The IELA E-Learning Blog

Leveraging Technology to “Age with Attitude”

by Evelyn Levine

One day, my 85-year-old mom asked me to teach her “the computer.” She had no idea what was involved, but she just had a sense that this would somehow make her increasingly-restricted life a little fuller. I was skeptical that learning how to use a computer would positively affect my mom’s life—but it turns out she was way ahead of me on this.

Research Findings: Seniors and Technology

The fastest growing demographic in the U.S. are people over 75, with estimates of there being 50 million people in this age bracket by 2050. During a time of exploding technology usage and innovation, there is an age-based digital divide, and people who are not comfortable with technology can feel “left out.”

And that feeling would be valid. Research conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine found that technology use can positively impact lives through increasing social connections, social and civic participation, and access to important information.The research studied an innovative organization, Older Adults Technology Services (, a non-profit organization that runs the largest municipal technology program for seniors in NYC. The OATS mission is to empower seniors with the technological skills that will allow them to live as independently as possible. Through OATS’ nationwide centers, seniors can participate in one-to-one training, workshops, lectures, and special events; the centers also provide free internet access along with computers and mobile devices for seniors to use on-site.

Technology as Means (not an End)

The OATS stated mission is to tie seniors’ increased computer and internet access and skills to outcomes such as their ability to access important financial, governmental and health information; to connect with others and stay engaged in cultural trends and civic issues. Technological access and skills can also perhaps lead to starting a business! One popular class offered by OATS focuses on learning how to build a website and to sell products using the Etsy app.Seniors using technology can provide immense benefits to themselves and to society as a whole. Computer use is associated with lower levels of loneliness, decreased depression, improved self-esteem, and cognitive functioning. And, more broadly, it can assist in efforts to assist seniors to “age in place.”

Award-Winning Training

OATS was recently awarded an Excellence in Training and Education Award by the American Society on Aging The model used by their award-winning training is one of blended learning: the training includes lecture, hands-on exercises, and independent study and follow-up via online course materials, videos and exercises.The New York Academy of Medicine has stated: “It is not enough to just offer technology training to older adults. What’s needed for this population is well-designed and thoughtfully-administered components (curriculum, trainers, manuals classroom atmosphere, style) creating a package for success.” OATS’ training, incrementally paced with hands-on practice, is delivered in a safe, supportive and positive environment, thus increasing a senior’s feeling of comfort and confidence with technology.

An Open and Safe Environment

OATS sounded great when I read about it; but I wanted to see it for myself. I visited OATS’ local NYC Senior Planet Exploration Center (which is the flagship center and is now one of 6 OATS senior centers located across the nation). Over 100 seniors utilize this center daily.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the open design. I was told it was an intentional decision, to create a sense of community and encourage social interaction.

I sat in on an iPad Basics workshop. Approximately 10 students (ranging in age from 65-75+) sat around a table, each with their own iPads, listening intently as the trainer (who is a retired schoolteacher) patiently showed them on a projected screen exactly how to organize and manage the apps on the iPad. She explained one topic at a time and then had everyone try it on their own iPads. Then she went around to each student individually to check their work and assist with any difficulties. The trainer stressed that she would not touch the mouse and made sure each person tried it on their own. The trainer’s emphasis throughout was on positive feelings such as a sense of accomplishment and helping each other out.Membership at the Senior Planet is free for those over 60 years of age, allowing anyone to become part of a growing community who are excited by new technology and are “aging with attitude.” This sentiment was not only prominently displayed on the large screen at the NYC center but was embodied by those I met at the center during my visit.  As one 80-year-old woman told me, “If you’re a senior, you need to be constantly learning new things.”

Evelyn Levine works as a Training and Staff Development Director for the U.S. Courts. She writes on worldwide learning and development trends in public and private sectors.  She can be reached at

Healthcare Training: Integrating Real and Virtual Learning

by Evelyn Levine

Suppose you are a medical student in training, learning how to evaluate patients in a cardiac emergency room. Ideally, you want to perfect your skills before you see an actual patient. 

You have limited time and resources. The emergency room setting is always busy and sometimes understaffed. Usually time is of the essence. 

