This tweet  gave me a good laugh, for I feel the same:

I don’t hate video tutorials, and have made many. The point is, if it’s not the right solution, we end up with tweets like this. Spraypainting a cow is also an expensive proposition that raises many logistical problems (especially if on-the-job content is being provided).

It’s useful to have someone with the knowledge and expertise to help you determine, plan and execute the best solution to your problem.

This post inspired (and populated) based on a tweet from Cathy Moore (perhaps the Empress of Instructional Design; Founder, Leader and Driver of the Action Mapping Forces).

How to Plug in a Plug

The How to Series: Lessons in How to Do Things from SlapClap on Vimeo.

Week 2 of #ocTEL has found me flagging somewhat, due to work commitments. However, it has been a great week of reading.

The key question of learning approaches really interests me, as it is something I am very interested in. Different to the ever-controversial learning “styles”, learning approaches are defined in three categories, as listed on the #ocTEL Week 2 page:

Page detailiing 3 approaches to learning

Approaches to Learning

 

My initial reaction to the question of which approach is best was “Well, deep learning of course, because it is the most “complete””. This is unsurprising as a Philosophy and English graduate:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring

(Alexander Pope)

However, thinking a little further, I considered – could these approaches actually be a continuum? One starts learning facts, and as they accumulate those facts, they get a bit smarter about what they are learning, they get strategic: targeting the knowledge they need. At some point, if the subject is interesting enough, they will seek to learn and think more deeply about it.  This theory made sense to me, and fit with many experiences (me, people I know, people I have created learning content for, but never met, etc.).

What I find interesting about “Surface” learning is that it corresponds somewhat to learning by rote, which many now consider an awful travesty. However, in my own experience, it was worth learning some things by rote. For example (and this is just one), my multiplication tables(!). I use these just about every day. While there are many ways times tables could be made more interesting, I think they survived better without application, as their abstract nature made it easy to apply to many things: hours, time, money, etc. Although, I must confess, my father taught me times tables using a very rhythmic metre, such that they felt more like poems in recital – so this probably helped immensely.

Then, I read #ocTEL activity week 2 : approaches to learning (http://chcoll.wordpress.com)  and my thinking got pushed a little further. The well constructed argument is that strategic learning is perhaps what we should all be aiming for in community situations, as deep learning could mean a whole group learning to follow the interests of deep learners (or indeed switching off when the deeper levels do not interest them). You should read this post, as rather than re-write all the arguments here, I’m just going to refer to them.

The “strategic” learner is pretty much my audience, and has been for my whole career. Working in eLearning development, our learners are often those seeking “Just in time” skills-gap content. They want to get in and out quite quickly, and they want a sense that they have learned enough to do what is required (as a result, one develops towards stated learning objectives, talks about or refers to specific tasks as much as possible, and loads in assessments that will run the gamut from True or False questions to detailed scenario based simulations).  For my own learning, I would notice many situations where I am “strategic”, a simple example might be looking up code for html – not necessarily understanding the complete ins and outs of it, but knowing it will do what I need to get done. An interesting development in the industry is the announcement of the Serious eLearning Manifesto, something I am very interested in, but don’t necessarily agree with fully (I feel it concentrates too much on the strategic – while good for professionals, may not meet the needs of others who need factual or deeper learning, which I feel technology can be developed to provide or at least assist with).

Many would argue eLearning has no place for those seeking “deep” learning, but I would disagree.  I see eLearning (or technology enhanced learning) as a set of tools that can be deployed according to pedagogical principles – the question is not whether, but how. That is not to say it is easy to do. The danger (as outlined in Week 1 of #ocTEL) is that you provide the technology and expect learning to occur. This is why I am doing #ocTEL – to better understand how others, from different disciplines or backgrounds are using technology to provide that deeper learning. All this said, I still agree with the post I linked to a paragraph back: strategic may indeed be the real goal, with “deep” being a bonus.

In my current role, my audience is somewhere between surface, strategic and deep – depending on the specific context and content. Some will just want to know facts (that can be applied elsewhere, or used to inform understanding of something else). The same person can also be strategic in a different context – learning what needs to be known to perform a specific task. In another context, that same person may feel the content we have developed, while informative, hasn’t taken them far enough – so they will go and read articles referenced in the content, and seek out forums and/or wikis to further discuss ideas.

In conclusion, I think we are all working within some kind of dynamic strategy. When I say “we”, I mean “learning designers/facilitators” and “learners”.

As learners (and we are all learners really), we sometimes seek facts to support other information – or just to know. We can also be strategic, outside of the classroom/course setting, learning specific things we need (taking facts, and applying them to tasks). But as we learn facts and assemble them strategically, we start to see connections, similarities or the rationale, which leads to a deeper learning.

As learning designers, we’re trying to assist the deepest required learning for people. This could be provision of facts (if that’s what they want to come and get, we can certainly hang it out, ready to be taken), or something more strategic (which as I think I’ve said is perhaps what we should aim for: an understanding that allows for action), as well as providing a gateway for deeper learning.

Week 1, and I have already found #ocTEL quite challenging!

This is a good thing, as this is the reason for my taking the course. It begins with the Week 1 Webinar (on Strategies for Learning Technology), which I would recommend for anyone in learning technology or instructional design. Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou (University of Bath) and James Little (University of Leeds) gave an elegant account of developing and implementing strategy, while also signposting the way to more discovery for learners. It was a bit of a masterclass in using a webinar format to inform and spark further exploration. However, I digress, when I should be getting back to the start.

To start: my current role is very much in developing eLearning content – multimedia, quizzes and assessments – for didactic courses (we are “teaching”, as opposed to guiding/encouraging exploration, which seemed to be the approach focus for the webinar). This is important to point out, as this is where I am coming from when I watched the Week 1 webinar.

My Contribution to Current eLearning Strategy

Currently, I work on two projects, developing interactive eLearning content (developed as courses composed of individual modules; each module is based on a presentation, notes and some in-house research). The audience is composed of junior doctors/surgeons who are seeking to improve their understanding of the theories, concepts and development of surgical interventions.  While we can explain surgical steps, they really learn to perform those steps in the hospitals or clinics where they are working and learning. However, what we provide helps them to understand why certain steps might be taken, what could go wrong (and what to do if something does go wrong), so that better knowledge will (we hope) lead to greater confidence when they begin undertaking these tasks in real life.

I developed the current strategy we are using (this also answers the question on impact of my practice – as it is what I do). I did not do it alone, and could not have done it alone. There was input from me (as an instructional designer, with experience in multimedia and developing assessment) in terms of the type of resources we could provide. This was guided by more senior members of the company I work for, who had great insight into the needs of the audience and what was realistic in terms of managing a project. Once we had put together some ideas (described in more detail below), we took it to some senior surgeons, who helped to further refine it.

