Posts filed under ‘e-learning’

Online Consumer Health in Jordan: An Interview with Dana Mahadeen

I met Dana Mahadeen, an English Language Instructor at Balqaa Applied University in Salt, Jordan with a background in e-learning. We ended up chatting, not about e-learning, but about how people in Jordan use the Internet for health information. She told me that not all Jordanians use the Internet. Internet use is 18.2% of Jordanians as of March 2008 and 24.5% as of August 2009 according to a different source. I could find no data about use of the Internet for health. Dana told me about health Web sites in Jordan and her own experiences.

While there are health Web sites in Jordan, most are government-operated although there are some private sites. Some of the English language ones Dana knows are,, and She said that there are other sites in Arabic, such as, but questioned how accurate their information is. One of the Arabic ones she uses is Mostly she relies on American sites like the Mayo Clinic. Dana said that she knew about the Arabic sites because she has a friend suffering from diabetes and cancer. She tries to keep up with the news about these diseases, to understand the conditions better, and to help her friend at the same time. She went on to say that she has used these sites for herself during her pregnancy and when her children are ill.

I asked Dana why she relies on Mayo Clinic’s website instead of the Jordanian ones. She responded, “It is very user-friendly and I guess I just like the site. I have also used WebMD.” I asked if she had heard of anyone writing a blog about their illness, to which Dana responded, “I can’t say I have, but I have heard of people writing about their weight loss.” She went on to say that obesity is a problem there, not to the extent of the problem in the US. They “are seeing more 10+ year old children getting heavier and heavier and I guess we are headed the way of the US. Don’t get me wrong, most Jordanian adults are a bit on the chubby side but not obese. It is a matter of food choices: Jordanian food is naturally rich and, well, fast food is quite popular.”

I asked if heart disease was common as a result of the rich food and Dana responded, “Strange that you should ask. My husband is a Cardiac Surgeon and he is very busy” (40% of deaths in Jordan are caused by cardiovascular diseases, according to Health Minister Nayef Fayez.) To my final question about her own health seeking behavior with a husband who is a doctor, Dana said, “I am always asking my husband questions and I am always looking online. I like to know as much as I can. The Internet is a great tool.”

February 16, 2010 at 9:38 am 4 comments

What Do “New York on $5 a Day” and “Mathematics Made Easy” Have in Common?

The Boston Globe reports that 2 adults sharing a hotel room and eating 3 meals spend, on average, $606 a day in New York City. I go there often for business and have no trouble believing this. There was a book, published in 1964, called New York on $5 a Day. My interest is not inflation or travel costs, but book titles: what a compelling title! And much better than New York on $606 a Day. A search for “New York” books brings up Not for Tourists 2008 Guide to New York City and The Best Things to Do in New York City: 1001 Ideas. Not for tourists – but I am a tourist! – and if this is an insider’s guide then do natives read it? 2008 in the title reminds me that I need the new edition, and, if anything like car models, 2009 will be available well before 2008 ends. 1001 ideas makes me hyperventilate – a few good ones are all I need.

When I was in high school, a friend gave me Mathematics Made Easy, which was one of the most inspirational books I ever read. I saw this book recently in a church bazaar, and thought about the title, which refers to the topic, not the reader. Now the For Dummies series offers numerous math books, as does The Complete Idiot’s Guide. I ended up a math major in college: could Math for Dummies have similarly inspired me? The titles of these new books refer to the reader, not to the topic.

In this age of Oprah’s Book Club determining what sells, I wish we could return to book titles that neither insult nor overwhelm the reader. But then what about course titles? I teach a course, “Online Consumer Health”, previously “Online Health Communities”. My primary motivation for changing the name was that one of my students last fall told me he signed up for the course not knowing what an online health community was.

What if course titles tried to grab you, like book titles, but still remained descriptive? I could rename mine “Online Consumer Health: How to Design and Evaluate Health Web Sites” or “How People without Medical Training Use the Internet for Health Education and Support”. One of my favorite courses in graduate school, “Software Engineering”, could be renamed “Software Engineering: How to be a Systems Architect and Play Office Politics to your Advantage”. Maybe these are a little wordy, but they are certainly descriptive and attention-grabbing.

Online courses, of course, have the same problem but more so, since there may be less context when a student isn’t on campus. A perusal of online course titles showed that titles like “Business Writing 101” are still in vogue. How about renaming it “Business Writing for Clarity and Managerial Praise”? I will say that I have seen a few online courses with intriguing names: Trump University has courses called “The Trump Way to Wealth” and “How to Start a Business on a Shoestring Budget”. These are certainly compelling and descriptive names and also briefer than my examples above.

May 21, 2008 at 1:22 am 7 comments

“The Name’s Bond. James Bond.”

James BondI love James Bond movies. I have never read Ian Fleming’s novels or even thought much about him. I was therefore interested to read that the Imperial War Museum London recently launched an online exhibition exploring “the early life of Ian Fleming, his wartime career and work as a journalist and travel writer and how, as an author, he drew upon his own experiences to create the iconic character of James Bond that continues to have global appeal.” I am often hesitant to click on links, partially due to time constraints and partially due to some disappointing experiences with must-see websites, must-watch videos, and must-listen podcasts.

