The fabled similarity between cricket and e-learning was emphasised a few days ago when E-Learning Age, in association with Unicorn Training, organised a one day seminar – on ‘the future of e-learning’ – at The Kia Oval, in Kennington, London. There, overseen by the portraits of many of Surrey’s greatest cricketers, the Texas-born, California-based analyst and guru, Craig Weiss, discussed the finer points of collaboration, social media, MOOCs, authoring tools, mobile learning and, of course, his specialist subject, learning management systems (LMSs).
The last Texan to have anything much to do with cricket – Allen Stanford – is currently serving a 110 year prison sentence and his contract with the England and Wales Cricket Board was cancelled in 2009. This didn’t bother Craig Weiss in the slightest – probably because he was unaffected by the augustness of his surroundings and the sporting history which has been witnessed over the years in the Long Room at The Oval. This time, the picture windows looked out onto a dull, grey, deserted arena in which groundsmen flitted furtively about their wintry business.
Meanwhile, fuelled by the always excellent catering which The Oval authorities produce, some 60 or so e-learning practitioners heard Craig’s views on LMSs. With the self-assuredness of a Kevin Pietersen innings, Craig declared that there are over 500 systems on the market; there is little market consolidation taking place; some 90 per cent of every LMS is common to every other LMS – it’s the other ten per cent that you have to be careful about evaluating correctly.
In terms of collaborative learning and the use of social media in learning, Craig commented that you can’t control learning that’s disseminated in these ways. You can’t define the learning that is gained and you can’t say who has learned what. He concluded that this makes it difficult for learning professionals to achieve their organisation’s learning targets via social media.
With the subtlety of one of Surrey’s great spin twins of yesteryear, Jim Laker and Tony Lock, Craig explained that authoring tools, by themselves, don’t produce great e-learning materials. That, he said, is the job of instructional design. Turning to the topic of mobile learning – both mobile delivery methods and mobile learning content – he concluded: “I’ve seen some great products over the years but, if the masses don’t grab them, they’re not going to be successful.”
So, thanks to E-Learning Age, Unicorn Training and, indeed, Craig Weiss, one link between e-learning and cricket has ben demonstrated. To complete the ‘XI’, here are ten more connections:
2. There are clear boundaries – Round the edge of the field, the difference between scoring four or six runs is a clearly defined boundary. Similarly, e-learning projects need a crystal clear scope so there is no dispute over what has or hasn’t been delivered.
3. You have limited resources – The fielding team only has 11 men to deploy around the field. The captain must balance these resources to achieve the best results. He must make sure his best people are in the most critical positions, such as the slips, but must also account for the risk of an occasional stray ball to long-on. Similarly someone commissioning or developing e-learning materials needs to allocate their best resources to the most critical tasks but be ready to divert them to troublesome areas in the project.
It’s also important to balance the portfolio. The captain and selectors must balance the team in the right way to achieve their goals. Selecting an e-learning development team involves finding the right ratio of ‘bowlers’ to ‘batsmen’ or ‘slow and steady run accumulators’ to ‘aggressive and free-scoring impact players’. It’s important to get the right mix of people to spread risk and maximise the return on investment.
4. You must play to your strengths – The captain will set one type of field if he’s using a fast bowler and a different type of field if he’s using a spin bowler. Bowlers can seldom bat well and vice versa. Similarly, any e-learning project needs to be organised around the strengths of the team – and you may need some good all-rounders in the team to cope with all situations.
5. There are formulae and methods – the e-learning world has almost as many of these as the cricket world (although there are still very few people who can really explain the Duckworth-Lewis Method (D/L)).
6. There are phases and milestones – The most successful cricket teams understand that a Test Match goes through many phases and these are punctuated by milestones such as wickets, centuries, declarations, lunch or taking the new ball which, when used properly, can turn the tide of the match. Similarly, any e-learning development project needs to be divided into clear phases in order to maintain control – these milestones must be used wisely to motivate the focus of the development and delivery teams.
7. You have to consider your environment – Just as a cricket captain must take into account the weather, the humidity, the texture and condition of the pitch, the nature of the crowd and the direction of the wind, those in charge of e-learning must analyse their environment, including the culture of the organisation, the attitude to authority, working times and to e-learning in general.
8. Risk is everywhere, and must be managed – Right from outcome of the coin toss, to the clumsy sweep from a cavalier batsman through to an uncertain hope that the ball will swing, the cricketer is constantly calculating risk exposure and coming up with strategies to deal with it. Similarly, those involved in e-learning must plan for risk and constantly anticipate, review and react to it throughout the whole life cycle of any piece of e-learning.
9. There’s Padding – This is obvious in cricket – where it aims to ensure that an LBW call doesn’t result in a trip to casualty – but it’s less welcome in e-learning. Rather than using padding as a substitute for risk management by building arbitrary buffers around key milestones, contingency reserves should be estimated and traced back to specific risks and assumptions made and calculated by the project team.
10. It often comes down to the wire – This is a trait most often seen in limited overs cricket games where similar run rates dictate that an entire day’s play can be decided by the final ball. In e-learning development and delivery terms, the trick is to stick to the game plan and keep up the motivation and focus of the team, perhaps trading off some risk to meet the key constraints facing it. A surge in effort to a committed goal will often win the day.
11. In the end, it’s all about people – As the previous point demonstrates, you may have a well-defined project process or a well-coached batting technique but it’s the people in your team that make it happen on the day in the face of all obstacles. When the e-learning project reaches a critical stage will your people want to play for you? Do they ‘want it enough?’ Do they know what’s expected of them and are they motivated to go beyond it? Understanding how to get the most from your people and having them committed to a common goal is the key ingredient to success; on or off the pitch.