Is the Main Focus Learning Technology?

This is where it gets a little controversial. Most people I work with would answer “Yes” to this question (as the learning technology demarcates us from the huge number of videos, articles and other online resources available). For me, the answer is “No”. We are using multimedia development tools to better engage learners – who are, by default, working hard and tired. The purpose is not to “provide multimedia content” but to enhance their professional development by helping to improve not only their knowledge but to deepen their understanding. We work with very experienced Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), who are rich in wisdom, but poor in time. We are trying to connect the audience to the SME. For me, the main focus is the learner, and making the most of the time they can afford (at the time they can afford to spend it). Time is at a premium: for learners and SMEs, today’s schedule is tomorrow’s adjustment. Therefore, preparing content in advance for SMEs to review and edit means they can still reach this audience. For the audience, they will get opinions from surgeons who are at the top of their game, and the head of their field.

Multimedia content, as a strategy, was initially sparked by the person who employed me. The intention then – as now – was to provide something more engaging, that was assessed and accredited (so adding value to taking these courses). They were looking for something quite involved. This is where I come in.

My role was to define the type of content we could use to better engage these doctors – using not just video (by seeing a video, and hearing an explanation of what is going on), and not just reading about it. The idea was to let them better conceptualise what happens during an operation – perhaps (not always) even beyond what can be seen (using animations, diagrams, images) and get them to really think about it (using questions, quizzes and assessment).  A deeper understanding prepares them not only for the tasks they perform, and what to do if anything goes wrong, but also (I hope) to help them think further about the possibilities of the concepts, steps etc they are learning about.

I am quite proud of what we have achieved so far. But the world keeps turning: standing still means you will surely be passed. This is something that crossed my mind as I watched the Week 1 Webinar. While I couldn’t see changes to the specifics of what we are currently doing, I did start thinking about how we might expand the offering. I’m starting to answer the next question. So time for some Bold font and a carriage return.

How often is it reviewed and is it flexible enough to adapt as things change?

The content we develop is updated every 2 years, and we change the content according to any major changes in industry, academia or clinical practice. However, to date, the overall strategy remains the same. This is primarily because we are still working through it (developing courses). The intention is to go on from developing multimedia courses to providing spaces for communities of practice to develop, helping learners connect to each other (but this is a place we have not arrived at yet).

The Week 1 Webinar got me thinking more deeply about this expansion.

  • How can we start providing activities and opportunities for those beyond this career level?
  • Those who may have some experience and want to explore different issues in more detail?
  • Perhaps helping people from different places connect to build knowledge with each other?

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Finally, if you were to provide input to a new version, what, if any, changes would you make to it?

This for me has been the key learning point and key action I can take from the webinar. As I mentioned already, we develop didactic multimedia content; but one of its aims is to get people thinking further.

The strategy now should look to how we take these small sparks (of thinking further) and create something of a fire with them (sorry for the mangled metaphor). Hopefully, those managers, senior surgeons and I can work together again to define ways in which we can:

  • Empower learners to follow their interests but also find new ways of learning and managing their learning
  • Encourage greater conversation between learners so they can find like-minded travellers
  • Enhance collaborative opportunities to allow them space to act upon these

What I learned from the Week 1 Webinar is that this is not a case of: Provide bookmarking services, forums and wikis. The next step is not to provide technology, but to determine (along with the other main stakeholders) where it is our learners should be going and how they want to get there, so that we can provide the right learning technology to help them get there.

I signed up for ocTEL last year, but time ran away from me. After it was over, I thought “Damn, I wish I’d made more time for that”. 

In the meantime, I have continued in my job (developing eLearning for medical specilaists), and every so often think of my learners “Damn I wish they’d make more time for this”. Now that ocTEL is back, so am I. Hopefully with a resolve which will sustain. It is only 7 weeks after all. 

Why am I doing ocTEL?

Working in eLearning (or Technology Enhanced Learning), I find a real strain of the “Shoemakers children”. While we strive to make professional development accessible, useful and applicable for our learners, we rarely take the time to reflect on our own professional development. 

One issue I am painfully aware of myself is my own career trajectory in this regard. Like many I know in the eLearning space, it has been quite a circuitous route.  I’m going to talk about this, but between dashed lines, so that you can skip it if you want. 

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I started out working for a large eLearning “shop” (as I called it). I was an instructional designer writing scripts for multimedia content, which was developed into Flash Learning objects and deployed to telecoms engineers to help them learn about and use telecoms hardware and software. In these early days, I was quite content writing up my scripts, suggesting graphical illustrations and interactivities (all of which had been pre-defined) and developing quizzes based on manuals we received from the Company.  I was about a year into the job (and enjoying it, and doing quite well with it) before I actually saw the finished product – the fruits of my labours as it were. How I managed so long, I do not know; but it is an indication of how foreign the development/design side of things was to me then. I saw my job primarily as a writer of scripts. 

During my time there, we went through the dot com crash and some ripples as a result of it. I actually decided to return to college, to take an MA in American Literature. To make money while doing this, I worked as a technical writer on a part time basis. I did OK with this, but my content did lean toward the didactic, rather than the purely informational. I was even then trying to teach through what should have been a manual. So, I took another part time job, but this time as an instructional designer (the first time I had actually heard the term used). This was much more satisfactory. There were 2 instructional designers, working directly with Subject Matter Experts and two graphic/programmers (who were also working part time, on work experience from their degree courses).  We were creating multimedia-based learning intended to explain the mechanisms of various industrial automation bits and pieces. This was a good time, and my colleague and a line manager were very supportive but also quite excited about learning technology. It was this experience that really sparked me into thinking: This should be my career.

Never one to make things easy for myself, I next ended up for a search marketing company, writing copy for online ads and reviewing the copy of ads submitted for online display. The project I had been working for came to a natural end, and at the time, I found it difficult to get work as an instructional designer. But then, the job titles used at that time ran the gamut from “Technical writer” to “Multimedia scripting editor for educational content ” to “instructional designer”, so I probably missed a few opportunities by not understanding what these titles meant. 

Feeling I had done my stint in search marketing, I sought a role as a web editor. The job description demanded 3 references. When I reached out to someone who I had worked with in my first job for a reference, he offered me an interview: he and a friend of his from that first company I worked for had set up their own company. It was a sort of boutique content development company, specialising in eLearning (but also taking care of marketing and other messaging). This role really formed me. I learned about web standards (which at the time seemed to shift every couple of months), learning content, real multimedia development (when I wrote design notes in scripts, people came back! They asked: Is this what you meant? I couldn’t believe it). While in this role, I had experience with Rapid eLearning tools (specifically Articulate, but also others), as well as podcasting, video development, online resource development, and collaborative learning. At the time all these things were in their infancy as learning technologies, and it was great to be working in a company with the imagination to really try to use them and use them well. The key lesson I learned from the guys I worked for here was: everything you do should have a purpose. I carry this with me to this day.

