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The Rock Stars of eLearning: An interview with Neil Lasher

By Rick Raymer / March 2013

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The first eLearning industry conference that I attended was DevLearn in 2010. I attended Neil's session, "Is Learning Design a Science? You bet!" and was blown away by his enthusiasm and presentation style. I remember thinking: "This guy is a nut, and I absolutely love it!" I was hooked. I instantly became a fan of Neil's. Since then, I never miss an opportunity to see Neil speak. His Ignite talk at DevLearn 2011 was particularly inspiring to me—framing how technology can be used to educate and empower marginalized populations, especially our youth. However, as wonderful as Neil is when he's presenting, I've always felt like he shines the most when you catch him outside of the formal sessions. If you ever see him at the lunch table at a conference, make sure to elbow your way in, and hold onto your socks, because he will knock 'em off. Not only is he passionate about his own work, but he's an evangelist for innovation across the entire learning industry. To use a military term, Neil is a force multiplier. His passion for training significantly improves the potential of any group in which he is a participant.

With that, I present this month's rock star of eLearning, Neil Lasher.

If you were going to classify the industry you are currently a part of, what would you identify this industry as?

I still classify that I am a Learning and Development professional. My role is to educate other L&D teams who wish to create learning that changes behavior. Not just transfer knowledge using cheap rapid tools that purport to create learning. In the industry of Learning and Development, I am an Instructional Designer and a teacher of Instructional Design.

When people ask you, "what do you do?" What is your response?

My mother tells everyone that I teach computers? No idea where that came from. I have a simple answer to your question.

I work in three areas:

  1. The Learning Coach
    I help Learning and Development people create great learning for the most demanding of professionals. I work within an independent training and advisory partnership, working with HR, L&D departments, eLearning developers and training professionals to train and support the creation of effective, efficient and attractive eLearning.
    I create extraordinary events in unbelievable places and create astonishing environments from which people can learn.
  3. Phone2Know
    I create realistic conversations in learning and for learning, using interactive voice recognition tools. This is the future…

What motivated you to get into this industry?

I fell into this industry purely by accident. By trade I am a master silversmith, I ran the apprenticeship scheme at a manufacturing business in London. I was offered a contract in Malaysia to set up a department in a factory with a new technical process and teach 400 young people to work the plant.

I spent three months doing this and when I returned home I realized I had a gift, the gift of being able to help people understand very technical processes in an easy to understand manner.

On my return I started a training company and have never looked back.

Why are you passionate about what you do? What motivates you?

I never knew I was so passionate. Others tell me that my passion and excitement of helping others learn is catching and is one of my competitive advantages. I just love what I do. I love getting out of bed every day to do something different. I love the challenge and I love to challenge. For some, I suppose I am a little abrasive, but no pain no gain!

What are some of your "big ideas" for improving yourself, your learners, the industry, society, etc.?

I don't see my ideas as big ideas. I write a lot, I read as much as I can, I experiment and research where possible. I spend about 20 percent of my time trying new concepts and new techniques, not all make it!

I come up with new concepts and get them published where possible, not everyone agrees with my ideas, but, I believe it is all about challenging the existing rules to ensure a success for my clients.

What suggestions do you have for "turning your learners into fans?"

I should write a book on this subject. But will try to answer you in a few sentences.

  • It's all about moving the learner to the 'want' place.
  • Know your learners and make sure they know you!
  • If they want to do it, they will. If you force them they wont!
  • Scrap compliance as we know it and turn it into something valuable.

What are some of the best examples of eLearning that you have seen? What is considered "state of the art" in our industry?

This is such a difficult question to answer. One man's meat is another man's poison. I have seen examples that were so fit for purpose that it was painful to think someone else made it! But out of context it looked bland and boring.

The best examples are not wow factor, are not high media vision, are not immersive games or augmented reality tools, but they could be!

The best examples are those that fit the need, are fit for purpose, are contextually on the nail.

The best examples at the ones where someone finishes and says to someone else "have you done the course on…." For me that's the Holy Grail.

What needs to change in our industry? How will it evolve?

We need to change the way we create learning. We need to scrap the rapid tools and stop trying to create cheap, quickly created courseware.

Actually we need to stop making courseware. We need to start to make experiences, valuable experiences where we gain knowledge, understanding and information on how to apply these new techniques to our daily lives. We need to monitor this not with metrics (who did what and when) but with analytics (who is doing, where they are, how they got there and where they are likely to go next)

How will it evolve? We are about to move to the place where we do not "go to training," we will not "do a training course." We will move to a model where learning is just a part of your daily routine. Performance Support? Experiences?

We do not "go on the internet" anymore, we are on the internet! The same will happen to learning.

Who are some of the people that you consider to be the rock stars of our industry, and why?

Everyone who is willing to push the envelope is a rock star. Everyone who is creating learning that changes behavior is a rock star. Everyone who is a leader and not a follower is a rock star. There are too many to mention.

About the Author

Rick Raymer is a primary solution architect at Serco Inc., working with integrated product teams to design, develop, and deliver state-of-the-art learning games, interactive courseware, and simulations. Before joining Serco, he designed and managed the production of eLearning, games, and simulations for the North Carolina Community College System's BioNetwork organization. Prior to this, he was the VP of Product Development for Oasys Mobile, a top 10 mobile games publisher. Raymer has been designing videogames professionally since 1996. He has produced over forty games, with titles on every major gaming platform including consoles, PCs, handheld devices, and mobile phones.

© 2013 ACM 1535-394X/13/03 $15.00

DOI: 10.1145/2446514.2448916


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