The virtual “sneak peek” exhibit used a gallery metaphor to depict some objects from the exhibit with audio explanations – complete with dozing guards. I didn’t find it particularly interesting or informative or even a good teaser for the actual exhibit. However, as an educational experience, it was successful in two ways. One was that, before giving up completely, I found some fascinating materials about Ian Fleming on the museum’s exhibition site. The other is that I read about Ian Fleming and about “For Your Eyes Only,” the exhibit name. Since I liked Casino Royale or any 007 movie with Sean Connery better, I read about other movies as well, including trivia, goofs, quotes, and the gadgets Q invented.

Suppose you were teaching a class and one of your students tactfully told you that your lecture was boring but that he or she spent hours researching the topic out of class. Would you ask for constructive criticism, be happy since you spurred self-directed learning, or say, as Bond did, “Well you can’t win them all”?

April 29, 2008 at 1:58 am 2 comments

Tech Populism and Discotheque Populism: Parallel Revolutions

Tech populism, a term coined by Forrester Research, refers to people bringing the technology they use in their personal lives into the workplace where traditionally tools have been provided to them and their use prescribed. Employees may, for example, have access to online courses they are supposed to take, but they may prefer to search for and use information available on the web instead of utilizing these courses. Another example is when there is a corporate knowledge management initiative but employees find and contact each other through LinkedIn or other social networking services.

Tech populism is revolutionary in that the traditional tight controls on workplace behavior are violated – often to everyone’s benefit. And a revolt can occur when employers attempt to suppress tech populism.

Bona fide revolutions—whether political, cultural, or spiritual —occur infrequently in history” and one is certainly taking place in the workplace today. This revolution parallels what was arguably the biggest revolution in music, dancing, and nightlife: the discotheque.

The American Heritage Magazine article goes on to say that “the discotheque originated as a den of resistance in Nazi-occupied France” and, from the 1960s to the 1980s, impacted all aspects of culture in the US and other countries. “Discotheque dancing followed the 1960s pattern in which teenagers invented pop-culture trends and discarded them soon afterward, at which point they were taken up by adults,” just like Facebook today!

“Saturday Night Fever propelled disco fever to epidemic proportions: By 1978, 40 percent of all the music on Billboard’s Hot 100 was disco. Meanwhile the discofication of America proceeded: There were disco lunch boxes, disco “Snoopy” bed sheets and pillows, disco belt buckles, disco records by old-timers like Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman, an estimated two hundred all-disco radio stations, disco dance courses, disco proms, books about the proper makeup to wear to discos—and an estimated twenty thousand discotheques nationwide.”

I coined discotheque populism to refer to how this “discofication” still lives in the music, lighting, and dance moves found in any club. Even the clothes, makeup, and hairstyles periodically return to popularity. Tech populism is no different – the Facebook of yesterday is the Twitter of today. Tomorrow will bring new applications that will be adopted (and even created) by teenagers first, become mainstream, and then be abandoned by the original adopters just when managers are developing policies for their use.

April 23, 2008 at 1:52 am 2 comments

Crucibles as a Metaphor for Learning and Reflection

I am at a Working Knowledge conference on “Judgment and Decisions” at Babson College today, organized by Larry Prusak and Tom Davenport. Bob Thomas, Accenture and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, just spoke about “Crucibles, Judgment and Leadership”. One of his main points is that people have to learn how they learn best, and crucible experiences can be pivotal for many people.

The five key ingredients for going from novice to adept expert performer are having talent, ambition, grasp of method, a great teacher, and feedback. Practice can trump talent, as research on expert performance shows. Outstanding performers devise a personal learning strategy that goes beyond practice to understanding how they learn best – and what their passion is. One way Bob learns what people love to do is by asking what they are doing when they lose track of time – what is often called a flow state.

While this talk focused on how businesses grow leaders, I believe Bob’s insights are valid for anyone in any role, including children with learning disabilities, who are explicitly taught how they learn and strategies to accommodate their learning disability. Many people, however, never reflect on their own learning style.

Bob offered a number of examples of crucible experiences in disparate organizations. The Peace Corp drops people into a developing country and expects, with minimal training, they will not only survive, but will learn and grow. The Mormon Church’s major crucible experience is the mission all members go on, which includes dealing with rejection, learning how to resolve conflicts with the person they are on the mission with, and learning what it means to be Mormon in a non-Mormon world. Hell’s Angels’ crucible experience is the run, a long ride where the leader negotiates the passage from one location to the next, making it more challenging than last year’s run.

Tom Davenport led a discussion focused on if – and should – crucible experiences be institutionalized. He gave examples of team-building experiences such as people falling into each other’s arms and fire-walking, but it is arguable if these are crucible experiences.

