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Shiny objects and real impact

Yesterday I went off about how learning design should be done right and it’s not easy.  In a conversation two days ago, I was talking to a group that was supporting several initiatives in adaptive learning, and I wondered if this was a good idea.

Adaptive learning is desirable.  If learners come from different initial abilities, learn at different rates, and have different availability, the learning should adapt.  It should skip things you already know, work at your pace, and provide extra practice if the learning experience is extended.  (And, BTW, I’m not talking learning styles).  And this is worthwhile, if the content you are starting with is good.  And even then, is it really necessary. To explain, here’s an analogy:

I have heard it said that the innovations for the latest drugs should be, in many cases, unnecessary. The extra costs (and profits for the drug companies) wouldn’t be necessary. The claim is that the new drugs aren’t any more effective than the existing treatments if they were used properly.  The point being that people don’t take the drugs as prescribed (being irregular,  missing, not continuing past the point they feel better, etc), and if they did the new drugs wouldn’t be as good.  (As a side note, it would appear that focusing on improving patient drug taking protocols would be a sound strategy, such as using a mobile app.)  This isn’t true in all cases, but even in some it makes a point.

The analogy here is that using all the fancy capabilities: tarted up templates for simple questions, 3D virtual worlds, even adaptive learning, might not be needed if we did better learning design!  Now, that’s not to say we couldn’t add value with using the right technology at the right points, but as I’ve quipped in the past: if you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it.  And, as a corollary, if you don’t get the design right, it doesn’t matter how you implement it.

We do need to work on improving our learning design, first, rather than worrying about the latest shiny objects. Don’t get me wrong, I love the shiny objects, but that’s with the assumption that we’re getting the basics right.  That was my assumption ’til I hit the real world and found out what’s happening. So let’s please get the basics right, and then worry about leveraging the technology on top of a strong foundation.

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