Monthly Archives: February 2010

Learning About Twitter, Tweets, Followers, Hashtags, and Lists – with Sloth & Froth!

Personally, I am not equipped to tweet a lot. For one, I am not at the computer all the time. Though I often wonder whether I could really stay wired for longer durations (and more frequently,) I don’t think that the nature of my work would allow me to do so. Thankfully, this doesn’t stop me from engaging in learning through the experiential and observational means.

Here’s the outcome of some background check that I ran on Twitter. Froth and Sloth offered to help me make this a bit more than just some boring download of information – so with my heartfelt gratitude to both of them – here’s their conversation, reproduced verbatim. I hope it will help the greenhorn tweeters find their way through the micro-blogging maze!

Sloth: Hiya Froth! What are you up to?
Froth: I am tweeting.

Sloth: Since when are you a bird?
Froth: No silly. This isn’t the avian variety of twitter. It’s the human twitter on the web!

Sloth: Woven by the spiders?
Froth: You are right…in a way! But these spiders are made of zeroes and ones.

Sloth: Now I’m losing it!
Froth: (Sounding exasperated): It figures!

Sloth: So you are tweeting…but why?
Froth: To tell people about things that I think about.

Sloth: Who’s listening?
Froth: My followers, of course!

Sloth: And how did you find your followers?
Froth: I followed them, I promoted and publicized my tweets…

Sloth: Aha…I get it! I follow others and they follow me…
Froth: Yes! Look at my profile. I’ve got 3256 followers and I follow 4328 people.

Sloth: With an average tweet-rate of 2 per day, when you follow 4328 people, you read 8656 tweets a day! Do you?
Froth: Of course not. I view about 20 whenever I check the tweets – and so about 100 in a day.

Sloth: So can we say then, that your probability of viewing a tweet is 100/8656 or about 1.2%?
Froth (Reflecting, Chewing her lower lip): I guess so. But then note this. When I tweet, assuming the probability of every one person viewing my tweet being the same 1.2%; of the 3256 people who follow me, there’s a good chance that 41 people will view my tweet. Isn’t that a good hit-rate?

Sloth: And there’s always the chance that most of the people who tweet wouldn’t have a profile as active as yours…and so their chances of viewing your tweets would be even higher.
Froth: You got it sloth! An yes, you can also use hashtags to improve the chances of people viewing your tweets and even following you.

Sloth: Whew! Another complication! Tweeting seems to be a lot of hard work.
Froth: The perception of hard work is relative, and if I know you, creating your Twitter account with wear your down!

Sloth: Don’t while away your life working…that’s what I say. But tell me, Froth. What are these hashtags?
Froth: Hashtags are like beacons, helping people search for the tweets that interest them. When a tweet has a hashtag say “#sloth”, the hashtag appears as a link in the tweet, and people can click it to view all the tweets that contain “#sloth”!

Sloth: Is “#sloth” a common hashtag?
Froth: Sloth dear! People wouldn’t want to make their relationship with you public. Would they?

Sloth: Of course not! I am one of the top three secret pleasures! About the hashtags…I think they’re cool!
Froth: And then, you’ve got the lists. You can make your lists where you classify the tweeters (that you follow or you don’t), and then you can keep these lists with you as private lists or share them with others by making them public. Who knows…there might be many engaged in creating private lists that they could later sell to the web publicity companies. But I should tell you that creating lists is hard work!

Sloth: I get the message. Tweeting definitely isn’t for me then. But thanks. I’ve recorded this conversation and will podcast it.
Froth: But I’ll publish it as a textual conversation before you release your podcast!

Sloth: That soon?
Froth: I AM DONE!

Here are some links that could add more to your understanding of hashtags and lists.

And if you are interested in following my currently occasional but progressively (hopefully) more frequent posts, click @zenoflearning.