Even the examples from the Peace Corps, etc., above are orchestrated in a sense. Bob showed videos of two people discussing crucible experiences and they were serendipitous ones, and also ones where it was easy to see that another person, in the same situation, would have been devastated instead of inspired. Part of what I learned from this discussion is that you can prepare people for, and to be receptive to, learning experiences, but can’t necessarily orchestrate them. I would like to better understand the role of reflection and the extent it can be encouraged or scaffolded, since that seems to me to be a major difference between how people learn from a crucible – or any – experience.

April 15, 2008 at 9:22 pm 3 comments

Seven Habits of Highly Connected People by Stephen Downes, Guest Contributor

Stephen Downes was kind enough to allow me to publish this here. I was especially interested in it because FranklinCovey was one of my clients when I worked at EDS. Watch for a version of this to appear in eLearn Magazine later this month!

With apologies – and all due credit – to Stephen Covey.

1. Be Reactive

There’s a lot of talk about user-generated content on the web. That’s great. But if publishing your own stuff comes at the expense of reading, and commenting on, other people’s stuff, that’s not so great.

The first thing any connected person should be is receptive. Whether on a discussion forum, mailing list, or in a blogging community or gaming site, it is important to spend some time listening and getting the lay of the land.

Then, your forays into creating content should be as reactions to other people’s points of view. This will ensure, first of all, that they read your comment, and second, that your post is relevant to the discussion at hand.

Posting, after all, isn’t about airing your own views. It’s about connecting, and the best way to connect is to clearly draw the link between their content, and yours.

2. Go With The Flow

We all know those people in our online community who are out to Prove Something, to Get Things Done, or to Market Themselves.

These are people we tend to avoid. Because no matter what the topic of discussion, they’ll weigh in with their pet project, peeve or talking point.

When connecting online, it is more important to find the places you can add value rather than to pursue a particular goal or objective. The web is a fast-changing medium, and you need to adapt to fit the needs of the moment, rather than to be driving it forward along a specific agenda.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any goals or principles for yourself. You should; that’s what will inform your participation. It’s just a reminder that your goals are not the same as other people’s goals, and therefore that your online participation needs to respect that fact.

3. Connection Comes First

People talk about not having time for email, of not having time for blogs. Sometimes they even talk about working without an internet connection.

It’s good to take a break and go out camping, or to the club, or whatever. But the idea of replacing your online connecting with busy-work is mistaken.

In almost all fields, connecting with others online is the work. The papers you write, the memos your read and toss – all these have to do with connecting with people. Even if you work with your hands, making cabinets or rebuilding engines, all your contacts with customers and suppliers are about connecting with people.

If you don’t have enough time for reading email, writing blog posts, or posting discussion lists, ask yourself what other activities you are doing that are cutting in to your time. These are the things that are often less efficient uses of your time.

If you are spending time in meetings, spending time traveling or commuting to work, spending time reading books and magazines, spending time telephoning people (or worse, on hold, or playing phone tag) then you are wasting time that you could be spending connecting to people online.

If you make connecting a priority, you can take that walk in the forest of vacation in Cadiz without feeling you are not caught up.

4. Share

We’re all heard the advice to “think win-win”. Forget that advice. If you follow that advice, you will always be looking at things and saying, “what’s in it for me?” That’s exactly the wrong attitude to have in a connected world.

The way to function in a connected world is to share without thinking about what you will get in return. It is to share without worrying about so-called “free-riders” or people taking advantage of your work.

In a connected world, you want to be needed and wanted. This will, over time, cause resources to be sent to you, not as a reward for some piece of work, but because people will want to send you stuff to help you to be even more valuable to them.

When you share, people are more willing to share with you. In a networked world, this gives you access to more than you could ever produce or buy by yourself. By sharing, you increase your own capacity, which increases your marketability.


RTFM stands for ‘Read The Fine Manual’ (or some variant thereof) and is one of the primary rules of conduct on the internet.

What it means, basically, is that people should make the effort to learn for themselves before seeking instruction from others.

Almost everything a person could need to know has been recorded somewhere online (by people who are sharing their knowledge freely). Taking the time and effort to look at this work is not merely respectful, it demonstrates a certain degree of competence and self-reliance.

For example, if your software fails to install, instead of calling customer service or posting a note on a bulletin board, copy the error message into the Google search field and look for answers. Almost every software error has been encountered (and documented) by someone before you.

Finally, when you do ask for help, you can state what you’ve read and tried, and why it didn’t work. This saves people from giving you advice you don’t need, and helps them focus on what’s unique about your problem.

6. Cooperate

Offline people collaborate. They join teams, share goals, and work together. Everybody works in the same place, thy use the same tools, and have the same underlying vision of the project or organization.

Online, people cooperate. They network. Each has his or her own goals and objectives, but what joins the whole is a web of protocols and communications. People contribute their own parts, created (as they say in open source programming) to ‘satisfy their own itch’.

This is probably the consequence of distance. Online, it is not possible to enforce your will or (beyond a limited extend) to get your way by shouting and intimidation. This means that online communications are much more voluntary than offline communications. And successful online connectors recognize this.

To cooperate, it is necessary to know the protocols. These are not rules – anybody can break them. But they establish the basis for communication. Protocols exist in all facets of online communications, from the technologies that connect software (like TCP/IP and HTML) to the ways people talk with each other (like netiquette and emoticons).