You need information: The patient’s history, medications, activity level, along with results of current and previous stethoscope exams, EKGs, ultrasounds and other records. You also must assess the patient’s current presentation, pain level, physical examination and other tests.

You have questions: What other tests might be needed? Is any immediate action required? Should you consult with other doctors/experts?

You need to learn how to do this right. You can listen to lectures; study and memorize facts, you can learn by observing those more experienced in action, and even by trial and error. But since practice makes perfect, wouldn’t it be preferable to actually try to perform these skills in a safe environment where you could learn from your mistakes – if that were possible?

The e-REAL Paradigm and Potential

 e-REAL, the vision of Dr. Fernando Salvetti, is a mixed-reality immersive and interactive learning simulation environment that addresses this and similar needs. e-REAL allows people to interact with tools and objects from the real world which are augmented by computer-generated information, which can be a mix of visual, auditory, olfactory and other sensory modalities.  This may include talking avatars and 3D projections on the wall, all of which can be experienced without any special equipment.

What makes this type of visual storytelling so effective as a training tool is that the learner is presented with realistic and challenging scenarios.  Learners can go back and forth between specific observations and overall paradigms; and focus on both technical and behavioral aspects of performance. 

Research has shown that visualization helps learners better store information, assists cognitive retention, and behavioral performance. Some of e-REAL’s key features which facilitate learning, according to the available research, include:

  • Learning in context:  Learning is facilitated by utilizing a realistic, real-world environment.
  • Feedback: Effective feedback is critical to learning. Visualization helps instructors immediately identify errors and difficulties as well as to measure competencies.
  • Social components: This type of simulation incorporates methods to practice communication and cooperation skills which are especially critical in crisis management teamwork. The simulation assesses soft skills (e.g., teamwork, leadership skills, situational awareness).
  • Self- development: This type of learning results in greater self-awareness and is empowering to the learner.
  • Learner engagement: Finally, participants enjoy this type of learning and are more engaged in the learning process.

According to Dr. Salvetti, initial research has shown that e-REAL is an engaging and effective tool for training future doctors and other healthcare workers. Consequently, it has the potential to reduce costly and dangerous errors and enhance care for all those (all too) real patients.

Fernando Salvetti is the co-designer of the e-REAL simulation developed in conjunction with the Harvard Center for Medical Simulation (more information can be found at   Professor Salvetti is an international e-learning consultant whose research in immersive and interactive learning environments focuses on how they enhance neural processes in learning and memory.

Evelyn Levine works as a Training and Staff Development Director for the U.S. Courts. She writes on worldwide learning and development trends in public and private sectors.  She can be reached at

Professor Gila Kurtz Can See Our Future Workplace

by Evelyn Levine

Professor Gila Kurtz would probably make a fine Jeopardy player—guessing the questions when given the answers. Her mind just works that way. She examines the latest technology and then defines the problem(s) these tech solutions could solve.

Here’s how she explained it herself as she described her current interests in the futuristic fields of Humanoid Robots (HR) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Both these innovations have led to her study of their application to the Future Workplace.

Q: Can a Humanoid Robot (HR) help us work better? 

A: A pilot study (Gila Kurtz & Dan Kohen-Vacs at Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) in Israel, 2019) utilized a Humanoid Robot (HR) in an Escape Room Activity and found the HR to be an appealing, supportive and patient tutor, successfully facilitating human collaboration. 

Q: How can we leverage the potential of our increasingly inter-connected devices, commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), to increase workplace efficiencies?

A: The IoT allows for a fully networked work environment and the sharing of data from our many devices and even directly from our bodies. Among its many potential work benefits are personalized onboarding and ongoing learning activities based on each employees’ environment, learning style and availability.

Real-time data can be gathered about new employees related to their social interactions, written orientation materials, and physical work spaces. Analyzing this data will help to better design both self-assessments and continuous learning activities.

Employee learning can be customized by identifying knowledge gaps, converting information into preferred delivery methods while taking into account personal learning style. Training opportunities can be further personalized based on their availability and location (using one’s calendar, for example).

