Monday, January 25, 2010

Technologies to Watch in Higher Education: 7 Years' Worth of Predictions

The New Media Consortium and Educause recently published their annual Horizon Report, which "describes six areas of emerging technology that will have significant impact in higher education within three adoption horizons over the next one to five years" (Johnson, Levine, Smith & Stone, 2010).

In response, I compiled the lists of technologies to watch from all seven reports:


Time to Adoption: 1 Year or Less

Time to Adoption: 2 to 3 Years

Time to Adoption: 4 to 5 Years


Learning objects
Scalable vector graphics (SVG)

Rapid prototyping
Multimodal interfaces

Context-aware computing
Knowledge webs


Extended Learning
Ubiquitous wireless

Intelligent searching

Educational gaming

Social Networks & Knowledge Webs
Context-Aware Computing/Augmented Reality


Social computing
Personal broadcasting

The phones in their pockets
Educational gaming

Social networks and knowledge webs
Context-aware computing/augmented reality


User-created content
Social networking

Mobile phones
Virtual worlds

The new scholarship and emerging forms of publication
Massively multiplayer educational gaming


Grassroots video
Collaboration web

Mobile broadband
Data mashups

Collective intelligence
Social operating systems


Cloud computing

Geo-everything (geo-tagging of data)
Personal web

Semantic-aware objects
Smart objects


Mobile computing
Open content

Electronic books
Simple augmented reality

Gesture-based computing
Visual data analysis

Food for thought: Which technologies did they call correctly? Which ones not?

Johnson, L., Levine, A., Smith, R., & Stone, S. (2010). The 2010 Horizon Report.
Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Consumer Rights: You Win Some, You Lose Some

In this post: Three Victories / But the Challenges Continue / Now as Much as Ever, Buyer Beware

Every now and then, consumers win one or two—as has happened in the past month or so.

Three Victories

One of those victories is in my home province of Quebec, where newly passed legislation requires retailers to act more transparently—like not slapping on fees so that a special price becomes a regular one, making sure that gift certificates can be redeemed at their full value and with no expiration, and that prevent companies that have long-term agreements with customers from changing the terms and conditions of those agreements mid-term—or from automatically renewing customers (Life to get a little fairer for weary consumers, Montreal Gazette, December 14, 2009,

Visa handed consumers a second victory: in response to a string of complaints to its customer service line, Visa cut off hundreds of merchants for scamming customers (Visa Cuts Off 100 Merchants For Scams, Eileen AJ Connelly, AP Personal Finance Writer, December 17, 2009, According to the reporter Eileen Connelly:

Among the most common hustles: billing the credit cards of customers who thought they were getting free trial products like dietary supplements or teeth whiteners $79.95 per month or more, and then making them jump through hurdles to get the charges to stop.

But perhaps the biggest victory was offered by the US Federal Aviation Administration, which began requiring that airlines provide food and drink for passengers who wait on tarmac for 2 hours and start paying huge fines on airlines that make passengers wait for 3 hours or more on a tarmac (U.S. Limits Tarmac Waits for Passengers to 3 Hours, By Matthew L. Wald, NewYork Times, December 21, 2009,

And these fines are indeed huge: $27,500 per passenger (do the math—keeping 50 passengers on the tarmac is over a $1 million choice). Airlines have done this because they’re afraid of losing their place in the line to take-off, without realizing that passengers might have some different opinions about the subject.

They’ve promised to do better but pleaded for self-regulation, claiming they would do better. But when a plane sat overnight on a runway in my old home town of Rochester, Minnesota because an airline employee erroneously said they couldn’t enter the terminal—the latest in a string of incidents like it—the FAA finally realized that, perhaps, self-regulation wasn’t working. Another incentive was needed.

The fines were a last resort—coming years after consumers first began pleading for some sort of redress in instances like this.

But the Challenges Continue

And it appears that the Canadian government isn’t likely to respond to one of the largest consumer concerns with airlines here: misleading advertising (Ottawa fails to force airline ad reforms, Sarah Schmidt, Montreal Gazette, December 20, 2009,

For those not familiar with the situation, airlines here typically advertise attractive one-way prices—and usually require a round trip purchase. By the time the return trip and airline fees are added, the ticket price can be effectively quadrupled.

Airlines have resisted efforts to require they publish complete prices in their advertisements, claiming that consumers want to know the impact of taxes.

That, of course, is hogwash—most consumers need to know the bottom line price to figure out whether they can afford it.

Some provinces require complete pricing in advertisements but no national policy exists. The current government has promised to institute something—based on a previously made commitment. But they seem to be delaying.

Now, As Much as Ever, Buyer Beware

Consumers also need to be cautious about insurance. reports 10 Things Your Auto Insurer Won't Tell You (Jonathan Dahl, Among them, insurers often make deals that are advantageous to them, such as selling policies that are in their best interest rather than mutual best interests, and requiring people to use auto repair services that they own—and might not provide the best service.

Myths abound, too, about credit scores. In 8 popular myths about your credit score (Baltimore Sun, December 13, 2009,,0,6896489.story), reporter Eileen Ambrose sets the record straight on how misunderstandings about credit scores can result in unnecessarily credit fees.

