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The Rock Stars of eLearning: An interview with Megan Bowe

By Rick Raymer / April 2013

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With the recent release of the Experience API 1.0 spec (commonly known as Tin Can), we are ushering in a new era of leveraging technology in training and development. Megan Bowe was instrumental in developing this specification, and is a leader in designing systems that leverage the full power of these new tracking standards. There are so many possibilities for recording learning interactions, and then feeding those results back into the training loop, that I think it's difficult to predict exactly how people will use this technology. I'm a huge fan of science fiction literature, and I've always been fascinated with how futurists have depicted future learning scenarios. Nearly all of these future predictions include artificial intelligence (AI) that customizes training based off of recorded learning events. This is the power of the Experience API. Capturing learning events, regardless of the platform, where they can be fed to AI systems to create training that is tailored to the learner. We're in for a long, strange trip, and Megan will be your tour guide.

So, with no further ado, I give you my next eLearning Rockstar, Megan Bowe.

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

I design experiences and strategy that live on the edge of what we think about learning and technology. I work at Rustici Software, where I help people figure out the best way to implement Tin Can with tools and systemic changes that directly impact the results of their organizations. I devote a lot of my free time to Up to All of Us, which is a community with an annual retreat. Aaron Silvers and I founded it last year to bring together people from disparate industries who have a marked interest in design, learning, and technology. The type of people who are driven to solve the really hard problems-the type of problems that can't be solved alone.

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 classify myself mostly as part of the eLearning industry, but I play in a lot of places. One of my main goals is to start conversations across industry and role boundaries that create opportunities on larger scales. I spend a lot of time in K-12, HR, and design groups too. I did business analysis work for a company that focused on accessibility and video delivery, some in the education and professional development area. As I learned more about user research and design methods, specifically data driven design, I was profoundly motivated to focus on learning technology. It was also the biggest, most complex challenge in the room. (I love a good challenge.) I saw how technology was generally advancing in some places and how the different design disciplines were evolving along with it. Looking at where the learning tech industry was at, I decided that was an area I really cared about and had some big opportunity for innovation.

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

I'm passionate about the huge amount of untapped potential for technology to help people learn more, get better at what they do, and to succeed in a world that formal education doesn't well prepare us for anymore. There are so many opportunities for people to take ownership of their lives and do what they want to do considering how much more connected networks have become. We are in the place, at the right time, to help people learn the things they need to overcome immediate obstacles they are facing. I love to imagine a world where evidence of expertise is not something that is bought with insane amounts of college debt, but can be created by the person who understands the need for it and proven by what they have actually done with it.

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

Everyone is unique and technology should be customizing experiences to what people know, don't know, and want to know. The how is still emerging, we have a lot to learn from how marketing and advertising reach people. There is no reason that learning experiences should be any less exciting or engaging than the things people do for entertainment. There's no reason our interfaces should be more complex. When people are really motivated to figure something out, they will, and they will learn from it. Tin Can has a place here. It can create evidence and records of all of the things people learn when they are just plain interested. The value of informal learning like that is often invisible to organizations. You end up with a ton of people who know a lot of things and they have no good way to prove to potential employers or funders that they really do know what they're doing.

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

Research. A lot of research. Look to ethnography, look to design research, look to usability. They all dig really deep to find out who they're working with and what makes them tick. I really believe in the power of listening. If you care about people and can give them what they truly need, they will reciprocate.

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

I'm a big fan of all of the Tin Can adopters, those who have done new and different things as well as those who have just dipped their toes in the water with a pilot. (I'm probably better off not naming names).

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

The biggest thing that, I think, needs to change in the corporate learning and training world is the disconnection between the learning department and actual business results. It's time for learning and training to always set out with the goal of changing behaviors that improve the bottom-line of the organization. This points right back to what I was saying with personalization earlier, throwing a blanket solution on a fire is sure to burn a hole in it. It's time that we start looking at the bigger system and how to help individuals learn things that make them more successful in it.

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

Hmmm there are so many rock stars in many places that skirt our industry. I've learned the a lot about thinking differently from in the last year from these people, which makes them rock stars to me: Dave Gray, Jay Cross, Steve Flowers, Aaron Silvers, and Julie Dirksen.

About the Author

Rick Raymer is an eLearning consultant specializing in gameful design. Previously, he was 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. In addition, he designed and managed production of eLearning, games, and simulations for the North Carolina Community College System's BioNetwork organization, and 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 more than 40 games, with titles on every major gaming platform including consoles, PCs, handheld devices, and mobile phones.

© 2013 ACM 1535-394X/13/04 $15.00

DOI: 10.1145/2460459.2481076


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