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November 10, 2006

Instructional Design in the Collective World of YouTubers

by A.D. Detrick

As the tenets of Web2.0 and Learning2.0 both continue to develop, it's a common concern among Instructional Designers about where a rise in collective/informal learning will leave us. 

With Google’s recent purchase of YouTube, it seems every training pundit came out of the woodwork to benchmark YouTube’s impressive statistics.  13million unique users a month.  The average user watches 39 videos a day.  Training-related articles and blogs heralded these stats as “potential” for the training world, illogically citing these statistics as if they could be imported wholesale into a training capacity.  ("YouTube users spend 7-1/2 hours a week on that site.  If we put our training on a similar site, our learners will obviously spend that much time learning!")  While the technology certainly could be used, the factors that create YouTube’s “stickiness” are completely useless in the training world. 
That is, until someone figures out how to put training on the side of a Diet Coke-and-Mentos geyser.

Ultimately, that’s what YouTube is: a collection of captured media bits and home movies.  It’s a cut-rate TiVO and the oddball high school buddy who would drink goldfish for a dollar, just blown up to an almost-unimaginable scale.  Over 100million videos and 45 terabytes of data devoted to video blogs, “Family Guy” clips, backyard wrestling, and kids drinking goldfish.  And while Dane Cook comedy clips might merit 30 minutes of your time, a 30-minute training module on a piece of safety equipment may not.

But I have to make a confession.
I am a college-educated man with a good career and a family.  And I have probably seen three dozen Diet Coke-and-Mentos geysers on YouTube.  Not sure why, but I looked it up once, and found myself browsing through wide segments of the population, cataloguing the results and the reactions of the people in the video.  Laughing at some, smiling at others, shaking my head at most.  Digging through dozens of examples of the same junior high science project to find the ones that I engaged with best.

And therein lays the benefit of an Instructional Designer in informal learning.

The collective nature at the heart of our industry’s future will not merely dictate that “everyone pitch in and create a section of the training”, but rather “everyone pitch in and create as much of the training as possible.”  It’s one of the strengths of collective learning, but also one of its greatest risk-factors.  If technology can make information easily accessible, it will become the responsibility of Instructional Designers to validate that information and then help direct it to the right people.
As society begins to change into a real “information free-for-all”, we become accustomed to (or even “demanding of”) information in huge quantities, from which we test and select our preferences.  Training won’t be any different.  Instead of a single repository of procedures created by one department, people will want an oversized, potluck-dinner-style repository of procedures created by people in diverse roles, who look at the same process from different vantage points.  From these hundreds of options, people will test the procedures they think they will engage with best, and ignore the rest.  Ultimately, our job will not be made irrelevant, but more relevant by this change.  Somebody is going to have to check all of this information, and make sure it’s (at least) accurate and marginally complete.  Somebody is going to have tag the information and ensure that it is reaching its target audience in their searches.

When I look to the future, I don’t see collective learning or informal learning as threats to my field.  Instructional Design will eventually morph to include our current skills, as well as a blending of knowledge management, asset management, and increased technological capacities.  It’s an exciting time for Instructional Designers. 

I may go blow up some Diet Coke and Mentos to celebrate.

A.D. Detrick, PMP, is a Senior Technology Lead for a Fortune 25 corporation. He is a coordinator for the Central Ohio ASTD Technology Forum and frequently consults on instructional design/technology solutions.

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