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Online Learning News – 27 June 2000 issue


A news and idea service of Bill Communications Inc.

Tuesday, June 27, 2000 Vol. 3, No. 14


E-learning rocks! Burke, Gery, 230 breakouts, and
Little Richard!


1. Me vs. you: More bad Web design
2. Needle, channel, drum
3. NOT the anti-U
4. Breaking with the past?
5. If we've been ignoring you ...
6. Cries for help: Learner control?
7. Window shopping: Animate yourself!



All of the navigational aids in the world can't fix
a poor underlying design for a Web site.

So get that underlying structure right to begin with,
urges Saul Carliner ( ),
who teaches information design at Bentley College in
Waltham, MA.

Last week, performance-support specialist Gloria Gery
exhorted designers to think like learners ("Bad Web
design," June 20).

She urged learning professionals to take a hand in
design of training and performance-support sites, lest
such sites fail to "account for the perspective and
needs of the user," said the Tolland, MA, consultant.

Carliner agrees that design is crucial to how well
your site functions.

Web-based training and performance-support sites are
prone to the same design drawbacks as any Web page,
Carliner warns.

Some bad-design categories:

ME VS. YOU. What Carliner calls a "me" Web
site trumpets only the site sponsor. "Its content
is selected and structured around what the sponsor
wants to tell," says Carliner, "which might not bear
any resemblance to the content that users are
interested in."

Example: Carliner describes a real-estate Web
site that highlights not services for house hunters,
but the real-estate firm itself. The site plays up
training for prospective agents and even its annual
golf tournament.

Its home-search button is hard to find, says Carliner.
Once house hunters locate and click Search, they must
click through several screens before they come to
an actual house. And then details are few: The house's
size in square feet and a few features.

Another real-estate site, in contrast, is a "you"
site, designed for the user. This site places its
house-search feature conspicuously on the home page.
Users can find homes to check within three screens.
Clicking for details brings up an address, the number
and size of rooms, and other specifics.

CRAM JAM. This type of poorly-designed site crams the
home page full of everything the designer can think of,
with little or no organization. Conversely, beware what
Carliner calls the "twin to the cram jam" -- the "sparse
net, in which an overzealous designer over-organizes the
information and uses obscure category names."

MERELY LISTING. Sometimes Web designers merely
list key functions and features, rather than presenting
them in their context of use -- "an especially serious
problem in software documentation," says Carliner.

Such documentation should describe "everyday work tasks
that users want to perform with those functions and
features," Carliner argues.

To avoid merely listing, think through what Carliner
calls "use scenarios" or "use cases" as part of your
needs analysis for the site:

o What will drive users to your Web site?

o What will be their feelings and motivations?

o What will they hope to accomplish by searching
your site?

A single Web site often addresses several needs, so a
good designer prepares several use cases.

Prepare your scenarios before conducting a task analysis
or writing objectives for your site, Carliner says.

"As a result of reading the scenarios, designers might
determine that users can take several paths to achieve
the same goal," he explains. Designers must "make sure
that all of those paths are clear ones."

Scenario-creation at the outset also works as a check
on prototype designs, "so designers can see how a user
might work through the Web site to reach a desired
conclusion," Carliner adds.

This helps designers see whether the path to the user's
goal is clear -- or pitted with obstacles resulting from
weak design.


Performance-support specialist Gery suggests these
resources for good Web design:

Gery is chair of OnLine Learning 2000 Sept. 24-27 in
Denver. Sessions on Web design at OnLine Learning 2000

o Carliner's "Online Learning Primer," a free
pre-conference session the evening of Sept. 23.

o "Humanizing e-Learning with Learning Objects,"
led by Joseph Miller, president and chief learning
officer at, Sept. 25.

o "Training Games, Learning Objects, and Web Sites,"
with game creators Sivasailam and Raja Thiagarajan,
Sept. 26.

o "Nanosecond Development: When Traditional Design
Models Won't Work," with Ellen Bear, senior
manager at Bank of Montreal's Institute for
Learning, Sept. 26.

