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Mailing Number 31 - 23 February 2004

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Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy. Here are links to some more responses from organisations to the Government's Consultation Document, to complement those I listed on 9/2/2004.

Competition for Google. The search engine Yahoo! has stopped using Google's technology and started using its own. A basic Yahoo! search returns 20 results (which include some "paid for" links - you cannot tell which). Some will like the facility to open sites in a new window, thereby keeping search results intact. Like Google, Yahoo! also offers HTML versions of PDF files, and a cached version of each site. Unlike Google, Yahoo! offers "more pages from this site" - applying your search term to the found site, rather than to the whole web, and returning the "best" 20 results from within the found site. Use the windows below to compare the results from each.


The insecurity of Microsoft. Many (most?) readers, or someone acting on their behalf, will have spent some hours in the last few weeks downloading security patches for Windows. For a fuller understanding of the background, see eEye® Digital Security, which lists a number of as yet unfixed Microsoft security problems, and this article in The Register, which explains a bit about the flaw itself.

Resources [back to top]

Home Computing Initiative. English Department of Trade and Industry site explaining the HCI initiative, through which employers can provide staff with home computers funded through tax-deductible contributions from salaries. Some businesses who have embraced the scheme with vigour (such as the Post Office) have found that a big proportion of staff have bought a computer through this route.

Journal of Asynchronous Learning (JALN). A special issue "examining the role of asynchronous learning with a special focus on the characteristics of the community college movement" (more-or-less equivalent to UK Further Education Colleges). Volume 8, Issue 1. 9 articles on a range of topics, including Mainstreaming Distance Learning Into the Community College, about Rio Salado College's rapid development into a large-scale provider of e-learning course for adults.

Usability in e-learning. Epic plc has a new web site, with improved navigation. I have previously featured Epic's White Papers, and its annual e-learning survey, arguing that resources of this kind would get much more use if they were openly accessible, rather than only available on request. Epic has begun to address this problem, with two of its White Papers (both about blended learning) now downloadable directly, and with plans to make the whole lot available in the fairly near future.

The latest White Paper - Usability in e-learning - provides a clear overview of usability issues, drawing heavily and, I think, correctly on Jakob Nielsen and Bruce Tognazzini. Written in an unstuffy style - with plenty of asides like "so now you have got to know your learners" - it is somehow reminiscent of a Jamie Oliver cookery book. The White Paper contains many useful insights, for example into establishing the needs of learners by "profiling with personas", in which designers "build a persona for each representative member of a set of target users using information gained both from the client and from sample users themselves". The White Paper's weakness is that all the e-learning examples presented seem to be Epic's own. Some issues were treated superficially. For example, whilst it is clearly a "good thing" if developers go out of their way to learn about the end users for e-learning materials - "The first stage of any learner-centric design process is to get to know your learners." - it is facile to suggest that this is "a straightforward and relatively quick task", especially when the learner profiling process subsequently described clearly is not. Similarly, whilst it is certainly true that designing materials according to an instructional model is beneficial, the assertion that "the end result of successfully applying Gagné's nine steps (of instruction) will always be a highly usable piece of e-learning content" is too sweeping for comfort. Finally, though I've obviously got a (non-pecuniary!) interest in this, having played a part in writing British Standard 8426:2003 - A code of practice for e-support in e-learning systems - which addresses a number of usability issues from the point of view of the e-learner - I was disappointed that the White Paper was silent on the relevance of standards and specifications to usability.

Oddments[back to top]

e-Mail Newsletters. "E-newsletters that are informative, convenient, and timely are often preferred over other media. However, a new study found that only 11% of newsletters were read thoroughly." So says Jakob Nielsen in his 17 February Alertbox, which is partly a plug to help sell a new $300 report from the Nielsen Norman Group - Executive Summary. Finding also include the fact that rather than unsubscribing to a newsletter, users often simply set their spam-filter to intercept it, or simply hit the delete key. If you feel like giving me feedback on whether my Fortnightly Mailing passes muster, please email me, and expect, in the future, a short structured feedback questionnaire of some sort. You can also respond to the single feedback question immediately below, and/or unsubscribe from the newly created link a little further down.

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Last updated - 22/2/2004; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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