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Adobe Proposes Flash for Learning
Technology connects with discourse on "leadership"
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2008-02-10 04:33 (KST)   
Adobe emphasized a view of learning around Flash for video and an animated Web at their stand during Learning Technologies, a show at Olympia in London last week. Although the word "Acrobat" is still used to describe a software product there was almost no mention for the Portable Document Format (PDF) widely assumed to be still a significant proportion of current income. The implication is that Adobe anticipates a Web based less on text and learning environments based less on paper. Acceptance for online learning was evidenced by e-Skills UK, featuring case studies linked to a maturity model launched at Learning Technologies last year.

Blended stand design.
©2008 William Pollard

The combination of Captivate and Connect allows for rapid creation of presentations starting from PowerPoint, which is assumed to be familiar for most people working on training in organizations. Content is displayed through Flash whether it is video or a form of paper. Collaboration is possible through video conferencing or text chat. Connect Professional has administration features that are not available in the Acrobat Connect offer that is now part of Acrobat. Previously Acrobat was known as software relating to PDF, a format that put on screen a recognizable representation of design for a paper page. In 2005, Adobe appeared to buy Macromedia though the discussions at the time may have suggested some form of merger. Managers from Macromedia continue to be influential in several Adobe business units. When Acrobat 8 was released in 2006, it included a menu choice to launch Connect, formerly known as Breeze when a part of Macromedia. Although Adobe claim there is integration between the Flash and PDF formats, it is my impression that the Connect approach in Acrobat 8 has almost no relation to the rest of the PDF part of the software that most people are familiar with. There is no way to save a record of text chat as a PDF though it can be saved as text from which a PDF could be created. There is no way to save a PDF version of slides unless the presenter chooses to offer this.

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There were many other signs of support for video as a direction. For example
datmedia showed how videos can be integrated with Web pages through any browser. They support many video channels from organizations, including the Learning Technologies event. A presentation from last year's conference is on the datmedia Web site. TechSmith offer SnagIt as a way to capture screen sequences as a Flash file and Camtasia Studio for related processes. Flash is assumed to be widely available or at least within the scope of software supported by a training department.

There was some evidence of progress on establishing learning as a business priority. Last year e-Skills UK launched a report -- "Towards Maturity" -- showing how technology is adapted in organizations. Recently Laura Overton has reported on the e-skills UK's Web site about Online Educa Berlin where Sue Todd -- president and CEO of Corporate University Exchange -- presented details of her recent benchmarking activity with her membership organizations around the globe.

Her research shows that businesses are waking up to the value of learning to the bottom line of their business. Sue believes this as potentially a great thing as learning success in the future will require training to be perceived as a core business process supporting business goals in the same way as marketing or manufacturing does.
Case studies are available on the Towards Maturity Web site. The survey last year showed that only in 20 percent of cases was a drive from senior management a major driver for the adoption of e-learning. However, there is more involvement from senior management as an organization matures. There has been recent research interest in "leadership" as a determining factor for innovation but a project from the Work Foundation and others on changing forms of organization suggests that it is changes in technology that may result in changed forms of leadership:

It is argued that we are in the midst of a period of change equivalent in scale to the Industrial Revolution. This shift, largely driven by developments in information and communications technology, changing social values and global competition for business and services, is forcing organizations to review and modify their structure -- usually from a bureaucratic hierarchy to some form of network, matrix or partnership. Despite this, academics continue to search for adequate ways to theorize this shift and practitioners continually seek better and more effective ways of structuring organizations. The primary tensions remain ones of empowerment versus control, individualism versus collectivism, cynicism versus engagement. In a context of increasing social fragmentation how can organizations continue to engage and motivate employees to pull together in the pursuit of common goals? What is the link between organizational form and the "soft" side of organization? How is leadership and leadership development adapting to, or leading these changes?
John Burgoyne has linked these concerns to topics that have gained attention over several years, including "total quality" and "learning organizations." Slides and a voice record are available on the "Changing forms of Organization" Web site.

Some issues from the Learning Technologies conference were reported through blogs, such as this from Stephen Downes at Information World Review.