But most significantly, some larger changes might not necessarily mean great things for consumers.

Although the US will be instituting consumer-friendly credit card benefits in the near future, Keith Bradsher reports that Australian banks—which have had similar restrictions for a while—have found all kinds of ways around them, like slapping on credit card fees to consumers for otherwise ordinary transactions like purchasing plane tickets (U.S. Looks to Australia on Credit Card Fees, New York Times, November 24, 2009,

And the products we buy with them are increasingly of lower quality. One of the Major Ideas of 2009 is that, in design, manufacturing, and service, Good Enough Is the New Great (New York Times 9th Annual Year in Ideas Supplement, December 13, 2009,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Middle Aged People Can Learn After All

Quick—before I forget—Barbara Strauch suggests “How to Train the Aging Brain” (New York Times, December 29, 2009,

She identifies the strengths and challenges of the middle aged brain (strengths—the older we get, the better we can get the main idea of something; weaknesses—our brains are so stuffed with facts that retrieving them becomes increasingly difficult to do on demand).

Then she suggests techniques for building on the strengths and addresses the weaknesses. My favorite--forcing people to confront ideas that are different than their own. That should wake them up.

Oh—one more good piece of news. Strauch extended middle age to the upper 60s. I feel like she gave me back some of my youth!

(Strauch is publishing a book on the subject this April.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Design Post--January 2010

In this blog post:
Great Design Ideas / Design Idealism Gone Wrong Astray / The Best d. Schools / Classic of Design Writing

At the Training Director’s Forum several years ago, one of the keynote speakers made an amazing insight: “Sometimes our best ideas come from non-competitors.”

What he meant was that we often look to our competitors for ways to act in the market, whether it be companies mimicking the products and processes of other companies or professionals mimicking the strategies used by the peers.

That mimicking may make us feel like we’re part of the in-crowd, but the solution to the problem we’re trying to address might actually lie somewhere else.

So, as we instructional and information designers move forward in the coming year, perhaps we can look to other branches of design for some inspired ideas.

In this post, I share some great design ideas, reflect on a case of design idealism gone astray, talk about the best d. schools, and close by recalling a classic piece of writing on design.

Great Design Ideas
Last month, the New York Times published its annual Year in Ideas Supplement. The ideas represented a spectrum of ideas and many are cross-listed under two or more topics.

In terms of design, here are some that caught my eye:
  • “Man-made greenery,” a tree-like device that looks like a “giant fly swatter” (actually, I thought it looked like an oversized cheese grater) and that acts like a tree, and absorbing carbon dioxide. and emitting cleans carbon emissions (December 13, 2009, Visited December 13, 2009).
  • Cul-de-sac-less developments which, as you might guess from the name, are suburban developments without the popular cul-de-sac. Although they might add value to properties, cul-de-sacs apparently are bad for snow removal and even worse for traffic (in fact, they may be the reasons that main streets are so clogged). Virginia is the first to experiment with the ban (
  • “The kitchen sink that puts out fires” does exactly what its name suggests. It uses sensors and misting technology used on oil rigs and cruise ships (there’s that looking-to non-competitors-for-ideas idea in action) attached to kitchen sinks to put out common kitchen fires, including grease fires (
  • "Good enough is the new great," a design philosophy that, as its name suggests, that consumers are increasingly contented with good enough products, ones that work 99 percent of the time, and they’ll put up with the glitches. Consider the difference in quality between nearly always-on land-line telephones and “oh, my line dropped you for a second” mobile phones. No one seems to complain too much. Didn’t say I loved the idea—just that it caught my eye. And as a pragmatist, I have not only seen this in action, I admit to having had practiced it (

Design Idealism Gone Wrong Astray
One of the coolest stores for design aficionados is Design within Reach, which carries replicas of classic mid-twentieth century furniture and design objects. But an expose in Fast Company suggests that the store is in disarray (Jeff Chu, December 1, 2009,

It’s a familiar story: entrepreneur/dreamer starts a web-based business and it takes off. The business gets a new round of venture capital, starts a heavy growth path so it can make an Initial Public Offering of its stock and make all of the investors and the founder rich.

Focused only on growing, the founder leaves, and a string of hacks take over the business and try to make it grow, without understanding what made it a great business in the first place.

To cut costs, Design within Reach designed and manufactured its own knockoff objects; and shabbily handled communication with the vendors who were being cut off (shabbily as in the store ended up in a bunch of lawsuits). So much for authentic reproductions. (The issues raised by the knock-offs are actually worthy of a separate post.)

It also stopped a policy of keeping guaranteeing immediate delivery of certain popular items.

The chain tried to expand into tools (I visited one of the prototype Tools within Reach shops this summer) and kitchens (apparently selling just one kitchen last year), to miserable results. From this readers’ perspective, the expansion sounded more like an homage to the CEO’s meglamania than a sound business strategy.

A new venture capitalist essentially acquired the company last summer, and installed a new CEO. Doesn’t sound like anyone will miss the old CEO but the real question is, can Design within Reach restore not only its profit, but also its credibility and luster.

The Best d. Schools
If you weren’t aware of it, Business Week, which has long track record of supporting design and innovation, ranks the best design programs in the world. And when they say the world, they’re not kidding. The top 30 listed represent every continent.

