On "Millennials" and e-books

Recently the Washington Post featured a story on how Millennials actually prefer print to digital reading. I thought is was an interesting article that made some relevant points. I too prefer reading something on paper, finding sitting down with a printed book or document both easier to absorb and less distracting. The point of the textbook industry trying to push the e-books for their own financial motivations also makes a lot of sense.

However, you shouldn't try to stereotype a whole generation. If you took one younger relation as representative you would think the whole generation goes through life not only attached to their devices but more concerned with taking pictures of their activities and posting on Facebook then experiencing them. Yet another is rarely on Facebook and can't be bothered to figure out how to get a cell phone that works affordable both Canada and the US, so just goes without most of the year.

As an active participant in an internet forum on "i-Docs, Multi-Platform & Cross-Media Projects" it seems that we have yet to find an interactive site that seems like even a prototype of what the form could or should be. It still seems that there is much work to be done in figuring out how to use the capacities of technology in a way that aligns with how the human brain learns and what actually motivates people and engages them.

Quote of the Day

“I’ve found some of the best e-learning developers have a background in video production. Why does a video background help new e-learning developers? Because video relies so heavily on the eyes, one has to think visually from the start. Same goes for e-learning. Computer screens cry out for visual treatment.” Ruth Clark, Evidence Based Training Methods

The Training and Development (T&D) with Human Performance Improvement (HPI) (sometimes called Human Performance Technology) and also to ISD


In my imperfect analogy, those in Training and Development are like handymen and women. However, instead of fixing problems like broken windows and faulty wiring they have to deal with performance gap problems like employees not being able to enter data properly into databases or answer help desk questions in a timely manner. The hammer is only one of the tools in the handyman’s toolbox. In the human performance technology toolbox there are also an assortment of tools, in this case meant to fix performance gaps. Instructional design is just one of a selection of tools including organizational development, human resource management, total quality management etc. In a progressive organization our T & D handyman is given a nice big toolbox full of all kinds of tools to pick from to best repair the problem. She is also given enough time to troubleshoot and repair the problem properly. Instructional Design is but one of the tools at her disposal, as not all problems can be fixed by training. Some performance gaps are caused by environment, worker morale, lack of resources etc. and thus will require different tools to do the job.

However, in all too many organizations our friendly T & D professional is not given a full toolbox to do their jobs with. In addition, some of the tools may be locked away and she is not given access to the keys to all the drawers in her toolbox. Or perhaps the key-keeper manager will limit the time she is allowed to use the tools – like an Instructional Designer who is not given adequate time or resources to do enough analysis.

Another unfortunate possibility is that this key-keeper/manager is not willing to do the hard work of changing the organizational climate that is causing the problem and instead insists that the employees just need more training. This would be like our poor handyman being told to fix the broken window with a socket wrench – it’s just not the right tool for the job.

Notes on the Media that Matters Conference 2011

It’s not that you ever get to the point where you “know everything” about the industry.  However, I’m finding that equal to the actual knowledge you gain at an event like this is the reassurance and inspiration of meeting so many interesting people and hearing about so many worthy projects that face struggles similar to yours.   Here are some random highlights: -       “transmedia” is the new buzz word, but seems to basically mean the same as “cross platform” or “multi-platform” or “multimedia”.

-       Sponsors want to hear that your project is “transmedia”, even if they don’t really understand what they means or how to make it happen.

-       The Bay Area Video Coalition has helped many of the transmedia presenters at the conference.

-       Public radio producers are at the forefront of transmedia.   Story Corps has worked with animators to produce some wonderful (bring tears to your eyes) animations that have shown on POV and all over the web.  My son’s media literacy class has shown them as well.

-       Al Letson of the show  “State of the Re:Union” spoke about how he worked with filmmakers to make short video documentaries about the subjects they were doing radio documentaries on.  He said it was a matter of learning to accommodate each other – a radio person wants to practically shove a microphone in someone’s face, while a film person doesn’t want to see it at all.