Unfortunately, 2008 rolled around, and it was like someone slammed on the brakes. With the inertia built up, I was flung through the windscreen of my job and landed on the side of the road, where I did some contract work to keep the bills paid. 

Then, about 4 years ago, I saw an ad for the job I am currently in. A medical society were seeking someone to manage the development of eLearning. I thought “I can manage the development of eLearning. Can’t I?” Really, it turned out they needed someone to just create the eLearning, and they wanted multimedia content. Well, with my experience using Rapid eLearning tools and Moodle, I said “Yes, I *can* manage the development of eLearning”.

——————————————

For the past 4 years, I have been developing learning content for medical specialists. We develop using Articulate tools, and presentations given by medical specialists. Some research is also required, but the idea is to create highly interactive, multimedia content that is laden down with quizzes (medical graduates like being tested. A lot).  Our content is designed specifically to prepare medical specialists to take more hands-on learning (i.e. to give them the background, theory, explanations of what they are doing and why).  I am interested in the “Serious eLearning Manifgesto”, which was launched recently, but note that our content would not meet its exacting standards (specifically, making the learning more practical – we can’t do this, as most people are not willing to be operated upon by someone who has learned a procedure from eLearning). However, our feedback indicates that the content we are developing is helping people to better understand the various interventions they are learning to do in practice, why they must be done and how various pitfalls arise. My understanding is that our learners use the content we build as a complement to text books (which don’t test them) and lectures they attend (which may be recorded, but don’t ask too much of them in terms of engagement). They enjoy the engagement, the challenges of quizzes, the “fun” of interactivities and/or animations that explain various mechanisms. 

As I have concentrated on this sphere of multimedia-based eLearning development, I note from reading blogs and articles that the eLearning world is moving in different directions:

In terms of what we do with technology, some talk about instructional design moving into a more “curation” based area (gathering, assessing and providing digital assets such as podcasts, videos, PDFs, etc.); others see eLearning as becoming communities of practice, sharing information and experiences and gathering the same when required. Many still see multimedia as having a role.  Mostly, you hear of a mix of all of these things.

In terms of how we do what we do – this (it seems to me) has become much more fractured. Should we be teaching didactically? (I know I have to right now), should we encourage exploration? Should we mix these things. Should we just provide tools and allow learners to find their own path (as ocTEL does)? What is best? 

In terms of how we measure our outcomes – the debate here ranges wildly, because people forget that (ideally) content will be tailored to specific audiences, so there are calls that all eLearning should be measured in workplace improvement. Sounds great, unless you develop eLearning for 6 year olds. Or “All eLearning should be measured by standardised tests”, also good, unless you are trying to get people to think critically – then you need a human to determine how well that critical thinking has occurred. “No eLearning should be tested based on facts: only on application of information”, again, good, unless the specific sphere calls for an understanding of specific facts. 

For me, what is best is answered quite simply as “What is best for the learners”. However, this is not so simple, when learners may not be aware of the opportunities available to them.  One thing I like to reference here are stupid Facebook memes. I saw two beside each other the other day. One was basically “What should I do?; Let them tell you!” and the other was Henry Ford saying if he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said “A faster horse”. I think we may be at this crossroads in Technology Enhanced Learning: determining the best way to provide learning experiences (or to direct learners to it), while the boundaries of possibility are broken around us every day.

So, why AM I doing ocTEL?

I want to catch up with the developments in other areas.  I need to better understand other approaches other people are taking to engage their learners, and better understand their experiences (as learners and those providing the learning experience).

The Experience (Tin Can) API has really ignited my imagination about what learning can be into the future, and I want to be fully prepared to exploit the potential of learning anywhere/everywhere. I should add, my fundamental starting position is that we are all learning, all the time. For me pedagogy is about designing learning experiences that can capture and enhance this natural instinct. 

By taking part in ocTEL this year, I want to engage myself further in the benefits, challenges and drawbacks of different methods of Technology Enhanced Learning. 

What this post is about: A continuation from yesterday’s “On Putting it Online…“, but with a bit more structure in terms of when you might do what.

What this post is not about: As with yesterday’s post, this is not a project map or detailed instructions on developing online content. This provides general principles.

Here is a summary: After some flattering and some not so flattering emails with regard to yesterday’s post, I want to provide a more coherent structure by outlining the steps you take to put learning content online. While I agree yesterday’s post was certainly not my finest moment in written content, I still believe the thrust of my argument. This post merely reflects that I had not truly considered my audience (those seeking advice on creating online content). Which is something I believe strongly that one should do. Won’t somebody think of the shoemaker’s children?

Here begins the post

So, as I was saying, you need to develop content that is assessable, applicable and appropriate. But what steps do you take to achieve this?

First Steps…

Identify the boss. Someone will need to manage the whole project, lest it spin out of control and you end up with hours and hours of unnecessary or incoherent content. You will also need to mind your budget (this may be preset, or you may have some time to determine what it will be in discussion with your instructional designer and SMEs)

Assemble your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These may be paid or volunteer (depending on your set up. Perhaps if they are employed or contract trainers, SME activities can come under an existing contract). When considering people for this role, consider also your subject matter. You want to ensure you have expertise to cover all areas of your course. This may be as few as 1, or as many as the number of subjects you want to cover. I often advocate more is better (as it reduces the load on each individual SME), however, one must be careful not to employ too many chefs, lest your broth become a lumpy stew of expert opinion.

Get an instructional designer. I really do believe the outlay for a learning professional will provide best results. Seek out references, portfolio of work or at the very least ask them to describe projects they have worked on, problems they faced and how they overcame these. Prize specific information from them. I hate to say this, but there are some charlatans out there. However, sites like LinkedIn can be useful for identifying people they have worked with in the past that you may know. If you are starting from scratch, I also advocate going for experience over energy. If systems are in place, energy is your friend – but where you are trying to get something off the ground, experience will really come into its own. You need someone who can identify solutions and deal with the problems that may arise, either by avoiding them or dealing with them efficiently.

Next steps…

Get your instructional designer and your SMEs together. If you are managing this project, you may need to be there too, because this is the first point when things may get a bit hairy.  Your instructional designer will know nothing or little of the content to be covered. Your SMEs know everything. However, your instructional designer should be able to interview your SMEs to determine an overall goal for the course and perhaps a structure (although this is not always the first thing to happen). They should also be walking away with contact details, an overall goal, perhaps objectives and – preferably – source material.