Most of the programs are based in business schools, a few in art or engineering schools. None focus on information or instructional design.

Check out the list at

Classics of Design Writing
As some of you might be aware, I’m on sabbatical this year. One of the treats is taking time away from everything and catching up on articles and books that I admit I should have read a long time ago, but was too busy doing something else (perhaps at one of the scores of committee meetings I attend each year, perhaps helping a student, or perhaps watching TV or checking this week’s specials at Target).

Here are two on design that put the art and science of design into perspective.

  • Nigel Cross’ Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline versus Design Science from Design Studies ( (He actually published several articles and books under the name “Designerly Ways of Knowing.”)
  • The Design-Based Research Collective’s 2003 “Design-Based Research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry,”(volume 32, issue 1, pages 5-8) in Educational Researcher outlines the rationale and methodologies used in design research. If you are like me—concerned about the practical challenges in implementing great designs for learning—this methodology offers some exciting options. (

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Identity and Entertainment

In this post: Defining Identity / Revisiting Identity / Despite Identity / At LongLast

A number of recent news items provide insights into various aspects of Jewish identity.

Defining Identity

One was a recent ruling in the UK on who is a Jew, at least for the purpose of attending government-funded Jewish schools (British High Court Says Jewish School’s Ethnic-Based Admissions Policy Is Illegal, Sarah Lyall, New York Times, December 16, 2009, A boy, who actively practiced Judiasm and had two Jewish parents, was refused admission to the school because his conversion of his mother was not recognized by the school’s administrators.

Given that the traditional definition of who is a Jew is determined by whether the mother is Jewish, the child was not recognized as Jewish and, as a result, refused admission to the school. The school only recognized Orthodox conversions. The mother of the child at the center of the lawsuit had converted to Judaism, but in a Progressive conversion (Progressive is the name of the Reform movement outside of North America and, technically encompasses the Reconstructionist movement). Progressive, Reform, and Conservative conversions are often not recognized by the Orthodox community.

Because the school receives its funding from the UK government, the child’s parents brought the matter to the courts, who sided with the family. Response to the ruling seems to appear along party lines: traditionalists aren’t happy, progressives are.

The Jewish community isn’t the only grappling with identity issues. Martin Fackler reports that a “Baby Boom of Mixed Children Tests South Korea” (New York Times, November 28, 2009,

As the result of a shortage of Korean women (especially in rural areas), many Korean men are marrying women from other parts of Asia, such as China and Vietnam. For a society that’s been homogenous for centuries, integrating children of mixed ethnic heritage is proving a challenge. Given that this boom is relatively new and the first children it produced are just entering school, Korean society faces many challenges in the years ahead—some likely to be similar to the one that the Jewish community in the UK faced.

Revisiting Identity

Moreover, the who is a Jew? debate isn’t necessarily a new one. David Brooks’ “Hannukah Story” (New York Times, December 10, 2009,, reframed Hanukah for me—from a struggle between ancient Jews and an outside conquerer to a struggle about who is a Jew and, more fundamentally, what constitutes living a Jewish life. His Macabees aren’t the heroes presented in Hebrew school; they’re fundamentalist leaders fighting secularists as much as the occupiers. Brooks puts the situation in a good light: he calling them “complex ironies.” For what it’s worth, I’ll never look at Hanukah the same way again.

Despite Identity

If some of the recent stories made us think, others made us feel. A Mideast Bond, Stitched of Pain and Healing (by Ethan Bronner, New York Times, December 30, 2009,, tells about the friendship of two children—a Palestinian girl left paralyzed by the bombing in Gaza and a Jewish boy who lost half his brain in an air raid. Their friendship, developed as neighbors in a long-term convalescence center for children, has spilled over to their parents, who have also formed a strong friendship. It reminds us that, even in the worst of circumstances, something beautiful can grown.

At Long Last

And on the quietest of nights, entertainment can still be found. Following the leads of many other cities, Montreal finally has had its own version of the Matzo Ball, the Christmas Eve dance for single Jews (Matzo Ball coming to town at last, Jean-Sebastien Marier, Montreal Gazette, December 23, 2009,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Professional Standards: Lazy Researchers and Communicators

In this post: Questionable Polling / Questionable Tech Reporting / Questionable Knowledge / Unquestionable Corporate Reporting

On the one hand, when we work as communicators and researchers, most of us in those fields believe we can sufficiently distance ourselves from the subject—and can sufficiently research our topics—so that we provide the people who depend on our work with accurate, complete information.

But a series of recent articles suggests otherwise.

Questionable Polling

Consider researchers. When he heard that the American Association for Public Opinion Research censured Georgia-based Strategic Vision L.L.C. in September “for failing to reveal information about how it conducted its polls during the 2008 presidential race” (Forensic Polling Analysis, New York Times 9th Annual Year in Ideas Supplement,, pollster Nate Silver found Strategic Vision’s response—they planned to sue the Association—a bit odd.

So he decided to do his own analysis on the polls. According to the New York Times story:

Silver took the results of every Strategic Vision poll question — from more than 100 polls on political races and issues of every sort — and analyzed the "trailing digits" in the results. (If a poll found that one candidate led another by 52-48, the trailing digits were 2 and 8.) Silver thought that, given the wide range of poll topics, the distribution of trailing digits should be more or less random. Instead — shades of "C.S.I." — he found a highly abnormal distribution of digits. For example, there were nearly 60 percent more 8s than 2s.