On a more concrete level, learning a medical procedure—especially one requiring fine motor skills—is a clear application of IoT.

For example, a smart bracelet worn by training physician can provide feedback in real time, as well as collect data for later analysis, informing best practices or even for immediate treatment.

On the organizational macro-level: A networked diagnostic system could identify reasons and conditions for human errors. Continuous improvements can be made with these insights and with the greater awareness of all the relevant internal and external conditions [that lead] to errors. 

Putting aside for the moment all the challenges of privacy and data management; Gila Kurtz shows us a potential Future of Work where robots will support us, and data will guide us, to perform as our best human selves.

Gila Kurtz, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Instructional Technologies department at Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) in Israel and also serves as the Head of the M.A. Program there.

Evelyn Levine works as a Training and Staff Development Director for the U.S. Courts. She writes on worldwide learning and development trends in public and private sectors.  She can be reached at

My Experience at ICELW 2016

by IELA Staff

This is a guest post from Cecilia Iros, CEO at SumaLatam in Argentina, and a speaker at ICELW for the past several years.  In the post, Cecilia describes her experience at ICELW 2016 in New York.

Cecilia Iros:  My Experience at ICELW 2016

SumaLatam, the company I represent, is based in Argentina and attending a conference in the US means a big investment. With so many great ways to learn and sharpen skills from my desk: e-learning courses, blogs, podcasts,  YouTube, and webinars, just to name a few, I have to be able to answer this question: Why devote the time and expense of an in-person conference like ICELW? What follows is my attempt to answer that question and also explain why I keep coming back to NYC every June!

I was already excited to get off the 1 metro at 116th St on Broadway and see the familiar gate of Columbia University in the City of New York.  Walking through Morningside Campus with its impressive buildings and perfect lawns built momentum towards meeting researchers and practitioners from around the globe at the Faculty House for the 9th (my third!) International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace.

And I was not disappointed. After a warm welcome by conference chair, David Guralnick, we went right into exploring the barriers, opportunities and steps to successfully integrate engaging experiences with effective learning, in the real world by Clark Quinn.

Right after that, I was very lucky to share Session 1B with three very smart women: Mary Ann Saurino from CornerHouse Interagency Child Abuse Evaluation and Training Center, Karin Sixl-Daniell from MCI at the University of Applied Sciences, and Jennifer Hess from DTCC. My presentation this year was “An Insider’s View of Choosing a Localization Vendor: When One Size Does Not Fit All” and I hope to have been able to provide useful information to those in charge of selecting a localization partner for their company.

During the Conference Drinks, I was excited to catch up with the people I had met in previous ICELWs and collected a few business cards during interesting conversations over a glass of nice wine.

The second day’s keynote was with John Black, who described their research showing that computer and video games, graphic simulations and role playing in virtual and augmented worlds are effective when used in conjunction with other learning activities.

I was then honored to chair Session 2B where Declan Dagger from EmpowerTheUser presented a case study, which is always interesting, but he did it together with their client, BNY Mellon, which made it even more attractive. We also learnt from Jong Tae Youn about some aspects of the cultural mindset of female students and their families in the Republic of Korea, and Birgit Kuefner shared their experience,  pitfalls, and lessons learned during an e-learning localization project.

So as to keep things fun, I also chaired Session 4A that day. I proudly did so since presentations were by industry expert David Guralnick who walked us through a childhood learning experience to show the role that story and emotion play in online learning, and Fernando Salvetti who presented about anything-but-boring interactive tutorials and live holograms used in continuing medical education.

A very entertaining table at Midtown French brasserie, Rue 57, was the perfect closure for a stimulating second conference day.

The experts panel is a  great contribution to the conference program and, this time, we had the chance to learn, not only from the panel Chair, David Guralnick, who promoted debate with clever questions and comments, but from industry leaders Ryan Baker, Clark Quinn, Fernando Salvetti, and their interactions  with the audience.

Giving recognition for a job well done is always a good thing and that’s why I believe announcing IELA awards is the best way to close the conference every year. Congratulations to the winners!

According to a HubSpot Blog I read recently “There isn’t a single technology that will replace the power of in-person relationship building” and I couldn’t agree more!

