The Biggest Change is Change: Interview with Glenn Stewart


Glenn Stewart, CTO and Director of Ultimedia, is perhaps the only person in my contact list who opens every conversation with a ‘Namaste’ (a traditional Hindu greeting) and ends with ‘Jaldi Milenge’ (meaning ‘see you soon’). Rather charming with all that Hindi, you’d think. But he’s got more in his kitty than just his love for foreign languages and cultures.Glenn has been involved in IT for over 45 years. He started in Sheffield in the North of England, when there were two computers in the city, and now helps run companies, including Ultimedia, in the IT software development sector, in eLearning systems provision and in eLearning course development. These companies service a variety of large clients both nationally and internationally across a variety of sectors including manufacturing, distribution, financial services, in both public and private sector organisations.Glenn’s association with UpsideLMS goes back to 2017 when a chance registration for UpsideLMS’ free trial opened doors to a channel partnership for UK and EU.

Question: What were things like with eLearning when you started off back in the 70’s?

Glenn: All learning and teaching in the industry was ‘on the job’. I started off working in IT in the manufacturing arena for British Steel Corporation and Apprenticeships abounded and lasted for several years. This was the main method of training at that time. The first uses for computers in the north of England were for process automation in manufacturing companies, then for accounts. They did not develop into the training area until later, but there were always exceptions and I remember people developing stand alone programs to perform training functions – they were very primitive though!

Question: How did you see eLearning evolving from when you started?

Glenn: I guess it is commonly accepted that the term ‘eLearning’ was only first used in 1999 at a CBT seminar in the US, but we can go back to Pitman, who taught shorthand with a type of correspondence course and way back in 1924 the first testing machine invented for students to self-test. It was only in the 2000s though, when businesses adopted eLearning as a viable means of instruction, that we saw real changes begin to happen quickly.The first eLearning initiatives I was involved with were question and answer style things whereby people had their answers marked by individuals (offline) to the completion of a test. Then later there were CD based programs which still involved offline marking, but at least pictures and graphics could be included in the materials distributed. Computer Assisted Learning, in schools and colleges only started in the 90’s and again were quite basic in nature.Alongside industry involvement with eLearning in the 2000s came more school participation and a few courses became available, although most were still written by enthusiastic amateurs here.Now we have a plethora of learning tools and mechanisms, many of which UpsideLMS specializes in, like Social Learning, Collaborative Learning, On-Demand Learning, Virtual Classrooms, Webinars, Video-Based Learning, Mobile Learning, Gamification and many, many more. So, I guess in the last 10 years we have experienced an incredible acceleration in eLearning use and what is available. This has largely paralleled advances in IT technology.A lot of LMS vendors offering cloud-based SaaS platforms, like UpsideLMS, to deliver eLearning have started to dominate the marketplace. Course aggregators are becoming well established and the idea of buying ‘off the shelf’ courses for a wide variety of applications is a reality.I also see the proliferation of learner’s devices impacting the marketplace, and although courses have not quite caught up with this yet, they will in due course.

Question: What do you see happening next in eLearning?

Glenn: On ‘rates of change’ I quote the economist Larry Summers, “… things take longer to happen than you think they will, but then happen faster than you thought they could …”.John P. Kotter, Professor at Harvard and business founded, quotes, way back, ‘The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in must industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.’ I see the rate of change of technology directly affecting eLearning. Think of how computers, laptops and smartphones have changed the way we live and consume information. Well a similar phase change is happening in eLearning.How will Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, User Generated Content and Personalisation affect eLearning over the new few years? Well this remains to be seen, but the smart money says it will and with each advance in technology there will be areas like eLearning which are early adopters.What about automated assistants and bots in eLearning? These will come quickly, and we see the use of these as help assistants, quite apart from their roles as tutors. I guess with the advances in voice control we will see more of these automated assistants in use.

Question: So how do you see us preparing for changes in eLearning?

Glenn: The first thing is not to resist it and as we know this comes from-

  1. Change making people think they have lost control and self-determination
  2. Status and job security are suddenly at risk
  3. The ‘What’s in it for me?’ syndrome comes into force
  4. There is fear of the unknown
  5. Peer pressure can affect where we try to protect other co-workers
  6. Mistrust abounds when things change

These are all bound up with how we communicate, and putting learners in focus, at the centre of any eLearning project. It seems an old phrase, but you must get people on your side in their thinking and the easiest way to do this is to appreciate where they are at, and then communicate in those terms.Understanding where people are at (often in terms of technology) because we are swamped with constant change, we forget that others in different disciplines do not experience this ferocious rate of change.I feel that preparing for a new eLearning initiative is important, and well you would not enter a marathon without training, would you? So, I feel that some formal steps like-

  1. What are you going to achieve and what will be your interim goals?
  2. How are you going to engage with people during the program?
  3. Realise that you cannot change everything all at once, start with realistic and manageable goals for progress.
  4. Backing for change and the ‘buy-in’. This should come from the whole organisation. Realisations through the ranks that change will require, at least initially, an amount of effort tobe successful. This means you need to be speaking to and facilitating conversations through the organisation.
  5. Establish a reward mechanism for those putting effort into the change process.
  6. What will be your support and training mechanisms for the various groups of people engaged in this change?
  7. Assess the risks and develop a plan for mitigating the risks before they happen, and you are compelled to react.

Question: How do you see this being put into practise?

Glenn: It’s all about measurement really, isn’t it? The famous management guru Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’. Kirkpatrick’s seminal Training Evaluation Model highlights …

  1. Reaction – how engaged and how active are your learners and what is their reaction
  2. Learning – what have people learnt
  3. Behaviour – has the learning changed the way people behave
  4. Results – what were the outcomes, the benefits and how do you measure them

In Josh Bersin’s now famous book ‘The Measurement Training Book’ he advocates using the Learning Management System as a source of measurement for your training programs.In ‘The Systematic Design of Instruction’ Walter Dick and Lou & James Carey describe a method for deigning and realising eLearning, together with mechanisms for measurement which are just as true today as when they wrote the book back in 1978.Realise that there will be issues and that everything does not go perfectly the first time but stay engaged and progress along your project path.Work, monitor and progress your eLearning project plan in conjunction with the sponsors, the project board and the audience of learners, but above all keep learners at the centre of your eLearning initiative.