In other words, the statistical likelihood that these results would occur of these results is slim. And if the results did not occur naturally, then they probably occurred by some other means. And that raises the question of the credibility of these polls.

Questionable Tech Reporting

Of course, few people like to have their credibility called into question. But Ed Bott’s blog posting, “What the ‘Black screen of death’ story says about tech journalism” (Ed Bott’s Microsoft Report Blog on ZDNet,, suggests that several tech news reporters did a “sloppy” job of reporting.

Rather than carefully research a news story to ensure its accuracy, they chose the easy way out—adding a few words to a web story and publishing online. Briefly, on the Friday after the U.S. Thanksgiving (essentially, another holiday), an “obscure” consulting firm published a “blog post post accusing Microsoft of releasing security patches that cause catastrophic crashes in Windows PCs. The inflammatory headline reads: Black Screen woes could affect millions on Windows 7, Vista and XP.”

The story sat during the holiday weekend, but Monday morning, a reporter with IDG notices the posting. Rather than verify it, he, instead, posts it—almost guaranteeing coverage. Afraid of being scooped, several other “reporters” and bloggers carried the story either verbatim or close to it, without verifying the facts.

Scoop first, retract later.

And like the balloon boy, the supposed attack on Washington, and a host of other non-stories that could have been verified with one or two phone calls before their unnecessary publication, this one went on for days before being resolved. In this case, there was no black screen of death on Windows.

But it represents a black mark on journalism. But we don’t need to look at wide circulation press for this type of “reporting.” Consider the article,HR Technology: A Cost-Effective Business Solution, recently published online in the December 2009 Talent Management Magazine ( The author asserts that even in a downturn, this is a good time to invest in a talent management system—one that can cost an organization tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in some case, millions.

To what does she attribute this? A series of uncited facts. What’s her credibility? She’s the”Public relations coordinator at iCIMS, the third-largest provider of talent acquisition solutions.”

In other words, the hard-working editors at CLO Media have filled their pages by republishing a press release and saving themselves the expense of a reporter.

Questionable Knowledge

Not all cases of journalistic laziness are so blatant. Timothy Egan (Clueless in Costco, New York Times Online, December 16, 2009, reminds us that even the members of the mainstream press can have myopic minds. On their geographic illiteracy:

A New York book publisher, and Harvard grad at that, once asked me if I ever take the ferry up to Alaska for the afternoon. No, I replied: do you ever go to Greenland on a day trip?

And even though it’s not a journalist, this one about a discussion between a customer in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a customer service agent for the Salt Lake City or Atlanta Olympics:

“You’ll have to go through your own embassy,” a resident of Santa Fe was told when trying to order Olympic tickets for games on American soil.

Unquestionable Corporate Reporting

Fortunately, those are the noteworthy exceptions. Lest you think all communicators and researchers incompetent, I’ll close with a couple of encouraging notes.

Although most annual reports “don’t”…treat readers like “human beings,” according to the Financial Post’s Ian McGugan (When an annual report speaks volumes, December 18, 2009,, some do. Among those he cited were Warren Buffet’s Bershire-Hathaway, which has a reputation for open, honest communications.

If communicators and researchers were holding back on checking facts or accurately reporting information for fear of being sued, the Canadian Supreme Court handed reporters a pair of victories at the end of the year that provide the Canadian with much stronger support.

What was equally noteworthy about these judgments is not only that they were reported in the Canadian press, but also in some American papers (Canada’s Free Press, New York Times,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do It Yourself--Now It's a Management Philosophy?

(Cross-posted with the TC Manager Blog (

A few years ago, Harold Jarche commented that the future of learning is Do-It-Yourself (DIY) (Febuary 26, 2007,, in which subject matter experts prepare learning programs on their own, using software that lets them record soundtracks to Powerpoint presentations (like Captivate) or filling in templates from the learning content management systems used in their organizations.

David Merrill calls these people instructional-designers-by-assignment; they're not professional instructional designers who sought these jobs. They're people who, by virtue of their ability to explain things clearly or just because no one else was available, are expected to develop learning programs.

Although Jarche and Merrill may have been speculating, they are definitely onto something. The concept has received a lot of attention in the press in the last month or so—especially in the training press.

In her annual predictions for e-learning in e-Learn Magazine, Margaret Driscoll (my writing collaborator for a book and several articles) sees DIY as the dominant trend (

Agatha Gilmore (The New Workplace Mantra: 'Do It Yourself', Chief Learning Officer Online, January 2010, reports that the trend has moved beyond mere instructional design; one consulting firm found that it's standard operating procedure for many training organizations.

More specifically, Gilmore reports that many organizations are in-sourcing work that used to be outsourced. To address this trend, some organizations are teaching their clients how to do work on their own. (I don't know what's novel about this; the consulting firm I worked at in the mid-1990s has always offered this service.)

