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Interview of the month: Elliott Masie


Elliott MasieElliott Masie is an internationally-known speaker and writer on the future of learning, and particularly technologically-assisted learning. Though he has a background in technology, he focusses on its comprehensible and practical application in the learning process. He heads the Masie Center, a thinktank focussing on how organisations can absorb technology and create continuous learning and knowledge within the workforce. He is also an advisor to a wide range of governmental groups and industry consortiums and was recently appointed to the White House Advisory Council on Expanding Learning Opportunities.

TrainingZone What state is the e-learning industry in at the moment?

Elliott Masie To answer that you have to track the right thermometer, and the really important one is workforce utilisation, how many people are taking up e-learning. And there the answer is very positive, yes, there's enormous response. More and more people are looking at learning options beyond the classroom, more people are undertaking blended learning. There's an excitement out there about it, but maybe more significantly there's an acceptance. It's not so happy a time for the vendors, in that the economy has slowed and the days of the easy big sale of e-learning are over. Managers and purchasers know more and are more cautious. But there's still big money to be made, it's just not such easy money. And we are using the term e-learning less, as we finding more and more that the technology assists, but it's the learning we need to focus on.

TrainingZone Are purchasers wary enough?

Elliott Masie We still need to be active in pointing out what's good and what's not, and in trying out and questioning. And that will go on. Although people are more cautious now, it's all still very new and our taste-buds aren't developed in this area yet, we should expect to keep developing in how we assess what the technology can do for us.

TrainingZone What skills do managers and course-planners need to make technologically-assisted learning work?

Elliott Masie The have to try to look at the whole continuum of learning, they have to realise that learning, like work, is done every day. They need to be prepared to change learning behaviour, to integrate it. And they have to be extremely focussed on showing workers that e-learning doesn't mean more work. There's an issue here that training used to mean a day away from work, but now workers fear that e-learning is something they will have to do out of their own time. Managers need to get around this perception.

TrainingZone How much does it help for learners to share experiences with each other?

Elliott Masie This is a complex question, how we get the instructional and collaborative sides working, because it can have a negative effect, if a learner is given some instruction through technology and then told to go and talk to someone else about it, who is also a learner, it can be counter-productive, it depends on the learning.

TrainingZone Does computer-based training work for some subjects more than others?

Elliott Masie Yes, it's easiest in areas with the least ambiguity. It started naturally in IT, and it's been very effective in subjects with procedural steps. It's more difficult when the subject matter is judgment-based and behavioural. And it certainly holds challenges for physical skills. Can you teach someone welding with e-learning alone? In areas with more ambiguity, back to the previous question again, collaboration becomes more useful. Generally in these areas, e-learning is going to need more sophisticated design and implementation.

TrainingZone What are drop-out rates like across e-learning, are there any patterns?

Elliott Masie The clearest determining factor on the pattern is manager-engagement. If the manager stays in touch with the programme and its completion, and shows the learner a result in completing the training, then the drop-out rate is very low. The result can be positive or negative, a pay-raise or promotion on one side, or reduced status or money, but having implications makes the difference. These have the lowest drop-out rates. The highest come when it's voluntary, not monitored, and when the programme itself is linear, just digital page-turning. However, there is the potential in e-learning for positive drop-outs, in that it's easier than in other kinds of learning for people to get in, get what they need and get out again, and why not? This is only a part of the drop-outs, but it is an aspect.

TrainingZone What technological change would most improve the experience for learners?

Elliott Masie Greater bandwidth will increase options, but more crucially anything that moves away from a static reading experience to listening and watching. Classrooms aren't reading experiences, they offer much more, and we should look to expend the experience similarly with technology.

TrainingZone Can we expect any tenhnological changes in the near future?

Elliott Masie Increased access to bandwidth, better streaming and predictive download. Better simulation technology is being developed in the military and elsewhere, and that will trickle down, so we will have more simulation technology in e-learning. And there will be changes in deliver factors, like more use of handhelds. Not everyone works in an office or at a desk, so we should watch out for developments in handhelds and other kinds of delivery.

TrainingZone Are there any differences between e-learning between the UK and the US?

Elliott Masie The UK is in a better situation because of habits of learning. In the US your history as a learner involves much less self-study, from the age of five right up to your degree you attend and you watch. In the UK you do much more reading and much less watching. The Open University has also more successful model in the UK than equivalents in the US, and that provides a model. And, though my American colleagues won't thank me for saying it, there's a stronger intellecutal base in the UK, more intellectual curiosity about learning. All this won't make a huge difference for e-learning between the UK and the US, more a 4-5% difference, not a 90% one, but these are distinctions.

TrainingZone And around the world?

Elliott Masie Take-up is much higher even than in the UK in some other parts of Europe, particularly Scandinavia. In Finland e-learning has taken off enormously. And in Asia as well.

TrainingZone Is e-learning suited to providing truly international education?

Elliott Masie If you adapt the curriculum properly and work on the language requirements. Cisco, Microsoft and Oracle have managed to launch products simultaneously very successfully across international markets, so if the proper work is done there's no reason why not.

TrainingZone Who should we look to to establish quality standards in e-learning?

Elliott Masie I think the marketplace has to do that, for quality standards. If government does it we lose innovation. For example, the market produces films, and we don't need to be told what films to watch. But I'm not in the majority there. But establishing technology standards is more important, ensuring re-use and international use.

What are your favourite e-learning sites?

Elliott Masie Mainly higher education rather than corporate ones, I often look at around 50 university sites. MIT, Stockholm University, some colleges in Brazil,, ISPI (International Society for Performance Improvement.

TrainingZone And what companies would you back?

Elliott Masie I would have to say no comment. I think the stock market is a lousy indicator of what is doing well in the sector. I'm glad that some companies in the field are attracting investment, but I don't give advice on investing.


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