Craig Weiss is CEO of E-learning 24/7, a company offering analyst, advisory and consultant services for vendors and consumers in the industry. Recently ranked #4 in a list of the top movers and shakers in e-learning, and with 13 years’ experience in the business, Craig shows his passion and commitment to e-learning in his work, on the E-Learning 24/7 blog, of which he is the author, and at the many conferences at which he speaks. The ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN News Service got in touch with him to hear about his latest ideas.
Interview by Alasdair MacKinnon
Describe yourself in 160 characters.
I think I am passionate about what I do, definitely a tech geek and early adopter. I love learning and seeing what is possible even if others disagree.
What inspires you to work in e-learning?
The unknown. In the early days people would say it’s not possible, it’s not equal or superior to classroom-based learning. I disagreed. I knew its potential and what it could do, if done right. The sky is unlimited with e-learning and that is what makes it exciting.
What are you hoping to bring to ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN – and what do you hope to gain from it?
I’m hoping to bring a new perspective, a new way of thinking. If I can get one person to walk out of there saying “you know, I’m going to do it” then I will have made a difference. I hope to gain from listening to others from all over the world discuss their experiences. Learning from others is the best way we all learn.
“Modern Problems – Smart Solutions” is a theme this year. How do you see this being played out in real life? What are the modern problems, and what smart solutions are changing e-learning right now?
Honestly, lots of ways. The idea that you can engage, enhance and increase retention and thus boost synthesis in online learning is still a novel idea. Yet it is being done in educational and corporate settings, and even in a combination of the two. Take learning about history. Why read a book and listen to a lecture when you can live it and breathe it via gamification, augmented reality and a learning experience not possible in the classroom.
On the business side we are in a global economy and as a result our institutions have to get up to speed. We cannot live and see the world just within our location. We must see what is out there and understand that our own perceptions are just some of many. That said, we have to create an agile approach to doing things, which in our current educational endeavours we are not. That is the way of the world, and that is what e-learning has to accomplish. However, it is up to the people who lead these initiatives in academia and corporate levels to take the reins.
You have recently written extensively on Learning Management Systems. What developments have these brought about in e-learning, and what problems have they solved?
This really is the best time to be in e-learning from the LMS perspective. They have saved an inordinate number of hours. They have enabled the ability to add video, stream video, and create a more interactive and engaging experience than in the past. With more than 560 LMSs on the market, you now have more choice, which is always a good thing. You can find a decent system for under 15K for, say, 1,000 users; and even find systems that run 5K to 7K for a few thousand learners.
What I think has made a massive difference are the number of vendors who are jumping on the early adopter scene. Today you have systems that enable online/offline synchronization with mobile devices and send SMS’s for notifications, which is highly popular with college students. You can enable gamification within your platform and even add apps with a one click approach. But we still have a way to go. Most systems still have a dated interface and ease of use is, to say the least, bad. You can have the best features available, but if people can’t use it, especially on the learner’s side, then it is worthless.
How can e-learning practitioners best ensure engagement in learners, and prevent the high dropout rates we see in many areas of e-learning?
Change the way we think. We are still using the instructor-led approach to e-learning. It just doesn’t work. Especially when we set it up to be nothing more than using a syllabus, leaving comments via a discussion board/forum, having assignments and in a nutshell reliving the school experience online.
As a former faculty member at a university, and a high school teacher, I understand the challenges we all face in education, but there is no reason we cannot instil scenario-based learning, where the learners are given all the variables. We also have to make it fun and engaging. The biggest problem we face in online learning is boring content. We tend to stick a bunch of texts online, like an e-book, and present information that is not up to modern times in terms of interactivity. The irony is that with all the authoring tools out there, anyone can do it. But we have to make the time to do so. We aren’t.
As with all periods of technological change, some inventions and innovations are going to go to the wall. What do you consider the “Betamax” of the modern e-learning scene, and why?
1. Learning content management systems. There are an extensive number of LMSs that do the same thing as a LCMS. The funny thing is that people think a LCMS – specifically the “C” part means a content authoring tool, it doesn’t. It refers in the most basic terms, content directories – think of file repositories, whereas people – learners can access and share.
2. Synchronous based learning. I know I am going to get a huge “huh” on this, but I believe that within five years, SBL will go the way of the dodo bird. It already is nearly gone – I’d say maybe 2% still use it on the corporate side, but close to 90% on the education side. When you think about it – and I think it ties in nicely to a previous question – how can we enable our students to achieve success in continuous learning when in the corporate setting they are not using the same approach to learning. You can’t.
3. Social learning in the sense of the Facebook-like experience. It has never really taken hold as much people thought it would. As students embrace new social learning capabilities and solutions, so will e-learning.
4. Mobile learning with a smartphone. People do not like taking courses or reading materials on a smartphone. The reason mobile learning has exploded is because of tablets, not smartphones. E-learning vendors can push smartphones all they want, but with on/off synch being used and the Tin Can API slowly being added why would you want a learner to learn via a smartphone?
Your e-learning predictions are said to be 90% accurate. What do you see as being the hot topics of ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN in 2014?
Besides new ways of thinking in terms of e-learning? I see the use of video being hot – and I’m not talking about sticking video into a course. I also believe that gamification – whether it be via creating online learning games or via a LMS will be strong. Mobile will be huge. And of course, hopefully my topic will be hot – LOL.
Craig Weiss will deliver a special focus session at ONLINE EDUCA BERILN 2013 entitled “Mobile Learning – if you think you know it all, guess again”. And for those who wish to benefit from his experience on a more personal level, he will be giving a pre-conference workshop entitled “One on One with Craig Weiss, E-Learning 24/7”.