A long and fascinating week at the mLearn Conference in San Jose California leaves me full to the brim with the joys of seeing friends, meeting new colleagues and challenging myself to stuff as much new information as I can into my aging brain matter.
Conferences always leave me with a mix of exhaustion and exhilaration and I worry that I’ll forget one of those thousands of little promises to email, answer a question, forward a note to a colleague etc. At present I’m seated snugly in the booby prize seat of a rather large jet rocketing homeward at nearly 30,000 feet. Glorious mountains below are treating me to a sensational parallax scroll against the lightly scattered puffball clouds and the wing of the plane.
I joked to someone special that I was destined for armrest wrestling with a nice young man who is seated next to me. You know what I mean? That endless dance of elbows trying to be courteous on a four hour flight but sooner or later bound to do battle in pursuit of whatever rest and relaxation might be possible within the bounds of these torture devices the airlines pretend are seats?
We all eventually accept with complacency the inevitable conventions foisted upon us, airline seats, elbow wars, terrible eLearning modules. That’s hardly a new idea. Elmer Rice powerfully captured the sentiment of a complacent post-industrial society in the Adding Machine (1923).
Fritz Lang famously echoed the sentiment in 1927 with the release of Metropolis, and I’m certain that if we looked we’d find the notion complacency, whether in mass armies of Stepford surrender or as individual acts of apathy has been a part of the human condition since the beginning of time.
One of the things that often intrigues me at eLearning (and now mLearning) conferences is the number of people who are perfectly aware of the paradox, who recognize that the training they are developing will probably not be effective, but who pound it out as info-dumps nonetheless. I think in the end that Rice and Lang, while delivering poignant metaphors for the human condition, are equally giving us exaggerated representations of compliance.
People are seldom so generic or affable. At least not in Western society. Though neither are they as often willing to buck the reigns of convention as I would prefer.
I have taught in Higher Education for more than twenty years now. I have taught largely in brick and mortar schools, delivering lectures to large classrooms, challenging thought in Socratic circles, marching students around lawns in the spring and occasionally inspiring genuine learning by placing nearly insurmountable obstacles before learners in order to facilitate deep, earnest enlightenment and growth. I’ve endured countless idiotic administrations hoarding and rationing paperclips and ink, and craved toothpicks to prop open my weary eyes at meetings to plan the meeting to facilitate the … well meeting.
Along the way I’ve seen my share of brilliant young minds suffocated by a sea of jealousy and stupidity. I’ve seen miraculous partnerships that spawned innovation and excellence. I’ve learned from the students, and I have occasionally felt the legitimate warmth of congratulations for a job well done.
My point is that in all of that time I’ve never seen reflections of either Rice or Lang’s dystopic visions of mechanization and society bereft of humanity and compassion. In the end our acts of complacency, our choices to accept the status quo are our own. Of course we often make those choices because it’s the path of least resistance. Sometimes our rewards are based on expedience rather than quality. After all isn’t it easier to quantify the time it took to generate a course than the quality of that course?
There is a fair amount of risk involved in bucking the mainstream. Further, it is often just plain difficult to navigate a path you’re not entirely sure about. It’s easy to say – focus on the behavior you want to change and design activities that relate to that objective. But if you’ve never done anything like that, you’re now in the jungle without a GPS. In fact, it’s entirely possible that your early efforts will not be successful at all. It can take significantly more time to figure out what to do and how to do it. It can be challenging as you discover that there may not be technologies available to do the kinds of things you’re imagining would facilitate the learning. So I think a dose of reality is in order as you consider why the paradox.
If we hope as a community of colleagues to combat the malaise that leads to the infodump, we’re going to have to link arms, and share that arm rest. We’re going to have to reach out and share through any media, social, physical, virtual, ideological. We’re going to have to take risks, make mistakes and get messy. (I dare not neglect to cite that as Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus.)
So how are you creating active, interactive, engaging eLearning and training that challenges your students and leads to genuine changes in behavior? What have you seen work? How are you measuring success, defining objectives, and creating your content?
Whether you agree, disagree or see the whole issue from a different lens, I hope you’ll post comments and questions in the section below. I love hearing your ideas and know that there are kernels of wisdom all among us – I’d be thrilled to share an arm rest with you.