eLearning Producer 2004

Humidity fogged my glasses the instant I stepped into the parking lot of the Disneyworld Hilton yesterday morning to attend day three of The eLearning Guild’s annual eLearning Producer Conference.

David Holcomb welcomed four hundred and twenty of us, a total that includes sixty or seventy presenters and a dozen vendors. For interaction, small is beautiful. If you wanted to talk with someone, you were assured multiple shots at it. I found that I learned the most from “old masters”such as Bob Mosher, Marc Rosenberg, and Thiagi.

My overall conclusion: In place of yesteryear’s search for universal best practices of eLearning, today’s practitioners are focused on how to create solutions for specific problems.

Bob Mosher

Bob is Director, Learning and Strategy Evangelism, for Microsoft Learning. He told us the learner population has changed; they are no longer newbies; they don’t want courses. Today’s learners are building on foundation knowledge, not starting from scratch. They want to fill in the gaps, not take a course.

Initial | Continued | Remedial | Upgrade | Transferred

Here are the personas of Microsoft’s learners, what they respond to, and their relative weight in the market. (For more on this, search for personas on Microsoft.com.)

to Technology

à 30%

to Product

à 30%


à 40%


Concepts & foundation

Pedagogical instruction

& tech skills

Demo & lecture

Clasroom instruction

Blended offerings


Hands-in, real world


New form factors

Academic series



We used to think of a spectrum from instructor-led training to eLearning and sometimes a blend of the two. To serve the new breedof learners, many of the learning modalities are things that fall in between.

Microsoft is a significant player in IT learning, with 1800 partners worldwide, 9.6 million customers served, about a million training events in last 12 months, 2.7 certifications granted. Bob says they are shifting to the new modalities as quickly as they can. These are precisely the trends Workflow Institute’s market forecasts have been reporting. Lots of us need to re-evaluate what we are doing and why.

Bottom line: Form follows function.

Marc Rosenberg

Marc walked us through eight items for assessing the state of your in-house eLearning.

Technology is not a substitute for strategy. Tech helps build a learning culture by keeping everyone informed and involved. It speeds up learning and creates an institutional memory.

Focus on business and performance requirements. Impact is more important than quantity.

No focus on workflow learning. Work/train/work/train/work/train.“Workflow learningis a new field and that’s where we’re trying to go.”

Bottom line: Focus on results.


Just as I made it through college without reading Plato or Hamlet, I’d somehow read and heard snippets of Thiagi without sitting down for a full dose. This morning I joined Thiagi’s session; his wit andwisdom charged my batteries.

  • Goal is to be “cheap but not tacky.”
  • Design activities, not content.
  • Never stop improving the course.
  • Let learners collaborate.
  • True interactivity is in the mind, not the mouse.
  • Let the inmates run the asylum.
  • (I don’t want to be an Indian giver.)
  • Use scenario-based approaches for evaluation.

This is the tip of the Thiagi iceberg.

Check out thiagi.com.

Bottom line: Be radical.

The Finale

It would have been impossible to top last year’s concluding Jerry Springer skit, but Thiagi, Bob, and Marc, joined by Conrad Gottfredson and Mark Bucceri, came close. Kirk Weisler had everyone in the audience write an unanswered question on a 3×5 card. Five rounds of ratings identified the top dozen favourites. The panel took them on.


How do you get buy-in for eLearning when managers think PowerPoint bullets are eLearning?

It’s not understood until it’s experienced. Deliver learning of value.Take a journey. Those who participate will become your best advocates. Con

Who told the managers that PowerPoints are eLearning? We did. Start small. Show them the alternative. Marc

How do you maintain current workflow while integrating what you learned here?

Bite off littlepieces. Have a strategy for when you get back. Recruit champions to help you. Bob

How to do more with less: How can we do less with more? Suffer with a smile. Sneak in small projects. Mark

How can I get experienced eLearners fully engaged in sharing and preparing for learning?