But perhaps Gilmore misses the larger picture. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman sees a Do-It-Yourself economy arising from the two trends noted above--the economic downturn forcing people to do for themselves tasks that used to be performed by others, plus the availability of new software tools to make doing-it-yourself easy (The Do-It Yourself Economy, New York Times, December 12, 2009,

Called the "The Great Inflection," Friedman defines it as "the mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies — from hand-held computers to Web sites that offer any imaginable service — plus cheap connectivity. They are transforming how business is done." To illustrate the great inflection, he describes how an ad agency in Minneapolis could develop a video for a client in a matter of days using low-end equipment; something definitely not feasible in earlier times.

This has profound implications for professional communicators and trainers. For those of modest skill, they can easily be replaced by a combination of subject matter experts and simple software. Yes, trained professionals might be able to produce high-quality work, but the simplicity and cost savings of avoiding these high-maintenance professionals might seem, for now at least, a worthwhile tradeoff.

Indeed, the experience of a Fool’s approach to DIY learning (that’s “fool” as in the name of the company that’s doing this—“the Motley Fool to be precise—not a comment on the strategy) is that “The results haven’t been perfect — not everyone is a natural-born orator, for example, and not everyone sticks to the plan” (Insourcing Education: A Foolish Approach, by Roger Friedman, CLO Magazine, December 2009,

In other words, although DIY does address cost concerns, it may or may not address quality concerns. The producers of the soap opera Guiding Light learned that one the hard way. In a bid to control costs, Guiding Light, too, adopted a DIY approach to rehearding and taping shows. The resulting low-tech production made the show look so amateurish that viewers abandoned it--so many did so that the 72-year-old show was taken of the air.

Professionalism costs, but it might be a life-saver.

Question for discussion: Are you “doing it yourself” in your organization? How is that affecting your technical communicators and trainers?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A New Year, A New Direction for Your Career?

(Cross-posted with the TC Manager blog.)

OK—The new year may be a few weeks old at this point, but January is a good time to start plotting a career change (Workplace Shaman: 'Tis the season to think about career change, Mary Pearson, Financial Post , December 18, 2009,

Some things to think about as you do so.

Don’t let your age limit your opportunities. As Pearson reports—let Susan Boyle serve as your inspiration.

Furthermore, evidence is mounting that the perception of older workers as deficient is a myth (The Myth of the Deficient Older Employee, New York Times 9th Annual Year in Ideas Supplement, December 13, 2009,

(On the other hand, don’t fool yourself—age-ism exists (see my September 2009 article in Intercom.)

Don’t try to be a celebrity—just try to do something well, Pearson advises. Recognition will follow.

She adds that people need to define success on their own terms—the success you seek might not come from your job; it might come from some other sphere of your life.

Honestly assess the likelihood of your plans. To do so, sometimes you might benefit from the guidance of a mentor— a more experienced person who helps a less-experienced one (Finding the Right Mentor Can Bolster a Career, Associated Press, New York Times, December 28, 2010, More than open doors and encourage you, they can help you honestly assess your skills and abilities and suggest ways you to address those skills that need development.

If it’s new skills you need—consider education (I’m a professor—I have to say that). Consider some of these exciting new masters degrees and new twists on existing ones:

  • Specialized MBAs, such as ones for clergy (Specialized M.B.A.’s: The Business of Zeroing In, Nancy Hass, New York Times, December 29, 2009, and an MBA for aviation industry workers (like the one at Concordia’s John Molson School)
  • Social computing (New Media: The Interactive Entrepreneur, Brian Stetler, New York Times, December 29, 2009,, such as degrees in social and interactive media
  • Education leadership degrees that combine both education and management courses (some taught in conjunction with them) (Education Leadership: Skills to Fix Failing Schools, Laura Pappano, New York Times, December 29, 2009, (apparently, these degrees are really hot—Harvard’s first class had far more applicants than spaces)
  • Narrative medicine (Narrative Medicine: Learning to Listen, Gina Kolata, New York Times, December 29, 2009,, which explores uses of storytelling to get a sense of a “whole” patient so he or she can be treated holistically rather than symptomatically.
And don’t forget--there's an educational technology degree at Concordia University in Montreal (hey—it’s a good program, why shouldn’t I plug it—there’s still time to apply).

Be prepared for hard work. If your experience is similar to mine, when I transitioned from working in industry to an academic career, the transition is slow, painful, and hard. Roadblocks will exist. Some will be imagined—others will be real.

Celebrate one success at a time. In those instances, remind yourself why you’re doing this, focus on the interim rewards you’re receiving, and don’t forget to celebrate the intermediate milestones along the way. They provide tangible evidence that you’re making progress on the challenging path you’ve chosen.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Popular Culture: Life and Death and the Half Century Mark

The last days of 2009 marked major milestones for some half-century-old entertainment institutions.

On a neative note, nearly 54-year-old soap, As the World Turns, was cancelled. We still have months of the World left (it will last air on the 52-week anniversary of the last showing of its sister show, Guiding Light), but the end is scheduled.

When it was at its best (a place it hasn’t been since the 2005-departure of headwriter Hogan Sheffer), As the World Turns was one of the most accurate and riveting portrayals of middle American life. I missed the Irna Phillips years (when the show was written by its creator—and soap opera genre founder—a prickly spinster who, according to her one-time protégé, Harding Lemay, had rather binary views of the world). But her work is considered to be pioneering; As the World Turns was the first soap to air in 30-minute format, the first to make an adultress into a sympathetic character, and created several prototypical characters, including Lisa Miller Hughes … Grimaldi (I can’t remember all of her last names).