7. Be Yourself

What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being.

The only way to enable people to understand you is to allow them to sympathize with you, to get to know you, to feel empathy for you. Comprehension has as much to do with feeling as it does with cognition.

People who use online communications ‘only for business’ – or worse, feel that other people shouldn’t be posting cat photos or playing Scrabble on Facebook – are employing only a small part of the communications capacity of the internet.

Learning and communicating are not merely acts of sending content over a wire. They are about engaging in (what Wittgenstein called) a ‘Way of Life’. Having a cat is as important for a physicist as having an advanced research lab. These common everyday things form the mental structure on which we hang the highly theoretical structure.

The idea behind ‘being yourself’ is not that you have some sort of offline life (though you may). Rather, it’s a recognition that your online life encompasses the many different facets of your life, and that it is important that these facets all be represented and work together.

April 3, 2008 at 9:55 pm 23 comments

Talent, Devotion, and Compensation: Attracting and Retaining Teachers

Sometimes a juxtaposition is more powerful than a mashup. This morning I was at a public high school and later at a private school. While I was at each for different reasons, I was struck by the talent and devotion of the people at both schools. While I don’t know their salaries, compensation to attract and retain teachers and education support professionals is lower in the US than in other countries and lower than comparable professions. Teaching for many, myself included, is a labor of love and a chance to use one’s skills and knowledge to help others. Because of this juxtaposition I find myself wondering what triggers this devotion in people and what causes them to flourish in their profession, albeit in the very different environments I was in today. (The mental mashup here, by the way, was trying to understand the impact of salary after reading a press release about the Economic Policy Institute’s new study.)

Online teachers and adjunct faculty are typically compensated less, and have less prestige, than other teachers. While online teachers may have fewer advising or administrative responsibilities, they work very hard, sometimes harder, than teachers in the classroom because they have to master technologies and be available more hours. I wonder not only what triggers devotion in such teachers but what causes it to whither and even dissipate – and what role compensation plays in this.

April 2, 2008 at 11:27 pm 8 comments

Serious Games for Serious Topics

Learning to detect counterfeit currency or diagnose and treat a disease in time to save a patient’s life hardly sound frivolous. Yet “serious games” are increasingly being used for training for bank employees, medical students, and others as a way of making learning more compelling and simulating reality. Clark Quinn and I wrote a column in eLearn Magazine addressing if the design of a game, or even the fact that a game is being used, induces a sense of frivolity that lessens the impact of the learning for serious topics.

March 29, 2008 at 5:23 am 3 comments

Ten Reasons Why Podcasts Are Inferior to Text

Ten reasons podcasts don’t work for education are:

  1. It is faster to read than to listen to text.
  2. It is difficult to skim a podcast (fast-forward can sometimes be used) while most people skim text and carefully read the parts that interest them.
  3. It is easier and quicker to reread text than to replay part of a podcast.
  4. Interesting passages of text can be highlighted or, if online, copied into notes.
  5. Text can be illustrated.
  6. Most people, when driving, working out, etc., do not have the concentration to stay focused on an educational podcast.
  7. When a podcast is of high quality and slickly produced, it seems like entertainment, especially when it starts with music.
  8. When a podcast is of poor quality, the background noise or pauses and speech fillers are annoying to listen to.
  9. It is easier to get into a flow state when reading text because you are less likely to be multitasking.
  10. Deeper learning, as Don Norman says, “takes time and thought”, and it is harder to have deep thoughts when listening passively or when multitasking.

I developed this list after talking to some of Jared Spool’s students, who sent me an e-learning scenario centered on the use of podcasting. While writing this, I listened to a podcast that Jared made, just to make sure that my list was accurate. Part way through, my son called and I dropped off his cleats and then stopped at the track and ran because it is a sunny day and I had been sitting too long. When I got back, the podcast was still playing. Voice can convey nuances that text does not, and Jared is an entertaining speaker, but I prefer text and am unlikely to ever make podcasts for my students.

March 26, 2008 at 12:17 am 12 comments

Persuade Me I Need a Degree: How Unaccredited Online Degree Programs Advertise

The funniest emails caught in my spam filter are the ones that offer me degrees in various enticing ways. Since I am on a “top 10” kick this week, my favorites in my last perusal are the following charmingly ungrammatical ones (#2 reminds me of Porgy and Bess: “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”) or the ones that cause doubt (such as #1: can a degree ever expire?):

  1. Expired academic qualification
  2. Is your skills about to expired?
  3. Without books and education process call now
  4. MBA the hottest most sought after degree
  5. Receive PhD that you deserve from an Established Prestigious Institution
  6. Receive MBA very fast
  7. Nominated for a Ph.d
  8. Celebrate your life-long achievements
  9. Start earning the salary you deserve by obtaining the approopriate University Degree
  10. Your Degree shipped by Fed-Ex

In Degrees by Mail: Look What You Can Buy for only $499, I wrote about reading these online degree offers “more carefully than other unsolicited emails to find out how much the degree costs, how long it takes to ‘earn’ it, and what the plausible-sounding name of the institution is”. Now I just read the subject lines. But I still worry that these ads make it harder for the high quality online programs to move away from the déclassé correspondence schools that used to be so common. The biggest issues to me are how students find the high quality programs while avoiding the ones advertised above, and how employers know which online degrees are legitimate and from reputable institutions.

