How to be an eLearning Expert (module 2) – How to be Controversial

This post represents my own thoughts only, not those of my employer or the programmes and projects I am responsible for. It is available under a Creative Commons CC-0 public domain license. It is presented as an OER for personal study.

Any resemblance to celebrity e-learning experts – living, dead, or horrible flesh-eating zombie – is not intentional and is probably self-perceived due to over-active paranoia. If you *are* a controversial e-learning expert and think any of these steps are specifically aimed at you, please let me assure you that they not. Please leave a blog comment detailing which section you mistakenly think is an attack on you and why, and I will gladly change the text.
So, you’ve followed Lou McGill’s excellent guide to becoming an elearning expert. And you’ve made it!

Or have you?

Sure, you’re seen at all the cool sessions at all the best conferences, but you’re there at the bar listening to Helen Beetham talking to Diana Laurillard, Sheila MacNeill, Grainne Conole and Sarah Knight about evaluating the use of runnable learning designs in educational practice and pretending that you are intellectually capable of following the conversation by occasionally nodding and saying “mmm…mmmm…” – whilst THAT GUY* is being whisked away from his keynote address to speak to puckered-lipped senior mandarins at the Ministry before returning – you imagine – to a hotel suite filled with exotic alcohol, sherbert dips and semi-naked booth babes employed by major e-learning vendors. And gosh, you want to be THAT GUY so hard that it hurts.

What’s THAT GUY got that you haven’t?


But now, with this simple free 10 point plan, you too can experiment with controversy: the coolest bad-boy substance known to man. Feel the raw power coursing through your fingers. Feel the adrenaline rush of being up against popular opinion with only your wits and a collection of pictures from Google Images used in breach of their license to help you. Because “starting a debate” is exactly the same thing as having 600 people call you a prat on twitter.

1. IDENTIFY A HIGHER POWER AND SUBMIT TO IT. Choose market capitalism, everyone else does. Of course you wouldn’t talk directly about this to an audience of lefty academic soap-dodgers, but you can carefully structure your argument so you leave them desiring service or technology X, which is available at a very reasonable price from certain commercial suppliers. They *could* set it up and do it themselves, but if you drop in words like “cuts”, “time pressures”, “professional quality” and “advertising” it will soon put them off. If you are canny, you already own or have shares in certain commercial suppliers that provide service or technology X.

2. BUILD A STRAW MAN. There are some practices in academia that don’t work, some of the time. Hell, there are loads – here’s a few to get you started: exams, libraries, application, feedback, lectures, seminars, contact time, online learning… Pick one and argue that because it is bad sometimes, it must be bad all the time. You could cite your own personal experiences, or if you don’t have any experience (and don’t be ashamed), use a scene from an cheesy 80s film to perfectly reflect reality. In fact, if you are really confident, suggest academia is bad all the time and we should replace it with something where private companies can more easily sell services and thus support student choice.

3. SEE VISIONS, DREAM DREAMS. There needs to be a simple ideal solution to the problem you have posed under point two. The fact that there actually isn’t shouldn’t stop you getting in to some serious technologo-determinism. All students should have iPhones! All teaching should be filmed in stroboscopic surround-sound 3D! Academics should pay for the development of commercial quality games for teaching! Academics should be available 24/7/365 via a bespoke chat client and brain implant! Don’t worry about implementation, who is going to pay for it all, or whether anyone actually wants it, or even whether it would actually work the way you claim it would. You’ll never have to make it happen.

4. TILT AT A SACRED COW. Conversely, there are some things in academia that quietly work really well: try autonomy, diversity, micro-specialist subjects, local community and employer links, academic rather than business management, supporting small scale embedded innovation. But as these don’t fit in with your vision and dreams (see point 3) then they obviously don’t work. Just because they have stupid compelling independent evidence to support them does not mean that your theory is wrong. Your theory is obviously right, because you are on the stage expounding it, whilst they are sitting in rows listening. Never forget that.

5. KICK A DOG WHEN IT IS DOWN. There are some things that people love to hate. If you feel like you are losing the crowd, have a cheap shot at a complaint common among those who don’t really understand the issue in question, like PowerPoint slides, university administrators, lazy apathetic students, moaning academics or useless quangos. There – didn’t that feel good? Now everyone is back on your side again. A good time to do this is immediately before you start selling something, be that an event, a workshop or a new shiny product. Then you sound populist enough to make people think you talk enough sense that they will trust your sales pitch.

6. POTTY MOUTH. The best way to “keep it real” is to swear like a lady’s front bottom. Because your poo is from the streets and you sexually tell it like it is, incestuous person, you can really fornicate excrement up. You might initially think you sound like a cranially-mounted phallus, but really you are the canine’s gonads. And don’t you coitally forget it, female dog. (of course, if challenged, you always speak like this. Especially to ministers of state and at dinner parties with major elearning vendors.)

