It’s the beginning of a new year and the pundits and pontificators are out in full force, telling everyone about the newest trends and the latest buzzwords in the industry. Each year, a few more terms are coined or reinvented for the blog and conference circuit. Some in our industry treat these “hot topics” like Halloween candy in a third-grade class. There are lots of articles out there, but even then – most of them boil down to a few common themes. Have you ever wondered if any of these prognostications and buzzwords have any real value?
Let’s take a look at four buzzwords from one article and see what we can pull out of their prognostications. From a quick Google search, the selected article was 12 e-Learning Buzzwords You Need to Know, an article published on eLearningIndustry.Com. A quick look at the biographical page reveals the author is a marketing assistant for Trivantis / Lectora (a vendor of content development and learning management systems). The article begins with a qualification as to the audience – those who don’t know these terms, or those looking for the latest trends and techniques.
Buzzword 1: Gamification
Merriam Webster defines game as “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure.” Gamification in this context refers to the same definition, extended to learning activity. Any instructor who was in front of a class prior to 1990 is quite possibly yawning. Good instructors have been using games to engage students since the dawn of time; flash cards and jeopardy are classroom favorites that predate e-learning. The fact this is “current” is twofold. The first is relevant to the article’s author – software vendors are developing widgets that make it easier for developers to include simple games as part of e-learning. Second, there is finally research into how we can best use gaming to reach future generations. If neurosurgeons who play a heavy diet of Call of Duty perform better, safer, faster operations – we’d better understand why and put what’s learned into appropriate practice. The key word is appropriate: do any eLearning designers think inserting hangman into a course will benefit the gaming neurosurgeon? The key is understanding the actual skill that’s needed, and how to practice and improve it.
These features do have a place, but let’s stop calling it trendy and new – call it what it is: a feature of the software and a tool for instructional designers. There’s nothing new here (unless you’re marketing Lectora, Captivate, etc.) so let’s move on.
Buzzword 2: m-Learning
This one just causes serious head-shaking. The article defines the term as “online training that’s specifically designed to be used on mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets.” The statistics sound inviting – the United States’ total workforce is just over 158 million people (The World Bank) and there are just under 150 million smartphones in use (comScore Report September 2013). Before you get caught up in m-learning, stop and put your common sense into gear.
Who knows more about mobile device usage, your LMS vendor or Netflix? People can watch the latest Doctor Who on their Wii, their iPhone, their PC, and their television. They can watch the show on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or even download from iTunes. Did BBC create a different show for each platform or type of device? Of course not. BBC developed quality content, then adjusted the portal through which the content is accessed so that the content is displayed to the user the same way. Your e-learning content is no different! Rule 1 of instructional design: Deliver the right content to the right people the right way at the right time in the right environment.
Understanding how mobile fits into the “right people” and “right way” is at the heart of this; there is no huge m-Learning replacement of what trainers have been doing. Even at major academic institutions where the next generation of your workforce and technology are being prepared, m-learning is not invasive. Virginia Tech uses the Sakai open-source learning management system; Sakai has a mobile framework for many functions. They use certain feature sets on mobile devices, but they don’t complete exams on their smartphones. Just like with a traditional instructor-led class, understand your audience and deliver the content accordingly.
Buzzword #3: BYOD
BYOD is not a buzzword, it’s shorthand. Bring your own device. This isn’t so much a trend; it’s more like information technology and IT security departments developing the ability to integrate the devices people were already carrying. Managing the security risks associated with technology is a serious undertaking; all it take single infected thumb drive to bring down a huge network. As for it’s relevance to training – see Buzzword 2. You don’t have to develop for 100 platforms; develop quality content once that can be delivered across multiple platforms.
Buzzword #4: Storyboarding
Storyboarding is another old concept given a different name; this term goes to true media production where key frames of a story are shown to the creative team and used to develop the look and feel of a production. As e-learning has developed, we certainly have seen a shift to some slick productions. The article calls it “an efficient way to plan e-learning courses,” but isn’t that what instructional design is all about? E-learning is more than just throwing a sequence of visuals at the learner. Without sounding overly academic – every aspect has to be planned to achieve the desired outcome.
If you’ve ever had to develop visuals for a program being delivered by slide projector – you’ve got this one covered. In short, storyboarding is nothing more than planning the visual presentation of your content to the audience. The danger here is that the visuals begin driving the content, rather than the content driving the visual.
These types of articles really aren’t harmful, but they often oversimplify or generalize very complex concepts. The fact remains that virtually every training organization is unique and has specific business objectives that must be supported. Training coordinators should focus on a near-constant analysis of their training system so that the right information is delivered the right way to the right people at the right time — regardless of what anyone else says they should be doing.