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The Rock Stars of eLearning: An interview with Jane Bozarth

By Rick Raymer / March 2013

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So, let's get one thing straight. In the realm of human capabilities, there's impossible, possible, and Jane-possible. Jane does so much in our industry that it can really feel like she's operating just beyond what is humanly possible. Now, I can't claim to know the secret of her success, but I suspect it has something to do with her co-pabilities. (Yes, I just made that up.) What I mean is maximizing one's ability by leveraging the power of a group through influential contributions. In other words, when Jane talks, not only do people listen, but they are compelled to be a part of the conversation, which makes what Jane has to say, even more powerful. I am reminded of the word "gestalt." That is, a configuration of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts. A perfect example of this is Rice Krispies treats. While they are simply butter, marshmallows, and puffed rice, the result is so much greater than the mere sum of its parts. So, I guess what I'm saying, is Jane is like the Rice Krispies treat of our industry, combining elements of learning, performance, collaboration, and technology into a crunchy-sweet package that is totally awesome.

With that, I present my next Rockstar of eLearning, Jane Bozarth.

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

I explore new technologies to assess their possible value for workplace learning use, and where appropriate incorporate them myself or work with other trainers to help them incorporate new tools and approaches into their work.

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

I would call the industry I belong to the workforce development industry. It is separate from academic teaching and is not as specific as "eLearning" or "training," but focused more on workplace performance improvement. I kind of fell into the work, as did most of the people I know in the field. I was in a job that required perhaps one-third of the time training employees and found that was what I liked best, so started looking for a role that would let me do that full-time. I started out as a classroom trainer but moved quickly to eLearning when I saw the potential for that to solve so many of my problems, like a geographically dispersed workforce and government/HR regulations that required a great deal of compliance training. Since then my role has broadened beyond course design and delivery to performance consultant.

Why are you passionate about what you do? What makes you enthusiastic about what you do?

I am passionate because I see so much unmet potential for what we could achieve. I like figuring out the puzzle—assessing a performance problem or need and finding the right solution. I like the moment when I see that someone else "gets it"—learns it, figures it out, solves the problem for themselves. I LOVE exploring technologies and figuring out what they are at the root, then finding ways to use them for learning, especially in ways that might not be explicit at first. I've seen really good courses hosted entirely via a blog, which is essentially a Web page creator tool. Lately I've been exploring using Pinterest to create narratives, since it allows for sequential upload of photos with captions.

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

Lately my big idea is that we need to do a better job of narrating work—of helping people explain and document (through better means than listing activities on a weekly report) not just what they do but how they get things done. We are woefully weak at capturing and sharing tacit knowledge in the enterprise-wide, organizational sense, but I think new tools are creating great new ways to enable that. With a bigger brush, sharing what we do and how we do things is how we help others in the next office, in the workplace, in the industry, in "society" improve. A favorite piece from grad school is from Wasko and Faraj, who found that people share information largely because they feel it is for the public good. So I think the motivation is there once the tools, and enough reinforcement, are.

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

Help them learn more about how people learn, and how they learn. Give them options. Don't be boring. Don't blame your content: It's your job to find a way to make it interesting and relevant to them, even when it really isn't. Help them make a connection to a bigger picture, and make sure they get positive reinforcement: Hook them up with an industry expert; invite them to post an idea or an image, and make sure a couple of people respond to it. And make sure people know how to become fans—include social site buttons, your Twitter handle, whatever, to help them connect later.

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

Is this a trick question? The best eLearning examples are the ones that meet the goal—at the end, the learner can perform x. That doesn't mean they're the prettiest or shiniest. Sometimes a just-right interaction or access to supporting information matters. Sometimes it's a branching decision-making question that offers just the right options to help learners become more aware of the consequences of their actions. Sometimes it's a fabulous game or simulation. Cathy Moore has a number of examples on her blog that highlight these things. I'd look more at what's effective for different uses than try to name or emulate a particular approach or style.

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

I am concerned about the increasing desire to count things rather than measure what matters. While I appreciate some of the benefits to be gained from working with Big Data, I hope we don't get so caught up in granular counts and theoretical (maybe "hopeful") analysis of all the data that we obscure the bigger picture. I'd like to see us move from designing courses to designing experiences, and from delivering "training" to delivering real performance support. One thing that will spur the evolution is that the ball is increasingly being handled by the learners. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone in the wired world who has not learned something from YouTube, for instance. People are increasingly more cognizant of what they need to learn, know how to seek it out, recognize in most cases they just need a particular small answer, not an 8-hour "course," and given 30 options know which two or three best meet their needs.

What would you recommend for those wanting to get started, or learn more?

They need to get grounded in the basics: Mayer's Multimedia Learning, Clark and Mayer's eLearning and the Science of Instruction, and Aldrich's Complete Guide to Serious Games and Simulations. Beyond, regularly read Tom Kuhlmann's Rapid eLearning Blog and Cathy Moore's instructional blog. Also Julie Dirksen's Design for How People Learn and Connie Malamed's Visual Language for Designers. Outside the idea of "courses" and on to bigger picture of workplace learning, keep up with whatever Jane Hart is talking about. Even bigger? Take a look at what's coming out of Stanford's Design Thinking Bootcamp.

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: 10.1145/2446514.2458086


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