March 12, 2008 at 11:32 pm 10 comments

Eliot Spitzer Would Be Better Off If He Practiced What He Preached

Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, is embroiled in a scandal and announced that he “failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself”. His alleged actions are more notable because of his anti-corruption stance. (I also heard that governor was his stepping stone to the White House, which may never happen now.)

Not ever wanting to be accused of not practicing what I preach, I went to my list of Ten Things You Can Do in Ten Minutes To Be a More Successful e-learning Professional and did #8, to contact an e-learning expert. Actually, it was my own spin on #8, but creativity and designing for our target audience are part of our profession!

Here’s what I did: I emailed Don Norman, who is an expert at many things, including e-learning, and is one of the people I most admire. I will add a caveat here that I know him and have asked him for advice before so I felt hopeful that he would respond. Don gave me brief feedback on the issue I asked him about, promising more since he was preparing for a trip, and detailed feedback on my blog, in particular, on my recent post on The Disconnect Between Patients and Doctors. As a result of this, I am writing a new post since I agree with his points.

Hence I have practiced what I preach and am better off for it since the insights I received will make me more successful. I bet Governor Spitzer wishes he had listened to his own advice.

March 11, 2008 at 11:29 pm 1 comment

Ten Things You Can Do in Ten Minutes To Be a More Successful e-learning Professional

You need a break and, instead of heading to the coffee pot, what can you do in 10 minutes that will refresh and energize you and increase your job satisfaction and career success?

  1. Find an e-learning conference to go to and send an email to your manager giving 10 reasons why this will help you perform better. If travel is a problem, find a local seminar to go to.
  2. Find an e-learning conference to submit to. It is much better to go to a conference as a speaker and the process of figuring out what you want to talk about and writing an abstract will be a valuable reflection process.
  3. Write a short description of what you learned at the last conference or seminar you went to or the last article or book you read and circulate it to your colleagues. They will appreciate it and it will reinforce what you learned. It might also help your chances of getting funding for your next conference (see 1).
  4. Do a search on “e-learning”, “instructional design”, “online degrees”, or another topic related to your job and see what people find. Refine your search and try again. Maybe you’ll find something you want to look at, maybe not. If not, use the rest of your ten minutes and search on something totally different, like “swing dancing”, and see if you like the results better.
  5. Write a note your manager with 10 reasons why you deserve a 10% salary increase. Don’t send it unless you came up with the reasons quickly. If you struggled with the list, rewrite it as the 10 things you need to do to deserve a 10% salary increase. Then act upon it.
  6. Take an online course – or at least part of one- and think about how it is designed rather than the content. What are 10 things you would do to improve it? (What would colleagues say if it was your class they were going through?)
  7. Read 10 current e-learning job descriptions and see how many you are qualified for. Write down 10 ideas for your own professional development just in case you ever want to go job hunting.
  8. Email the e-learning expert you most admire and ask him or her to schedule a 10 minute phone call with you to discuss your three most important questions about e-learning. Write up what you learn (when you have the call) and circulate it to your colleagues (see 3). Also, make sure you introduce yourself to that person at your next conference (see 1).
  9. Do a search on “learning technology trends” or “Web 2.0” and identify at least one new technology you know little about that has the potential to improve what you do. Read one or two articles about it.
  10. Ask a colleague the most exciting e-learning idea he or she has had or read about recently and discuss it why it is exciting. You can do this by phone or email, but over coffee is best. See, you get to go to the coffee pot after all!

Finally, think of your own idea for a 10 minute activity that can renew and improve your e-learning practice and post it as a comment to this article so others can benefit.

Thanks to Mark Notess for suggestions 7-9 and to CIO Magazine for inspiring the idea.

March 10, 2008 at 8:37 pm 27 comments

Who Am I Today? The Problem of Multiple Online Identities

At a course I taught on Online Health Communities, one of my students described how he investigated and tracked down a person who had a dozen personas in the community he managed. MIT Technology Review reported how a social networking site, Moli, allows (and encourages) users to develop multiple profiles and control access to them. The issue here is that everyone has multiple facets and it is difficult to portray and maintain multiple personas online, whether for honest or fraudulent purposes. I may not want the readers of eLearn Magazine to know that my passion in life is swing dancing (oops!) or to package my consulting skills to fit a profile form. LinkedIn, for instance, only allows you to select one industry. I selected “e-learning”, but could have accurately chosen “higher education” or “health, wellness, and fitness”. “Dance” isn’t even listed.

March 4, 2008 at 10:33 pm 1 comment

Using a Blog to Aid Reflection (or Would Thomas Jefferson Write a Blog?)

