Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Elearning Apprentice

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
The Elearning Apprentice
Tony Karrer has taken the initiative to revisit a question asked in a previous post, about First eLearning:

What advice would you give to someone
new to the field of elearning?

This question is worthy of being asked twice.

I admit that I lurked on this one - for a few weeks.


My observation of teachers starting into elearning has shown that the usefulness of their experiences in the early stages can vary considerably. This is often because of ad hoc approaches to their so-called upskilling.

This post outlines the areas of need I believe are essential for a first elearner. They are listed roughly in order of importance, but all are essential.

No skill is too rudimentary to acquire:

Learners who are willing to put in the time, pursuing a grounding in these basic skills, on their own or in a course designed along the lines given here, will be well on the way to coping with elearning.

At first reading, some of these skills may appear to be too rudimentary. If absent they will lead to faltering at the early stages when the elearning apprentice should be building on higher skills, as a student or as an elearning instructor.

All of the skills listed here are those an elearning instructor may well need in helping a student learn the same skills, and so must form part of the elearning portfolio.

Here's my To-learn-list for the Elearning Apprentice links to sections:
(Relevant information lies in a link at the start of each header.)
file management
search engines
study the URL
an image authoring tool
an html editor or html writer
skills in LMS or VLE

Pre-requisite 1: Why a knowledge of short-keys?

As basic as this skill may seem, it is essential for any elearning apprentice to have a practicing knowledge of the rudiments of using short-cuts on the keyboard. Without these skills, working with the mouse on pull-down menus would prove tedious in the extreme. Short-keys are powerful key-strokes that find universal use on a huge variety of software.
Pre-requisite 2: Why file management?

File management skills are essential for e-tidiness. As much as these seem old hat (back to basics and all that) ignoring their essential worth can mean confusion, and even some real headachy problems for the apprentice elearner
later on.

As well, fundamentals such as knowledge and understanding of file dimension and file size, and the distinction between the two, are part of the ABC that an elearning apprentice must follow.

Pre-requisite 3: Why netiquette?

Basic communication skills are often overlooked. Elearning apprentices need those skills if only to assist with their own learning. For anyone intending to use their elearning skills for the instruction of others, netiquette is a life and death necessity.
Pre-requisite 4: Why search engines?

Being able to search effectively using a database or web search engine is another fundamental skill. It brings into play pre-requisites 1 and 2, and is the bread and butter of the elearning researcher.

Pre-requisite 5: Why study the URL?

Understanding the structure of a URL and what it means to the technician is key to understanding how links operate in web-based elearning today. An introductory knowledge of how a URL can be applied utilises a direct application of file management skills.
Pre-requisite 6: Why an image authoring tool?

An in-depth knowledge of an image authoring tool is not required and could well be a waste of time. I’d recommend that this be a part of an introduction, but not a major component. It can provide significant useful transferable skills.

Designing images and attempting to make a simple animation can give an elearning apprentice the feel of how these tools work. Much of the fundamental theory of how they function is also transferable. Some authoring tools are more complex to use than others. The simplest is probably the most efficient to use in terms of time spent learning the basics.

For instance, creating an animation in PhotoShop ImageReady involves much the same principles as in Flash. ImageReady is more likely to convey the principles with less angst
and in a much shorter space of time, and so prove more effective. It may be that a suitable Web2.0 tool can convey the same transferable skills.

The emphasis is on the transferable skills.
Pre-requisite 7: Why an html editor or html writer?

Once again, there are a lot of transferable skills that can be acquired from a good introduction to html writing/editing, without having to learn much at all of the hypertext markup language (html).

A good WYSIWYG that permits the learner to appreciate layout as well as functionality, can open up a cornucopia of valuable skills.

Building html in single pages on a server with relative links to images and other pages on the same server can also provide invaluable practice in file management. Building html in single pages with absolute links to Internet sites can be a useful skill for the elearning instructor.
Pre-requisite 8: Why skills in LMS or VLE?

The application of the aforementioned skills come into their own when an elearning apprentice operates, hands-on for the first time, a learning management system or virtual learning environment, such as Moodle. These applications are the bread and butter of
elearning instruction.

In the unlikely situation where the elearning apprentice does not have the opportunity to use one of those applications, building a blog and actively using it with links, uploads, downloads and embeds can cover many of the skills required. Participation in challenges, such as the past Comment Challenge, can provide the elearning apprentice with many far reaching skills and ideas for life-long elearning.

Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


Sue Waters said...

I suppose the advice you would give a person will depend on what their job role will be in relation to elearning. I'd assume it would be considerably different in each of the following sectors: corporate elearning; Universities; Vocational education and training; and K12.

