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Adobe's eLearning Evangelist: The Future of "21st-Century" Training & Development (Interview)

[This interview is syndicated to the eLearning Council by Bloomfire's Blog, whose senior editor, Nemo Chu, conducts regular interviews with movers and shakers in the training and development world. The Bloomfire team also hosts regular free webinars, including an upcoming one on Building Effective Communities of Practice.]

Dr. Allen Partridge is the eLearning Evangelist for Adobe. In addition to his work for Adobe Systems, he continues to serve on the doctoral faculty in the Communications Media and Instructional Technology program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Allen has written several books and a host of articles on topics ranging from 3D game development to Instructional Design for new technologies. He is active in explorations of Immersive Learning as well as traditional multimedia enhanced eLearning and rapid eLearning. Allen works closely with the eLearning Suite and Captivate teams at Adobe, providing a channel to customer needs and concerns and helping facilitate communication among team members.

Q. Dr. Partridge, it's a pleasure to have you with us. As an eLearning Evangelist at Adobe, I'm sure you've probably seen everything there is to see around eLearning. Perhaps a good place to start is the business impact of eLearning. How does eLearning help organizations handle challenges such as employee turnoever and knowledge loss?

That knowledge loss dilemma is certainly one of the constants I hear from people, that they suffer loss of expertise which sometimes costs them dearly every time there is a change in personnel. I suspect that it’s been one of the key motivators for the rise in focus on Rapid eLearning – that ability to shift the locus of content creation to subject matter experts (SMEs), those with the critical knowledge is a significant benefit in terms of rapidly gathering, organizing and maintaining highly specialized instructional content.

Tools like Adobe Captivate and eLearning Suite have made it possible for organizations to gather and distribute that information far more easily, but as with all such ventures there is a caveat. I suspect it is tempting for managers, always looking to cut costs and streamline processes, to mistake the decentralization made possible by these tools for a replacement of their existing training and instructional design resources. In practice that’s not at all practical. While it does help cut costs, organizations continue to need eLearning and instructional design expertise in order to ensure that the content supplied by subject matter experts is delivered in a way that maximizes the efficiency and efficacy of knowledge transfer.

Q. With the proliferation and adoption of social media, how do online learning communities contribute to efficient and effective knowledge transfer?

Certainly the social aspects of Web 2.0 are enhancing our ability to collaborate between educators, learners and the broader community. For example we recently added a Twitter Widget to Captivate that allows content developers to build Twitter interaction right into their courses. The role of cloud computing is also growing as we add elements like file sharing, storage, online reviewing & assessment tracking all into Captivate and eLearning Suite via Acrobat.com. We are hearing constantly that people want ‘always on’ access to their content, and need to be able to collaborate both during the development and deployment phase using online tools that facilitate the kinds of interaction that are often labeled ‘social’.

I suspect that we’ll see continued, but understandably cautious efforts to leverage these forms. The power to share through our common desire to communicate and create in this way is a strong motivator, but there are also of course issues of privacy, exposure of data etc. that compel us to examine the entire opportunity carefully before complete adoption. We are already seeing a lot of efforts in this regard, with the development of tools that allow us to take advantage of social networks, while adding some combination of control and integration that make the tools more practical for business applications.

Q. Seems like such efforts imply that social tools will get increasingly integrated into the workplace. If that's the case, what might 21st century training and development look like?

Understanding the 21st century skill set and landscape is no doubt the first step to adaptation. We know that learners’ foundations need to expand to include broader and deeper technology comprehension, but the more substantial change is that with 21st century skills we value more substantially ability in creative problem solving, adaptive reasoning, evaluation & analysis of complex systems and similar skills that all point to a better trained, more experienced workforce.

Assessment of these higher order skills is extraordinarily problematic, and as we continue to see developments in online training and distance education, it can be extremely difficult to ascertain the actual skill and experience of personnel. The problem manifests both during the discovery & hiring cycle and during the internal evaluation cycle. We may find that our current mechanisms for evaluation of ‘value’ are woefully inadequate. Anecdotal reference to ‘achievement’ using 360 like mechanisms designed to ascertain effectiveness may not be very useful in a 21st century system which thrives on collaboration. How does one determine the efficacy of a single person in an extremely effective collaborative team? Higher order objective assessment in the face of these social dynamics can be vexing, and I’m not sure we have made much progress in the education of 21st century skills, let alone their long term assessment. But in the end the challenges become opportunities to explore new ideas, so I’m sure we have some great new tools and methods ahead of us.

Q. Sounds like performance measurement is going to look quite different in the 21st century. Dr. Partridge, thanks again for making the time. To end, what kind of literature would you recommend for our human resources and training & development readers?

I’m a big fan of Clark & Mayer’s work on multimedia & educational psychology, well collected in e-Learning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning Patti Shank has a nice practical book, The Online Learning Idea Book: 95 Proven Ways to Enhance Technology-Based and Blended Learning that really hits the nail on the head identifying planning and creative thinking as the keys to creating great interactive instruction.

I have to recommend the Captivate Blog where a host of eLearning folks, Adobe managers & engineers all post along with me – and we love to look not just at Captivate but at the entire field of eLearning. I also like Captain Captivate and CpGuru.

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