Web 2.0 could revolutionise e-learning

Neil Lasher says Web 2.0 attracts some odd bods, but has the potential to revolutionise e-learning.

I have read several articles about the ever-evolving internet and some of the odd Tolkienesque creatures who inhabit it. These range from cyber-criminals through to google-stalkers. The latter are web denizens who spend every moment trying to find information on other people. Then there are the Cheesepodders, who spend their time scouring iTunes for cheesy music to put on to iPods.

Then there are Cyberchondriacs. They spend much of their time trying to diagnose an illness they do not have. And finally, but perhaps most importantly, there is the Wikipediaholic: someone who just can’t stop fiddling with Wikipedia entries.

One example concerned a scientific salesman in Canada, who claims to spend two hours a day tweaking and changing other people’s articles on the web if he does not like their writing style.

New generation

Now as someone who writes articles, I know how maddening it is when the editor changes what I write to suit the column or the style of the magazine.

So, can you imagine how the authors of wikis feel when our Canadian super editor edits but does not add value to articles, or even changes the content? And not, as is in the spirit of the wiki, to remove any factual errors, but solely to alter the writing style.

What does this have to do with learning and development? Well you have to start by looking at the benefits of Web 2.0. In case you don’t know, Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of services available on the internet that allow users to share information online. For example, through file sharing of music or moving image clips, which is probably what your teenager does most evenings and weekends. Contrast that to Web 1.0, which is basically about visiting static web pages – the online equivalent of browsing through a reference library.

Web 2.0 also has a psychological aspect that will impact on learning and development (L&D). As far as I can see this is about the feel-good factor, about getting the user involved and giving them back something they want.

But is that not the holy grail of the interaction we are all after in e-learning? BJ Fogg, a researcher at the Persuasive Technology Laboratory at Stanford University in California has analysed hundreds of popular sites and identified three stages to their success: discovery, superficial involvement and true commitment. The key to success is in the reward – giving people some form of status by either getting them to contribute or recommending the site to others.

Getting involved

The more interesting a site is or becomes, the more we want to get involved. The same can be said for e-learning. Offer a place to get involved and get recognition for your time and effort and more will want to join in. Of course, compelling and relevant content helps.

But proceed with caution. It is easy to form bad habits and even addictions. Experience indicates that people can get addicted to almost anything because addictions rely on rewards. For example, the forwarding of e-mails containing jokes got out of hand until many organisations banned them. Some people still do it, whether they’re supposed to or not. E-mail has become the communication method of choice for some, but lacks body language and senders’ emotions are very hard to read.

So what can L&D professionals learn from Web 2.0 developments? Imagine if we could tap into the success of sites such as YouTube, which enjoys 100 million views of nonsensical videos every single day. Or if we could leverage the success of MySpace – whatever your thoughts on the content – and offer the correct incentive to our learners to get involved, then think how successful the learning you offer could be.

Of course, all of this takes time: the time of the developer to create such learning with interactive wikis and blogs, and the time of the learner to get involved. Don’t forget there is also the time and expense involved in marketing learning.

Telling them it’s out there is a promotional imperative. Hopefully, once you have attracted the first few, the incentives you place will attract others. They in turn will spend vast amounts of time telling others and editing the wikis, won’t they? It’s lots of time, but it could be time well spent.

The Lasher file

What are your training/learning and development credentials?

I have a masters in computer science. I am also the president of the ASTD (American Society of Training and Development) Global Network UK and a committee member of the E-Learning Network. I have 15 years’ experience ine-learning and have been providing training in one form or another since the late 1970s.

What training would you benefit from?

I would love to learn to read more quickly and really manage my time without having to learnto use some type of gizmo.

If you were minister for training and L&D, what one initiative would you implement?

I would make it compulsory for everyone who offers or creates training to ensure they had some knowledge of instructional design.

What professional book has made the biggest impact on you?

Juicing the Orange by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn of Fallon Worldwide. They made the TV ad of the coloured balls bouncing down the street in San Francisco. Creativity overflows out of this book.

What book are you reading now?

Next by Michael Crichton.

What is the biggest challenge facing training and L&D professionals?

To stay in control of what people learn, how they learn it and in what order, while they still believe they are going where they want to go, learning what they want to learn and in what order.

What drives you nuts?

Web designers who pretend to create learning that fails to actually change anything other than giving the user a good time.

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