Thomas Jefferson said, “One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.” Robert Davison, in Learning through Blogging: Graduate Student Experiences, finds that blogs help his students at City University of Hong Kong reflect on what they are learning and on the applicability of it to their jobs. He has them blog both in class and on their own. I think the very prolific Thomas Jefferson would have been an active blogger (although not Twitter or other social networking tools), and, like Robert’s students and me, would have found it aided reflection.

March 4, 2008 at 1:48 am 1 comment

How to Find Job Security in 2008: Become an Information Funnel

Disintermediation was a buzzword of the past decade when people saw how the internet could essentially remove the middleman. This led to more empowered consumers (another buzzword) with a wealth of resources at their fingertips (via their keyboard). In other words, someone with a problem becomes a knowledge seeker, wading through the results of searches, but due to the volume and uneven quality of information and pervasive poor information literacy skills, many don’t find useful help. Internet-based intermediaries have had limited success.

The solution is information funnels. These are people who

We all give advice based on our experiences caring for a child or aging parent, dealing with a health problem, changing careers, or finding love. However, many of us have tunnel-vision since our expertise is based on limited experiences. This is where the information funnel comes in.

Here is an example: my friend, Joanne Rosenthal, is a social worker specializing in elder care. She offers a consultation with someone whose aging parent is no longer able to live alone and unassisted. She steers them to the services they need now and may need in the future, including the web sites that she has vetted. I just did a search on elder care and got 4,600,000 results, and who knows if I even even used the best term. Another example: for clients who want to move into e-learning but don’t know where to start, I teach them about the range of possibilities for online courses, the terminology, and the technologies, and map out a strategy for them. Whether Joanne or I do the actual work, we funnel the most useful information to our clients.

I believe this is true for all domains and is arguably the growth job in 2008.

Thanks to Larry Prusack for inspiring me over a coffee at Starbucks!

March 3, 2008 at 2:37 am 4 comments

Donald Trump: Meet Katie Gibbs

Katie Gibbs, also known as Katharine Gibbs School or Gibbs College, is closing in Boston when the current students graduate. The school, founded in 1911, started off as a finishing school for women who were entering the working world. The original focus was on office skills, but other programs such as digital media were added in recent years. Before Katie Gibbs goes away, I have an idea for its resurrection, and there couldn’t be a better savior.

Donald Trump has a blog now, and writes in it about topical issues such as how a man “can get migraines, feel less satisfied with his overall life, and even get clinically depressed” if his wife earns a larger salary. This particular post includes a link to research and advice, including the concluding “if you still can’t deal with it, then go out and get a better job.”

While the blog states that there are other contributors, this particular one was posted by Donald Trump. I have trouble imagining him writing this himself. Does he go through the process of having an idea, jotting down a few notes, running the idea by a colleague, checking for grammatical errors – it’s not that I think he’s lazy, it’s just that I imagine more likely that there is a staff tasked with posting interesting blog entries, possibly based on his initial idea, or, more likely running a few ideas by him and scurrying off to write up the ones he doesn’t grunt at.

But who are these employees? Here’s my idea: Donald Trump could make Katie Gibbs a new school within Trump University. Most universities have multiple schools within them; Harvard University has the Medical School, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, etc. This new online school could teach the skills needed to help CEOs succeed – not teach the CEOs, but teach their assistants, like the original Katie Gibbs did. There would be “Blogging 101” to teach how to write blog posts that make your boss sound like an insightful person, “Inbox Management”, and the other skills necessary to survive today. Since so many involve technology, how perfect that the school will be online.

February 22, 2008 at 8:00 am 3 comments

Bond Better, Doodle, and Control Disruptions in the Classroom

A friend and colleague, Kay Aubrey, and I just discussed some techniques she learned through focus group moderator training. She recommended Moderating to the Max for both running focus groups and energizing lectures. I was especially interested in this because I recently offered advice to a retired elementary teacher who wants to run focus groups. Her classroom skills seem ideal: listening, pulling out the ideas behind the words, and making sure everyone is heard.

I run strategic planning sessions, which is a great way to refine moderation skills, since otherwise you can’t accomplish the group’s goals. Before this conversation with Kay, I never consciously thought about how many of the skills for teaching, moderating, and presenting overlap. The introduction to the book (courtesy of Amazon’s Search Inside!) says that moderators need to know how to lay the ground rules for participation, help people feel comfortable, encourage responses, ask questions, probe for clarification, segue between topics, and stay on course. This is the same as teaching and presenting.

Kay offered me some further insights into these overlapping skills based on her experience teaching:

“I teach qualitative research skills to my classes as part of teaching usability and design. I use my class time as a way to improve my overall moderating skills and have found that it helps me develop stronger bonds with the students. I encourage each person to express their thoughts at least once during every class, which keeps the students’ attention more focused on the class as they never know when I will call on them. As they talk, I listen very intently to what they say, probing to get them to clarify their thoughts. The best classes are when the students ‘go on a roll’ which in focus group parlance means the moderator steps back and lets the group run the discussion, as long it meets the study objectives.