Confidence theycan do it. Competence in how to do it. Captivate themwith the unexpected. Collaborate, not solitary confinement. Connect tosomething they are doing. Thiagi

Standardize our practices of task analysis, project analysis. Since we keep coming back to SMEs in new ways, we confuse them. Be consistent in what you ask for and in time, they’ll have the work done for you. Con

Why is typical eLearning so expensive? How can we do it cheaper?

Where did we getthe idea that eLearning is expensive? The productivity hit is enormous. The business benefits are so huge that it’s easy to do a business case. If you look beyond the training budget to the overall cost/benefit, this is cheap! Marc

Cheap but not tacky. Thiagi

What is the quickest way to measure ROI on eLearning projects?

Use a real-world approach. Thiagi

ROI is not the right question. It’s like asking for the ROI of a steering wheel. You have to look at the overall process. We have to integrate our work into the business. Bob

What tool(s) will help me to build the best eLearning for my company?

It’s not a training problem, it’s a motivation problem. Mark

It’s not about tools. It’s about instruction. It’s about methodology. Today’s tools won’t be the tools you use tomorrow. Con

How can I replace the emotional connection I get from the classroom?

There are some things eLearning doesn’t do. Personal connection is one of those things. Con

Storytelling. People laugh, cry, tell stories. Thiagi

How do I sell this?

Let people take ownership of their learning. You don’t win by trying to sell them. Find the pain point. Start with “Want me to help you solve that problem?” Bob

Sometimes it takes guerrilla activity. Asked to do CBT, Marc did EPSS instead. Marc


David and Heidi give good conference, but I’m glad they’re going to move this event back to San Francisco.

My session on workflow learning was well-attended. Most of the audience was able to grok the message. However, one evaluation said I was hard to understand, confusing, and dull; I was relieved to discover it dealt with someone else’s session and had been misfiled in my evaluation folder. The mouse kingdom provided a nice metaphor for loosely-coupled corporate organization.

If you’re going to throw a Calypso Poolside Party, hold it beside the pool and make the music audible.

The eLearning Community is maturing. Gone are the days when some sought the one best way to implement eLearning and expectd eLearning to cure all ills. People are recognizing that eLearning is not a thing; it is not a technology. Rather, it’s a process with a wide-ranging set of tools.


The morning after the Workflow Learning Symposium, I hopped a plane to Fort Myers, Florida, to spend a few days with an old friend, my superior officer at Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe, in Heidelberg in the late 60’s.

Our meal at Parrot Key yesterday was heaven on earth. Fresh oysters, conch chowder, and soft-shell crab.

I spent most of Wednesday on Sanibel Island, an awesome spot for collecting shells. Hurricane damage was evident (trees knocked down, debris on the side of the road, one beach still closed), but if anything, the storms improved the shelling, for a path one to two feet wide up and down the endless beach was solid shells.

Most of the people on the beach were stooped over, looking for shells. This is known locally as the “Sanibel stoop.”

Beachcombing is my ultimate stress-reducer. No hurry. Make your own rules. Find natural beauty free for the taking. Frees the mind. I plucked treasures from the sand for hours. The “perfect shells” and rarities were long gone. (“You can’t reserve the beach,” said the docent at the Shell Museum.) I decided to assemble a collection of imperfect shells.

Seabirds acted as if we were not there.

Last night I arrived back in Berkeley. My computer woes (See “Kill Bill,” previously) have kept me off the net for a week. Expect a blizzard of posts for a few days. My head is bursting with ideas I want to put on the web because they’re crowding out other things I have in mind. First up, however, is to restore this PC back to its roots. In an hour, I hope to be booting up a fresh computer. Sometimes Windows gets so confused that the only alternative is to take it back to an embryonic state.

It worked! I’m back to pre-SR2 Windows XP.

