Archive for July, 2009

Probability Illustrated

Currently, I’m working on a rapid e-Learning solution for teaching probability. I was able to quickly use PowerPoint and some clipart to put both the storyboard and the template for the interactivity. I use the animation features in both PowerPoint and Captivate to create the effects and interactive features for the piece. I’d like to spend more time explaining my process for this, but I will save that for a future post.

I created two presentations:

  • Probability and Dependent Events
  • Probability and Independent Events

Actually, the text of both of the presentations comes almost directly from text written by the Subject Matter Expert who intended to have it read online as one would read a print document. Somehow, it didn’t seem engaging enough to me so I went about creating these visual multimedia presentations. Unfortunately I can’t share the finished product up here, but I can share the images of the storyboards.  Both presentations are included in the gallery below.

Slide 3

Slide 3


Applying Eastern Philosophy to Online Learning

Wu Wei

Wu Wei

A few months ago, I attended this virtual presentation at the 2009 TCC conference that really got me thinking: The Tao of Online Facilitation. I’ve linked my notes from this talk.

I can’t seem to escape the idea that good teaching online requires the online facilitator to be more of a guide rather than a spewer of knowledge.  Much of what the presenter, Scot Robinson, shared falls in line with the idea that Online Learning is most beneficial when it applies constructivist learning practices.  Students can be guided to drawing conclusions or applying knowledge effectively through both hands-on and scenario-based learning activities as well as well-crafted questions (posed by the facilitator or teacher). This all reminds me of this adage I heard once: “Telling is not knowing.”

In his presentation Robinson made the point that facilitators are responsible for directing the flow of energy during an online training. Through their questions, they can help generate meaningful conversations that reinforce and promote extended learning.  They can also engage students in online participation in knowledge building via wikis and blogs. They can design creative activities and applications of these technologies to promote learning via collaboration.

Robinson also cautions we Westerners to ease back on the “active” or “dynamic” approach to doing things.  As he said “Westerners are tuned into action…” and it’s hard for us not to act when we see a opportunity or problem. Instead, the savvy online educator should practice Wu-wei or “actionless action.”  Following the line of thinking that encourages the teacher to contribute to the flow of energy in a learning activity, the teacher must observe the flow and “go with it.”

Bruce Lee put it well when he said… “Be water my friend.”


In my mind, I’ve started developing pictures of the Tao of Online Facilitation looks like vs. what it doesn’t look like:

Frustrated online facilitator: Is very upset that the students are not participating and adding information in the wiki according to her plans.  Keeps on directing students back to the original line of inquiry on the wiki. Sometimes panics when things are not going her way.

Sensei online facilitator: Sees that the students are going in a new direction with their wiki resource posts. Watches and observes the exchange of knowledge before providing feedback. Encourages discussion and collaboration, but still gently nudges the group back on track if they get too far off the mark.

Anyone who teaches online can be taught the behaviors that epitomize the Tao of online facilitation.  For myself, I realize that have some very western impulses when it comes to learning and teaching.  I noticed this when I was teaching a sock-knitting class a few weeks ago.  I had to fight the impulse to pick up one very vociferous and frustrated student’s work and help her work it out. I stopped myself because I knew this would be counter-productive for her learning, and after listening to her complain about a previous class she took where the instructor did the work for her, I wanted to help her understand that she could be successful. I stopped for a while and observed her. I noticed from her words and body language that she seemed a very self-conscious about failing in class. I suggested that she meet with me for an hour session outside of class. I was able to get her started using larger yarn and needles. In the end she was the only student to finish the socks during the class. Now, I’m aware of the fact that I had an advantage over online facilitators who cannot read their students’ body language, but I believe that the online facilitator can use a student’s online behavior to diagnose some possible problems with learning. Also, there are questions an online facilitator can ask or observations they can make to better analyze the student’s success or failure to learn.

Practicing the Tao of Facilitation means training online instructors to break old habits and engage in different ways to “perceive” learning.  You can train people up to a point, but if they don’t buy into the philosophy it will not work.  I’ve seen a few  good ideas and e-Learning projects die because the e-Learning development team didn’t adequately prepare the facilitators or trainers adequately. They didn’t coach them to ‘direct the flow of learning’ or even understand what this ‘flow looks like.’ They used that “If we build it they will come” logic rather than looking long term by providing a plan for assessing whether or not the learning endeavor was a success with measurable results from both teachers and students.

Big Question: What Should Learning Professionals Know Today?

Here’s the Learning Circuits Question for July:

In a Learning 2.0 world, where learning and performance solutions take on a wider variety of forms and where churn happens at a much more rapid pace, what new skills and knowledge are required for learning professionals?