I started watching at the beginning of longtime headwriter Douglas Marland’s years. Much is made of some of his groundbreaking stories—like the incest-based story of Iva, Rod, and Lily, the interracial romance between Duncan and Jessica, and the introduction of daytime’s first gay character.

But Marland’s Oakdale wasn’t a 1970s movie-of-the-week issue-prone story; it was a character driven story that contrasted people by their backgrounds and personalities, reflecting the whole canvas of modern American life, from farmers going into default to working wives who order their meals from the Pampered Palette—and couldn’t cook a meal if they tried. His characters were real and, as a result, they constantly surprised. No wonder ratings were high under his leadership.

His unexpected death sent the show into years of turmoil and disarray. The show recovered for a time, when Hogan Sheffer head wrote the show (his stories were great and true to the history of the show, and he won more Emmys than Marland, but I was always partial to Marland’s work). But when Sheffer left, he was replaced by a “showwrecker,” (as I recall her being characterized in the Wikipedia.

In the past, showwrecker merely meant the author of incomprehensible stories in which characters consistently act of character. But in this case, showwrecker seems to be an appropriate monicker. She wrecked the show all the way to cancellation.

Although the press and the network credit changing viewer tastes and lifestyle patterns for the cancellation (Daytime soap operas: why the bubble burst--A fragmenting audience and the rise of celebrity-driven talk shows spell the beginning of the end for one of television's oldest genres, Andrew Ryan, Globe and Mail, December 9, 2009, Visited December 11, 2009.)

And Today isn’t the only entertainment still going strong after a half century .

The Bee Gees, who celebrate 50 years in show business (Stayin’ Alive, New York Times: November 28, 2009,, also continue going strong.

Surviving as a duo following the unexpected passing of brother Maurice in 2003, Barry and Robin recently performed on Dancing with the Stars, and released an anniversary CD and DVD of their greatest hits.

Although they haven’t charted big as a group since the 1990s, they’ve continued to produce good work and work with other artists as well (Barry’s 1980s collaborations with Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers, Barbara Streisand, and Dionne Warwick were win-wins for all involved. A collaboration soon afterwards with Diana Ross was not as successful.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Article to Check Out

In "Locked Out: Bridging the Divide between Training and Information Technology," a just-posted article in the e-Learning Guild's e-Learning Solutions Magazine, Marc Rosenberg and Steve Forman describe how cultural differences between Training and Information Technology create tension in their increasingly inter-dependent work relationship.

As organizations increase not only their use of e-learning but, more fundamentally, on learning, performance, and talent management systems, pressure increases for them to strengthen their collaboration.

To help in this process, Rosenberg and Forman suggest several concrete steps that these groups can take to collaborate.

Note that the article is adapted from their chapter in Patti Shank's and my book, E-Learning Handbook: Past Promises, Present Challenges.

Higher Education Watch: Tuition Tax

Most higher educators might have missed this one over the holidays.

Desperate for new sources of revenue, cash-strapped Pittsburgh came up with a novel way to raise $15 million to cover its underfunded pensions: add a 1% tax to university tuition, according to a news brief published in the New York Times a few weeks ago (Pittsburgh Delays Vote to Tax Tuition, December 16, 2009, .

Because universities are legally nonprofit institutions, I believe that the law exempts them from property taxes. Unable to change that law, the city went after the people these nonprofit institutions serve.

The revenue opportunity is enticing: Among its many universities are two world-class ones—one private with high tuition (Carnegie Mellon) and one public with a high volume of students.

As I recall from my days as a (working) student there, Pittsburgh is already one of the few cities in the U.S. that has its own income tax.

So if those students are working, they’ll be taxed. And if those students are buying books, furniture, school supplies, clothing—they will also be taxed. So students are paying something. And soon enough, if Pittsburgh can create the jobs—and make itself an attractive place to remain after university—those students will be working, buying homes, and paying those pensions.

But this isn’t just a short-term money grab. I also see it as a long-term statement about the public view of the investment in education. And this financially desperate statement about tuition in Pittsburgh—one that, according to the New York Times, is being watched with great interest by many other cash-strapped cities with large universities inside their jurisdictions—is one that sends a chilling message.

Many of those students will be taking on tens of thousands of dollars in loans to complete their education. On some level, all of them do so because they believe that investing in an education in their early twenties will pay handsome dividends later. But those dividends—which include home ownership, capital purchases, and many other taxing purchases that ultimately benefit the city—will be further delayed when they have to take on more debt to close the financial gap of the city.

If anything, university endowments, which are still solvent despite the recent stock market crisis, are probably in a much better position to be covering this shortfall.

But the bigger issue is that the choice to tax tuition contradicts at least a century of public policy, in which governments have actively supported higher education and tried to make them as financially accessible as possible to the average citizen. Indeed, the student loan programs described earlier, are underwritten with government support.

