Sunday, September 27, 2009

Training That's Good Enough to be Great

I recently read an article that resonated so well with me, on a bunch of different fronts. The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine by Robert Capps appears in the September issue of Wired Magazine.

The basic premise: our tastes and evaluations have evolved; "quality" often no longer means the fastest and shiniest and techiest offering. QUALITY means the thing that is convenient, flexible, and cheap. The article gives a bunch of excellent examples, starting in with the
Flip camcorder, and going on to illustrate how "...companies that focus on traditional measures of quality—fidelity, resolution, features—can become myopic and fail to address other, now essential attributes like convenience and shareability." Capps cites the growing adoption of Skype vs. traditional phones, Hulu vs. television, cheap netbooks over fancier computers, and several more. "As the worst recession in 75 years rolls on, it's the light and nimble products that are having all the impact—exactly the type of thing that lean startups and small-scale enterprises are best at."

Our needs themselves have evolved. Or a better way to look at it, I think, is that our recognition of our true needs has evolved. As we shop, we're seeing more clearly what's most important to us in our real lives.

"The attributes that now matter most all fall under the rubric of accessibility. Thanks to the speed and connectivity of the digital age, we've stopped fussing over pixel counts, sample rates, and feature lists. Instead, we're now focused on three things: ease of use, continuous availability, and low price."

An example for me personally is cameras. I love to take photos. I love to look at photos. I can't seem to stop myself from taking photos. (Just ask my annoyed wife and sons!) I've got a beloved old Nikon 35mm I get out once in a... OK, come to think of it, it's been at least 5 years since I had it out. (I wonder what's on the roll of film that's still in there??) And I have dSLR ambitions, but most of the photos I take are with the
crappy camera in my phone, or at best, with my waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof pocket camera. Why? Because the quality most important to me is, what camera can I have with me all the time? What's convenient and flexible? (The third quality comes into play too – cheap. My pocket cam was under $300, and in effect, I didn't pay for my phonecam... I bought the phone, and the camera's just an assumed part of it. And hey, in any given month, I don't seem to have a thousand bucks laying around after bills get paid – so no D90 for me, so far.)

Funny thing is, an evolution in taste has occurred - a cause or an effect of this revolution? I don't know. But there are those who actually appreciate this lower-resolution aesthetic in photography. Search Flickr groups for "phonecam" and find
691 different groups devoted to folks who love this or that aspect of the photos they get from their cellies. (example: PhoneCam Expressions is "...for all those who love to use their phone cameras, but with a sense of taste and beauty." And DBOLRL ("DBOLRL: a playground for a Drunken Bunch of Low Res Lovers") has a brutally light-hearted (light-heartedly brutal?) voting game that's been running for nearly 4 years, reveling in the wonder of chunky, noisy photos from cheap cameras.

So anyway... this is supposed to be my
e-learning business blog, and I need to show why I'm babbling about all of this.

I propose that there is an elegance possible in a simpler e-learning solution for corporate training. I would like to suggest that there are bells and whistles in the more expensive "end-to-end, enterprise solutions" a lot of vendors push, that most training organizations simply do not need. I assert that if the training content itself is excellent, there are plenty of delivery features that upon examination, you might discover aren't as necessary as you may have thought when they were described to you in the sales process.

So I'm submitting for your discussion, that e-learning consumers need to ask themselves Capps' three questions as part of their evaluation: "Is it simple to get what we want out of the technology? Is it available everywhere, all the time — or as close to that ideal as possible? And is it so cheap that we don't have to think about price?"

If you have a staff of thousands, in multiple locations, by all means, you need to think Cadillac in selecting a tracking and scheduling and reporting system. But if you're training 20 people, or 50, is it really all that difficult to collect printed completion certificates from trainees, and manage your records by hand in a spreadsheet? Does your skill gap analysis really require the use of an elaborate database? Doesn't it make good business sense (especially in cash-tight times like these) to buy only the lean and nimble access to training that you need, rather than paying more for fat that isn’t adding any benefit to your training?

I'd loved to get feedback on these thoughts. For e-learning in your organization, what's
good enough?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting Social, Getting Seen

Who knew when I first got online in... maybe 1993? and text-chatted for the first time with a distant friend using a text-based chat program called ytalk that I was starting to engage in the now trendy trend of Social Networking? I keep reminding myself of my office-mate's impression at the time.

"Dave! Check this out! I'm actually talking to a friend – in NEW YORK! Look! I'm typing, and she sees what I'm typing, and then I can see what she types!"

Dave nodded sagely. "I heard about another way to do that, where you punch in a series of digits and can then actually talk to the other person via voice."


He grinned and pointed to the telephone. Groan! Gotta love tech-savvy luddites for keeping gear-giddiness in check.

MOO was next, with the announcement of the grand opening of schMOOze University for teachers and non-native speaking students of English. I started forming my long-standing hypothesis that human interaction was the best thing about the internet, and a key factor in any attempt at online learning.

In the past couple years, online human interaction seems to have finally come into its own as the web melded with the Internet, as apps got easier to use, and as more and more older people got online. My mom's got a facebook account, for goodness sake, and chats with us via gtalk using her webcam.

Social networking – used to be geeks and academics, now it's everyone.

So I'm finding it strange to have been at least a little bit of a pioneer in using the Internet for communication (as opposed to the old "information superhighway" idea of its main purpose being information retrieval) – and now feeling like a bit of a noob trying to figure out how to use it correctly for marketing. I've been using it forever to collaborate on projects, to co-author articles, to provide language learners with opportunities to interact in English, to communicate and share with my friends, but I'm feeling like a bit of a latecomer in trying to use it for marketing.

But we're diving right in, head-first, with both feet, or something like that. Micheal's up to his eyeballs in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), pimping every page in our websites ( and to help the spiders and bots find us and push us to the top of the list for people searching for what we sell. Meanwhile, I'm working in character – trying to maximize our human participation on the web by tweeting at, poking and updating our status on the GCPLearning facebook page, becoming more active on LinkedIn, and lurking (for now!) on 4LearningExecs. Stay tuned!