Underground Mentality

It’s so funny how we don’t talk anymore...

25 May 2016 | Sophie Tilley | , ,

E-learning is essentially a solitary experience. When we’re getting more friendly with our mobile devices than we are with each other, how can we use technology to inspire teamwork and engage people not only in a learning journey, but with each other…?

Sit next to me long enough and I’ll probably talk your ear off.

In waiting rooms, on public transport, next to the pastries at the supermarket. I am that person who’ll always engage in conversation.

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Recently I was on the London Underground and found myself with the familiar problem. Everyone in their own little world, eye contact notable by its absence and most people focused intently on the screen of the mobile device in front of them. I was all dressed up with no-one to talk to.

I’ve often had genuinely interesting (and sometimes even life affirming) conversations with total strangers, simply because of the seat I chose to sit in on the train or in a coffee shop. And as a talkative Northern lass, the stern silence of the Tube does nothing but make me bite my lip and feel generally twitchy.

I started to think about the way we interact… I’m constantly bemoaning the lack of conversation I see around me. Families sitting silently at tables in restaurants having a more meaningful interaction with their phones than they do with each other. So how is it that I could possibly defend mobile learning? After all, isn’t it just encouraging more of the same? As an instructional designer, aren’t the courses I write taking people out of the classroom and placing them into digital isolation? I was having a crisis of conscience.

I’m still an e-learning advocate, especially for the type of bespoke courses we create at Walkgrove. I know first-hand that e-learning solves many of the problems of scalability and delivery associated with training a large, diverse workforce. A consistent message can be seen by everyone, ensuring all colleagues are on the same page. A digital approach can certainly make previously bland subject matters engaging through its treatment- I’ve had my fair share to say about gamification in the past. Let’s not forget that one of the most successful mobile games to date simply encourages us to match up shapes- something we probably haven’t thought of doing since primary school.  

As custom e-learning developers, it’s our aim to create ever more engaging courses- it’s our goal to maximise engagement and motivation through the training we deliver. But this is obviously a double edged sword when we consider that many of the courses we design aim to increase skills that rely on human interaction; management training, communication, teamwork, customer support. We all know that mobile and BYOD is a huge current theme in the world of e-learning and rightly so. It’s true that we need to respond to the needs of learners, designing solutions for how, when and where they want to learn. But as I sat watching the GSMA Intelligence real time tracker, rapidly ticking over the number of mobile devices on the planet (7,590,191,137 at the time of writing!) I was more than a little terrified.  I had to question whether, by encouraging people to stare ever more intently at their desktops, tablets and phones, we could genuinely encourage the development of people skills? Can we really teach lessons about teamwork in an isolated environment?

The social LMS is an exciting idea that allows learners to collaborate, share ideas and learn from each other via social networking sites like Facebook. Learners have the freedom to access learning materials wherever they are but also have the benefit of being actively engaged with a community of other learners, facing the same issues and sharing their learning experiences. This is a great way to keep learners engaged with the topic, but also with each other, encouraging conversation, developing relationships and keeping people connected, albeit electronically.

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Bringing real people and experiences into the electronic learning environment through case studies, interviews and photography can be another way to establish an emotional connection and promote thinking of others, their reactions and behaviours in what could otherwise be a highly introspective exercise. Using interactivities which imitate conversation and feedback emotional responses give nervous learners the opportunity to practice their people skills in a non-threatening environment so they have greater confidence when it comes to the real thing. 

When I joined Walkgrove I discovered how a blended approach could incorporate both e-learning and face-to-face training. Key skills are learnt individually through online training and then implemented and practised in the classroom with other learners.

On reflection it seems that it’s important to remember that it’s not actually the device that’s mobile, it’s us! Learning doesn’t have to be an isolating experience if we don’t want it to be and if we’re designing a mobile learning course, why not encourage collaboration and bring together the best bits of a blended approach by asking learners to get together on their own initiative? Our instructional text doesn’t need to be as rigid as ‘Select next to continue’; how about ‘Discuss this with a colleague’? Electronic learning tool kits and apps with collaborative game and quiz functions can encourage learning groups and get-togethers to make media, truly social. 

I’d love to have a chat with you about all this, you know, if you can get a word in.