Go to http://www.onlinelearning2000.comfor more
information about OnLine Learning 2000 and Performance
Support 2000 in Denver Sept. 24-27.



What happens when slum kids in New Delhi, India, get Web
access -- but no training?

Within five hours, an eight-year-old found a Disney

Within days, kids had downloaded Hindi films, Disney
movie clips and sports trivia.

Researchers positioned a high-powered computer in a
public place near the slum last year, available for
anyone, reports the Straits Times of Singapore.

The children, many without primary education, began
using the Web to play games and check newspapers.

They developed their own language for working on the
computer: the cursor is a "needle," Web sites

The Windows hourglass that shows when an application
is running is the drum of the Hindu god Shiva.

One researcher noted wryly that many computer users
spend a lot of time learning computer technology.

"With these children," the researcher told the
newspaper, "that seems irrelevant."

Go to http://straitstimes.asia1.comand search Slum Kids
for the full story.



Editors note: Donald A. Norman ( )
stirred controversy with a presentation at Training
Directors' Forum Conference earlier this month
in which he criticized academic practices such as
lectures and grades ("UNext: The anti-U?," June 13).
Here Norman -- president of e-learning provider LLC ( of Deerfield,
IL -- tells more.

By Donald A. Norman

I am both amused and dismayed by the reaction to the
report of my talk at Training Director's Forum in

At UNext, we take education very seriously, even if I
don't always take myself so seriously. Education -- and
lectures -- should be fun.

Let me try to clarify the message I delivered. We
-- UNext -- form real partnerships with our consortium

We are not the "anti-university." Rather we are the
university for those who cannot attend physical

We offer courses to busy working professionals who do
not have time to attend school -- not even night school
-- or the workers in nations who do not have ready
access to university education, especially graduate-level
courses in business administration.

We worry a lot about pedagogy. We know that we cannot
offer the same rich social interaction possible in
face-to-face, residential universities. So we work
hard to create an online-learning community.


We don't use lectures because we believe that the
lecture format simply does not work over the Internet
-- and for that matter, is not the most effective way
to learn in any setting.

We are fierce advocates of learning by doing, so all
our courses are problem-based -- yet with substantive
content that we co-create with our consortium
universities: Carnegie-Mellon, Chicago, Columbia,
London School of Economics, and Stanford.

Do we question university practices? Of course -- and
every quality university does as well. Why lectures?
Why grades? Why fixed schedules?

We question in order to do better, to understand the
pedagogical argument behind the tradition. Sometimes,
the tradition is no longer relevant. Sometimes, it is
important, valuable, and should be maintained.

One mark of the educated citizen is the questioning
citizen: We question.

Are our courses good? You bet. I taught for more than
30 years as a faculty member of Harvard and the
University of California-San Diego. The courses I am
helping put together at UNext are better than the ones
I taught at Harvard and UCSD.

We work harder to develop the right pedagogy and
content, and to structure the course to promote

We test and test and test. Each course is tested with
students three different times, in three different ways,
before we release it for teaching by carefully trained
instructors of our university. And even then we watch,
observe, test and improve.


Let me answer two of the questions that emerged
in response to my talk at Training Directors'
Forum Conference:

Q Are MBA courses from a traditional institution
better than online ones?

A Asking the "better or worse" question is asking
about the wrong dimension. Our courses are
of the same quality as the best traditional ones,
but they are also very different, for they are
aimed at a different audience, with the material
delivered over different media and with no
in-person interaction.

Interaction among our faculty and students
happens in an online community enabled by
technology and nurtured by exceptional educators.

We aim at people who couldn't go to a
traditional MBA institution. We recommend
that people go to a traditional school over
an online one if they have the choice.

But what of those who do not have that choice?
We offer an alternative.

Q Do traditional grades matter? Why?

A They matter for traditional assessment, course
credits, degree programs, and accreditation.
But in the real world, no, they do not matter.

What does matter is how effective the learning
is and how effectively the student can apply
what has been acquired.

Traditional grades are often the result of
out-of-context examinations that do not really
assess true knowledge, or an ability to apply
that knowledge.

