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The nature of e-learning in Australia

January 18, 2013

This post is written by Ryan Tracey

The young nation of Australia has a rich history in e-learning. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and so in 1951 the School of the Air was launched to educate children dispersed across the outback. From Kalgoorlie in the west to the aptly named Longreach in the east, school students in remote communities received their instruction over the radio.

Fast forward to today, and our love affair with communication technology continues unabated. According to the latest Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index, a whopping 76% of Australians own a smartphone. Furthermore, 38% own a tablet, and another 33% are planning to purchase a tablet within the next 12 months.

Our love for our devices may be matched by our infatuation with social media. According to the 2012 Yellow Social Media Report, 62% of Australian internet users visit social networking sites (36% do so daily), while 79% of large businesses have a social media presence.

The implication of these statistics is clear: the future of e-learning in Australia will be social and mobile.

The latter part of that prediction is supported by The New Media Consortium’s Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2012-2017, which identified the following emerging technologies as having a time-to-adoption horizon in this region of one year or less:

  • Cloud computing
  • Learning analytics
  • Mobile apps
  • Tablet computing

In order to complement these findings and add a corporate perspective, I recently invited 20 e-learning practitioners based in Australia, from both the higher education and corporate sectors, to identify the ideas and technologies that their respective organisation’s e-learning strategy will incorporate this year.

In the list I included the four imminent technologies identified by The New Media Consortium, plus others that I considered timely or likely. I also allowed free-form comments to enable the respondents to add any other technologies that weren’t on the list.

The results are summarised by the following graph.

As you can see online courses will remain a popular component of e-learning strategies in Australian organisations in 2013. My interpretation of this result is that in this country, industries such as financial services are heavily regulated by legislation and government oversight. From the company’s point of view, the most efficient way of deploying the necessary training to its employees (particularly in large organisations) is via online modules hosted by the Learning Management System. Critically important for compliance purposes, the LMS records each employee’s performance in each module; which no doubt explains why online assessment is similarly popular.The popularity of online courses and online assessment does not necessarily mean that Australians will be subjected to boring page turners. The strong showings of both audio and video in the results suggests that online training is becoming more multimedia rich, and hopefully more engaging and authentic. The prevalence of webinars also suggests that much of the training done online will be live.

The next most popular responses —  intranetknowledge bases and job aids — represent a win for informal learning in this region. At my own workplace I have witnessed a tectonic shift from the traditional, classroom-based transmission of knowledge towards a more constructivist, self-paced approach involving the searching, exploring and discovery of knowledge by the learner on-the-job and just-in-time.

Given the increasing importance of cloud computing in this region according to The New Media Consortium, its relatively poor showing in this survey was surprising. My interpretation of this result is that the security of cloud-based solutions remains a concern for Australian IT departments, over which e-learning professionals have very little influence. The persistence of legacy systems may also be hampering growth in this direction.

Similarly, the relatively poor showings both of the social elements — wikis, blogging, microblogging, social networks and social intranets  — and of the mobile elements — smartphones, tablets and mobile apps — were a surprise. However, another way of translating these results is to recognise that each will be a component of at least 1 in 5 e-learning strategies this year, which probably represents growth over previous years.

The same may be said for learning analytics (another of The New Media Consortium’s imminent technologies for this region). From an anecdotal perspective, I can honestly say that I don’t know anyone who does evaluation well! In the rat race that is Australian business, the jobs that are yet to be done take precedence over those that have already been and gone. The observation that learning analytics will be a component of at least 1 in 5 e-learning strategies this year may be a long-overdue sign that the mindset is beginning to change.

The most disappointing result in my opinion is that of  MOOCs. Buzzword or not, MOOCs provide an unprecedented opportunity to source high-quality content from some of the world’s most respected institutions. However, I must temper my disappointment with the realisation that most MOOCs currently target school and college students. As more MOOCs are launched covering topics immediately relevant to the corporate sector, I expect they will become more popular.

Of course, I must also remember that my survey is hardly scientific. The sample size is too small to make statistically significant observations, which is most obviously demonstrated by the zero result for virtual worlds. I know for a fact they are being used by Australian organisations such as the Sydney School of Medicine.

Nonetheless, I submit that this simple survey sufficiently describes the nature of e-learning in Australia as we head into 2013. While online courses and webinars continue to dominate our strategy, informal learning is making headway. To a lesser extent, social and mobile elements are also making an appearance. But for such a social and mobile nation, the message is clear: there is scope for so much more.

