Future of Learning - Negotiated Personalization
June 29th, 2001
By Paul Stacey
local high tech company recently asked me to identify,
evaluate, and recommend the best 100% on-line learning
available in high priority technical areas like Java,
XML, UML, and others. In the process of doing this work
I had a bit of an epiphany for a different kind of
thought I'd take advantage of the summer and share my
epiphany as a form of blue sky thinking.
like me you are trying to find the best 100% online
learning available in a particular area. First I
established some criteria for evaluating what
constitutes the "best". Then
I began to search for content using portals like:
quickly you will find that learning comes prepackaged,
usually in the form of courses. In fact virtually all
learning available in the marketplace is prepackaged in
advance by some subject matter expert.
of the interesting questions and evaluative criteria to
ask in buying learning is "Who is the
instructor?" or "Who is involved in creating
and delivering this course?"
guess is that most of you can list a few teachers who
aided your journey through school or name five people
who have taught you something worthwhile. Memorable
learning is often associated with a dynamic teacher or
subject matter expert.
many vendors selling e-learning don't even identify who
that subject matter expert is. Others, like Ninth House www.ninthhouse.com
have made big name course developers a cornerstone of
the optimal learning experience is a direct two-way
interaction with a teacher or subject matter expert then
everything else is second-best. Being an anonymous face
in a 200 seat lecture hall is not a great learning
experience. Taking an independent, self-paced, machine
assessed, e-learning course is far from optimum.
we have prepackaged knowledge and learning for
efficiencies of scale. But is this the best form for
prepackaged learning created learner passivity? Learners
are told what they have to learn and we serve it up to
them in learning paths, competency checklists,
curricula, programs of study and so on. Cushing
Anderson, analyst with IDC, recently asked: "Does e
learning for the mass-market work if our culture has not
moved to the point of being self-directed
that I would add, "If the web enables
personalization can't we leverage the web to get closer
to the optimum learning experience?"
epiphany for me was the realization that prepackaged
learning in the form of courses or tutorials was only
one way of satisfying high priority learning needs.
E-learning does not have to adopt traditional form
factors and I began to imagine a negotiated,
personalized e-learning experience.
if the learner could directly interact with a teacher or
subject matter expert and negotiate the form factor, the
time, the content and method of learning in real time?
if learning was directly responsive to market demands
and custom-designed to form fit the need instead of
prepackaged in advance?
I need to learn Java. What if I could directly interact
with the instructor/subject matter expert and negotiate
a personalized learning experience.
might discuss when I need the learning - maybe I need it
right away, or spread over a series of evenings. We
might discuss the duration - do I need 5 minutes worth
of learning, 5 days, ...? We might discuss what the form
factor for the learning experience will be - face to
face, written document, a ThoughtShare BuzPak http://www.thoughtshare.com,
over the phone, ...
might discuss what I need to learn - maybe I need an
overview of the whole programming language, maybe I just
need to learn about Java Server Pages. We'd also
negotiate price with urgency, form factor, instructor
hours, etc. all being cost variables.
the instructor/subject matter expert will have key input
into what the overall experience should be like. But
their preconceived notions of how to package the
learning will be tempered by the learner's needs.
learning experience will be negotiated between learner
and instructor. It will be a personalized experience
based on a mutual analysis of needs, knowledge of the
domain and the learner and subject matter experts
Hungry Minds University portal www.hungrymindsuniversity.com
has some links to the kind of thing I have in mind with
their Experts For Hire link off the main page. This link
takes you to Exp.com www.exp.com
or Keen.com www.keen.com.
At these sites you can get advice, tutoring, counseling,
personalized research, or just a quick answer to a
question on your mind, by phone or by e-mail.
these sites are focused on providing advice. But imagine
if they offered more than that. Imagine negotiated,
personalized, e-learning experiences!
of my friends like to reel me back down to earth when I
talk about blue sky ideas like this but on this summer
day I hear John Lennon singing in my head:
may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."
Stacey is the Director of Corporate Education and
Training at the Technical University of British
Columbia, a long time education professional in the high
tech private sector, and an e-learner.
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