Ryan Tracey

eLearning Manager in a Financial Services Organisation in Australia

Ryan Tracey is an award-winning eLearning Professional with over 12 years of experience in the eLearning industry, following several years in publishing and science. Being an eLearning Manager in a Financial Services Organisation in Australia, he offers unique insight into a complex discipline. He is also an Editorial Board Member for eLearn Magazine and a Review Panelist for the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching.

Christopher Pappas, Efthymios Savvakis & Nasia Efthimiou

Interview with Ryan Tracey

In one of the latest articles on your blog, you refer to eLearning through game-based learning. In your perception, what are the benefits of this method?

I’m an advocate of game-based learning because I think it has much to offer workplace L&D in terms of motivation and engagement – especially when motivation and engagement are lacking.

But games are more than “fun”. They can be authentic representations of real life, so that the learner can develop their capabilities in a safe environment. Alternatively, while the game itself may be arbitrary, the experience of playing it is real; and that can surface themes such as leadership and collaboration.

What is the most effective game in terms of being able to bring the best educational outcome?

If the game is intended to mimic real life, then dispense with anything inauthentic. The most obvious examples of this are points and badges – if the learner won’t achieve these on the job, then I question whether they should be a part of the game.

One of my favourite examples of a well-designed game is Lifesaver by the Resuscitation Council in the UK. This game has a believable story, it’s engaging, and it actually feels real. There are no points or badges; rather, the learner’s decisions drive the outcomes.

Importantly, Lifesaver taps into the learner’s intrinsic motivation. Before I played this game, I intuitively understood the benefits of first aid. Having played the game, however, my appreciation skyrocketed and it motivated me to brush up my DR ABC.

I can see how a well-designed game such as this one could be used to improve compliance training. Everyone knows that we should maintain a safe working environment, protect our customers’ privacy etc… but a well-designed game that immerses the learner in the situation might just be the approach we need to transform boring and onerous “must do” training into engaging “want to do” learning that has impact.

Interview with Ryan Tracey 1

Which blogs within your field of interest do you distinguish and choose for your information about new developments?

Wow, there are so many. If you look at my blogroll, you’ll see well over 100 names there – and they’re just the ones I try to read regularly.

I tend to favour bloggers who work out loud. Concepts and ideas are important, but I also want to find out what people have done – and how it went. I’m always appreciative of those generous bloggers who are brave enough to share their outcomes with us, even went it didn’t go so well.

I also think it’s important to source a cross-section of bloggers across industries and locations. For example, I make a point of learning from other eLearning professionals in the Asia-Pacific region, because I see this part of the world as the next big stage for growth and innovation.

What is the current situation of eLearning in Australia in terms of popularity and implementation?

We have the full spectrum here, from head-in-the-sand ostriches who wish it would all go away, to sophisticated professionals doing cutting-edge work with emerging technologies. Of course, most of us are somewhere in between.

In very general terms, most of the big organisations here have Learning Management Systems that host eLearning content. Some sectors such as financial services are heavily regulated, so these systems are very popular for distributing and tracking compliance training.

However I’m also seeing a shift away from formal eLearning to more self-directed eLearning, in particular by making better use of the corporate intranet and by experimenting with social learning. I say “experimenting” because while the will is there in our profession to encourage peer-to-peer learning, many of us are struggling to make it work on a sustainable basis. I would also put mobile into this category; the will is there, but we’re still finding our way with it.

Interview with Ryan Tracey 2

Why is eLearning so prevalent in Australia?

eLearning has a rich history in this young country. For example, back in 1951, the School of the Air was launched to teach children in remote communities across the outback over two-way radio. For a long time, the vast distances and our isolation have been important drivers in our use of technology.

Besides our geography, however, Australians are an innovative bunch. If we’re not inventing it, we’re early adopters. Almost everyone owns a smartphone, the majority of us are on social media, and it’s no surprise to us that we’re the world-leading downloaders of pirated Game of Thrones episodes!

The Australian psyche is to “give it a go”, so it’s only natural for us to embrace eLearning.

What are the top eLearning conferences in Australia?

We host quite a range of eLearning conferences here, or broader education conferences with an eLearning twist.