Going Global series: Exploring “Oz” with Ryan Tracey

January 18, 2013

One of the things that is really compelling in today’s environment is connecting with peers around the world. I reached out to some of my twitter network to explore the idea of doing some guest posts with those outside North America.  I was delighted when Ryan Tracey accepted my request.

He has written some of my favorite e-learning posts, such as:

Who is Ryan?

Ryan Tracey is an e-learning manager in the Australian financial services industry, an Advisory Board Member for eLearn Magazine, and a Review Panellist for the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT). His work focuses on adult learning in the workplace, and he maintains a particular interest in blended delivery, informal learning and social media. Ryan has worked in corporate e-learning for over a decade, following several years in the higher education market. He holds a master’s degree in Learning Sciences and Technology from the University of Sydney, is a regular contributor to various industry magazines, and has won several training awards in the Asia-Pacific region. He blogs as the E-Learning Provocateur and can be found on Twitter @ryantracey.

In the next post, Ryan will share his perspective on the nature of elearning in Australia.

Thanks to Ryan for writing such an interesting post. Make sure you check out his blog and if you are on twitter, follow him there. He shares great insights.

Canada’s learning technologies are HOT!

January 7, 2013

Most of what I see around learning and technology (especially as it relates to Canada) is focused on MOOCs (for lots of news and commentary, Stephen Downes is a must read). But, there seems to be less coverage on learning technologies or products/services focused on the corporate markets.  Maybe it’s a bit more fragmented as a market.

I’m not an analyst, so these are simply my observations. Here are some interesting new companies in the learning/technology industry and kind of chuffed that they are Canadian!

LMS’s are still part of the landscape…

  • Learndot – a Learning Management System that calls itself a platform for customer, partner and team training. While the LMS market is crowded, there’s not many that focus on extended enterprise and it looks great too.
  • Absorb - by Blatant Media out of Calgary,  Alberta based (hey, move west!), this organization has another one of the best LMS solutions for smaller enterprises.

Tools to develop training/instruction, especially those that are mobile, collaborative or unique are needed!

  • dominKnow has Claro – which is an authoring platform for elearning developers
  • Ngrain (OK, not new, but still cool and have new freebie – you can download the personal learning version of Producer on their site) – since the majority of their customers are likely niche industries, this organization doesn’t get as much press coverage as it should. I mean, 3D is cool.
  • Kera – this is an interesting product – they offer the ability to push instructional elements to the website, like a more sophisticated online help (we’d call it performance support in the world of instructional design/learning). It’s an elegant way to provide end user training.

Games and Gamification are definitely trends

  • Axonify – the gamification trend is red-hot and these guys have baked it into their custom products. I like that they’ve built it on spaced repetition as a core concept. That tells me they understand how learning works and aren’t just on the gamification bangwagon.
  • Ayogo – interesting game maker, while their games are not focused on the organizational market, there’s certainly lots to like and learn from their approach.

There’s a market for content, too…

  • Thinkific – this organization is offering online training for professional in a video format, and has a bright future if the media is right.
  • Marketplaces for education are a model that has been tried a few times. I’d love to know of others that are working…

What other interesting learning technologies have you seen that are Canadian based?

Networked Learning in BC…

November 29, 2012

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted the L&D community in BC to be a dynamic sharing group of progressive professionals. Associations, special interest groups and like-minded people have taken many a run at it over the years.  Groups still exist, but are more general training interest groups. I’m trying again for another round (either an eternal optimist or a masochist!) to find a tribe who is keen on less traditional methods of learning, or at least sees learning as a continuum that includes traditional, but extends beyond as well.

Through the wonders of social media, I met James Tyer through the Twitter, and after a face-to-face coffee we decided we’d take a shot at developing an in person and online community. This community isn’t for traditional training types though, it’s for those who see the value in networked/social/informal learning as a real path for learning.  If you are someone who is interested in organizational learning, social learning, social business or informal learning, consider joining us for a meetup.

We’re going to be meeting on December 4th at 6 pm at 900 West in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (or for those of us long time Vancouverites, the lobby lounge at the Hotel Vancouver). There’s no agenda, just some like-minded individuals who are keen to talk learning, share perspective and brainstorm about what a group might look like and how we could move it forward.

Feel free to use our hashtag: #networkedlearningbc and let @sparkandco or @jimbotyer know if you’d like to come along physically (as in attend the meetup) or metaphysically (as in you are of like mind, but can’t make the event)!