The question for information professionals working across all types of sectors and organizations is what will the impact be on them and their work is learning 2.0 in all its proliferations does turn out to be something more than marketing hype. One cast-iron reason why it may stay the course is the simple reason that people (and especially younger learners) appear to enjoy the freedom, interconnection, and interactivity that is on offer. A few years ago one of the ways that the Internet was fostering learning (especially informal learning and knowledge sharing) was through communities of practice (CoPs). These CoPs are individuals that technology could connect and bring together so they could share knowledge and improve both individual and organizational performance through sharing of experience in an unstructured way. Just by belonging to the community your experience, knowledge and expertise was assumed and accepted. Learning 2.0 can be seen as the young cousin of CoPs. Learning 2.0 is social network transformed for a learning purpose.
My impression is that although the CoPs discussion started as an academic way to describe something, there has not been much recent academic writing about social networking sites. There has been a critique of the CoPs idea given the weak links of online networks but again I find that there is not much recent academic writing on "networked learning." Perhaps the issues have already been covered. At a conference in 2002 Steve Fox suggested that "networked learning should deliberately focus on the wilder side of the Internet, seek to locate the desires and imagined communities out there that find expression only through this technology and not in conventional classrooms, reading societies and the like." There will be another conference in May when current connections may become apparent.

The discussion in 2002 looked back to Ivan Illich and ideas about "de-schooling" society. In the book "Education Without Schools," edited by Peter Buckman in 1973, Brian Winston wrote about the way that "the very architecture of educational institutions is determined by the book and the need to write." He pointed out that other media were seen as aids to print media so the growth of radio and TV were not a threat to book culture. The current situation is that hypertext Web pages have challenged print so a switch to sound and moving images is harder to avoid. Some of the concerns from 1973 seem less relevant now, such as the confusion around competing standards for sound cassettes. But the section on video cameras is worth considering. Although there are still professional writers, there are no professional letter writers. So most people can write a letter for themselves. Video editing could go the same way.

A recent report from the CIBER research team at University College London claims that although young people demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they rely on the most basic search tools and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the Web. The report "Information Behavior of the Researcher of the Future" also shows that research-behavior traits that are commonly associated with younger users -- impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs -- are now the norm for all age groups, from younger pupils and undergraduates through to professors.

The research was funded by the British Library and the UK Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Their press release claims that the findings send "a stark message to government -- that young people are dangerously lacking information skills."

Peter Williams expanded on this, writing a comment for Information World Review:

Worryingly endemic among young users of technology (although surely not exclusive to them) is a propensity to bounce or flick across digital and Internet resources. It's a practice that turns people into viewers rather than readers, and few are persistent enough and equipped to go deep rather than wide. Many have little understanding of the Internet as a collection of networked resources from a range of providers. Rather, they see the Internet as Google or Yahoo.

A key question is whether those of the Google generation who become searchers and academics will persist with these behaviors. And the answer is that nobody knows.
There is a recognition that organizations themselves need to change as well as influencing the skills of future generations. Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, supported the main findings but also said that "Libraries have to accept that the future is now. At the British Library we have adopted the 'Wiki' view and the 'Beta' mindset."

It may be that the tendency to be "viewers" rather than "readers" is part of a move to a more visual culture. The associated forms of research and knowledge may not be suitable for existing systems of assessment. The issues arising will be covered in future stories for OhmyNews.

Meanwhile Adobe continues to show confidence in Flash as a future format for the Web. Kevin Lynch has been appointed chief technology officer, a post left vacant since 2001 when John Warnock concentrated on his role as joint chair. Warnock worked mainly on Postscript and PDF, neither of which is mentioned in the Adobe press release. "As part of this role Lynch will continue to drive Adobe's technology platform for designers and developers, which includes Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Flex, and Adobe AIR, the new cross-operating system application runtime that bridges the computing power and data capabilities of the desktop with the real-time dynamic capabilities of the Web."

Analyst Ross MacMillan has claimed that Acrobat 9 will be released during 2008. It seems likely that the new features will be around Connect and Flash. Compared to AIR there is almost no publicity for MARS, an XML rewrite of the PDF format. I still think the hard copy aspects of communication have some sort of base, particularly in organizations and education. But the Adobe push on Flash and AIR mark a significant break away from text and design based on pages.
Related comment will be in the learn9 blog.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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