And while Pittsburgh considered taxing tuition (and, effectively, raising it 1 percent), the U.S. federal government is looking for ways to keep more students in college, and encourage them to graduate. A tuition tax is not likely to aid those efforts.

The good news is that, for now, the mayor of Pittsburgh has dropped the idea, according to the website of local CBS affiliate KDKA (Proposed Pittsburgh Tuition Tax Averted, December 21, 2009,

But I have a feeling that the issue of making short-term choices whose long-term consequences take public policy in an unintended direction is likely to continue.

Social Media: Much Ado about What?

In this Much Ado: … About Something? / …Or About Nothing? / In Short

On the one hand, everyone’s talking social media these days. On the other hand, whether the amount of action matches the talk is a matter of discussion.

… About Something?

Certainly people are trying to integrate social media—like Facebook and Twitter and, to a lesser extent, LinkedIn and MySpace—into the mainstream. For example, Meryl Evans offers 32 ways to use Facebook for business (Web Worker Daily, July 21, 2009,

Some of my professional associations use them, too. STC/Rochester uses LinkedIn and Facebook to inform members, as does the Academy of Human Resource Development. I used to get some from ISPI, but those seemed to stop. Maybe they un-friended me, or maybe the novelty wears off.

(And speaking of unfriending; I recently realized that the person who invited me to join Facebook unfriended me. You don’t get a note, you just realize it. And an old friend recently extolled the virtues of Facebook to me—apparently unaware that I’m on his Friends list. But I digress.)

And when social media hit, they hit quickly and with impact—as French leaders are learning (As Web Challenges French Leaders, They Push Back, Scott Sayare, New York Times, December 12, 2009,

Apparently, an ordinary French housewife, responding to on an online video of a French politician, called the politician a liar, using a pseudonym to post her comment. The police traced her and started investigating, and the politician filed a lawsuit.

But the real issue may be the way that the Internet has changed the relationship between the public and their politicians, and the need for politicians to adjust to this new, Internet-based environment, which shows no sign of going away.

Social-networking is also affecting venture capital. One of the ideas included in the New York Time’s annual review of ideas is a service called Kickstarter, a website in which artists and humanitiarians with novel ideas recruit money, often in micropayments (Subscription Artists, New York Times 9th Annual Year in Ideas Supplement, December 13, 2009,

People can “invest” at a wide range of financial levels, receiving different “benefits” for different levels of funding. Some of those benefits are tangible, like copies of book or CDs being funded. Some are intangible, like appreciation from the artist.

Peruse the projects—many are quite interesting (

Closer to home, two then-unemployed Concordia University grads started what has become the most visited Men’s lifestyle website, (An 800-pound gorilla of men's lifestyle, by Roberto Rocha, The Montreal Gazette, December 22, 2009,

Apparently they got the idea while sitting in a café and noticed a guy wearing an Armani suit accessorized it with white gym socks. They wanted to save the world.

Believing that long-term opportunity exists in social networking, some universities are starting to offer social-media-themed master’s degrees, like Birmingham City University (UK) master’s in social networking, Elon University (USA) master’s in interactive media, and University of Southern California’s (USA) master’s in online communities (actually four years old) (The Interactive Entrepreneur, by Brian Stetler, New York Times, December 29, 2009,

…Or About Nothing?

But social media isn’t necessarily taking hold in e-learning.

A recent survey by Allison Rosset and James Marshall (E-learning: What’s old is new again, T&D (in print), January 2010—also reported during Research Day at the CSTD-IFTDO World Conference in October), suggests that the most common uses of e-learning supporting instructor-led and asynchronous instruction. Only a small percentage are integrating blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 features into their training.

And although they’re not watching soap operas (see my post on culture at 50), “TV Still Has a Hold on Teenagers” (Eric Pfanner, New York Times, December 13, 2009,

At least, that’s the case in Europe. A Forrester Europe study found that “European teenagers still spend more time watching television than they do with any other medium — 10.3 hours a week, on average. That compares with 9.1 hours on personal — rather than work- or school-related — use of the Internet.”

As surprisingly, that study also found that 12- to 17-year-olds spent less time on the Internet than 18-year-olds (who are online for an average of 2.3 hours longer per week than the younger ones).

And these teens are not necessarily fanatics of social networks—the survey found that only 41 percent visited social networks at least once a week.

In Short

Evidence exists that social and new media are shaking up old patterns of human interaction and creating new ones.

That pattern is certainly going to continue.

But the patterns that ultimately change often differ from those projected to change. Sometimes those changes are slight, sometimes they’re drastic.

This suggests that, when working with the new media, we learning and communication professionals need to remain faithful to the fundamentals—audience, purpose, and context.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

E-Books: The Promise and Perils of 2010’s “Big Thing”

In this Post: The Hardware / The Software / The Battle Grounds /A Parallel Universe

This post elaborates on my prediction for 2010 in e-Learn magazine (

As 2010 arrives, the technology pages of newspapers and tech magazines and websites are all abuzz about the arrival of Apple’s new tablet computer. They anticipate that this could be the hardware that ushers in the age of the e-book.

And so do I. In my e-learn magazine prediction for 2010, I specifically predicted that this year could be to e-books what 1998 was to e-learning (the rise of the e-learning industry). This post explores the issue in more depth and with more of a critical eye: the hardware, the software, the battle grounds, and a parallel universe.