-       Glynn Washington of the show “Snap Judgment” spoke of how he liked to do features based on documentaries.  He said that documentarians shouldn’t feel territorial about “their ideas”, as being featured on his show always lead to increase in sales.  He said he really needed to talk to “that guy” with the show about homosexuals in rural areas; it would be perfect for him.

-       Transmedia is seen as a way to attract more young people both to causes and public media.  The average age of an NPR listener is 56.  Non-profits are thinking of how they will attract the next generations of young donors and activists as well.

-       The gathering of useful metrics bedevils those of us in many fields – instructional design, documentary filmmaking and transmedia collaborations.

-       Once you create a budget, add 20-25% for the testing and refinement of digital media.

The case studies were particularly helpful.  They included:

-       Jacqueline Olive has a great project in development called “Always in Season” where a documentary about America’s history of lynching will be accompanied by a Second Life “Island” where people can actually interact in a lynching scenario and possibly try to change it.  When asked what would happen if a bunch of neo-Nazis participated, she said these possibilities are still being worked out.  The project will have a soft launch at sponsoring universities.

-       Roland Legiardi-Laura has a project “To be Heard” about under-privileged teenagers using poetry to change their lives.  In addition to the documentary, there is the development of a mobile phone ap that will allow poetry composed on smart phones to be posted as a stream on a website.  They poems could then be used by non-profits focused on the issues raised by the poems, such as child abuse, teen pregnancy etc.  He frankly said that the film would cost approx. $340K, but they would need another $120K to develop the aps etc.  To make the website truly sustainable they would need paid staff for a couple years so add another $240K.  They are well on the way with the fundraising.

This is a point I’ve been making for awhile – these interactive websites, Internet forums, online communities etc. are not “build it and they will come”.  They require active, time consuming moderation and nurturing to work.

-       Dean Hamer did indeed do a great presentation about the amazing outreach he and his partner Joe have been able to do with their film “Out in the Silence”. Some new quotable things he said were:

  • “The best thing that happened is that we had to make our film with no money”.    By this he meant that it allowed them to make the film their way without worrying about pleasing sponsors.  I also think it allowed the film to move forward, instead of being fussed over and polished more than was needed for its purpose.
  • “The limiting factor for our films is not whether you’ll see it on TV or a festival (or the web) but whether you’ve heard of it at all”
  • Giving away their film for free over the Internet not only resulted in an uptick in DVD sales, but allowed it to better serve its activist purpose.  A gay teenager in a rural area who wouldn’t want to be seen in public buying it, renting it, borrowing it from the library etc. would be able to see it privately in his own bedroom.

Notes on UMBC Training Forum – Presentation by David Mallon

David Mallon of Bersin and Associates gave a surprisingly engaging presentation to the UMBC ISD community. Yet afterwards I heard a lot of the same reaction that presentations about informal learning often get. Many comments seemed to be of the “sounds good in theory, but how do I actually sell it to management?” and “this will take away our jobs” variety. To paraphrase some of his nuggets of wisdom:

“don’t think of designing the “right” piece of instruction – think of putting the right people in the right place at the right time”.

“don’t talk learning theory to your clients – talk to them in their language of business metrics”.

“72 % of companies say they believe in informal learning, but 30% of their resources are focused there”.

“Information Architecture is a sister to ISD. Soon these fields will converge, as Information Architecture plays a similar role in learning environments as ISD does in formal courses”.

He also used an interesting term “community management” – where instructional designers go from designing training to being facilitators of the communities and systems where employees informally learn. This really made sense to me, as I recently did a study of an informal learning community for documentary filmmakers called “the D-word”. This forum works magnificently as a fountain of information about all aspects of documentary filmmaking, outreach, marketing etc. However, it requires over an hour a day from a moderator now that it is established. It took even more time in the beginning to set the tone for the group.