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By now I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of you are familiar with one of the most well-known military figures of recent history: Captain Obvious. Shortly after achieving the rank of Captain, Obvious made a name for himself by stating axiomatic information at every turn. Anyway, I happened to be having coffee the other day with one of Captain Obvious’s superior officers, Brigadier General Self-Evident. While I have great respect for Brigadier General’s military accomplishments, I must admit that the conversation was painfully ... predictable.

Brigadier General arrived at the coffee shop at 0900 and, as I folded up my newspaper to greet him, he gestured to my paper and said “You know—digital media is really gaining in popularity.” “Get outta town!” I replied. And it only went downhill from there. But, since our theme this month is digital media, I thought I could use some of Brigadier General Self-Evident’s quotes as a springboard for a more meaningful discussion about the state of things in the digital world.

Brigadier General Self-Evident: “Y’know, people sure do like to use those smartphones and tablets for all kinds of stuff these days.”

Gee, thanks for the valuable perspective. Now, here’s something you may NOT have known. If you’re merely thinking about mobile technology strategies right now, you’re behind the 8 ball! Way behind. You should be acting on those because, according to Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends analysis, mobile media time now trumps desktop and other media by a significant margin in the US (51% to 42%, respectively). And forget the discussion about catering to millennials and young folks. This phenomenon transcends age demographics. “Well that’s a huge deal!” the wide-eyed Brigadier General says through a mouthful of scone. And he’s right! Providing a quality mobile experience for your audience, whoever they may be, is imperative now. They will expect it. And if you can’t provide a serviceable mobile experience, it’s likely that they’ll simply move along, because odds are good that your competition can!

Brigadier General Self-Evident: “I tell ya, digital media seems to offer a lot of possibilities!”

What a revelation! Now let’s take that a step further. What are some of the unique opportunities that digital media affords us? Well, I can’t name all of them. How about two?

  1. Increased Information Velocity - For starters, there are clearly infinite efficiencies to be gained by the speed at which we can distribute information. Real Time has taken on an entirely new meaning! This has ramifications in nearly every sphere beyond just learning and development (which we are particularly interested in), but also customer service, sales, marketing … you name it.
  2. Increased User Involvement - Perhaps less obvious though is the nurturing of what author Henry Jenkins refers to as a “participatory culture,” which he defines as one with “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices.”1 What does this have to do with our discussion? In the learning and development field, nary an hour goes by without someone thinking about, talking about, or otherwise obsessing over “audience engagement.” So, L&D folks, I’m talking directly to you now! Think about audience engagement within the context of the previously described participatory culture that thrives in a digital media environment and suddenly things get pretty exciting!

Brigadier General Self-Evident: “Print seems to be pretty obsolete these days.”Now this is where I’m going to throw you a curve ball. Yes, as the General pointed out, we’re seeing print assets dying off left and right. We get that part. But does that mean you should always choose an exclusively digital option? According to author James Paul Gee the answer is a resounding no! Gee states that, particularly for young audiences, “the digital and nondigital fully intermix (12).”2 Gee goes on to cite examples of numerous gaming experiences which “are represented across a number of different media, including video games, card games played face to face, books, television shows, movies, and a plethora of internet sites… (12).”2 This “convergent media” that has proven to be so successful, particularly in a gaming environment, is yet another unique opportunity to be considered in our L&D, communications, sales, customer service, etc. strategies. In short, by dismissing print as a dead-and-gone, useless medium in this digital age, we may be overlooking opportunities to significantly enhance the experience for our audience!

Well, I don’t know about you, but even for a guy who traffics in well-established facts and remarks, I actually think I learned a bit from the ol’ General! Exciting times we’re in, folks. And as the Brigadier General himself remarked just before we bid each other adieu, “things are moving pretty fast these days … try and keep up!” Sage advice indeed!

Sources

1Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins (P.I.) with Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Weigel, Katie Clinton, and Alice J. Robison

2New Digital Media and Learning as an Emerging Area and “Worked Examples” as One Way Forward by James Paul Gee

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