I’m already looking forward to what ICELW will have in store for us in their 10th edition next  year!




Teaching the World to Code: The Codecademy Story Part Two

by Evelyn Levine

 Part Two: A User’s Experience

In Part One, the author, Evelyn Levine, interviewed Zach Sims, CEO and co-founder of Codecademy, a site that promises to let people teach themselves to code.  In true learn-by-doing fashion, though, her review couldn’t be complete until she tried out the site herself!  In Part Two of this article, below, Evelyn tells us the story of her experience.]


I was intrigued when I first heard about Codecademy — an educational web site where I could learn programming online, free of charge.  Wouldn’t this require some sort of technical background, or spending hours online struggling to decipher lines and lines of code? Or, is it really something – as the site proclaims — that everyone can, and should, learn to do?

I decided to give it a try; but where to begin? Browsing the possible online courses, I felt a bit overwhelmed, and finally decided on taking the Introduction to HTML course. I suppose since I was feeling like I was being dropped in foreign territory, learning the language (of the Web) seemed like a good place to start.

Starting to Code:

The course I chose is designed in two sections: Section I: HTML Basics (which includes an Introduction to HTML, Body Elements, and Adding Images); and Section Il:  Project: Build Your Own web page.

I began uncertainly, wondering just how difficult learning HTML would be. Initially, I  felt as if I was trying to master a new language with its own style, syntax and terminology.

I began by learning how to set up and format a simple HTML file. The Codecademy course explained how a browser recognizes a file as HTML from the syntax of the HTML initializing tag and HTML opening and closing tags, and asked me to practice using these tags. And, as I continued, I started gaining confidence as I was slowly being introduced to new coding elements, and given the opportunity to practice my new skills. For example, in one section, I learned how the 6 different types of headings work and then an exercise allowed me to practice (making various headings, in this case).   Each exercise has a “hint” that gives some extra help if you are stuck. You rate the exercise with a thumbs up or down (what they do with these ratings is unclear but it gave me a sense of satisfaction being able to give feedback as I went along.).

While working on my HTML code, I was able to switch views between the HTML file and Codecademy’s own web browser (which worked seamlessly for the most part).  This makes it quick and easy to see how the code looks on a webpage. I felt like a “coder” right away as I entered HTML code and saw how my own written code was successfully being rendered in the browser.

Since I am new to coding, I appreciated the light, friendly, coaching style and the mostly “non-techie” language. The tone even creates a sense of fun. Take the six heading types: the largest size is described as “The CEO” or <h1> “– the mid-size heading is “Director of Some Stuff” or <h3> “to the smallest heading size described as “Gets Coffee for Everyone” or <h6>”.  When trying to learn something as potentially dry as coding, the light tone helps. I felt as if I was being taught by a friend who has a real passion for coding.

There were points where the new information felt overwhelming and once, halfway through the course, and as if reading my mind, the site displayed:  “A Mid-lesson breather”—“You’ve done an awesome job! Here’s a quick summary of things we’ve learned..)

And, whenever I needed a break, I just saved my work and was easily able to come back to the exact spot where I left off in the course, my own attempts to code waiting for me on the screen

When learning about HTML opening and closing tags, Codecademy explains that when I type in the opening tag, the site automatically creates the closing tag, and also provides the spacing for me. And, if I was wondering what happens when I have to do this in the real world, it quickly adds: “Good news: the editors that are used in web development typically have this functionality. It’s built in to help us. Remember, spacing is not technically required for the computer to understand what is going on. It is to help us when we need to make edits”.

This may be overstating a bit, but, the site’s anticipation of potential issues before they even arise made me feel as if I was in the hands of a masterful and caring teacher.

A comprehensive glossary of HTML documentation is included on a side tab for easy reference.  Using the reference is totally voluntary–I would have preferred if some of the exercises forced you to get in the habit of utilizing this reference–and I never gave it more than a quick glance.

Working through Codecademy’s course on the iPad is a bit tricky, and I wouldn’t recommend it. But it was possible for me to complete a small section once I finally got used to dealing with the typing, editing and spacing issues.