7. TWO PLUS TWO EQUALS FIVE. You know that deeply unpopular and stupid thing that isn’t going to work that the government have announced? Well, they’re right and the consensus of opinion amongst those who actually understand the issue is wrong. It is going to work and it’s just what we need. It may be painful and result in massive job losses/institutional closures/international terrorism/students dropping out/greater expense but really it’s for the greater good of the sector. Only you, the controversial elearning expert, understand this, by refusing to cloud your razor sharp brain with the dull grind of facts and evidence. Why, you could almost be in government yourselves.

8. GET WITH THE EDUPUNKS. No, I don’t mean proper EduPunk, which is where the likes of Jim Groom use a whole grab-bag of tools for themselves to engage with students on a personal, meaningful level and produce great art like DS106 . You don’t even need to go to the bother of selling out, because to you edupunk only means that the technology that institutions use is rubbish, and you should buy and use better stuff. Punk is simply market capitalism in funny clothes. (and note the best stuff has a logo that looks like a bit of fruit). On a similar tip, always use “disruptive” when you mean “new and probably unwise” – it makes you sound edgy and cool, and makes everyone who disagrees with you sound staid and old-fashioned.

9. THINK BIG. It’s a waste of time doing stuff on a small scale. Lots of people will never see it, and that’s bad for the ego. The only good things are those that are massive, monolithic and visible from low earth orbit. Forget doing something linked to the identified needs of a small group, forget trials and experiments, ignore building sustainable innovation: let’s mandate, baby, mandate. If everyone *has* to do it then it will definitely be good and it will definitely work. After all, we’ve had so many pilots, why not invest in some nice technical drawing instruments made by Rotring.

10. NEVER APOLOGISE, NEVER EXPLAIN. Contrition is a sign of weakness. If you turn out to be wrong about something (and you’ve about a 50% chance, statistically, just like any other monkey) the important thing is to keep being wrong, but louder. People will start to suspect that you’ve seen something they haven’t and have a deeper understanding. After this wears off, the career of a professional contrarian is open to you – a life of being THAT GUY on a plenary panel. Any you did want to be THAT GUY, didn’t you?

ONE FINAL NOTE: PLAYERS BE HATERS. Following this approach, you may find that some people begin to dislike you. If they do it is important that you appear to deal with them civily and politely. Firstly characterise them as “out of touch”. You spend all day talking to delegates at conferences, you obviously know more about what is really happening than them, stuck in their sub-specialism. Secondly, they clearly haven’t understood your argument… best repeat it to them several times in slightly different words. Thirdly, they are probably a fan of one of the things you slagged of in point three, so you can dismiss them as being self-interested. Fourthly, if all else fails, appeal to your authority. You’ve been being an elearning expert for, ooh, ages now, you even started an elearning company and got some contracts. How dare they know more than you about higher education? How very dare they?

* and THAT GUY is (almost) always a guy.

6 thoughts on “How to be an eLearning Expert (module 2) – How to be Controversial

  • January 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Ouch – hope that made you feel better David – did me:-) And I always try to avoid “that guy” wherever possible.

  • January 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    This is actually my approach, so why haven’t I got the sherbet dips? You forgot ‘speak only in slogans which can be retweeted’.

  • January 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Exposed , I’m finished ! Don’t you realise that I applied for, with success,a patent for this crib sheet as part of the resources for a training course back in the 1980’s .The patent was granted on the strength of a conversation with someone who knew someone who was related to Tim Berners Lee’s father in law . See US patents for e-Learning Experts training 1987.Should you attempt to re-use this material again without recognition of prior art and without payment of the ascribed licence fee (Im open to offer a competitive discount rate) I will pursue a claim for damages through the US patent court.These materials and strategy contained therein have been applied widely indeed throughout the Western world there are at least dozens of acredited practitioners.

  • January 19, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Of course, to be the true expert you need to build up the digital identity that proves your worthiness. This is essential otherwise you won’t get the all expenses paid invitations and keynote slots, and might have to do some real work, or have to come up with an original idea – you don’t want to have to do that.Apart from rehashing other peoples ideas (having never implemented any activity, disruptive or otherwise, yourself) you need to ensure saturation. One sure fire way of achieving this is the self created wikipedia page that says you are a ‘disruptive action man’ or some such trite phase. You can then blog and tweet about the wonderful label that “someone” has given you on wikipedia, thus it becomes true. This further fuels your expertness, more calls to be an international speaker will follow and the gravy train keeps on going.

  • November 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    Your list is flawed. I have tried every item on it, and have yet to be showered in semi-clad booth babes. Except for that one time in Vegas, but that wasn’t technically an elearning event. Except for the webcam. Does that count? I think it might. Wait. I think they were dudes. Whatever. Semi-clad is semi-clad. Edupunk 4LIFE, BABY!


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