“Sometimes when I am teaching a group of people who seem to be able to handle a bit of whimsy, and the class energy level dips, I use exercises from Moderating to the Max. One of my favorites is ‘pass the doodle’. I ask each student to take a blank sheet of paper. I announce a topic that most will have a definite opinion on but that won’t create strong negative emotions. I ask them to doodle a quick picture to express their thoughts. After two minutes I ask them to pass their doodle to a person to their right, who adds to it, passes it along, and so on until everyone has doodled on each page. Then we post the pictures and as a group interpret the meaning of the drawings. This is not only a fun activity for adults, but it also is a valid qualitative technique that you can use in a focus group!”

Kay went on to say that she has used techniques from her training in focus group moderation to control disruptive students. I assume she uses more sophisticated techniques than time outs.

February 14, 2008 at 12:26 am Leave a comment

Is e-learning Safer?

I have been wanting to write a column entitled “Is e-learning Green?” but have not yet located the data to show the differences in energy consumption between taking a course at home or in a classroom. Instead, after just reading an article about personal safety and about how a woman killed two students and herself at Louisiana Technical College, I started to wonder about the differences in safety between home and the classroom.

The personal safety article discusses how to “Be Smart When You Park”, “Drive for Life”, and other ways to stay safe. This resonated with me since I talk on my cell phone while walking at night from the building I teach in to my parking garage. While I have never seen campus violence, an article in response to the Virginia Tech murders says that “fatal mass shootings in our nation’s elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges number just over 250 killed in the past 80 years. While shooting violence is worsening, it does not approach the toll of other violence on our college youth. We all seem unable to assimilate the fact that thousands of college students are dying violently each year.”

I can not find evidence of deaths or violence in online courses, so, domestic violence and natural disasters notwithstanding, being home seems safer. The flip side is the satisfaction of being with other people, which has also been shown to have health benefits. In a WebMD article, Prof. Thomas Glass found that “Social engagement was as strong as anything we found in determining longevity,… stronger than things like blood pressure, cholesterol, or other measures of health.” Marriage also has health benefits, such as lowered incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Are you more likely to meet your spouse on campus or in an online course?

February 11, 2008 at 11:48 pm Leave a comment

Tech Populism and Learning: Integrating Everyday Tools

CIO Magazine lists tech populism as a trend for 2008, a term that refers to the use of consumer technologies in the workplace. Teachers, students, and subject-matter experts are all bringing everyday tools to learning. Teachers want to use the same tools to teach that they are using in the rest of their lives, and may feel constrained by the tools a school has in place although it may be easier for students to have consistency between their courses. Students similarly may have many tools they use for personal communication that can’t be used with their teachers. And despite the greater understanding of the value of informal learning, subject-mater experts may not want to learn complex tools to capture their expertise.

My own recent experience with tech populism is that, after starting to use WordPress last month, I immediately saw how to reformulate the final project in my Online Health Communities course. Since only some of my students know Photoshop, html, etc., WordPress will make it easy for all of them to do their projects online, which will in turn give them a better learning experience since it will be easier to get feedback from each other as well as from me. The biggest danger I see with tech populism is if chaos ensues, for instance, if I offer a default tool but my students can choose any tool they know, for those who prefer to use Facebook or ning. There will always be a trade-off with tech populism, since what is easiest for one group, say my students, may create more work for another, in this case me.

February 10, 2008 at 9:33 pm 1 comment

Breathing, Jumping, and Storytelling Enhance Presentations

I love to give talks and jump (no pun intended, read on to see why!) at the chance, but I know many people who do not gleefully anticipate giving a talk. Tonight I spoke at the Greater Boston Chapter of ASTD, and was one of a number of presenters speaking on Effective Presentations Skills. In this fantastic session, I learned a lot from the other presenters, most notably (this is off the top of my head) to breathe deeply to be calmer, to jump in place repeatedly (before a presentation, not on stage!), to have a conversation not give a presentation, to crave feedback to improve presentation skills, to use humor at the start of a presentation, and to use storytelling to make presentations more compelling and memorable.

The last one comes from me, and I learned the benefits of storytelling from teaching online. Storytelling at a Distance goes into many of the reasons why storytelling is effective and, personally, I have more fun and am more relaxed telling a story than addressing bullet points on a slide. While storytelling is generally what a presenter does, it is often beneficial to elicit stories from the audience to make a point that resonates with the audience (or should I say the people I am having a conversation with?) However, it is helpful to have a plant in the audience in case no one volunteers or if you want to have a sense in advance of what someone will say or how long they will talk for.

Finally, I learned last night that, when in PowerPoint, “B” turns the screen black and “W” turns it white for those times when you want to hide your slides but not put everyone in the dark. I can’t wait for my next talk so I can try that and the other tips I received.

February 8, 2008 at 8:17 am 1 comment

e-learning, Diet Coke, and the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is all you hear about these days in Boston, where our sports teams are doing great (how ’bout those Red Sox!) I’m not a huge football fan, but I read reports of how Tom Brady practiced yesterday and his right ankle was not taped, swollen or discolored. And I stock up on Diet Coke at Super Bowl sales.