The Hardware

Reports in early December predict a late January announcement and a late March shipment (Apple to launch tablet spring 2010: report, Gabriel Madway, Montreal Gazette, December 9, 2009,

More recently, Alice Rawsthorn speculated that the “impact of the ‘iSlate’ could rival the iPhone.” (New York Times, January 3, 2010,

(iSlate is one of the many guessed-at names for the product.) Although Apple has produced some products that weren’t hits (remember the Newton?), because this product is essentially an oversized iPod Touch and is perfect for reading books and periodicals online. Moreover, Rawsthorn speculates that existing e-readers are liked but not loved, and the Apple machine will change that.

The Software

Magazines aren’t waiting. Hit by the double whammies of large drops in ad revenue and drops in subscriptions and newsstand sales—partly attributed to the economic downturn, but also attributed to a slow but steady movement of readers from paid, printed content to free online content—magazines are hoping that this will be their resurrection. That some major daily newspapers and long-storied magazines died in this downturn, has only added to the urgency.

Stephanie Clifford reports on an attempt by several major publishers like News Corp, Time-Warner, and Conde-Naste, to open a digital newsstand (Magazines Get Ready for Tablets, New York Times: December 15, 2009,

Details of the venture are sketchy, but the idealized version of the magazine can be seen in 3:10 YouTube Video of the tablet-based Sports Illustrated. One of the reasons that magazine publishers prefer tablets is that they have been consulted in developing these machines; they weren’t included in developing the Kindle or Sony Reader.

The Battle Grounds

But what is a magazine, really, especially after it moves online? In a piece for the New York Times Magazine, Virginia Heffernan (Articles of Faith, New York Times, December 30, 2009, provides insights by exploring the success and failures of some of the earlier ventures, including the gimmicky Feed (which didn’t really succeed), and the content-focused Slate and Salon (though approaching content differently). She suggests that success requires more than gimmicks to succeed; there must be a focus to the content and take advantage of some aspect of the new media.

More than the quality of these online magazines, can they make money. Richard Perez-Pena and Tim Arango’s exploration of the topic (New York Times, December 27, 2009, suggests that could be a problem; users seem comfortable with their free content and some new media sites, like the Huffington Post and Daily Beast, will likely remain free, even after some currently free sites try to institute a payment structure.

Clearly, magazine publishers are concerned by the slow but steady movement of readers online. So are book publishers.

In an Op-Ed piece on the topic, Jonathan Galassi argues that “there’s more to publishing than meets the screen” (New York Times: January 2, 2010,

Galassi responds to an earlier piece in the New York Times by Mokoto Rich, which explored the battle over the e-publishing rights to the works of William Styron, who wrote “Sophie’s Choice,” among other books (Legal Battles Rage Over E-Book Rights to Old Books, New York Times, December 12, 2009,

Galassi argues that original publisher Random House invested significant work in Styron’s print book, and should benefit now. But Styron’s heirs have given the rights (which were not part of his original deal with Random House) to another publisher.

I have personal perspective to share on this point. Although Random House might have invested a tremendous effort in making Styron’s book successful, and indeed, ASTD Press provided similar support for making my two books with them successful, my experience with other publishers suggests that they merely see authors as a source of content. They invested little in books—and charged the authors for what work they did do—and then did not provide the promised marketing or support. In instances like this, the publishers have inadvertently encouraged their authors to look elsewhere for a better deal. Admittedly, a self-publishing service like Lulu does not provide all of the services that a traditional publisher purports to offer. But if the publisher doesn’t deliver the services that are supposed to make them attractive, then why shouldn’t authors go elsewhere?

In fact, Google’s effort to digitize all of the books in the world and sell those it can has raised numerous questions about rights. Although a settlement was reached in the US, Google lost in France and has been ordered to remove digital versions of French books from its site or face hefty fines (Mathew Saltmarsh, Google Loses in French Copyright Case, New York Times, December 18, 2009,

A Parallel Universe

Although this post has primarily focused on e-books and periodicals, television is facing similar battles. On the one hand, while cable subscribers in Cedar Rapids, Iowa prepare to become the battle ground between cable companies and network television stations about whether cable companies pay carriage fees to television stations (cable companies say they shouldn’t have to, television stations—facing increasing competition from cable and ad rates in free fall—want the new revenue stream to survive) (David DeWitte, Mediacom-Sinclair dispute part of larger, national battle, Cedar Rapids Gazette Online, December 25, 2009, If the cable companies refuse to anty up, cable subscribers won’t receive the signals (and the football games). (And as I finish writing this, I learned that the Food Channel and Home and Garden TV have been shut off on Long Island over cable carriage fees.)

But the battle over carriage may be a moot one in the end; alternatives to cable are already starting to appear. Nick Bilton provides how-to instructions of a sort on how to watch current television shows without cable—all by downloading from the internet (and legally at that) (Cable Freedom Is a Click Away, New York Times, December 9, 2009,

But other reports suggest that some major cable providers plan to make shows available to their Internet subscribers—and without having to have a cable subscription. Also, iTunes is rumored to be planning cable-replacement alternatives, too.)

In the end, it all starts and ends with Apple.