Kill Bill

Proving once again that for some of us multitasking is about as safe as driving with your eyes closed, Windows XP asked me if I wanted to download new updates and I clicked Okay. Unwittingly, I had just signed up for the agony of Service Pack 2. My computer has been acting weirdly ever since.

“The Connection was refused.”
“The document contains no data.”

I am bursting with ideas and observations from the Workflow Learning Symposium, yet I can’t post them. Downloads spontaneously abort. Uploads run out of gas. I get warnings to protect myself, the cyber equivalent of “Don’t stick peas up your nose” or “Don’t point skyrocket at others.” Little shields pop up to warn me about things I’ve already taken care of, but my online existence is terrible.

This is somewhat familiar territory. I bought Windows 1.0 and could never get it to boot up. For several years, Windows ME would shut me down every now and then just for the hell of it.

It’s illogical that a firm would punish its customers like this unless it has a death wish.

Workflow Symposium D-1

Workflow Learning Symposium activities start for me early tomorrow afternoon. Good thing I’ve only got about thirty hours of work to do before I’m prepared. Ah, life as a high-wire act.

Actually, I am confident everything will turn out fine. Take great people, give them leeway to do their stuff, share your high expectations, and things magically take care of themselves. Check out this line-up. We have an astounding group of folks. More than that, it’s not the old one-session, one-leader claptrap. We will be darting in and out of one another’s sessions and the Workflow Pavilion, building on one another’s experience.


8:30 -9:30

Welcome to the Community

Jay Cross

Eileen Clegg

Tony O’Driscoll

John Kelly

9:45 -10:45 (Keynote)

Debut of Workflow Learning

Gloria Gery

Jay Cross

2:00 – 3:30

Workflow Learning Roadmap

Brad Cooper


9:45 -11:00

Understanding Workflow Learning

Burt Huber

Trace Urdan

Wednesday 8:00 – 9:00

Human Side of On Demand Learning

James Sharpe

2:00 – 3:00

Designing Workflow Learning

Harvey Singh

Kevin Tsurutome

3:15 – 4:15

Reinventing Learning

Jay Cross

Clark Quinn

Hal Christensen

Unlike most conferences I attend, we’ve thought about process as well as content. John Kelly is facilitator, focusing on group process. Eileen Clegg is our visual journalist, and we plan to encourage reflection, not just visual entertainment. Ted Cocheu is our video director, leading us into experiments with “CLO on the street” interviews and other goodies. There’s more, but you’ll see in on the web, if not in person, so I won’t be the spoiler.

There is a wild card. Naturellement. I’ve had laryngitis for the better part of this week. I’ve taken lots of pills and gargled gallons of salt water. I haven’t spoken aloud for a couple of days. My voice is still on vacation, and I play it’s almost ready to return home. I’ve lost hearing in my right ear. I feel like shit.

I can make it through the keynote on adrenalin alone, but the other sessions are anyone’s guess. I can always do my part in mime.

By the way, my doctor says my illness is bacterial. I don’t need attaboys. I need friends who will shut me up when I try to yap about things. Pals who will literally take the words out of my mouth and verbalize “What would Jay say?”

I don’t expect to do much blogging until I come up for air on Friday.


Emerald’s On the Horizon has published part 1 of my History of eLearning.

On The Horizon – The Strategic Planning Resource for Education Professionals

Volume 12 Number 3 2004

An informal history of eLearning

Abstract: eLearning: snake oil or salvation? Changes in the world are forcing corporations to rethink how people adapt to their environment. How do people learn? Why? What’s eLearning? Does it work? This paper addresses these questions and recounts the history and pitfalls of computer-based training and first-generation eLearning. It traces the roots of CBT Systems, SmartForce, Internet Time Group, and the University of Phoenix. It takes a person to five years of TechLearn, the premier eLearning conference, from dot-com euphoria to today’s real-time realities. The subject-matter here is corporate learning, in particular mastering technical and social skills, and product knowledge. The focus is on learning what is required to meet the promise made to the customer. While there are parallels to collegiate education, the author lacks the experience to draw them.