EduTECH is the largest education conference in the southern hemisphere, held every year in Brisbane. CeBIT hosts its Asia-Pacific event in Sydney, and the recently launched [email protected] conference is popular. I also like the Learning Assembly because it’s case-study driven.

Then of course we have the national conference of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD), which I’m pleased to see is covering more eLearning topics year on year.

How has the huge growth of the Internet and the simultaneous burgeoning of social media, changed the map of the eLearning?

When I first stumbled into the education sector, the extent of our use of technology was sticking a CD-ROM in the back of a textbook. The growth of the Internet changed all that by suddenly giving us access to the whole world; and conversely it gave the whole world access to our content. Suddenly we were building websites and quizzes and plugins for Virtual Learning Environments. The nature of education changed.

Then somehow our profession fell into the trap of online courses. The term “eLearning” became synonymous with the LMS.

But the burgeoning of social media moved the goal posts again. Not only has it given learners a means of connecting to others and learning from them, but also they have the means of publishing their own thoughts and insights and contributing to the conversation.

So the Internet and social media have empowered learners like never before. Now that the world is at their fingertips, the self-driven individual is no longer beholden to a single source of authority. The map of eLearning is becoming increasingly informal and social. And when we lay mobile technology over that, we also see it becoming increasingly contextualized.

Interview with Ryan Tracey 3

What advice would you give someone who wanted to become an eLearning professional?

Assuming a grounding in learning theory and instructional design (which I think are vital), my Number 1 piece of advice is to try new things. Implement new ideas, play with new tools, blend the media. If it doesn’t work, change it or abandon it; but if it does work, scale it up. And keep trying new things!

I also advise learning from others. Not only by reading their blogs (which is important), but also by attending conferences, going to local meetups, and participating in virtual communities such as #lrnchat on Twitter.

Of course, this means giving something back too. Whether you write a blog or run a YouTube channel or whatever, share something useful with your peers. This will raise your profile, reinforce your identity as an eLearning specialist, and you’ll learn so much more from your peers’ feedback.

In your blog you mention that “I’m looking forward to 2015 as a time for exploring, building, experimenting, discovering, and learning”. What kind of steps are you planing on making in order to achieve these goals?

I’m a qualified scientist, and so I’ve decided to treat eLearning like a science. Scientists don’t categorize empirical evidence as a success or failure. They don’t view the outcome of an experiment as good or bad, right or wrong. It just is. By exploring, building, experimenting, discovering, and learning through this scientific lens, I’ll reduce my fear of failure.

I also want to work out loud more. The way I see it, if my peers don’t know what I’m doing or what I’m trying to do, they won’t know how to help.

How do you see the future of eLearning in the next decade?

I see eLearning becoming more informal, social and mobile. I see technology not only as a means of education, but also of performance support; meaning it will become much more of an on-the-job and just-in-time proposition. I see the role of eLearning becoming more about helping people do what they need to do, when they need to do it, rather than sheep-dipping them just in case.

I also see emerging technologies finally breaking into mainstream use. For example, augmented reality is becoming easier for us to use via apps like Aurasma, while virtual reality is becoming a tantalizing prospect through wearables such as HoloLens and Oculus Rift.  However, if these new techs don’t pass what I call the Average Joe imperative, whereby regular folk like you and me can use them for both consumption and production of eLearning, then we’ll be having this same conversation in 10 years’ time.

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In a future world, do you believe that traditional learning will be totally replaced by eLearning?

Absolutely not. I’m quite different from other eLearning specialists in that I love face-to-face training. I believe it offers advantages that just can’t be replicated by technology, no matter how hard we try. So I think that “traditional learning” will remain.

Having said that, I think that its proportion of the total L&D portfolio will inevitably decline. As eLearning obviates the need for rooms and trainers and travel and time out of the business, traditional classroom-based training will eventually be replaced with alternatives. This isn’t just a financial decision; often it makes sense pedagogically too.

It’s also important to recognise that eLearning is changing the nature of traditional learning. These days, training is supported by technology around the program to provide a more comprehensive learning experience; while in-class too, technology is being used to improve engagement and (dare I suggest) effectiveness.

How do you imagine Ryan Tracey in 20 years from now?

Ha ha! I seriously have no idea. I love what I do, and I’m concentrating on that for now.

In the future, I hope I’m still doing something that helps people.