(Next- this rarely happens, but I like to add this: next, work on a learner survey to determine their learning need, how they feel they might use an online service for learning and what it is they might like to see covered. If you have a mature audience, you could even seek out learner advocates to help you design the survey and better understand their needs and demands. This could be a group project between the instructional designer and the SMEs, but again needs to be managed, lest you inadvertently offer the sun, moon and stars (raising expectations unreasonably), or, the answers to your questions come back contradicting themselves. Take the results of this survey, maybe break out some learner profiles (in case broad differences arise from your learners), and figure out how much time they can spend online and how they might effectively work with the content.)

Depending on your situation, you may also need to consider your assessment principles. While your SMEs and instructional designer will have their own ideas in this regard, you need to also consider whether certification or accreditation of any kind will be sought for your course – and what these mean for your assessment. Assessment may be Multiple Choice questions, more varied questions, portfolio work (if your SMEs have time to grade this), you may use peer-assessment (if your learners can be trusted with this), the list goes on…

More steps…

Your instructional designer will then go away for a week or so (depending on how much content is there).

They should then return with an overall structure and approach for your content. Going back to yesterday’s post, this may be:

  • Highly engaging activities in Flash or HTML5, with assessments
  • Forum/social media-based discussion groups, with portfolios (for assessment)
  • Online web pages, with case studies or activities
  • Or a mix of all these
  • Or none of these (again, your specific content, audience and intended outcomes will dictate the solution)

Now, you need something to put all this on. Website, Learning Management System (LMS), Wiki, what? Well, your instructional designer (again) should have ideas based on their proposed solution. You may also need to consider whether you need:

  • Tracking to see that learners have covered specific content
  • Forums?
  • Social media integration?
  • Private messaging/mailing system?
  • Portfolio building as proof-of-activity?
  • Certification/completion monitoring?
  • Calendar?
  • Calendar with “locking” of activities?
  • Storage for grades and learner outcomes
  • A “dashboard” for learners (and SMEs, if acting as “teachers”) so everyone can monitor what is going on
  • Support for iOS devices? (I know this is very specific – but the iPad is so popular now, it is important to consider whether people can use it to take part in your online course. “Bring the learning to the learner” is my motto)
  • etc (also please note, this list is disparate on purpose – there really is a multitude of things to consider, and they will all depend on your content, approach and learner profile)

Even more steps…

Then, it’s time to start building. In a perfect world, you will hear nothing except for any regular reporting updates you have asked for. And all the rain drops will be gum drops and lemon drops. Your SMEs and instructional designer will enter a strange relationship, whereby they love and hate each other. In short, there is a tug-o-war: The SMEs want to put everything in, often in the same way they lecture (or learned or developed) the content for learners. Your instructional designer will want to highlight key information, dealing with ancillary information in other ways. They will both be right and wrong at some point. They will probably come to you also. Generally, the instructional designer will work alongside the SME to develop an outline for activities/quizzes/content. They will then design and build it (in cases where you work with a company, this will be an instructional designer, graphic designer and developer – however, they will usually be managed by a project manager who will be your point of contact). This will be sent back to the SME (as a script, as preliminary content, or as very close to complete content), who will provide corrections. This is not a “maybe”, this is a “definite”. There will always be edits to improve the accuracy of content, or to limit misleading information or to make information more “complete” so that it is coherent for learners. This is an iterative process, but hopefully your instructional designer will have strategies to minimise the number of iterations required.

See if you can put anadin into your budget.

It is not all bad news. They will also both respect each other (in my experience). If you have a good instructional designer, your SMEs should be happy with what comes out, despite how they felt as it was being developed.

Nearly there? Nope…

Now, you’re not finished. Not by a long way. Once you have content developed, it will need to be tested. Does it work the way it is meant to? Is it easy to use? Is it accessible (not just in terms of devices, but to accessibility software, you may have learners who live with disabilities). Does the course do what it said it would do in the script? Does everything “hang together” (keep in mind, the usual process is to develop in modules, or separate pieces, then put everything together. When it gets put together – is it coherent? Are there gaps?)

Just like end as you mean to start again…

You are still not finished. It is time to let the learners bask in the fruits of your labour. And compliment you (oh, really, you are too kind!) and complain (oh, you really are too cruel!). Get as much feedback as possible about your course. Gather it also from SMEs (a tip in this respect: a Project Manager who I worked with one kept SME feedback all the way through the project, rather than just those specifically requested at the end. This gave them a “live snapshot” of SME opinion and feeling throughout course development – not just at the end when they are generally happy with the outcome).

Then, you need to feed all this back into your course design:

  • What worked for learners and SMEs?
  • What did not work for learners and SMEs?
  • What worked in terms of project development?
  • Where did things go wrong? How did they go wrong? Can this be avoided in future?
  • How did the subject matter go down? Do you need to speed it up, or slow it down?
  • Did learners pass their assessments? How about those with less or more interaction in the course – was there a difference in how they performed?

How does this work? It depends on the instructional designer, but people will usually take this information and re-work the original design to improve it for the next cohort of learners (actually, it is becoming quite popular to update courses for current learners also, so this may happen after a defined period, or as the course runs).

Summary

I hope this post has helped to better explain the sort of process you may need to go through in order to develop some online learning for your organisation. While it was inspired based on feedback from yesterday’s post, I believe both posts are complementary: Yesterday’s looked at the issues you need to consider to ensure your learning suits your learners. Today’s looks at the kind of steps you need to take to put it all together.

What this post is about: Some thoughts on making the decision to “go online” with training interventions, and how you might go about doing that.

What this post is not about: This is not a specific, tailor-made guide that can help you determine whether and how to go online. This is informational. Always speak to your instructional design specialist, and only follow the instructions on the label if you are sure it will provide the outcome you are seeking.

Here is a summary: I have been following the ocTEL course provided by ALT. While I have been lax in activities, I have been thinking a lot about the discussions and resources provided. In one of (hopefully) many posts inspired by the ocTEL course, I consider how one should make the decision to provide online learning content.

Here begins the post.

So, you’re going online. Genius move. There are training and marketing dollars in that. You are the future, ever stretching and all-knowledge providing. What next?

First, I’m assuming you know you need training (and that you really do). If not, I suggest reading this blog by Cathy Moore on whether you even need to provide a training intervention.

So, let’s assume you do. What next?

