what does it take to be an executive chief learning officer? learning from Joe Ganci

You Should Know Joe

Joe Ganci is a leader in the eLearning design and development community.

Anyone who’s in this community knows that what I just said is an understatement.

Allow me to quote from an interview Joe had posted on the Learnovators website:

Joseph Ganci is President of eLearningJoe, LLC, a custom learning company located outside Washington. D.C. Since 1983, he has been involved in every aspect of multimedia and learning development. Joe holds a degree in Computer Science, and writes books and articles about eLearning. He is widely considered a guru for his expertise in eLearning development, and consults with clients worldwide. Joe is also a frequent teacher and presenter at industry conferences and at client sites, especially on the subject of eLearning development tools. His tool reviews appear each month and he is the recipient of several awards for his work in eLearning, including a Lifetime Achievement Award way back in 1999. His mission is to improve the quality of eLearning with practical approaches that work. He loves to help others achieve their goals.

Even this bio understates the impact Joe has had. When you consider that Joe was the second person to ever be awarded the title of Guild Master from the eLearning , when you consider just how influential Joe has been in the various boards and organizations he has served on, it’s impossible to capture all Joe has done for the community.

Why I Want to Learn All I Can from Joe

As most of my readers will know by now, I’m studying in (and am very near the finish line for) the Executive Chief Learning Officer (ECLO) graduate certificate program offered at George Mason University.  As part of learning more about what it takes to be an ECLO, I reached out to Joe and asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing his experiences with me.

I sought Joe out because, just like me, he’s running a freelance instructional design and development business. He was able to grow his business, hire people, start from scratch, and has a million lessons he has learned along the way.

Thanks to Joe’s good graces he agreed to be interviewed. Joe and I were able to meet near his home just outside Washington, D.C., where we spoke over some great Indian cuisine. The following are some of the highlights of our conversation – often paraphrased as best as I could remember them from my notes.

The Interview with Joe

EJ: So, how’d you get your start in this business?

Joe: I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and I was also getting my Associate’s degree in Italian history and literature.

An Italian professor at my college overheard me talking to my friend Pier Luigi about how I loved languages, writing, and programming computers, and he offered me my first eLearning job: creating an Italian program for the university on one of the original eLearning systems, called TICCIT (Time-shared, Interactive, Computer-Controlled Information Television). The NSF had first funded PLATO (the Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations system), and then TICCIT, way back in the 1960s and twenty years later there I was using TICCIT to create what we called Computer-Based Training at the time.

Once I graduated, I worked at several companies as a programmer/learning technologist. In fact, I worked with Dolly Oberoi from 1988 to 1990 at a company called Lunaria. I also ended up working with her husband Curt Cox at the last job I had before I started my own company in 1998!

EJ: In looking over your posts to the eLearning Guild’s website, I can’t help but notice your prolific “Toolkit” presence. You cover a lot of eLearning tools! When did you find your passion for that?

Joe: Yeah, it kind of stands to reason because I love testing tools with my programming mindset to see how much I can push them to do to make the best eLearning possible. Hey, speaking of the early ‘90s that was when I fell in love with a new eLearning application called Authorware, made by Michael Allen (now of Allen Interactions). And you’re right, I became very passionate about Authorware. I became an Authorware guru. Over the next thirteen or fourteen years, I went to 21 Authorware conferences to keynote, speak, and teach about Authorware. I wrote four books on Authorware, I worked on many eLearning courses using that software, and I was pretty close to thinking that Authorware was the best learning technology tool ever. And I was right. At a certain point, Authorware was sold to Macromedia and in 2005 Macromedia and Adobe merged and that was the end of Authorware. It still is being sold but hasn’t been updated since.

EJ: Yikes. My first eLearning mentor, a man named Dave Street, made an entire Learning Management System with all sorts of amazing features you can only dream about having today – all the way down to some of the most immersive and meaningful advanced CBT I’ve ever seen. He had a very hard time transitioning away from it to tools that are – quite frankly – inferior in terms of capability in terms of what Authorware was offering.

Joe: Well, I shifted from there to Adobe Captivate. For a while I even called my company Captivate Joe. But then I realized that people would ask me if I would use other authoring tools like Articulate Storyline and Trivantis Lectora. Of course I use those too, if that was what the project needed. So I changed the name to eLearningJoe.com. Now I strive to be tool agnostic; I use all the tools I can get my hands on and write about them in my monthly tools column.

EJ: What are your thoughts on the state of eLearning today?

Joe: I find myself teaching a lot of my clients about what good eLearning actually is. It seems that most of my clients are coming from these online learning experiences that aren’t very different than PowerPoint slides. Others seem to think that eLearning experiences are these “WOW!” kinds of things that are really just distractions and don’t help the learner do what they need to do.

EJ: Yep.

Joe: In my experience you need to figure out who the learner is. No two audiences are alike. Learners need to solve the problems they would face in real life. If that means you need to create super-advanced learning simulations, than that’s what it takes. But, more often than not, you can make a meaningful solution that really meets the need without all of that, but this takes some hard thinking. What doesn’t take hard thinking is throwing together PowerPoint slides. (Joe laughs)

EJ: What?

Joe: Another problem I face all the time is that everyone seems to want a Ferrari but only wants to pay for a Kia. The Kia’s a fine car but it’s no Ferrari and its price tag reflects that.

EJ: So, do you have any advice for up-and-coming learning technologists like me?

Joe: We, as an industry, have to understand people at their level. We need to be able to find out where our clients are in regards to eLearning and teach them what good eLearning experiences are all about if they don’t know. I’ve been slowly creating an eLearning site where people can come and select what their needs are based on a set of criteria. At the same place they could compare and contrast poor vs good eLearning experience. I think young instructional designers and developers need to do much the same and really know these differences themselves.

EJ: Anything else?

Joe: Yes, one more thing. Speaking of the learning industry, this is a great industry to be in. People in this industry love to help each other. You should start speaking and writing more, yourself. And keep talking to more and more of us more experienced learning professionals. You know who you should talk to next? You need to interview Kevin Thorn.

Joe and I spoke a great deal more about family, business, failures, successes, dreams, and life in Northern Virginia. I am very grateful for the time we spent talking and all the experiences he imparted.