Technology is playing a greater role every year in sporting events. Social networking is being used by Nielsen to rate Super Bowl ads. “Nielsen Online also will provide real-time analysis of messages and opinions from 70 million blogs, message boards, online communities, video-sharing sites and sports enthusiast sites.” Their site, Hey! Nielsen, is “a way for you to influence the TV and movies you watch, the music you listen to, and more… all while making a name for yourself.” Clearly someone at Nielsen saw that Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2006 was You. I’d like to learn more about the technology they use for text analysis and drawing meaningful conclusions from these millions of messages.

But what does this have to do with e-learning? I kept hearing on the radio “blah blah University of Phoenix Stadium blah blah” before it hit me – the 2008 Super Bowl is being held at University of Phoenix Stadium! The University of Phoenix’ home page doesn’t mention this, but it can’t hurt enrollment. Does this mean e-learning has reached a tipping point?

My biggest take-away from all this has nothing to do with sports (although I might look for an online course to finally understand football). What I learned was linguistic. Today’s Boston Globe reported that “Plaxico Burress went Joe Namath on us Tuesday and got a lot of headlines.” Joe Namath? I’m going to use that 3 times in a sentence today.

January 31, 2008 at 10:15 pm 6 comments

A Receptive Audience: How to Learn When You’re on Hold

Paul English, a fellow U Mass Boston alumni, set up a site to get human assistance when calling a toll free number. While a useful service, there is also the problem of what to do while on hold. Generally you’re stuck listening to music that you would not normally add to your playlist, to say the least. With a speakerphone or wireless headset, it is easy to do something else while waiting. But instead, why not make it a teachable moment?

I was on hold today, trying to reach someone at the Delray Medical Center, and listened to their “Health News Network”. I learned about the signs of diabetes and the advantages of early detection, anxiety disorders and their symptoms, what a heart attack feels like, and other medical information. Each snippet ended with a phone number to learn more, get a physician referral, or join a support group (I think that was for diabetes). While it was ultimately advertising, the emphasis was on being informative. Since I was on hold for a while, I got to hear it repeated a few times, which can aid learning. Furthermore, anyone who is calling a medical center has or has a loved one with a health concern and is likely to be a receptive audience.

Note: Stephen Downes and I turned this into a column, Advertising or Education? Sometimes It’s Hard To Tell.

January 26, 2008 at 2:34 am 1 comment

Predictions for 2008 for e-learning

My annual predictions column is out, which includes a few predictions of my own. Some contributors, including Karl Kapp, Stephen Downes, Jay Cross, and Clark Quinn, blogged it. So did some people I don’t know, such as Ron Lubensky and Britne Rockwell. In addition, someone I don’t know emailed me and asked to be one of my “friends” who I call upon for predictions in the future.

January 25, 2008 at 3:27 am 1 comment

On Motivations to Contribute Knowledge and the Accuracy of Self-Assessments

Have you ever written a Wikipedia entry? I wrote an entry on Online Health Communities and also wrote about the process of submitting an entry (and keeping it there) in eLearn Magazine.

Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) and Rich Baraniuk (founder of Connexions) wrote an op ed piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, which concludes, “Everyone has something to teach. Everyone has something to learn. Together, we can all help transform the way the world develops, disseminates and uses knowledge. Together, we can help make the dream of Open Education a reality.”

I agree that everyone has something to teach but can everyone teach? Can everyone write? As Editor-in-Chief of eLearn Magazine, I have seen submissions with great ideas that were well-written, ones with great ideas that were poorly written, and so on. Clearly not everyone can write, but I still appreciate that they are motivated to express their ideas.

The November 2007 issue of CACM had an article about what motivated Wikipedia contributions and the primary motivation was fun. A blog post “hypothesize[s] that the motivations for participating in volunteer question-answering services are different from participating in projects to create open information sources.”

I would like to hear more about the processes that Jimmy and Rich think should be set up to facilitate knowledge sharing. Will people contribute for fun or will they have other motivations? I thought I knew a lot about Online Health Communities when I wrote the original Wikipedia entry, but what if my self-assessment was flawed? Or what if I was knowledgeable but unable to express my ideas clearly? However, I certainly agree with Jimmy and Rich’s goals.

I also agree specifically about the value of current information, since there are no reasons other than historic for including Pluto in a list of planets. And I know that my college Astronomy course does not qualify me to write about Pluto’s current classification.

January 24, 2008 at 7:42 am 5 comments

Dear Joe Namath

Dear Joe,

Congratulations on finishing your bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama! I wrote about your accomplishment in eLearn Magazine in a column about the impact of celebrities (you and Britney Spears) on hits. Please don’t feel exploited because I was genuinely delighted to read about your online degree. In fact, the purpose of this letter is to request your further insights: what was it like to be an online student? What are you going to do next – perhaps graduate school? Or start an outreach program to encourage other people who left school without their degree to return and complete it?

I look forward to hearing from you,


January 7, 2008 at 9:15 pm 3 comments

Learning to apologize

My latest column is about a “mental mash-up” I had about learning to apologize.

January 5, 2008 at 2:12 am 2 comments

Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa:


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