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The Vanishing Point of Learning: How Can You Use It?

Even Aldous Huxley’s imagination couldn’t fathom the brave new world in which we live, with second lives, simulation games and the wiki sphere.

To Bob Becker of learning design firm Becker Multimedia, these are the vanishing points of learning, a no-man’s-land “where people learn without being taught, practice without being licensed, collaborate without being led and discover without having to search.”

But companies have failed to utilize these innovative Web-based outlets for learning, instead using old methods for development and just changing the packaging. Five years ago, employees were sitting in classrooms listening to lecturers with PowerPoint slides. Now they are doing the same thing — only they are sitting in front of a computer, according to Becker.

“The Web is currently being underutilized because people are applying old models to the new medium,” he said. “The important thing about knowledge on the Internet is that it doesn’t require the teacher-student relationship anymore. The Web has become a place where knowledge itself is taking root, separate from any individual.”

Becker’s advice: Corporations should shed their conservatism and experiment with sites like Facebook, MySpace, Second Life and Wikipedia for their employees’ advancement.

“Organizations that want to make the greatest use of the potential for e-learning are going to have to rethink the way they structure learning and try to break away from old forms and try to engage models that are newer and more flexible,” Becker said. “Organizations that want to harness [the Internet] will most likely have to replace the traditional instructional systems design (ISD) model with something that is a little more dynamic and a little more authentic to the individual. It’s kind of a big thought, but that’s what I think is out there and coming our way.”

Second Life, which is a 3-D virtual world where people can interact with each other, is the future of e-learning, Becker said. People can create their own image, buy property, open stores or just interact with others, but in essence, this simulated world is the vanishing point of learning.

“It’s tremendously exciting. At Second Life, you don’t go there to watch a lecture,” Becker said. “Really, what Second Life is like is a walk in the park, where you just encounter knowledge, you encounter information, you have experiences that are designed to allow you to discover and create knowledge in an authentic and personal way. I think Second Life is where it’s at.”

One thing companies must do to enter this vanishing point of learning is to empower their employees. Old methods of corporate training rest on underempowered learners, Becker said.

“Most people go through life becoming experts, not following curriculum design,” he said. “They learn by having the power to go and get the knowledge they need to go and do what they want to do. A lot of the training that people are offered in the corporate environment is exactly the opposite of that. You’re told what to do, you have certain objectives, and you follow a certain kind of development path to reach whatever goal someone has set for you. But I don’t think that that’s the way people learn, and I don’t think that’s how expertise is created in people.”

But that doesn’t mean that those in charge of a company’s development should make all learning e-centered, as a blended learning philosophy is best.

“The more that knowledge is embedded in the experience that people have, the better,” Becker said. “Blended learning, which involves every conceivable form of instructional delivery, is by far the best model. If you want someone to learn in the broadest, most dynamic and freshest way possible, there’s nothing better than the Web, but that doesn’t mean that the Web is the only way people should be learning.”

As founder of Becker Multimedia, Becker said that even his company uses old templates for e-learning, but he is ready to see his company and corporations nationwide dip their toes in the pool of vanishing learning.