Here’s my list of four things I think are most important:

  1. Valuing and working with company and organization leaders to build a “Culture of Learning” or “Learning Organization” via Peter Senge’s Model. Forget being able to launch the next best thing in social networking or Learning 2.0. If this is not a huge part of your company or organization’s mission and culture. You may find an uphill battle in introducing change. In my experience companies who work without a “Culture of Learning” often end up making reactionary moves  instead of ones built around a vision, achievable goals and a realistic plan. They hire reactionary managers and staff, and at the very worst the company devolves into an environment where ‘fires’ are contantly fought and nothing new is really developed.  How can any group or individual really inspire real change in learning let alone innovate in these types of environments?
  2. Understanding possible flows of learning using social media. The Internet has made us incredibly social and increasingly connected with each other. The problem with this is that there are so many avenues for learning and it may be difficult to assess learning that comes as a result of social learning.
  3. Applying constructivism & collaboration to learning online/offline as much as possible. I think developing both collaborative and constructivist activies is going to be necessary for higher-level educators, many of whom are still bent on the traditional methods of teaching via lecture, and for people who develop training for higher education.  The Internet, Web 2.0, Learning 2.0 foster constructivist (websearches, social tagging, forums) and collaborative learning activities (wikis, online discussion) through the media available online. These are the types of activities that not only engage learners, often they reinforce the knowledge and skills so that they’re more likely to be applied effectively in the future. Plus, I’m sorry folks. Learning doesn’t have to be boring and passive like it used to be in the past.
  4. Accepting that you can’t learn everything “2.0.” It’s too easy to be overwhelmed by the rapid rate of development of tools in Learning 2.0. I think being able to develop a strong set of learning goals and objectives for yourself, your company, or your group is a good place to start. Say you need to market your courses better online, then you probably should start looking at how to effectively use social networking sites like Twitter & Facebook. You probably should also read books like the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell as a primer.

Are the Argentine Ants Phase I?


I’m not sure if you remember that movie from the 70’s Phase IV.  I didn’t discover it until a few years ago, and I found that it was my answer to Sominex. The soothing introduction explaining the genesis of colonies of super-ants with a melancholy 70’s scifi synth in the background always put me to sleep. It took me several weeks and finally watching it in the afternoon while I did my laundry to actually finish the movie.  I just found out that Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured Phase IV. You can view some of the movie MST3K style on YouTube.

The recent news about the colony of Argentine ants that have supposedly colonized the entire planet (thanks to our help) immediately brought the premise of this movie to mind. Though I’m not thouroughly convinced the Argentine Ants are going to take over the planet or herald an alien invasion. I do wonder what this ‘world colonization’ implies other than we human beings through our messy lifestyle attract ants where ever we go.  I have many questions.  What sort of impact does this invasive species have on other native ants or other native species? What more can we learn from these ants that will tell us about ourselves? Does it mean all those million bottles of Terro sold only made the ant colonies stronger and more resistant? Why does it both freak us out and fascinate us that something so tiny could have such a universal and unified force?

Why Cracker Jack Virtual Teams Matter During Emergencies


Don’t turn your back on it

Earlier, I posted on what the Ideal Virtual Team looks like, but lately I’ve been thinking that virtual teams will become more and more important to the workplace.  In my last job I worked for a group that had an “Emergency work plan.”  This Plan required all employees to state how they could connect to work if an extended emergency took place  that made access to the workplace impossible. We were also assigned VPN access or Virtual Private Network access to insure that we could log in to work from home.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized that having such a plan is imperative to business and since the outbreak of the Swine Flu or H1N1 earlier this year, I’ve been considering how important it is to be able to work virtually if possible. Companies that have virtual tools available and who have trained (and selected) employees who can work effectively virtually will find it easier to keep business going as usual than the companies that require constant face to face contact with their employees.

An effective Emergency Work Plan might answer the following questions (this is just a start):

  1. How will my employees connect?
    • What sort of VPN do we have in place?
    • Are my employees adequately trained to access it?
    • Have they used it recently?
  2. Will they have the tools they need to work from home? (Laptop, or virtual workspace accessible from their own computers, necessary basic software, office tools, etc.)
  3. Are they capable of working effectively from home?
    • Do they know how to participate effectively in virtual meetings or other collaborative activities?
    • Have we trained or modeled these behaviors effectively?
  4. How am I communicating and implementing this plan?
    • First line managers?
    • Do we have a website or hub for information on the program including FAQ’s?
  5. Are my managers trained to assess whether employees can work effectively virtually?
    • Are the expectations for effective virtual work clearly stated or shared with all employees who work virtually?
    • Do they track the completions of their projects and quality of their work?
    • Did they hire people who can work effectively both in an outside of the physical workspace?

I’m sure that after asking these questions and doing what’s necessary to prepare adequately, smart leaders and managers will get feedback from their employees to see if the emergency plan worked effectively. That is if they ever had to deal with an emergency.

I wonder how many companies have developed contingency plans to deal with the Pandemic.  I know to some that it may seem like a morbid thought, but in some ways I’d rather have morbid thoughts that keep me alive and working than glossing over problems and ignoring them.  Also, I wonder if companies can get energy conservation credits for having employees telecommute.

Examples of Emergency/Virtual Work Plans:


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