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24 May 2007 / erikduval

Mind the Gap

Have you ever given a presentation to half of an audience? I think I may just have done so…

I gave the closing keynote at a day on “good practices” in elearning in Gent, Belgium. (I like the reference to “good” rather than “best” practices: we’re far from having best practices in our field and, in any case, “le parfait est l’ennemi du bien” 🙂 )

In some of the earlier sessions, I had a bit the feeling of being warped back in time, with discussions on how to convert powerpoint to HTML, or how to make video available cross platform (youtube, anyone?).

In the “future session” by Maarten Cannaerts on personal learning environments (slides above), I had the feeling he was talking more of the somewhat recent past (Second Life, youtube, wikipedia), but probably should have paid more attention to the rather negative remarks (“who says anyone wants any of this?”) from the audience.

Should have – indeed: after my presentation (slides below), and halfway into the reception, I went through the evaluation sheets (oh boy, do we need to find better ways of getting feedback from audiences!) and was puzzled with the results. Seems like roughly half of the audience really liked the talk (thank you!) and half of them “didn’t get it” at all. Several entered “had no idea what this was all about” in their comments field…

I’m still not sure I understand what happened here: my hypothesis is that it may be related to the technology assimilation gap that my Great Friend Wayne Hodgins sometimes mentions. Here is how he explains it: this is the gap

“between the capability of software functionality and the ability of customers to use that functionality. If software functionality increases without an equivalent increase in customer education, the gap will continue to get wider. This gap can only get so wide before it becomes a real problem when at some point customers no longer see value in the software because they don’t understand it. If we don’t focus on educating our customers and future customer base, we will not succeed.”

I worry a bit that we are now moving so far ahead of what our audience can relate to that it becomes quite challenging to translate it to something that sounds relevant to them. While they’re still trying to figure out how google affects what they do and wonder whether they should look at youtube, I’m up there on stage telling them that “google is so passé” and that we need to move beyond search, etc. Let me be very clear: I am not saying that this is “their fault” and that “they should catch up” or anything like that. But I do need to find a way to talk about what we do in terms that make sense to and connect to their world.

Here is a version I’ll try next time maybe:

Would it not be great if you had access to all educational resources out there? That would actually change more than you may think – long tail. And it would create a new problem – paradox of choice. But we have a solution for that – the Snowflake Effect.

Well, that is the short version 😉 I’d be very interested in your suggestions to get the story across. If you were in the audience, then let me know how you experienced the talk.

O, and if you are the one who described my keynote on the evaluation sheet as “Bikkembergs on speed”: many thanks! I’m not sure if I feel flattered or insulted or what you actually meant, but you sure got me thinking!



Leave a Comment
  1. Erik / May 24 2007 7:41 pm

    Some more comments (in Dutch) at

  2. veronique / May 24 2007 9:08 pm

    Ik zat in het publiek woensdag. Je talk heeft me aan het denken gezet. Een paar dingen die ik heb meegenomen:

    Ik vind het fantastisch dat zoveel content aan elkaar kan gekoppeld worden via het web. Maar om materiaal wat iemand netjes voor jou heeft uitgeschreven te kunnen naar waarde en waarheid schatten, heb je zelf een goede kennis nodig. Redeneringen opbouwen en valse redeneringen eruit pikken moet je leren, door te oefenen. En maakt het dan uit of dat oefenmateriaal via vod, pod of papier komt?

    Ik ben nog niet overtuigd of ik wel van snowflake zou houden. Weer iets dat het beter wil weten dan ikzelf, ik hou wel van het idee zelf nog een beetje sturing te hebben. Ik denk dat de ‘zoekactie’ aan dat gevoel beantwoordt. Het is beangstigend de antwoorden te zien voor je de vragen hebt gesteld. Soms is de weg het belangrijkste, en dat houdt evengoed de weg naar de vragen in.

  3. Joris Gillis / May 24 2007 9:11 pm

    You must be kidding;-)
    As a university professor, you should be happy if you reach as much as half of the audience!

    Anyway, I think it’s important to avoid shock and awe effects when trying to get a message across (

    Being very clear about the message is another issue.
    “Electronic forms must die”, you always repeat. That’s quite a confusing statement. I still don’t know what you mean with it. Are perhaps hinting at intelligent machines?

    Condemning wikipedia to the past is a bit bold; I still have high hopes for its future:,

    I’m always eager to look for links to sites in presentations you post, so I was quite surprised to stumble upon my own name:-o
    It’s nice to see you link to MITopenCourseware. I like their video-taped lectures.

    Take care minding the gap;-)

  4. Erik / May 25 2007 11:48 am

    @Veronique: erg bedankt voor de feedback! Ik begrijp dat je zelf sturing wil hebben en vind dat ook erg belangrijk – maar door minder tijd te verliezen met zoeken komt er misschien meer tijd voor kritische reflectie en de automatische suggesties kunnen ook de blik verruimen. Als ik je aan het denken heb gezet, ben ik alvast meer dan geslaagd in mijn opzet 🙂

    @Joris: with the “electronic forms must die”-slogan, I try to indicate that we DO need very extensive metadata, but tha we should not complicate the life of end users by asking them to fill in extensive forms manually. I am certainly a big fan of wikipedia, but no longer think of it as something very novel, that’s all. You certainly deserve being mentioned in the slides: that was a wonderful experience! And I LOVE gapminder! Take care…

  5. Sky (Jim) Schuyler / Jun 1 2007 9:32 am

    Hey, Erik, this answer won’t really solve the problem, though I have something to say about that too, but I wonder if there is just *so much new stuff out there* that nobody in the audience who has a job or studies or occupation has enough time to keep up with what’s going on? I make my living by staying pretty current on these things, but every day someone says “Have you checked out XYZ?” and I have to say “nope – I never heard of it” and it’s been around for six months or so. There just is not enough time for each and every person in the audience to have gained experience with or even know the names of half the things you (or me) are talking about. You kinda say this same thing when you suggest that the audience members are still trying to figure out what to do with Google…I agree with that observation. (And whenever I talk to the folks down there at Google I realize they must have a couple dozen new projects in the development pipeline that will both “blow away” the current apps and at the same time mystify the public about how to deal with them.)

  6. Geert / Jun 8 2007 1:06 pm

    I too was in the audience and thoroughly enjoyed the talk – although i share with you the idea that a lot of people didn’t follow
    it got me excited – until you said that publishers are ‘failing us’
    i think i was the only publisher there – which may prove your point
    but i don’t feel i got a workable answer to my question of what we should be doing
    my frustration is what you write about:our authors don’t know what Google Books is, so making the Partner Progamme part of our promotion and distribution strategy has not been very succesfull so far
    my main question is: how far should publishers go in educating their authors and readers? it seems to me that most of them want professional services with much personal attention, all the rest is too much for the busy lives they lead
    right now my approach to all this is: i try to keep up, just in case some (or all?) people turn right and start asking new services
    but perhaps you have better advice?

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