Balancing task and people

November 22, 2012

I’m working with a client who is providing their employees who need to work across country boundaries with some training on how to best design and deliver an online meeting. As we’ve worked through some of the nuances, I found myself sketching this and thought I’d share it as a way of thinking about blending different communication options and digital supports. If you see the descriptions beside the “box”, it gives some context to identifying your “group”.

As this was originally conceived for a client who was primarily concerned with improving the effectiveness of meetings, it has a “meeting” focus. The “+” means ADD and the “~ ” means ONLY (I doubt it means that, but couldn’t think of another symbol to represent!).

For those who are grappling with the “should this have a social component?” question, I’d love to know if this type of matrix would be helpful to you.

Simply Changing Part 1 – My move to Berlin

October 30, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts on the international flavour of technology and/or learning & development.

In April 2012, I decided to make a bold step in my life and move to Berlin. It is a magnificent city with much history, culture, openness, and beauty that welcomes close to 10 Million visitors a year.

Why Berlin? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • I have always wanted to live in another country – I had worked for 16 years in the same company (many different roles), lived 11 years in the same apartment, and had not lived more than 10 kilometers from Vancouver General Hospital, where I was born. Being a dual citizen of Germany and hearing about how amazing Berlin was made the choice easy.
  • It’s in Germany, but fairly forgiving for those learning German – I may be a dual citizen,  but never spoke German at home and thus I had to almost start from scratch. The Goethe Institute helped with that, and I highly recommend them.
  • An international metropolis in constant change – From the Berlin Wall coming down, a mecca for artists and musicians, the impacts of gentrification and being at the forefront of the Euro Crisis, Berlin is the embodiment of life in “perpetual beta”.

So I packed my bag, and headed over the Pond.  Having spent over 10 years working in the learning & organizational development field, I often worked on initiatives related to change. Sometimes the change impacted me, sometimes just others. I came to realize the power of keeping my approach to change simple.  This time around, I was going to be the initiator, manager and recipient of change. So I did what I had done many times in my professional life, I prepared. I read some great expat blogs, spoke to many people about the change, and even took a pre-change trip to Hawaii! While the preparation provided peace of mind as I packed up and moved to Europe, it was a few simple things that really provided me with the support I required to integrate into Berlin:

Have the curious imperative.

Seth Godin’s post on the curious imperative suggests its just not ok to say, I don’t know. Be it looking for a restaurant or trying to figure out the German bureaucratic system, taking accountability was crucial to learning the ropes, and something I had to remember when things got frustrating. I developed a greater sense of self-reliance and confidence*.

*NOTE: Watch out when trying to figure out German via Google Translator…it doesn’t always help with the essence of what you are trying to say…especially with bureaucrats!

Living like I was in an Improv show

In an improv show, the actors live by the phrase “yes, let’s” meaning that they cannot turn down another idea from a fellow actor, but can alter it through suggestions and feedback. I had taken an improv course and also read how Bobby McFerrin (the guy who sang Don’t Worry, Be Happy) uses improvisation in his work.  

The results:  By keeping this in mind, I was able to meet fantastic people and contacts, experience wonderful cultural events, and open up future opportunities that I would never had if I didn’t say “yes, let’s”. I’d like to think that others benefited from my suggestions and feedback, but the post-event feedback isn’t in yet! ;)

Connecting through a passion

As some of you know, Germany has a rich history in soccer (football) so hanging at the local bar during a match is always a great way to learn about the culture. But I’ve never been good with my feet, so I looked for an alternative. To my delight, I was able to find a baseball team (the Berlin Sluggers) who practiced 2 times a week and played on weekend.

The results: Not only was I able to be physically active and enjoying the beautiful summer weather, I now had an extensive network of friends who have helped me with my needs in housing, professional development, employment and integration.

While this may only be part 1 of the journey, I have learned to use these simple concepts to help initiate, manage and receive change. The power of simplicity is often overstated, but underutilized. The next time you are confronted with change, either as an initiator, manager or recipient, see what simple things you can use to make the change a success.  As Yoda said, “do or do not, there is no try”.

Simon aus Berlin

Spark Your Interest goes international

October 30, 2012

One of the wonders of technology is how much it shrinks our world. I’ve often wondered how similar learning & development is in other countries. On the surface it seems as though it is familiar, but perhaps it’s just my filter bubble. Over the next little while, I’ll be engaging with some bloggers and L&D folks around the world to explore this, in a kind of blog-tour.

First up is a former colleague who has moved to Berlin. I’ll let him tell his story in the next post.

Got ideas for how we could explore technology around the world? Drop a comment below…


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