What I have found with work I've done with educators is new people focus too much on learning how to use the tool and lose sight of the reason why they might use the tool.

I like to use the analogy of learning to drive a car. When a person first learns to drive a car they spend all the time watching all the mirrors, stressing about changing gears etc. Unfortunately driving isn't automatic for them and they tend to drive off the side of the road. Educators new to elearning are similar to this.

My advice to them would be to keep your eye on the road and focus on the outcome.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Sue!

Certainly advice would be tailored to a specific niche - it would be short-sighted not to modify any program in the light of specific needs.

I'm not so sure ALL of the 8 would be changed considerably according to the sectors you describe. For instance, the first 4 pre-requisites would not need much altering - remember that this is an introduction that Tony is after.

The remaining 4, yes, some modification would be in order according to sector. But the basic intent would be there.

You are right with your analogy and I agree wholeheartedly with that. Thing is, with such a broad discipline with the capability to be everywhere dense with technical stuff, where do you start? It becomes chicken and eggish. One might go round in egg shaped loops trying to get a handle on everything and end up scratching in the dirt.

The KISS approach in the first instance would go a long way to keeping that focus. In any course, it would be the responsibility of the trainer/instructor to ensure that the necessary levity was given.

Keeping on track is always a difficulty with any elearning training. The balance is in judging how much to give and when to pull back.

Ka kite

Britt Watwood said...

Sue raises a great point, but I also see some value in tech basics. One of my colleagues yesterday suggested we have a brown bag luncheon on the wonders of right-clicking! We sometimes forget late adopters are not steeped in the tools the way you and I and Sue are.

But back to Sue - EVERY mention of a tool should also have a discussion of the WHY one uses that tool or application - how learning is impacted.

Sue Waters said...

@Ken I believe corporate training is very different from the others and more likely to involve instructional designers etc. So more likely to involve people trained in the area. University sector here is more about providing a repository for course material. VET sector here is an extremely variable approach ranging from learning objects through to social software.

@Britt Every workshop I discussed WHY one uses that tool or application - how learning is impacted and also good practice. Unfortunately every time newbies threw that out the window. What I noticed was those that had year(s) experience in elearning but were being shown a new tool were instinctively able to apply the good practices to the new tool while the new people couldn't.

My belief is we have to accept that up skilling people is a long term process (years) and should include mechanisms to ensure they use the tools to experience the learning themselves. Professional development should support this process.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Sue.

I was a corporate computer trainer for 5 years when DOS was all the rage. I'm now an elearning coordinator in another corporate environment where Microsoft and the Internet are large as.

Albeit a school, my charge is providing for teachers who answer pnones and sit in front of computers all day.

I've no doubt that some corporate environments may be vastly different, but the same basic tools will be there in all of them. We are talking about the very basics for First eLearners - or did I misunderstand Tony's request?

My experience in working with instructional designers per se who I've often had to relate to and they likewise with me, is that they could well do with some of what I put in my to-learn-list. How that's administered is another issue :-)

'Twas ever thus in training and education.

My post, which was put up after much deliberation on putting it up, is not about how these skills are imparted to the apprentice elearner. That would occupy, perhaps, a series of posts with quite a different pitch on the verbiage ;-)

This post is an attempt to address the question that Tony asked on first elearning.

I well understand the Catch 22 in education and training. The need for learners to have the skills and knowledge, and where they want to go at a time when they haven't got these, is the lot of the teacher/trainer/educator.

I also believe that a deal of responsibility lies with the learner.

The adage "You can take a horse to water..." is one I am philosophical about. Experience has taught me, sometimes bitterly, that the last part of the proverb is so true.

All the pedagogy, preparation, prescribing, prudence and proselytising that are laid at the feet of the learner can only be picked up by the owner of those feet.

When the student is ready, the master appears.

Ka kite

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Britt!

I concur with what you're saying about late adopters and people who, lets face it, are still just getting to grips with what's relevant about all this technology when used in the workplace.

We run regular workshops at TCS, for newbies and those who feel they need a boost. I am heartened to say that they have been very popular - long may they be.

It shows me that people DO want to keep abreast of things. Many of these participants are about my age. My kids put me in the O-T-H age-bracket :-)

I tell them you're never too young to learn ;-)

Ka kite

Tony Karrer said...

Fantastic post - really got me to think about some of the base knowledge that I often forget about.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Tony!

Thank you for that. I deliberated over the pitch of this post - the basic level of material in the list. Recent experiences in relating with people who will move into elearning environments kept me from editing out the basic material. It was not an easy decision.

Andrea Hernandez's recent post highlights exactly what we found at TCS. Base knowledge, often forgotten about, can be a catch for new players. That includes the instructors.

Ka kite

Geek said...

Very useful post!