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Posted by on February 26, 2010 in Sloth & Froth, Web 2.0


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Fiction Writers – The True Gurus of Instructional Design

I should confess. This past week has been strenuously busy.  So, here’s a really short post:-)

If you are looking for an Instructional Design Guru, look at the master storytellers – look at Arthur Hailey, Sidney Sheldon, Ken Follett, John Grisham, JK Rowling, Agatha Christie, Wilbur Smith…and all others who’ve transcended the boundaries of their countries to write stories that have a universal appeal. If you want to choose a learning ground, choose a book written by them, and see how they apply instructional design principles intuitively and create experiences that are so vivid that you land into the book, right by the side of the hero or heroine!

Read More at: “Learning Instructional Design from the Gurus – The Fiction Writers!


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How Instructional Design Helps Content Writers, Instructional Designers, Trainers, Academicians, and Technical Writers?

This past Sunday, I conducted a three-hour Free Instructional Design Orientation session for individuals who wish to map their competencies to Instructional Design. Wavelength organizes these sessions 3 to 4 times a year and they give me an opportunity to understand the nature of questions that baffles many who wish to change their career path or improve their growth prospects by acquiring the knowledge of ID. The most common of these questions is – “How the knowledge of instructional design helps?”

This question originates from the term “instructional design” appearing in the employment advertisements for the professions indicated in the following list.

Let us see how this “set of skills” help:

  • Content Writers and Instructional Designers
  • Trainers
  • Teachers and Other Academicians
  • Technical Writers

Let me begin by establishing a contextually relevant definition of instructional design.

“Instructional Design is a set of cognitive skills that enable you to impart learning effectively.”

Content Writers and Instructional Designers:

Content Writers and Instructional Designers often engage in creating learning content for their audience. They use instructional design to ensure that the learning happens fast and stays anchored. Instructional design helps you achieve this effectiveness and efficiency, whether you write content for eLearning or for classroom delivery.


Trainers often create their own training plans and design their training programs in terms of activities, examples, and assessments. Instructional design could equip you with the cognitive psychology principles, and assist you in designing, developing, and implementing more effective training programs.

Teachers and Other Academicians:

Teachers of all disciplines, and at all levels, can apply the instructional design principles to ensure that their audience’s attention doesn’t stray and that the knowledge-transfer happens effectively and efficiently. ID enables you to create a balance between your passion for the subject and the learning needs of your learners.

Technical Writers:

This group of professionals, engage in creating the “How-To” literature for any product (hardware, software, or any device that operates in a specific manner.) Though as a technical writer you write crisp directions for your users, you can make your content even more relevant, efficient, and easy to understand/apply, if you can apply instructional design.

So, this is how instructional design finds application in the professions outlined above.

Another related question is – “What are the skills that you need to have, if you want to gain the most from the knowledge of instructional design?”
My next post will answer this question. You might want to return in a few days.


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The Advantages of eLearning (2 of 2) – The Doppelganger Advantages

Note: This is the second post in the sequence, “The Advantages of eLearning.” Please read the first post here.)

In “The Advantages of eLearning (1 of 2)”, we reflected upon the advantages, real and apparent, that accrue to the client organization and the audience. We also spoke about some of these advantages not being real, and gave them the somewhat exotic name – The Doppelganger Advantages. (As the ID-aware readers must’ve already surmised, the nomenclature served the purposes of curiosity arousal, one of the three ARCS techniques to Gain Attention (Refer: Keller’s ARCS Model.)

(Doppelganger – a ghostly double of a living person that haunts its living counterpart – Source: The Free Dictionary) (Simply said, you think that you are looking at someone, but that someone isn’t real!)

Photo by jcoterhals

Here are our three Doppelganger advantages once again. Let us now remove them from the “Advantages” class, and shift them to the “Characteristics” class, as their status as an advantage is being questioned through this post.

Following are the Characteristics of eLearning, which have been touted as advantages by some.

  1. Create Once and Integrate according to the Requirements (The client’s perspective.)
  2. Cost Reduction of Different Kinds (The client’s perspective.)
  3. Offer Flexibility and are Easy to Complete (The audience’s perspective.)