Learning Methods; Computer Based Learning; Workplace Training; Internet

I’ll tell you more when I know more: I don’t have the password to read it.

San Francisco Walking Tour

Months ago I offered to lead a walking tour of San Francisco for visitors attending Training Fall and the Workflow Learning Symposium. Time flies. A hundred people have signed up. I need to be ready in four days. I have laryngitis.

Are you a native here? A good storyteller? Join us. I champion informal, face-to-face learning at every opportunity. You tell two or three visitors how the one-time owner of the Condor ended up dead on the piano or what Beach Blanket Babylon is like or which is your favorite spot for dim-sum or espresso. They’ll feel welcome and your stories will be inscribed in their memories.
I’d love to have dozens of locals sprinkled throughout the crowd.

Join us at Moscone West or en route. I’m counting on you. I must save my voice. (Although I am bringing a portable amplifier specifically designed for things like this.)

The walk begins at Moscone West at 4:30 pm this Sunday and will last two hours. Those were the only givens. Here’s the itinerary I sketched out today:

My thought was to jam as much San Franciana into two hours as possible without trudging up hills. Highlights include:

  • Yerba Buena Gardens
  • Garden Court at the Palace Hotel
  • View down “the Wall Street of the West”
  • Halladie Building
  • Chinatown Gate
  • Views to the Ferry Building
  • Chinatown Alleys, shops, temples and stories
  • Invention of the cablecar
  • Former boundary of the Bay at Montgomery and Clay
  • Pyramid
  • Redwood Park
  • Hotaling Alley
  • Old Mel Belli office
  • Jackson Square/Barbary Coast
  • Gold Street
  • Zoetrope building
  • Beatniks: City Lights, Caffe Trieste
  • Carol Doda shrine
  • Columbus Avenue caffes and bakeries
  • Washington Square
  • cable car back to town

I encourage people to drop out for interesting restaurants or galleries or simply warming a park bench. San Francisco celebrates diversity and doing your own thing. If you don’t catch up, there’s no harm done.

For bonus points: Which of the following words was not made up in San Francisco?

  1. thug
  2. Mickey Finn
  3. shanghai
  4. hoodlum

I’ll leave the answer in a comment after several of you give it a shot.

If you tried to sign up for the walk before the conference authorities posted the “Sold Out” markers, come along anyway. Nobody’s checking the roster.

Workflow Learning Symposium

The Workflow Learning Symposium starts this Monday at Moscone Center West in San Francisco.

Come on down. We’ve assembled some world-class presenters. Gloria Gery and I are giving the keynote.

Two spaces remain available at the Workflow Learning Pavilion in the Expo Hall. If you’re a vendor in this space, this is a whale of a deal for $1800.

For the three days of the the Workflow Symposium, I need someone to write up the sessions. Blogging the event would be icing on the cake. If you are a facile, clear writer, send me a sample of your work. If you’re selected, your ticket to Training Fall will be free (a $1195 value.)

Ten days on the road, mainly family stuff, seriously curtailed my blogging. Now I’m sorting through stacks of notes and scribbles, assessing whether they’re worth converting to prose to be posted on my blogs.

Just to add to the helter-skelter atmosphere here at the Workflow Institute, I have come down with laryngitis and must remain mute for the next couple of days.

Improv Learning

CLO magazine, October 2004 – Jay Cross

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.
—William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

The first wave of e-learning brochures five years ago invariably touted the benefits of focusing on the learner. Schools and classes had always been organized for the convenience of the faculty—one size fits all. In the e-era, learners received personalized instruction—just what they needed, just when they needed it. It was “learner-centric.”

But there’s a problem with this approach. Walk into the sales department, the warehouse, the call center or the executive suite, talk with the people there, and you know what you’ll discover? The members of the organization are known as “workers.” They are blue-collar workers, knowledge workers, hourly workers, commission-only workers and contractors doing work-for-hire. Nobody calls them “learners.”

