Sunday, March 09, 2014

Gang-of-four proclaim Serious eLearning Manifesto. You can’t be serious?

The ‘Serious eLearning Manifesto’ has been procaimed! Well, four people have decided that a ‘top-down’ approach, where we mere  mortals need to stand by, with baited breath, by signing-up for the ‘revealing’ special webinar on 13 March. Am I alone in thinking that this is all a bit, well, odd? 
Let me be clear, I like three of the ‘gang-of-four’ – Michael Allen, Clark Quinn and Wil Thalheimer. All are seasoned veterans with lots of great things to say. I won’t express an opinion on the fourth, Julie Dirksen, as I’ve never heard of her. What I find odd is the idea that we all need to be told by a self-appointed group what’s best for the rest of us. It goes against everything I love about the openess of the web and online learning – the fact that it should be diverse and that if you have something to say – blog it, tweet it, Facebook it and put it on your website. Don't treat us like pupils in a classroom and expect us to turn up at 2pm CST and listen.
Manifesto madness
I, for one, don’t like manifestos. Remember the last one from this forsome? They stink. They tend to be ideological, reflecting the views of the few not the many. They also tend to be fixed, prescriptive and usually don’t last the test of time. E-learning is not high politics, it’s an evolving and fluid landscape with a raft of wonderful tools used by almost everyone on the web: Google, Wikpedia, YouTube, Social Media etc. If it’s the basic modular, self-paced e-learning they want to attack, then hold on. As Bertie Bassett would say, it takes all-sorts. You can point out the weaknesses of certain forms of online learning but this is hardly a catastrophe. If they’re also having a go at the LMS, then think again, as it’s as lively and buoyant as it’s ever been and evolving. The logo maybe says it all - SERIOUSLY is this the future of e-learning design? Smacks of the 'serious' games thing and look where that concept went. I made much the same points six years ago on that concept.
Manifestos galore
It's not as if this is the first. We've had Cathy Moore's Manifesto for L&D Professionsals. I can still remember the truly awful Manifesto for e-learning from bogus Learning Light in the UK. There's the Networked Learning Manifesto from the University of Lancaster, the Educator's e-learning manifesto, even a Feminist manifesto for e-learning. There's the wonderful Manifesto for e-learning in acupuncture. You get my point.
What I suspect will happen, is that they’ll fire an arrow, draw a chalk circle round it and proclaim ‘Bullseye!’ I’m involved in simulations, adaptive algorithmic learning projects, MOOCs, VOOKs, content exchanges, spaced learning on mobiles, Oculus Rift VR, wearables and see a landscape that is wide and rich. What I don't see as radical is a fixed webinar at a fixed time by a self-selected group. This is regressive not progressive.
Big world
Listen guys, I respect you all, but calm down on the drama and, tell us what you think - asynchronously. I don’t want to have to hang around to listen to a fixed webinar, timed for the US market. Just blog it. And if you do want a ‘manifesto’, at least appoint someone who is not US based. It’s a big world out here. We in Europe are having serious doubts about allowing any data to be held, no matter how virtualised, in the US, as the NSA has managed to ruin the brand.
My guess is that somewhere in here, they're really plugging a book - let's see.


Clark said...

Donald, thanks for the perspective, it helps to see how others perceive this. Here's my take on the back story: the four of us had been seeing each other at conferences, and continued to share our dismay at the state of corporate elearning. The tools, the examples, all were unfortunately less than we'd hope or expect. We finally decided that we couldn't continue to not say anything, and if we didn't have any impact, at least we'd tried. It rattled around in our brains and finally we came up with this. We're trying hard to keep the focus on the message of better elearning, and are pointing to principles from decades of global research, to the best of our ability. And it's not perfect, by any means, but it's what we could do. And we have reached out internationally in our trustees, if not the original authors (it's an all volunteer effort, and it was hard enough to coordinate with just the four of us!). There's no book; no workshop, nothing other than trying to do something to lift the average corporate elearning to a better standard than knowledge dump/test. And the event notion for the launch was just to try to get as much awareness as possible. We're not expert marketers, so we've relied on some volunteered assistance, and if it is a bit heavy-handed, our only excuse is trying to raise the message as best we can. After the launch date, you can (asynchronously) surf over to the site and see the principles we're trying to push. Whether it leads to any change is an open question. We're not trying to lower the ceiling, we're trying to lift the floor. Fingers crossed. Thanks again for helping us perceive another way our efforts could be construed, and hopefully this makes at least our intentions clear.

Will Thalheimer said...


Clark really said it all, but let me just add that we are doing what we're doing out of a profound sense of frustration that elearning is not living up to its promise.

We may not have hit on the best way to get people thinking about improving elearning, but we felt an ethical responsibility to do something.

I hope you'll keep track of our efforts over the next year or two and then apologize to us for prematurely dragging our names through the mud.

And, by the way, Julie Dirksen rocks--and if you don't know her work, it shows a chink in your armor.

= Will Thalheimer

Donald Clark said...

Appreciate the response guys and will keep my mind open until all is 'revealed'. I'm just not keen on this sort of approach. I just hope it's not another 'LMS id dead' and 'isn't most self-paced e-learning awful' stuff. That's being doing the rounds for years.

Peter Phillips said...

I'm sure the motivation behind this initiative is well intentioned, and the gang of four are absolutely worth listening to.
But I for one would be much more inclined to engage with a manifesto for humorous e-learning.

Andy said...

"There's the wonderful Manifesto for e-learning in acupuncture. You get my point." Pun intended?

Donald Clark said...

Was intended - well spotted. Some analogies, admiittedly, are a bit obtuse.

Donald Clark said...

Peter. Now there's an idea. MILF - Manifesto for More Interactive Laughs and Fun.

The Toy Gurl said...

Hi Donald,

Here is the point of view of a French Instructional Designer, who lived and worked in Singapore, New Zealand and Canada (this is for the international audience you asked).

When I saw a post announcing the Manifesto, its content immediately resonated with my frustrations in the corporate elearning world, even though I'd didn't know what "manifesto" mean ;-)

Yes there are good pieces of elearning (all from the UK!) but they are rare. What I designed 15 years ago was much more efficient and fun. Now 80% of my work is not as good as it could be because I fail to convince the sponsors or project managers that, yes, it would be better to unlock the course and not force the learners to go through every single page to make sure " they cover every thing". I feel I have to battle for every principle and I am tired of doing this.

So if someone, or even 4 people, share my frustrations and try to do something to change the situation, I'll even buy their book if they were selling one!

I find the word "serious" also a bit weird on the logo, "serious but fun" would have been better maybe?

Anyway, I think this is a great initiative, and I want to offer to translate the manifesto into French and start discussing it with fellow IDs.

Ok, back to work: I have to write a story to improve a PowerPoint was told...