Let us analyze each of these once again, but now let us look at the overall impact (the long-term impact on the client-audience duo) of these characteristics, instead of looking at only one part of the picture.

Create Once and Integrate as per Requirements:

This is one of biggest selling point of eLearning. Unfortunately, when reusability is stretched to a point where the content turns so brittle that it can barely be kneaded to impart digestible learning, the learners shut their minds off and stop learning. Organizations often remain blissfully (and sometimes, deliberately) ignorant of the fact that the sharable learning objects created by them fail to attract the audience’s attention completely. This aborted attempt at learning is often clocked as valid learning hours – and the organization has a “trained” employee who doesn’t have the competencies that his role requires!

If we stay true to instructional design, we’ll realize that a blinding passion for sharability doesn’t work! Unfortunately customized eLearning is expensive to develop. According to instructional design, it is that audience-mapped customized eLearning that would work best! However, the decision-makers in the client-organizations are human too – they need to see the impact of their decisions on the annual results – and so the long-term impact of such content doesn’t connect with their schema.

So the question is – who’s the ultimate loser?

While you try to answer that question, let us see the impact of the different kinds of cost-reduction!

Cost Reduction of Different Kinds:

We know that organizations are happy to cut their costs, which of course is a noble objective. We spoke of some costs that organizations expect to reduce through the implementation of eLearning. They expect to have a reduced number of onground trainings, which would result in the reduction of

  1. Trainer Costs
  2. Logistics Management Costs
  3. Opportunity Cost (working hours lost in classroom trainings.)

Now let’s quickly look at the eLearning implementation costs. There are the technology costs (procurement and implementation,) the content costs (if the content has to bought/extracted from the Subject Matter Experts,) the development costs, the facilitation costs, and the management costs! I may have even missed some. Think about it – eLearning implementations aren’t cost-free.

Remember, in the short-run, eLearning is more expensive that classroom training; and if eLearning content is created without considering the audience, it may turn out to be more expensive in the long-run too.

Flexibility in Submission Deadlines and are Easier to Complete:

Often the audience assumes that online/eLearning courses are self-study courses, and that the only commitment required from their end is to spend x number of hours a week on the course. This perception has its roots in two different realities.

  1. There are online courses that work on this premise – they provide the content, allow the learner to ask questions if he or she wants to, make provisions for an online objective test, allow the learner y number of attempts at the test (to ensure that he or she passes), and finally, generate a printable certificate by running a program, which the learner can print and file away. Course ends – competency achieved at BL2 (if at all!)
  2. The adult learner’s exaggerated application orientation coupled with the belief that concepts don’t matter, only application does, is the second reason behind this incorrect perception! So the adult learner often assumes – If I can take a course – find what I need to apply now and skip the rest – I am done!

The truth is the opposite of this. Online courses can be great learning experiences, if the above two realities don’t exist. The learning provider and the learner, both have to share the responsibility of making the experience successful. The learning provider has to ensure that the learner learns. The learner has to realize that the online courses require the participants to be internally motivated, organized, and punctual. The instructionally sound online courses require a lot more from its learners than a classroom training program.

End Note:

eLearning can result in a win-win relationship between the client organization and the audience, if it is designed, developed, and implemented according to instructional design principles. A departure from the ID principles on any pretext can reduce the learner’s motivation levels, and can lead to the failure of the learning experience.

(Short Link to this Post:


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Courage is the First Virtue – Knowledge is the Second!

Aristotle said, “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”

He was right. Courage is the primary driver of any action. We need courage to face the day, to get up and make our coffee, and then to drive our car or ride the bus to work. If we lose our courage, our ability to act in face of a risk, big or small, then we’ll never be able to achieve anything, ever!

But the action that results from our courage could be right or wrong – and to differentiate between the right and the wrong, we need to know. So our first act of courage should be to learn.