Moreover, in the real world, we expect people
to work together effectively, in teams. If
you don't know something, it is fine to ask
others for help.

Not so with the grading process. So the true
team builder might be penalized.

It is important to understand the reason for grades
and their limitations, even if we do stick to
conventional grading.

Online universities are different from facilities-based
ones. They therefore need to be assessed on different

It is not one vs. the other -- the one expands the
horizons of the other, but is intended for different
people under different circumstances.

Let us not put this as us vs. them: Let us make
it into cooperative exploration of learning and


Norman will be part of a question-and-answer
discussion with performance-support specialist
Gloria Gery at OnLine Learning 2000 in Denver.
Gery, a Tolland, MA, consultant, is chair of the
conference. Information about the Sept. 24-27 show
is at




o Does e-learning represent an opportunity to
break with the past -- to drop the trappings
of traditional learning?

o What can e-learning do without? Grades? Lectures?
Fixed schedules?

o What traditional tools of learning would you keep
even as you move into e-learning? Why?

Please respond to . Your
subject line: Breaking With the Past.

Please include:

o Your name and title.
o Your organization's name.
o Your location -- what city, suburb or town?
o Briefly, what your organization does.
o A phone number at which we can reach you.



If you feel as though you can't get through to us, it
may be the result of some recent e-mail misadventures
on our end.

If you suspect your question or response is lost
in cyberspace, we invite you to send it again to: .

Until further notice, please DON'T send anything to the
old address listed in earlier editions of OnLine Learning

We won't respond individually to every e-mail, but we
do try to publish every question.

And we publish many, though not all, of your responses.



Readers? Can you guide your peers on these?

with training entry-level sales associates and
furniture-delivery crews. My gut reaction is that
videos will work better. However, some on my staff feel
learner-controled instruction would be more effective."

Readers? Which do you suggest? Why?

OH, CANADA? "I am currently investigating the
benefits of online university teaching. I am
desperately searching for Canadian-based online
university programs. Your help is much appreciated."

BEST SCHOOLING? "What are the best technical schools,
community colleges, and online learning entities for
certification or courses in the following areas as
related to instructional design, distance-learning

o "Computer-based training?

o "Web-based training including Web design?

o "Tools such as Authorware, Dreamweaver,

o "HTML?"

READERS? If you can help, please send your ideas to .

Please use the appropriate subject line, e.g. Best

Please include:

o Your name and title.
o Your organization's name.
o Your location -- what city, suburb or town?
o Briefly, what your organization does.
o A phone number at which we can reach you.


Your colleagues may have some ideas for your
online-learning quandary. Please send your
question to . Include
a distinctive subject line.



JUST WHISTLE. Graphco Technologies Inc.
of Newtown, PA, is working on technology to
create "animated humans for e-commerce and e-support
applications." Its Digital Personnel technology,
developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and
the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
links facial images to vocal sounds -- creating
"photo-realistic animation of a person speaking,"
says the company.

of Reston, VA, says its XML-based Unity software lets
workers inside and outside an organization collaborate
via browser on secure documents, e-mail, discussion and

from West Virginia's Marshall University has
an interactive worksheet for calculating distance-
education costs. When users answer questions about
their distance-ed initiative, the site generates a
spreadsheet with cost and revenue projections for
the first seven years of the initiative. Check
a Chronicle of Higher Education article about the tool.



Do you want to go in-depth on e-learning? Check
pre- and post-conference workshops at OnLine Learning
2000. Go to http://www.onlinelearning2000.comand click
Schedule-Program, then click Workshops.

IT'S WEEKLY. IT'S FREE! To receive OnLine Learning News,
go to http://www.lakewoodconferences.comand click
Free Online Newsletters.

The OnLine Learning News team: Becky Wilkinson, Steve
Dahlberg, Terrie Maley, Leah Nelson, Julie Groshens,
Betsey Groshens, Phil Jones, Marc Hequet. E-mail with questions or comments.

Copyright 2000
Bill Communications Inc.


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