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Day Two at DevLearn 2013

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While Day One of a conference is a sudden, brilliant dose of energy, Day Two has me dragging a little.

OK, maybe a lot. I wasn’t quite as diligent about taking notes during sessions today, so things might be a little incomplete or remembered incorrectly.

Morning Buzz: Adam Weisblatt

My morning started out great when I managed to cut myself shaving. This has nothing to do with this session, but does explain why I was late and feeling not quite ready for the day (most likely due to blood loss and lack of caffeine). What part of the conversation I did catch dealt with the issues faced in managing technology and data within learning organizations. Often we have solutions (like an LMS) that have to plug in and talk to other solutions. A lot of the process can be simplified and automated by having APIs and ensuring IT is involved in the process.

One person made the point that you should never look to your LMS (or really, any technology solution) as a permanent fix. You always need to think about how you’re going to extract your data and content when you’ve outgrown the current solution.

Keynote: Eli Pariser

I honestly came into this keynote slightly skeptical, because quite frankly, I get great recommendations from services like Amazon.

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As you can see, the algorithm really knows me.

Pariser started out by discussing his attempt to expand his worldview but was stymied by Facebook’s newsfeed filter. As one of the founders of Moveon.org, he obviously leans to the left politically, but befriends people with other mindsets to try and understand their perspective as well. Unfortunately Facebook’s algorithm filters out content from his conservative friends, because it knows he is less likely to hit “like” on articles posted by them (there was an audible gasp when his mockup news feed removed his conservative friends’ posts, which may or may not be an indicator of how many conservatives were in the audience).

One of the challenges this filtering causes is what danah boyd calls “psychological obesity.” We have both an impulsive self and an aspirational self, but the content most likely to be fed to us by algorithms are things that appeal to our impulsive selves. In this way, we’re only getting the candy and junk food (Justin Bieber and lolcats) instead of intense things that might be difficult (investigative journalism and stories on Afghanistan).

The problem for educators is that education IS challenge. He referenced a quote from Siva Vaidhyanathan that learning is “by definition an encounter with what you don’t know, what you haven’t thought of, what you couldn’t conceive.” By filtering out the challenging things, how will we ever grow and learn?

While I’m still not entirely convinced by Pariser, I think the points he makes are worth considering. But when content on the internet grows more in two days than all of human history prior to 2010, how can human curators possibly sift through it all? We need the algorithms to bring things to the surface, because there’s a level of personalization algorithms offer that no human curator can possibly reach.

The solutions Pariser offers also seem rather simplistic. Teach “filter literacy” by opening up a separate tab in incognito mode to compare the results? You’ll still see content filtered by your location, browser or computer (Pariser himself mentioned that there are 57 different signals Google can use to personalize results, even on a brand new computer). I think filter literacy needs to be part of a broader discussion about how people perceive media online. Simply because we use filtered systems to find media doesn’t stop us from reaching out to people or consuming content from curated resources. Most likely we use both equally without even thinking about it.

Session: Is elearning broken? Panel discussion

Attention grabbing and provocative title! I’m not a fan of such things generally but went into this session knowing that many of the panel participants would have insights that would prove valuable. I didn’t take notes (it’s hard to type while you’re standing), so there’s not many specifics that I took from this session. If nothing else, it only reiterates the need for people in this industry to continue to innovate and fight the urge to simply go along with a request for training or build a context free page turner. Instead of attempting to recreate the analog world of the classroom in an elearning project, why not use some of the affordances of the technology? Why attempt to put knowledge into the learners’ heads (through a knowledge dump) when it is far easier to put knowledge into the world (a performance support solution)?

Session: Comics for Learning with Bianca Woods

After such a heady and theoretical start to the day, it’s great to step into a session about the actual act of building things. An excellent case can be made for long-form comics to tell extremely powerful stories or take complex ideas and make them more digestible. Best practice design in comics forces learning designers to move towards better instructional practices – clearer and more dynamic visuals, minimal text, and better stories.

As I wandered through DemoFest later that night, I couldn’t help but think about how much of elearning design has already pulled from comics. All you need to do is look at any project created with Storyline using the bundled characters and their accompanying dialogue surrounded by speech bubbles.

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And then you can vomit, because they are absolutely disgusting. Why does anyone use them? I have a feeling they get used because they came free with the program and most instructional designers don’t have the time, money, or the desire to make anything better. If we’re going to take inspiration from things in other industries (like comics), why do we accept these half-measures?

I can’t stop thinking about the comment from Ian Bogost about deepening the experience of work and making our creations move towards this goal. If we’re going to invest all this time in building extensive elearning interventions, why can’t they approach the level of experience we get from a great graphic novel or short film or documentary?