Tom Kuhlmann writes and hosts The Rapid E-Learning Blog. He has more than 15 years of experience in the training industry and has developed hundreds of hours of e-learning and managed e-learning projects at Capital One, Washington Mutual, and Weyerhaeuser. Kuhlmann has a master’s in education technology from Pepperdine University.
Q. Can you give us a recap of e-learning and m-learning trends in 2011?
A. The online world is still relatively new. There’s a convergence of social and mobile to go with e-learning tools that are becoming more sophisticated and easier to use.
It’s exciting to see where m-learning will go. We’ll have to approach learning from a slightly different perspective―where it’s part content creation and part curation. Social media and mobile technologies play a role in all of that.
The iPad has brought a new twist on accessing content. I was talking to someone recently who said that they used to teach people about airplanes in classrooms and showing them the schematics. Now they can take the engineers into the airplanes, and they can access the content from their iPads. The airplane is the classroom with all of the content available via the iPad.
Q. Can you share your “best of” for 2011?
A. It seems like every day there’s a new technology or app available to make our lives easier and learning more interesting. In the past, training people were always on the outside and the first to get cut in the down times. Now it seems like the training folks are right in the middle of everything when it comes to technology.
Learning is inherently a social activity, and organizations are trying to figure out how to embrace and manage the social elements of learning.
I also am excited about the evolution of the tools. They are becoming easier to use and provide a lot of capability. Years ago, you needed to be a programmer to build courses. That’s no longer the case. For example, I was building a drag-and-drop activity in Articulate Storyline. It only took me about a minute to build it. In the past, I would have needed a programmer to do that for me. That type of easy authoring is going to empower people to try different things because they can now do it themselves and aren’t throttled by the support they may or may not get from IT staff and multimedia programmers.
Q. How about a “worst of” for 2011?
A. HTML5 is kind of annoying and confusing for many people in our industry. No one was talking about it until the iPad. Now everyone wants it. But it’s a mess right now. Interactive e-learning isn’t the same thing as streaming a movie. So the carte blanche dismissal of Flash isn’t good.
The truth is that there’s not a lot of consistency with how the different browsers support interactive content in HTML5. That forces courses to be dumbed down so they work across the most situations. When you look at most HTML5 e-learning, it’s pretty simple click-and-reveal type of stuff. Not much different than simple web pages.
The irony is that the Safari browser isn’t the best for the interactive content people have come to expect from e-learning courses. I’m excited about what we’re doing for those who use iPads for their e-learning, though. It’ll be as close to a Flash-like experience you can get without being a programmer. But for the most part, the e-learning courses will be dumbed down until HTML5 support is better. That’s sure to come, but for now expect the same types of issues we had years ago with the pop-up blockers.
Q. What types of skills do e-learning developers need to work on?
A. Most e-learning people I know work on small teams and have to do everything. In that world, you have to have well-rounded skills. Those are project management, instructional design, graphic design, and a basic awareness of web and media technologies.
The two biggest issues I see are that many courses are information dumps and they don’t look good. I’d recommend learning to build more interactive learning that is meaningful. And then learn the difference between good design and bad design. E-learning is mostly visual, so it’s important that the visual design is right.
Q. What do you see happening in these fields over the next two or three years?
A. Software is going to get easier to use. Rapid e-learning ushered in a large group of developers, but they’ve been held back by the tools. Now that they’re more experienced they’re ready for a new generation of tools that will allow for more sophisticated authoring, but still not require the programming background.
I’d like to think that e-learning will become more interactive and more engaging. The tools will allow for that. But the reality is that most e-learning is probably driven by government regulations or for legal reasons. In that case, we’ll have more of the same. Considering that the government never seems to give back the power it’s taken and continues to grow, my guess is that the next few years will be great for the e-learning industry.
As for m-learning, to me it’s all learning. Mobile just means we access it with different devices and for different reasons. I hear a lot of people talk about the great power we have in our pockets with smart-phones. But most people I know own the smartphones themselves, they’re not getting them from their organizations. I’m not sure how many people will want to access e-learning content from their personal phones.
With that said, the iPad is changing a lot about e-learning. Right now the talk is HTMl5 and browser-driven content, but I think we’ll see more app-driven e-learning content―which presents some challenges when it comes to figuring out how to manage and track it.
I’m also going to go out on the limb and suggest that perhaps Windows 8 tablets will have an impact on the mobile learning landscape over the next few years. Windows and tablets have been around a lot longer than the iPad. And they work great. If the Windows 8 tablet experience is good (and affordable) it makes sense for organizations to look at that.
Q. Do you have any recommended reading from your blog for users wanting to stay in the know?
A. I try to keep the blog light in the sense that it’s more like introductory content for people who want to learn more or be reminded. I figure that they’ll learn to fill in the gaps as they gain experience. In that sense, keeping on top of the weekly posts is good.
I also recommend staying on top of theWord of Mouth blog because every week we try to curate some of the conversations and activities that we see in the e-learning community. Most people don’t have time to hang out in the community, so the weekly update is a good way to stay on top of things.
ASTD Field Editor Elizabeth Beckham is a safety training manager for the corporate training team at Turner Industries Group in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; 1.225.300.8157; email@example.com.
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