A few days ago from my (PLUG WARNING) new @BrenLearning Twitter account (which is reserved for learning and development thoughts and tweets), I tweeted the following:

“Having studied theories and styles, plus reflection, I’m going with “People are #learning, everywhere and all the time, in different ways”
(https://twitter.com/brenLearning/status/340805463589388288)”

“(2/2) My job in #learning is to provide opportunities for learning that are appropriate, applicable and assessable, for learner and subject.
(https://twitter.com/brenLearning/status/340806028377600000)

(PLUG ENDS)

This encapsulates my current thought on learning, and what you need to do. Current is the key word here, as this may change, because I am 1. quite ambivalent about everything, in general and 2. constantly learning, so may well refine, rework or reverse my opinion.

So, now you’re done.

Except, how do we turn a pithy tweet into something workable? Let’s break it down.

(MC Hammer Dance)

Making it Assessable for Learner and Subject

What? This was the last point in my pithy “rule of three”-structured comment. Why is it first?!

Because:

You need to consider the outcome first. How will you know your online learning has worked? And how is that translated to the workplace/skills applied/etc (in most cases, “assessment” is really a proxy result that will confirm a learner knows something – how this affects behaviour after may require further follow up after the training intervention).

What is it you are trying to achieve for your learners? And will that work for them? What you’re trying to achieve can range from depth and breadth of knowledge to proving an ability to apply that knowledge to – in some cases – actually testing the application of knowledge (although this can be limited in the online space – see the first point).

In terms of what will work for learners, do they need to learn this, do they want to learn this, is “online” an appropriate manner for teaching?

Once you know where you want to get to, then you can start mapping a path to it.

Making it Appropriate for Learner and Subject

In terms of going online – think about your intended learners and ask yourself: Why?

  • What is the value to learners? (this is key. Many, many people think of the value to the institution (in terms of improved service or esteem), which can leave learners cold. While your institution may well gain in terms of esteem (but that is up to you and your marketing department to know or figure out), if you’re going online, think of the learners.
  • Will they see that value themselves? (if the answer is “No”, some marketing may be required. Just because someone doesn’t know whether something will work for them does not mean it won’t. My 5 year old who will not touch carrots but loves broccoli confirms this for me)
  • What is the most effective way to get the information into their heads (This will include what learners will be able to access, will have time to access and will not be too difficult to get through)?
  • How are they used to learning, and is there anyway to leverage that (e.g. Could you record “live” events (lectures, presentations, round tables, etc.) and put these online, along with assessment? Or would this bore them? Or, do you need to provide more applicable content – see below in Applicable bit)?

In terms of the subject matter or content you want to teach, consider:

  • What do you teach now?
  • What is taught in a “live” event?
  • What can you put online (e.g. again, can you record lectures? Or would it make more sense to provide case studies and activities online? Or would it make sense to provide both?)?
  • What is worth putting online (Just because it can go online, doesn’t always mean it should. I give you LOLCATS and many, many Tumblrs as examples. Don’t assume that if you build it, they will come – it must be worth coming for)?
  • Is there a split between what can be taught effectively using live events, and what can be taught effectively using online (self-directed) methds? (Commonly known as blended learning, but more often now known simply as learning, as more institutions and providers actually design their learning output to work in this way)

Another aspect to developing learning content that is appropriate to learners and the subject is what it actually looks like. It might be:

High in interactivity, using Flash or HTML5 (here is a really interesting issue right now. Flash is not supported on iOS devices. Yet (and despite the death notices), it is still the main technology used for highly interactive and video-based content for learning.  This probably will not last, as so many new products are released that publish to HTML5, offering similar types of interactive content, and indeed products that publish to apps for iOS or Android phones and tablets. A full discussion on this is beyond the point of this post, so to go back to the initial consideration: High interactivity using Flash or HTML5 is expensive, and labour intensive, but can offer really excellent results. An experience can be developed, rather than a resource.

High in social interactivity, using forums or social media. The appropriateness of this approach again depends on your content. If you are trying to be quite didactic (i.e. this is the information you need to learn), then careful monitoring, mentoring and moderation will be required to ensure incorrect information is not circulated through your learning community. However, if the purpose is to be more exploratory (i.e. through discussion, the community will build up their own knowledge base), the effort required is less so.

Low in interactivity, but rich in information: This is a common approach because it is fairly easy to create. However, it can be difficult for learners to engage with – so is a trade off. In short, you provide an indexed, searchable body of information, with supporting assessments and some kind of curriculum outline (perhaps with supporting activities as well). Then launch it. Learners can access information as they need, and go back to it as required. The difficulty with such an approach is that it can get boring for learners, who may use it in 20 minute bursts (or something similar), rather than sitting down to a course. (By the way, 20 minute bursts is the recommended timeframe for any specific “chunk” of information you want people to learn).

And so forth – one could go on forever, but really the approach you take should depend on your objectives, and what will work for learners to help them better learn and understand the information. Again, I’ll reiterate: You should consult a learning specialist to help you determine what will meet these requirements – and within your budget.

There are some ways to help with this: Surveys of potential learners; Looking at case studies from others in industry, or if you are part of an association, etc.; Looking at other case studies, which may be applicable to the type of information you are learning. In these cases, the more information the better – build up profiles of your learners – and through those profiles – your online service.

Making it Applicable for Learner and Subject

So you know what you want them to do after the training, and you’ve figured out a way to provide online content that will work for them. Now, what will that content be? Some more questions to ask yourself:

What should they be able to do (see assessment), and how can the content align to that?

What the hell does this mean? Here are some examples!

If you’re teaching software, consider developing activities where they use specific functions in a targeted way. Don’t just say “Use the file menu to open a new document and save it with a title…” Instead, go with: “You have received a support call from a client, who has asked for a breakdown of their current account information to be posted to them. Prepare this document and include a cover note to explain what it contains and how the customer can read it. Remember to give it an appropriate file name, because it will be going to them!”. Or something similar. The point is you should be considering real life application at all times.

In a project I worked on, we used animated diagrams and click events (click here to see what happens) to explain the inner workings of machines. This helped learners to “visualise” the mechanisms involved and (hopefully) to consider how they might apply such mechanisms in other situations (i.e. when on the job, to consider what mechanical applications could be applied to specific problems they needed to solve).

But wait! That’s too advanced! I need to roll back a  bit…

OK. Well, here you need to consider:

  • What it is they have to learn
  • How they will use this information

Going back to our software, you could:

  1. Explain a typical workflow, which includes how the software “fits into it”
  2. Break out the specific information you will be talking about, and what it means
  3. Run through the specific information and its place/function within the software
  4. Provide one or two examples
  5. etc.

For more theoretical information, consider the use of diagrams that relate how different information works together. For example:

  • Specific information to be input to a process (data, a situation, etc.)
  • The process itself (steps taken, tasks)
  • The output (result of using the information through the steps)

Such a diagram could also be used as a download or job aid, which the learner could print out and keep, so they have a ready-reference when they need it.

