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The Rock Stars of eLearning: An interview with Reuben Tozman

By Rick Raymer / July 2013

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Ask around the eLearning industry about Reuben Tozman, and one of the things you'll hear repeatedly, is that he's one of the smartest people you'll meet in our industry. Reuben recently authored the book Learning On Demand: How the Evolution of the Web is Shaping the Future of Learning, and is the Program Chair for DevLearn 2013. To say that he is influential in the eLearning industry is an understatement. But, it's not just in his professional life that Reuben is a superstar. He's also devoted to his family. In his interview, he conveys a story about his son that I absolutely love, and that I think truly captures his passion and creativity for examining new paradigms for learning. With his ingenuity and leadership, Reuben has helmed the ship of edCetra Training and has recently launched a new venture called Anoncloud.

His vision and guidance has shaped our industry, and with that I present our next eLearning rockstar, Reuben Tozman.

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

I tend to answer in one of two ways. I'll either say I am the CEO of slidejaror or I'll say that I design systems that support learning.

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 say, not comfortably, that I work in the software industry. When asked what kind of software I build, I revert to I build systems that support learning. I'll also sometimes say I'm in the eLearning industry but again, not comfortably. I got into this industry initially because it was something where I could apply my philosophy skills, but became passionate about it by managing the design and development of online courseware.

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

Building off the above answer, I'm passionate about what I do because I feel like there is such great potential in the technology and it seems like our industry (the eLearning industry) is wasting that potential. I get really enthused when I see really creative approaches to delivering content through mind-blowing technology. It irritates me a little bit when those examples aren't coming from within the training and development space but I guess part of my passion lies in showing T&D what could be done.

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

I have recently started to attend "pitch camps." That's where folks with ideas pitch those ideas to people with money and expertise that can help them. You get anywhere from one minute to three minutes to engage people in your idea and convince them to support you. Distilling complex ideas so that they can be delivered and understood in a really short time period has totally changed how I think about delivering ideas in general. As far as improving learners, my big idea is to remove the "learner" tag and begin to approach everybody as people who can switch from being a learner, to a teacher, to a lurker, to whatever within seconds of playing another role. We need to stop trying to monopolize 'learning' and bring the experiences into the human condition (work/play).

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

Not sure this applies to my situation, however for those looking to make fans out of their audience, I suggest looking for ways to provide a rich ecosystem where people have some sense of self-determination. I was recently interviewed and I used this example: I would allow people to define what's meaningful for them and allow more time for exploration. My son loves to draw. He's at a point in school where they let him draw almost as much as he wants. At some point in time, the education system will divorce drawing from what matters and make it an art class. What I would love to see is the freedom for him to use drawing to understand math, to help with his reading, to learn sciences etc. In other words, let him explore his talents while acquiring the "curriculum."

The point I'm making is to let people determine for themselves (within a framework) how best to consume content, when and in what fashion. That means that you as the designer need to build that environment where that can happen and still fulfill the obligations determined by the project/system.

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 really impressed by folks like Kris Rockwell and Chad Udell. Kris Rockwell's company, Hybrid Learning and Impact Games, have some great high and low fidelity examples of games that teach. Chad Udell's company creates some great apps that allow for some neat learning opportunities. For example Tappestry, although not a course provides an amazing platform to collect and collate different experiences from different people that can help others learn and share.

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

We need to become business people. We can no longer build stuff that has no meaningful impact on the organizations we work for. To determine what meaningful to our organizations we need to understand their business and we need to integrate what we do into existing systems and processes that make our businesses tick. Dumping courses into an LMS couldn't be further from what we need to be doing.

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

Well, I mentioned two before (Kris Rockwell and Chad Udell). Some others are Aaron Silvers for leading the charge with Experience API. Mike Rustici and Tim Martin for their leadership and stewardship with the Experience API. Robert Gadd for being first to the line with mobile enabled learning starting with cell casting. Jay Cross seems to be a trendsetter and is extremely bright and very personable. Clark Quinn comes to mind as well.

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.

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