Learning Technologies book from Donald H Taylor

Thoughts on: “Learning Technologies in the Workplace”

So after picking up a copy a while back I’ve now had a skim through Donald Taylor’s book and thought I would capture a few thoughts here:

  1. I really like that it goes back to the origins of some of our key concepts (e.g. eLearning and technologies).  No doubt due to my history studying background, I have a soft-spot for books that consider historical perspectives.
  2. It does a nice job of linking those historical issues to the current state of play; with recommendations from and for the usual suspects: Jennings, Harrison, etc.
  3. It feels like the kind of book that could become somewhat seminal – the kind of history/good practice balance that often act as an entry point for people coming into an industry (or, in this case, HR generalists up-skilling in this area).  What makes me say this are various, perhaps unintentional, attempts to establish standards – such as a move for the use of ‘e-learning’ over ‘eLearning’ and other variations.  I know that example is basic semantics but it is indicative of the industry that such things have never really been agreed – I’ve certainly tended to always use eLearning and a lot of Don’s webinars/presentations around the book’s launch have stressed that this kind of text has never really been done before for learning tech and the question really for him in authoring it was “why not?”.  My view would be that its just been presumed you can pick up bits and pieces from conferences, blogs, etc. rather than needing a ‘go to’ text.  I am certainly going to treat it as such and pass my copy around my team!
  4. The book adopts the approach of Clive Shepherd in using e-learning as the generic term, under which includes the traditional self study model but also virtual classrooms, social tools, etc.  Personally I prefer ‘online’ or ‘digital’ as the umbrella, under which ‘click next’ style content is what we call ‘e-learning’.  Again it is semantics but you do often get misunderstandings if you are not explicit – for example, a static PPT file is IMO a resource (or ‘piece of content’) not eLearning [oops there I go again].
  5. The book also makes the point that much of “learning” technology is really about being inventive with workplace and commercial tech.  This include’s categorizations such as those in the below image.  Personally this is an area that has always interested me – the scope to be more productive and innovative with tools beyond their initial design but avoiding what the book refers to as “magazine management” (i.e. just running with the latest ideas without proper analysis).
  6. WP_20170602_21_43_28_Pro
  7. The introduced APPA model (an aim; a people focus; a wide perspective; a pragmatic attitude) is sensible and gives a structure to the case studies and main arguments.  Obviously there are lots of other ways you could classify successful projects but its a useful mnemonic.
  8. There are a few big jumps in logic – for example the section on justifying the aim/evaluating through metrics is strong but this statement: “If the Hawthorne effect can be accounted for, and if we have historical data and a control group, then ROI should be calculable in instances where we can calculate the value of the work of the employees concerned”.  The statement is fine but easier said than done for many people!  The chapter goes on to a pet peeve of mine – people using “ROI” as a term when its not actually ROI and it’s good to see Don call this out.
  9. The classification of typical aims very nicely simplifies the complexities of different (particularly LMS) projects as being one of the below (with appropriate metrics):
    1. “Organisational infrastructure – Effective business-as-usual, risk avoidance, compliance
    2. More efficient L&D delivery – Cost savings in L&D , reduced admin, faster delivery
    3. More effective learning – Faster time to competence, better retention
    4. Part of organizational change – Defined by the sponsors off change”
  10. The above is a really nice way to consider if the LMS is more than compliance (point 1) through to fulfilling options such as being THE social platform in an organisation (an example of cross-organisation change like point 4)

To summarize, the book reads a little like a “greatest hits” album, a compilation of my 10ish years of going to Learning Technologies shows and LSG Webinars. With Don calling on his experience as chair to mention players like Jane Hart and their contributions to the industry (such as her top tools for learning) as well key concepts towards good practice.

Overall, it is a great primer on development within and of organisations, covering introductions to Performance Consulting, Agile, network analysis and more – not just learning tech [which of course is the point – learning tech can not survive if just acting in a ‘learning bubble’].  I also attended his session at the Summer Forum and will post my notes on that one soon.  Even more from Don on topics around the book on this podcast.