According to Aristotle, the differentiation between the right and the wrong is the most important outcome of learning – so this is the kind of learning that our courage should first lead us to. If we use our courage to do this – we would win the most important battle in this war for happiness in life.

Remember – Learning to tell the right from the wrong is our most important act of courage.


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The Advantages of eLearning (1 of 2)

Let us continue our quest. We’ve already discussed “How eLearning is Different from Classroom Learning” and we’ve carefully analyzed the definition and nature of learning. It is now time to classify the advantages that eLearning has to offer – to the client and to the audience, and then analyze them to identify the real advantages and separate them from others, which masquerade as advantages, but actually aren’t!

It is important to remember that the Client’s Advantage is different from the Audience’s Advantage (though in some cases it might become one.) The Client of an eLearning Developer is usually an organization or a department of an organization; while the Audience is the individual (or group of individuals) who “consume” the content – and so can be understood as the consumers.

So here are the advantages of eLearning – For the Client and for the Audience!

ELearning – The Client’s Advantages:

  1. Create Once, Implement Always
  2. Create Once and Integrate as per Requirements
  3. Cost Reduction of Different Kinds
  4. Standardization of Training Quality
  5. Centralization of the Training Function

Create Once, Implement Always:

This results in reduced management and maintenance. It helps eliminate the logistic issues completely.

Create Once and Integrate as per Requirements.

Content can be created once, in form of small sharable fragments called the Learning Objects, and reassembled. Client organizations that are big oceans of employees in different departments at different positions; use this policy and implement it through the LMSs by applying the sharability principles.

Cost Reduction of Different Kinds:

Save on trainer costs, training costs, and also on the opportunity cost of work hours lost in training.

Standardization of Training Quality:

eLearning content can be standardized for big, geographically scattered organizations, which is usually not possible in classroom trainings where the trainer’s personality and training methods have a distinct impact on the quality of training.

Centralization of the Training Function:

Training quality control can be centralized, and it becomes much easier to manage and implement across-the-board changes. This also helps in conducting audits and rolling out new programs faster.

ELearning – The Audience’s Advantages:

  1. Flexible Learning Hours
  2. Anytime, Anywhere Availability of Training
  3. Reduced Commutation
  4. The Comfort of Anonymity
  5. Flexibility in Submission Deadlines and are Easier to Complete

Flexible Learning Hours:

Of course! In a world where with each new invention that helps us save time, a new time-guzzling issue crops up – we want to save time and energy. ELearning provides this option to the learners. Also remember that the extraneous load drops considerably when the learner learns in an environment he or she is comfortable with – so learning turns more effective.

Anytime, Anywhere Availability of Training:

As long as the learners can access the Internet, they can learn. The Web has now been woven almost everywhere (Enterprising individuals from the US, South Africa, and even from the Far-Eastern mountains of India take the IDCWC Online…without missing a beat!) eLearning erases the time-zones and the geographical/political boundaries from the list of constraints faced by the audience.

Reduced Commutation:

The cost of commutation goes beyond what you pay for the gas. It includes the time that you could’ve spent playing with your kids or your friends, but which you spent playing “Need for Speed” on jam-packed roads that didn’t just allow you to go beyond a measly 10 mph! Think about the others costs: a date canceled, less time with your family, aching knees – I leave this exercise to you:-)

The Comfort of Anonymity:

The comfort of making mistakes and learning from them – away from the hostile and competitive classroom environment is a boon for many. This comfort alone can turn a medium-paced learner into a fast-paced smart student.

Flexibility in Submission Deadlines and are Easier to Complete:

I know that you might not agree with this – but I should know. The number of people who call us trying to reconfirm their bias that the online course would be easier to do as compared to the corresponding classroom program, woke us up to this reality.

As you must’ve noticed, I’ve italicized some advantages in this post. These are what I call the Doppelganger Advantages. We will understand the nature of these Doppelganger Advantages in my Friday post.

(Read the concluding post, “The Advantages of eLearning (2 of 2) – The Doppelganger Advantage” here.)


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