You also need to consider your expertise, with regard to making your content applicable. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are fundamental to making your online learning work. Without them, you have nothing. These are the people who can tell you what needs to be in the course. What learners need to know, be able to do and the relationships between what they know and what they do.

  • How will you engage SMEs? Who will they be?
  • Will they be paid? Can they work voluntarily?
  • Could they (with some initial training) develop the online content themselves? Or, if they are time poor, how can they be involved efficiently – so that being involved in your project does not take up too much of their time.

Another tough question is how your SME(s) might be managed. They are often senior figures, who can think of better things to do with their time. You are better off finding people who are interested in learning (have a “vocation” for want of a better word). What happens if they miss deadlines? Can you exert any pressure on them?

Of course, all of this will be done for free, so that’s the end of this post.

What?

Oh, yes. Budget.

This is why I suggest talking to an instructional designer or eLearning professional. They may have some idea of costs for you (time for instructional design, technical costs and what you may need to pay out initially and on an ongoing basis).

However, they may also (drawing on their experience) have some creative ideas on maximising your budget. For example – as mentioned earlier, you could engage an instructional designer to teach your SMEs to develop content over a set period. During that time, they could develop templates, themes, manage installation of technical infrastructure, etc. Then perhaps come back once a year or so to look at refreshing the look and feel of your content and provide pointers on improving what has been developed.

If you have loads of money, you could look at a “big house” company, where teams of instructional designers, graphic designers and programmers will work to create content.

In many cases, you’ll probably fall in between these stools, and perhaps require someone on an ongoing basis (but part time) or full time as an employee.

In Summary

I hope this has been a helpful post for those thinking of providing online learning content, and at least give you an idea of how you should be thinking. As I say, none of this could be taken as specific advice, as there is no guarantee any of it is appropriate, applicable and assessable to your specific needs (as I hope is made clear by the post). You should engage an instructional designer or eLearning professional, at least to provide advice in the early days, and perhaps for a longer and more involved engagement. Always read the label, but only ever follow the instructions when they will specifically deal with the problem you are facing.

The one question I am asked the most as an instructional designer: “How do you do that? How can you know about that?”

The question is asked in varying tones, from an undeserved derision (who are you to teach these people?) to undeserved praise (who are you to teach these people?).

The simple fact is, instructional design is not about knowing the details of the content being developed (or, to the layperson – the subject you are teaching), but knowing how to develop the content (or how to communicate the information to the people who need to know it). Dealing with content is the skill. What does that mean? It means many things to many people. I like to go back to first principles. In short: you have a problem. 

Someone (or some population) need to know X. They do not know it now. Your job is not just to tell them “X”. Your job is to ensure that when they need to use this information, X (they may be on the phone, they may be in a hospital, they may be flying a plane), X is there, in their head and ready to be used.

So, how do you get X inside their head? I can’t tell you here, because you’ve already formed an idea. An idea about who this learner is and what X is. If I don’t know who they are or what X is, I cannot possibly suggest how you get it inside their head. I can’t even pack its bags for the journey. All I know is you have to communicate it to them (not their boss, not the experts I talk about later, but to that person).

In most cases, I am dealing with technology. This is a function of the environment. People call on an instructional designer when they want something delivered via technology. If they wanted something delivered in a classroom, they would have called a trainer. This does not mean they are right, it is merely a function of how the roles of “trainer” (traditional, instructor-led training and coaching) and instructional design (new-media, technology assisted training) are viewed. I believe the 2 will converge at some point.  This will offer better results, as trainers and instructional designers will be in a position to better exploit both the instructor-led and technology assisted methods of communicating that are currently somewhat “shut off” from them (because they are currently called upon to provide either instructor led sessions or technology assisted communication).

Then, dealing with people. I work (as all instructional designers do) with Subject Matter Experts, who often have more important things to do with their time. I am blessed in my current job (I know from experience!), in that the SMEs I work with now are willing to help, but are busy (I have worked with those who are not busy, and not willing to help). Dealing with getting the most from the small slice of their schedule is the skill. 

You also need to be able to explain to the Subject Matter Expert, and to whoever manages the person you are communicating with, that this communication is not for them. It is for the audience. This may seem obvious, but in my experience can be the most difficult communication to get across. Managers want to see content in one shape, SMEs want to see it in another. However, to do your job properly, the only people who matter are the audience. The content needs to be in a shape that allows them to consume it in the most efficient way that ensures it remains durable.

Once you’ve cut through who you are talking to, how best to communicate with them and explained to their boss and the subject matter expert what it is you intend to do, it is time to deal with the information. This is the bit I like.

You consider what people need to know, why they need to know it and how they will use this information. This allows you (in discussion with their manager and the SME) to determine learning objectives. These determine what it is someone should be able to after you have finished talking with them.

With the objectives, you have an end point. Progress! 

So, next you need to know your starting point. Again, the SME should give you an idea of where people are starting from (what they should already know/what they can do). So, armed with this information, you start to create a “story” that begins where the audience currently is, and leads them to where they need to be (i.e. achieving their learning objectives).

Ah, but sometimes, management and coordination is the skill. Many instructional designers will work with programmers and designers to make this story compelling and engaging. This is usually achieved using interaction, quizzes and assessment. If you aren’t using a Rapid eLearning Tool (this is a subject for another day, but in short means you’re doing it all yourself), you have to request this content and keep an eye on its delivery to make sure everything comes together at the right time. Yes, you probably have a project manager who organises all this, but you still need a mechanism to determine what you need, how you get it and when you’ll get it back.

At the end of the road, it is always good to look over the journey. So you create a final assessment (the intermediate quizzes and assessment help people to gauge their learning as they go, so they can go back over anything that the quiz has shown they didn’t understand).  

This final quiz will serve 2 purposes. The first is testing – to prove to the person you are talking to (and whoever else needs to know) that they now know X, and can hopefully use it. A second purpose is to “activate” the information within their mind. In short: they may well know the information you have communicated to them. But it is latent – sitting in their brain, perhaps having a cocktail and enjoying the view. By quizzing them on this information, you force it to get up and head upstairs to the consciousness, so the brain knows where to find it. This helps to develop and protect their understanding of the information. Which is good, because if they need to know X while they are flying a plane, you want X arriving promptly, not delayed at the gate or snoozing on a lilo, while the brain frantically calls its name over some kind of synapse intercom.

The next skill is one you learned as a child. It is the “spot the difference” skill. What was planned, what was built and how do they compare? Are there differences? Do these differences need fixing? If not, perhaps you need to alter your plan to reflect any changes that were required in the course of the project. Because when you come back in a year or so, you may not be able to remember that last Tuesday Jo Murphy came in and said the TX3720 was going to launch with a specialist module. While the specialist module isn’t the “main event”, it still needs to be mentioned.

