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Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections.

Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections, by Edited by Elliot Masie, Book, 2005, Pfeiffer & Company, $32.

Caution: Do not wait to order this book, unless you like reading history, as the relevancy of rants and raves on topics of learning technology can be a fast-moving target.

Elliott Masie has been on top of the corporate learning and technology game for decades. The fact that his consortium-think tank has had continued high visibility even after the dot bomb and 9/11 speaks volumes. His company's recent conferences are by all accounts a successful bringing together of the top minds in corporate training.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Bringing keen minds together is a key factor in Elliot's success as a leader of the training industry. He has strengthened his role with this book of training rants, raves, and reflections from other leaders. It is a good read for anyone involved in guiding and promoting learning within an organization.

Diverse, thought provoking

The book consists of 17 thought-provoking chapters that appeal to a variety of interests. I recommend this as a reader for a college-level educational technology/management course. (Wake up, higher ed, and smell the relevancy.) But most importantly, this book helps executives or would-be executives think through technology and learning initiatives.

Masie's introductory chapter could easily be published as a wall poster and marketed as inspirational office hanging. This chapter provides a quick summary of the book's key take-away points:

* Stop using silly numbers. Measure what counts. This is a reference to the statistics Learning Management Systems crank out such as how many courses an individual has taken--instead of what he or she learned.

* Evaluation: Get to Level Four! Now!

* Forget about counting e-learning dropout rates. Unless there is a penalty for not finishing, learners will take what they want and put it to work.

* Make rapid e-learning development work now. This is a trendy topic, but it ignores the importance of quality standards.

* Celebrate good teachers.

* Create a workbook reading club--incorporate books into e-courses.

* Build reusable learning objects and make them small.

* Use quick "do-it-yourself videos--share company experts while they are still hot.

* Usability testing rocks! Educators could improve their product if they formalized and deployed user-testing programs, especially for distance learning courses, which require sensitivity to the technical literacy of the learner. (See my review that addresses this topic.)

A number of the contributors touch on the mission of the learning organization in terms of its relevancy to the business. Lance Dublin's "Messing with the Primal Forces of Nature" calls corporate education the Rodney Dangerfield profession because executive management never seems to give it the respect it deserves.

Dublin places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of learning managers for the failure to talk in the language that business understands: profit, cost of sales, time to proficiency, and other key business indicators. He is amazed at how few learning professionals have an MBA. He challenges them to work towards making learning more effective instead of trying to understand what learning is.

I would have appreciated some examples to provide more depth to this rant, however. Why complain about the overuse of Kirkpatrick's four levels when you could be telling corporate educational leaders (like their higher education counterparts) that they may simply be focusing on the wrong two Kirkpatrick levels and should be selectively spending more resources on the last two, finding out how training transfers to changes in job performance and how that in turn affects key business indicators?

Too few MBAs? Try too many!

Dublin also fails to strengthen his argument for the need for more MBAs in corporate learning. On the contrary, one could make an equally convincing argument that companies have too many MBAs. Instead, Dublin could have suggested ways for educators to collaborate and learn from business leaders to determine relevancy for the training department.

I wanted more on the topic of business relevancy; Dublin shifts his emphasis later in the chapter and tackles the relevancy of electronic learning, placing it in an historical context. He concludes by reminding the reader that there is more to learning than just courses and that when it comes to electronic delivery of learning, the leader is Google.

The subject of achieving departmental respect is also the focus of Beth Thomas' chapter, "Dining with the Executives." The head of retail training for Bank One, Thomas gives tactical advice on selling the department's mission to executives. She suggests you stay away from using technical lingo, focus on your company's points of pain, and talk to business leaders in their language: adding profit and shareholder value. Finding an executive sponsor to help you attain support and engineer your department's success is of paramount importance.

And she stresses that you must get to level four evaluations in order to dine with your company's top executives. It would have been wonderful had she shared her experiences with conducting level four evaluations. Instead, she gushes about the value of shadowing and the use of mentors. The discussion lacks any specific examples from her nine years at The Limited, where she was manager of the Enterprise Learning Center. Tell us stories showing how mentors help employees through the trials and tribulations of corporate life! Can job shadowing or mentoring programs survive the budget-cutting process unless success stories are shared and quantified?

E-learning is under constant pressure to use more creative interactivity to engage the learner. It's ironic that Masie did not insist on more creative packaging of his book. Why the dry "reader" format? Where are the color pictures, diagrams, and illustrations? How about a picture of Masie and each contributor? The book is missing tabs that would enable executives to pull it off the bookshelf at relevant moments and easily find the appropriate topic. If you are an avid reader and need more food for thought, this book should be sitting on your office coffee table or on a shelf of your training library.

Other notable chapters

Here are a few more comments on chapters that stood out for me.

Is your department picking a new e-learning vendor?

Scott Sutker's piece on vendor-partner relations is an important contribution, especially the "Partnership Pledge."

Is there a new technology your department must have to accomplish its goals?

A reflective piece from Larry Israelite provides a personal narrative that I can relate to. Most executives need reminding that hardware is no more than the delivery device. "They are just part of the set of tools the designer uses to construct an effective learning experience." Too often, the new toys absorb us. Israelite makes a similar argument about the latest craze, using games for learning. He concludes, "The designer in me constantly reminds me that the audience, learning environment, instructional outcomes, and the content itself drive media choices."

What about the next generation?

IBM's Nancy DeViney provides a nice summary of an approach companies need to adopt to make their learning initiatives more relevant for today and tomorrow's employees. She provides the prudent reminder that the next generation is already using technological tools for just-in-time information sharing and learning. They already use video and computer games, search engines, instant messaging, file swapping, and cell phones at a young age. What tools will they expect to be available in the workplace?

Did they really have training simulations of a plane crashing into the White House before 9/11?

Training Secret Service agents sounds very cool. That is what Paul L. Nenninger has done for some 26 years, and he writes about it in the chapter, "Simulation at the Secret Service." He begins with the assertion that since 1998, they have been training for an incident where a plane crashes into the White House.

He makes a strong case that simulation training is better than an actual re-creation. I was fascinated with Nenninger's explanation of the Secret Service's use of off-the-shelf video games like Doom, Rainbow Six, and Flashpoint. He notes that many of the changes needed to make the games more realistic were available as a "mod" (modification) on the Internet. Allowing learners to fail and learn through discovery is a primary advantage of a simulation lab.

Recommendation

In Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections Elliot Masie has put together the right people on the right topics at the right time. If you want a glimpse of learning department initiatives in companies like McDonald's, are considering the next technological challenge like mobile learning, or simply want help reflecting on the past and future of learning technologies, purchase this book.

Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflectio ...

Elliott Masie

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Review by Jon Aleckson
Product Ratings

Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections

Value of Content ****
Self-Study Value *** 1/2
Instructional Value *** 1/2
Value for the money *** 1/2
Overall rating *** 1/2
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Author:Aleckson, Jon
Publication:Training Media Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:1470
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