to get ahead with interactivity quickly and easily. You pick a template, fill in the content, customize the look, tweak the behavior and publish the interactive object and include it in your course. So you build a learning game in minutes rather than days! That is the power of rapid interactivity.

Friday, January 1, 2010

See You at Olympia 2, London

I look forward to opening this year's speaking calendar in London, at Learning Technologies 2010, Europe's leading organisational learning and learning technology conference. The topic is Emerging trends in interactivity: what every learning professional must know and why. This session will give the audience an overview of the state-of-the art in interactive technology as well as specific insights into how you can utilize emerging new tools and approaches like rapid interactivity and embeddable social interactions for developing effective learning materials.

Interactivity is no more the exclusive province of bespoke suppliers. Every learning professional - whether a teacher, trainer, course developer, subject matter expert or instructional designer - must think about building interactive experiences for learners. Clearly, technology is advancing rapidly to help make this happen.

In my recent blog post on trends in interactivity, I have outlined the general direction technology is taking to facilitate two-way interactive communication. In the upcoming session, I plan to help build a perspective that will help learning professionals make sense of new trends in the months to come, and help them stay on top of them, as they steer their learning ecosystem into the future. A synopsis of the talk is available online.

I am looking forward to meeting several users of Harbinger Knowledge Products as well as partners and industry peers at the Olympia 2 London venue. It's a relief to know that there is a wired 1Mb internet connection in each seminar theatre.