After you’re happy, the content needs to go to the SME to make sure it is correct. If it is not correct, terrible things may happen. And many instructional designers feel an SME review is a terrible thing, happening. But this final review ensures that even though you are not an expert, that at least what you are communicating is correct.

After all that, it’s probably time for a pint. 

What This Post Is About

Some strategies for developing effective quizzes to help engage learners and assess understanding/knowledge at the end of your lesson/content.

What This Post is Not About

This is not a detailed discussion on using frameworks (e.g. Bloom’s Taxonomy) to develop questions, although this is mentioned in passing.

Here is a Summary

Developing quizzes seems to be a perennial pain for instructional designers. Recently, I have seen some comments and posts bemoaning a sort of “writer’s block” to developing quizzes. Quite often, this occurs because IDs get very excited about developing the content, and forget that really, the quiz is the only thing that can tell us whether a learner has achieved their objectives.

Here Begins the Post

Nearly every instructional designer I know has at some time bemoaned the writing of quiz questions for learning content. Often, quizzes are seen as a “come-down” after the dizzying heights of scripting according to learning objectives and some overall content strategy (which determines the level and mode of interactivity to be used).  The race is often to get content that covers the objectives. Quiz questions (at best) are left to questions that are intended to elicit a response which is some sentence from the middle of the content (indeed, this sentence works hard for its existence, often being the feedback as well).

So, here are some strategies I employ for writing quiz questions…

Goals, Objectives, Content. Base your questions on these, in this order:

Goals – the overall goal should be a clear (although it may be complex) statement of some task the learner should be able to perform, or piece of information they should know. This is really the most important thing to test. But how do you test it, using Multiple Choice Questions, True or False, or Matching questions?

Refer to Blooms (or other) taxonomy for help to determine the type of question you should be asking.  Of course, you should have done this to define your objective – but let’s pretend you have done that.

Consider the verb:

  • What action is it that the learner must be able to perform?
  • Do you need them to recognise a statement of truth?
  • Do you need them to interpret data and identify the best statement to describe that?
  • Do you need them to interpret information (data/facts/statement) and identify a statement describing the consequence of that?
  • Do you need them to identify how certain concepts relate together?

Consider the conditions and information/tools to be used:

  • Do they need to know these, specifically?
  • Do they need to identify how conditions and information/tools change or should be considered with a different verb?
  • Do they need to identify how the conditions themselves will change the information/tools should be used?
  • Do they need to know the mechanism by which the information/tools should work?

Objectives are the simplified statements that make up the overall (complex) goal for a course.  Often (and it is certainly how I learned), it is the objectives that people tell you to quiz on. If you have well-defined objectives, your questions are simple: rewrite your objective so that a question mark can sit at the end. However, you should think about:

How different objectives combine to make up the overall goal – can you ask questions that relate to 2 or 3 objectives, and also attend to the overall goal? Isn’t this a better indication of whether the learner understands your content?

In what context are your objectives useful (again, you should be looking at the verb, conditions and information/tools required)? Your quizzes should test that a learner understands how to apply information (or use tools) in the right context. Quite often, an instructional designer will chase the ghost of a detailed, complex description of the operation of a tool, or the content of an idea. However, this could be quite as useless as knowing the innards of a cars engine, when actually what you need to know is when to change gear.

How can you “string” or “combine” questions, such that a series of questions can be used to take a learner through steps or the separate parts of a complex idea. This can always be a useful route to developing scenarios, which bring us closer to developing content, which makes the whole exercise more enjoyable for the instructional designer. Think about:

Whether there are a series of steps to be performed

What it might mean if a step is omitted – perhaps this can be a good way to highlight the result of an omission?

Whether it is important for the learner to understand why each step is important (and remember – sometimes it is not – for the purpose of completing a task, sometimes you only want a learner to know the requisite steps)

What about complex ideas? These might include interpreting an interface, alerts or other information that a learner may encounter. In these cases it is worth considering whether they need to know how different pieces of information relate to each other (e.g. if you get an alert here – do you need to check something else? How will inputting information at this point impact on some other system? What do you need to tell a customer about a process before you initiate it?).

Content – this is the heartbreaking work of staggering genius that you have devised to communicate important information to learners. Usually, I rail against asking questions based on content alone (from an ID point of view – always tell the learner you are asking questions based on the content – but from an ID point of view, to cohere to your syllabus and curriculum, you need to return to the objectives to base your questions).

However. (Always a however). The content can be used to guide how you put together questions and how the questions you write might relate to each other within the context of a quiz.

Using your content as a framework can help you to build the bridge between the objectives (as very specific pieces of information you need to ask about to confirm learning/understanding) and the goals (as the overall task or complex operation that the learner should be able to perform). This is where you can find the context to ask questions about how information or tools should be applied. Also, how you might string some questions together to cover more complex tasks, steps or information.

Also consider writing your questions backwards. Seriously, this works. Sometimes, having written your learning content, you go back to the beginning and can stare at the content and the objectives and wonder “What is it I was going to say?” On the other hand, if you start at the end, and move backwards toward the start, you can see new ways of considering the information and its importance. The information will also be fresher in your mind.

Well, sin é (Irish for “that’s it”). I hope some of these tips help. Please do leave a comment, question or query and I’ll answer as soon as possible.

What this post is about

Some (very late) initial thoughts on the uses and applications of iBooks and the idea of iBook development for instructional designers.

What this post is not about

This is not a detailed discussion on technical capabilities or creative development using iBooks.

Here is a summary

This post is part 2 of a 2-part posting about Apple’s iBooks. In this post, I want to record my initial reaction (as a learning design professional) to Apple’s iBook technology.

Here begins the post

Well, here they are. The much rumoured iBook Textbook. Apple’s latest addition to education using technology. Together with podcasting, iTunes university and other initiatives, these will change the shape of education, and the use of technology in education.

What are iBooks? iBooks are a software implementation for the iPad that allow developers to create interactive, rich media text books. Apple have released the code for developing iBooks for free, but of course development and use of the final product requires an Apple product.

Why do I make such grand claims about their dominance? From a technical point of view, the key to successful instructional design is to get people to work with/explore/use and process information. This post (Pulse Learning) says it very efficiently, so I link to it for economy’s sake.  Quite often, there are constraints to using technology to teach anything. You want to make the experience as rich and effective and efficient as possible. Quite often, information may need to be truncated – to keep it to the point. Perhaps all the information is provided within the scope of a course.  But within a specific topic, it may be isolated, modular, away from its natural environment (that being related concepts or important things to consider).

The iBook offers various methods for allowing the highly interactive content to be deployed, while also providing a full account of the information. Learners don’t just read text.