The rhetoric about learners lulled us into thinking that the job was to prepare individual learners. In the real world, superior performance more often results from the efforts of coordinated teams of workers who work well with customers. As Abraham Maslow famously said, “Give a kid a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail.” In our case, it’s, “Call them learners instead of workers, and every solution looks like blended learning.”

Executives don’t see it this way at all. Have you ever read a proposal for a major project that didn’t list executive support as a prerequisite to success? Want to know what will grab the attention of any executive? Execution. Getting the job done. Performance.

Now, to the confusion of executives and CLOs alike, the very nature of performance is changing. In the old days, corporations hired people to play roles. Job descriptions contained stage directions. Training taught workers their lines. The costume was a blue blazer, or perhaps a gray flannel suit. The cast was composed of repertory actors, performing the same show with the same colleagues, one performance after another. An actor often stayed with the same show for an entire career, receiving a gold watch and a pension following the final curtain call. Those days are long gone.

Today’s workers perform without a script. Everything’s impromptu. Stage cues come from the audience in real time. Costumes? The dress code may be pajamas if you work from home. Rewards go to innovators who deviate from the expected. Success is measured by the take at the box office instead of seniority or past performances.

Training was appropriate when actors memorized their lines. Today, it’s OK to read from cue cards—you can’t know everything. Good props help make a show great. As Gloria Gery pointed out long ago, it’s time to “give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation.”

Instructional design purists say, “Information is not instruction.” So what? If information helps me become a better performer, just tell me. Don’t insist that I take an entire course. If I can add more value with a better connection to the ’Net, a subscription to a reference service or a direct line to the local expert, then give it to me. Give me a way to do my job better—I don’t care whether or not you call it instruction.

The Improv home page reports that the most popular form of improv today “is ‘spot’ improv, in which performers get suggestions from their audience and use them to create short, entertaining scenes. No matter where or how it’s performed, the essential ingredient in any improvisational performance is that the audience and the actors are working together to create theatre.”

When workers are actors, and customers the audience, CLOs must be more than drama coaches. They must prepare cast members to be agile, spontaneous and innovative. They must coax the audience into playing its part. CLOs must focus on optimizing the process of workers and customers performing together. The play’s the thing. The show must go on. After all, life is not a dress rehearsal.

Jay Cross is CEO of eLearningForum, founder of Internet Time Group and a fellow of meta-learninglab.com. For more information, e-mail Jay at [email protected].


Did you miss me?

Yesterday morning the hard disk on my desktop machine gave up the ghost. Kaput. I re-formatted the drive, reloaded Win XP, and am ready to build a new computing environment. Then the error recurred. I’ll have to figure this out when I return from ten days on the road. In the meanwhile, I’ll live off my laptop. And modem instead of DSL. And no printer.

You’d think the internet would be chock full of advice about how to organize one’s files. Google didn’t find much of value. One article suggested creating subfolders in My Documents for graphics, for Word docs, for spreadsheets, and so on. Why would anyone want to do that? Might as well just pitch everything into My Documents and sort by file type.

For the last couple of years, I’ve broken My Documents into categories:

  • Projects — with one folder per client or topic, including general folders such as articles, presentations, conferences, people.
  • Graphics — folders for photographs, metaphors, models, logos, etc
  • Reference — reports and presentations from others
  • Websites — copies of four or five websites I maintain
  • Swap — essential files I copy to whatever computer I’m using (personal journal, family photos, passwords, medications, etc.)
  • Work in Progress
  • Mail lists, member lists

When things age, I move them to a separate hard drive which I periodically copy to another drive which is 100% back-up.

Can anyone recommend a superior way to organize files on a hard disk?

What factors should I be considering?

Should I simply start adding meaningful metadata and tossing everything into an undifferentiated pile? I already use X1 to find stuff in really old directories.

Is there any advantage to keeping XP, applications, and data in separate partitions?