ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Five Questions ... for Allison Rossett

By Lisa Neal Gualtieri / December 2008

Print Email
Comments Instapaper
A long time professor of educational technology at San Diego State University (SDSU), Allison Rossett is in Training magazine's HRD Hall of Fame and in 2008 was designated as an ASTD legend. She edited The ASTD E-Learning Handbook: Best Practices, Strategies, and Case Studies for an Emerging Field; and also co-authored a white paper on blended learning opportunities for the American Management Association, and another on learner engagement for Adobe Systems. She now teaches fall semesters at SDSU and spends the spring and summer consulting, writing, and trying hard to stay busy.

Lisa Neal Gualtieri: What is the most difficult concept to teach your students?

Allison Rossett: Interesting question. I think it is hard for newbies to understand that ours is a people business first, not a technology business. The technology is enticing, it's what often attracts candidates to San Diego State University. But the people who are great at the work are great because they are fascinated with learning, information, and support for people in their contexts. We might be talking about those who travel about and repair things, science teachers at inner-city middle schools, or visitors to the San Diego Zoo. Who are these people? What would "smarts" look like? What questions do they have? Where do they err? What prompts their performance? Must they know it by heart? How much of it is emotion, affect, and appreciation and how to we nurture that side as well?

LNG: Based on this, would you say your students need to learn information literacy skills to better apply technology to their target learner populations?

AR: Sure, but I don't see them taking a class on it. We try to infuse these skills into our graduate program and their lives through the many exercises and assignments they take on.

LNG: What area of e-learning excites you most right now?

AR: The most significant thing going on in workplace training and development today is we have punched through the walls of the classroom to allow experts and peers to bring their messages closer to work and life through technology. This happens in many ways, via e-coaches, performance support tools, and social networks. A common theme is they are happening where we work and live. For now, I'll focus on performance support.

Performance support is immediate, targeted, and presented as needed. The best way to appreciate performance support is to look at examples showing how it solves problems and elevates practice. I can remember twiddling my thumbs while waiting to do laundry in my dorm at college. When I wanted to do the wash, the washers and dryers were almost always busy, causing frustration late into the night. When I did get to it, the room-with scattered piles of laundry, wet and dry-disgusted me. This was the result of aggressive launderers, who chucked wash on the table if you weren't there to claim it. Enter e-Suds. The laundry process is civilized by introducing information and technology. USA Technologies installed Internet-based laundry systems on several university campuses. The system tracks the use of washers and dryers and then alerts students on the status of their laundry and the washers and dryers in close proximity via email, cell phone, or PDA . Imagine the benefits of knowing the "wash cycle is complete" on your load, or that a washer and dryer is available in Chavez Dormitory, floor 3, north end.

What about other areas to tackle? Such as how much should you invest? Which mountain bike is right for you? Are you ready to get married? You could study up or go into therapy to tackle these issues. Or you can turn to performance support to lead you through a series of questions, answers, and guidance targeted to your responses.

Should you use performance support for your task? Why not use performance support to reflect on it? Lisa Schafer and I built a performance support tool that tackles that very question, based on content from our book, Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving from Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere. I also produced a podcast on the topic.

LNG: What is the most innovative technology you have used recently with the potential to impact learning?

AR: This summer, as I was preparing a course about performance consulting, I came upon NING, a free social networking tool. That happened the very same day I was examining something that Rebecca Frazee and I had built as part of a prior offering of the course. It is called Performance Improvement Emporium (PIE) an online home for short, student-produced papers about non-training interventions. (Reengineering and performance support tools are two of many non-training interventions). It's useful. People seek it out. That being said, I wasn't at all satisfied with it and how to incorporate it into my class.

PIE looked ugly to me. It was old. It was dull. It begged for an update. How do you update papers written by students long gone? Well, you could ask new students to tackle those topics and then add their papers. But then, in a year or two, you would have the same problem.

I wondered if there was a way to do something more organic, something that would maintain itself, continue the conversation, involve people, and enable them to update their own work or comment on others long after they graduate. And if we did it right, participation would extend beyond our classes-to people with an interest in non-training interventions for performance improvement, no matter where they reside.

That is exactly what happened. Rebecca Frazee and I went from PIE, a 1.0 resource, to PINOT, a 2.0 social networking site. We started with 28 students, 14 on campus, 14 online. The PINOT community has 155 members today, growing steadily. They come from all over the world and contribute their thoughts on topics like feedback, performance support, captology, and ecoaching. I had my doubts about the "learningfulness" of social nets until this experience. I don't anymore, although there is much more to be known about how to maximize it. I encourage people to visit us, join, check out the groups and get involved.

LNG: What did you learn from this experience that will help others who are developing e-learning?

AR: We are still learning from it. In fact, we are about to launch a study that looks into this new form. This is what I know to date. People (like Jay Cross) dub it 'informal learning.' Well, no doubt, people do learn vast amounts in informal ways, starting with their first language. That said, when you are teaching a class about Egypt or performance consulting or intro religion or equipment repair, there are outcomes associated with it. The expert or professor or company expects you to cover ground resulting in consistent performance outcomes.

When thinking about using the social network for my class, I realized that I was engaged in an exercise to attempt to amplify the social aspects and reduce total freedom. While it was nowhere near as constrained and one-way as prior treatments of the material, our use of the social net site was indeed defined. I made it a key assignment in the class. I placed student on teams with responsibility to add high-value content, create discussions, and make it interactive. Freedom was reduced, as you can see, while the learning experience shifted agency to the teams. As one student, an IBMer who lives in Australia, wrote on the site, "PINOT rocks." She went on to say, "I love this site, and it's beginning to grow! I am sure I will continue visiting PINOT long after this course is over! I am also realizing how easy it is to publish your own content, media, and graphics. The power of Web2 is really amazing."

About the Author
Lisa Neal Gualtieri is editor-in-chief of eLearn Magazine and an e-learning consultant.

back to top 

�2009 ACM  

Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright � 2009 ACM, Inc.


  • There are no comments at this time.