They can be encouraged to interact with the concepts being communicated:

  • Watch engaging/entertaining video (that might take 2 minutes to consume), rather than read dense and complex text about the relationships between things
  • Play with interactive graphs to see how adjusting X will affect Y
  • Take and keep notes directly from the text, which are then available as note cards, which help with things like revision (for students) or quick “just in time” support/reminders (for those learning work skills).
  • 3D images will also help to make text books more interesting to read.

All of this contributes to a better learning experience and the possibility of maintaining learner attention for longer than the normal 20-30 minutes of self study.

Is it all good? Well, I do have some issues…
One key market they are targeting are schoolchildren. This makes sense when one considers the size/weight of the average school bag. However, as a parent I can tell you there are several issues arising from the prospect:

  • It is an unequal world. Will children whose parents cannot afford an iPad be left behind?
  • It is an imperfect world. I wouldn’t trust my child to look after a €5 (or $5 or £5) radio and not break it. What about a €400+ device? If they (and my kids will) break their “school iPad”, what happens? Am I spending €400+ everytime they break one? Get insurance? Sure – but then they break their iPad so often,I’m probaby paying for another iPad a year anyway.

I have heard the arguments that text books are as expensive, but I don’t know whether they stretch to this cost. Furthermore, printed books can be handed down to younger children, bought/sold second hand, etc. In short, there are various factors that will mitigate the cost of text books, but these are not so easy to find for the iPad.
It is an impractical world.  (Update – please see comment below)Not every school will have a PC/Mac to load these iPads with content. Will parents need a computer? What about those who don’t quite understand the requirements of such technology (I know of someone who got an iPod, but didn’t realise they needed a computer to load content onto it). Will parents need computers and WiFi?

Why Am I So Down On This All of a sudden?
I’m not down on it at all. The first thing that does strike me is that it is a shame such a technology could not be provided in an open source model (or perhaps even the One Laptop Per Child model). Using cheap but effective technology and open source software could bring down the cost of developing and purchasing the technology. Furthermore a OLPC model could aslo have tablet computers with iBooks sent to developing countries. In short: Apple cannot be blamed for doing a good job. It is a shame that it cannot be more open and available, but Apple cannot be blamed for not being a charity.

On balance, iBooks are a definite step forward in education and the use of technology in education.

For instructional designers, I offer a tentative SWOT analysis for instructional designers in the use of iBook technology

Strengths
There are many strengths in the iBook model.

  • The deployment of rich-media, engaging learning content makes everyone happy
  • One device (rather than many books) is very compelling. I worked on projects in the past where people took eLearning courses to learn about a technology, but then brought manuals to work sites where they might need them. They would need a specific workbook for a specific worksite, depending on the technology installed. An iBook textbook means all of this can be kept in one portable device.
  • Moreso, they can become a one-stop-shop for learning and reference. (Imagine reading Ullyses with a guide/dictionary/notes all built in so you aren’t grappling for the back of the book or another book – you simply tap to bring up the information you may want immediately). As an example of an adult-learner, imagine a technician having the full manual, as well as troubleshooting guides and interactive guides explaining the concepts behind a technology altogether? They can find and use the specific information they require in seconds. This could help speed up processes, especially for rarer problems people face. Similar arguments could be made in medicine (reference guides, diagnostic practices, photos of symptoms could all be provided in one place, on one sleek device), sales (product references, user guides, application guides, price points, etc.).
  • (Possibly) Automatic revision? I am unsure of this, but if iBook Textbooks are built on the app model, a publisher could keep the content in their texts up-to-date in a much quicker, much more effective method, pushing new updates so their learners/users will always be confident they have the most up-to-date information.  This could completely disrupt the textbook model, with purchasers taking a “Subscription” to a text book for core content and updates.

Weaknesses
From an instructional design point of view, some educational technology is missing from iBook textbooks.

  • Ability to network/use forums or social media
  • Quizzes to help learners monitor their progress through a subject
  • the development of interactive scenarios

These are all regulalry used to enrich the learning experience at all levels (from school children to young and even more advance adult learners.

Perhaps this is on the horizon? Is it conceivable that someone else has already thought of this and could be developing an Android equivalent?
For instructional designers, this may mean we cannot extend/develop our learning content to the full extent that we might want. (From my own personal point of view, scenario/quiz based learning is very important). On the other hand, there could be great challenges in using the core functionality to mock things such as quizzes and scenarios (for example, if there is a function to jump to a specific page/point). However, without a dedicated quiz engine, any workaround would still lack key functionality, or make that functionality too clumsy to mock up (consider a question with several options, individual feedback for each, as part of a quiz of several questions, with feedback at the end of the quiz… that’s going to be complex)

Opportunities

There are obvious opportunities immediately available. Apple hook up with some publishing companies to provide a massive library of content. Their success with iTunes and the music industry would indicate that a development roadmap will be full for quite some time, and libraries of content will be released in time.
For instructional designers, this could mean opportunities within more traditional publishing houses to help them develop/redevelop a huge amount of texts into more engaging and interactive content. Whether publishing houses would go for this is anyone’s guess. I would imagine there will be a critical mass – once X number of publishers are on board, the rest may have to follow to stay relevant.

Threats
I think the biggest threat could be the model itself. Again, price is going to be a problem for many people. This might mean someone else comes along to develop an Android equivalent using cheaper hardware and OS. But then will instructional designers have to deal with development from 2 differnet operating systems (and hardware setups)?

As it is, one will need to buy a Mac to develop iBook Textbooks – which is a costly prospect to say the least.

With any technology for eLearning development, there is also the threat of instructional designers becoming lazy. You could get away with a lot of content that looks very good, but is instructionally poor if you don’t keep in mind the fundamentals of your profession. There is no inherent design/development process – this is the value you add as an instructional designer. You will still need to deal with SMEs, designers, project managers and clients. You will still be responsible for ensuring that learners using the finished contnet will learn – will achieve the objectives set out for that content.
Another threat could be that many people decide they *only* want iBook textbooks content, disregarding a lot of other content that could be more engaging/useful for learners. Without quiz/scenario based learning, this would degrade the quality of your learning product even further. Unless you could somehow hook the textbook up to an LMS, where learners could go for testing/scenarios. While this could work, it seems quite clumsy given that you’re using such a sleek model to deploy your content in the first place.

Conclusion

I have no doubt that the iBook Textbook is going to make serious waves – not just in school/college education, but in further education, CPD and ongoing requirements for those who work in industries where information is constantly being updated, or where typical responsibilities will often require a small library of content for reference. I myself am looking to save for a Mac for the express purpose of being ready, should (and when) the revolution hits full throttle.