Getting by with a little help from my “Friends”….

Of course, I knew this type of thing would eventually happen…I got an error message (during an  exercise uploading images) and was still unable to resolve the problem (the message read “Check that you have entered all the necessary <p> tags”? …well, I already did that..).  But I  wasn’t stuck for long. I went to the very active Q&A forum on Codecademy’s site. I had two responses in a matter of hours, both helpful. It turns out that the means of importing images is dependent on which browser is being used. Who knew?

Out of curiosity, I spent some time browsing through the Q&A forum and saw a wide range of posts—there was everything from “Dude, I like need help to get through this….” to people submitting their code for debugging; to some very general questions such as “Is there a difference between the HTML this site is teaching and HTML5?”. To be fair, the Q&A forum guidelines do instruct you to be specific and descriptive in your question, to say what code you tried and what error message was received. But, this highlights the fact that this type of learning may not work well for everyone. The ideal student would be highly motivated, and self-directed.

I noticed that, at times, the Codecademy moderator jumped in to a discussion to clarify a point or add some tips and tricks, but mostly the answers were given by others on the forum.
On a  Coding Streak?

As I progressed, “badges” (given for successful completion of the independent exercises) and “points” (truthfully, if was not clear to me how these were being earned) were posted on my “profile.” The profile can be viewed by others in the fashion of a social networking site which provides friendly competition along with a sense of being part of a community of learners.

I found some motivation right on the site. This message was there when I logged into the site for a second day in a row: “You’ve started a coding streak? Can you keep it alive?.”  A bit hokey, maybe, but it made me smile, and I was reminded of it on the next day when considering if  I should log in or skip that day. Also, at another point, being able to see that I had already completed 70% of a section helped motivate me to stay with it and complete it.

I finally did complete the entire course with a total of 329 points and 8 badges; feeling a bit like a Girl Scout, happy with my merit badges, but not quite knowing exactly how proud I  should be of this level of achievement?


Am I a coder now?

I did learn to write some simple lines of HTML code and was able to set up a web page with a title, headings of various sizes, and to add images and web links to the page.  I suppose I am a coder—if this meets your definition of a coder.

However, if you think a coder needs to have a more global understanding of how HTML works, should know how their lines of codes will affect other parts of a site, and how the code can be modified, in the future, as needed–then I am not yet a coder. But, I also have to say that I am more interested in learning all this now that I’ve had a taste of it. And even after this short course, I felt a sense of satisfaction and the confidence that I could successfully continue on to the advanced course.


Was it worthwhile?

Codecademy founders are passionate about coding and want to share the joy; just as, for example, a dedicated Judge may feel that everyone should learn the Law.

And, for the rest of us, learning something new can be mentally stimulating and fun. And, beyond that, for anyone who relies on the internet for their work and personal life, it surely gives you a better understanding of how things work “behind the scenes.”  And there was a real sense of power seeing my own written code create a new web page from scratch.

But, will it help me perform my job, as a Training Manager, better?

It will certainly help if I am called upon to create or edit a website or to add web page links to training materials. And, who knows what tasks, assignments, and responsibilities I may be called upon to perform in the future… introductory knowledge of HTML may just come in handy.

The Last Word:

Looking at the big picture, though, I have to agree with one of this site’s blog readers who suggested in his post that what is most useful for the layperson is to get a general sense of how the Internet works and leave the coding to the professionals.  And, to use his musical analogy: after completing this course, I may be able to play a passable “Happy Birthday” on a piano, but I am hardly a musician.

Teaching the World to Code: The Codecademy Story Part One

by Evelyn Levine

The “Buzz”

Zach Sims has a simple goal: he wants to teach the world to code.  As CEO and Co-Founder (along with Ryan Bubinski) of Codecademy, an 18-month-old educational technology startup, he has already made a good start. The site now boasts millions of users, with approximately 60% of them outside the U.S.

In Sims’ words, his vision is: to “make programming mainstream… not everyone need[s] to be a programmer, but everyone need[s] to understand what programming is.”  He points out that “coding is the language of the internet: and people don’t want to just use the Web: they want to understand how it works.”

The company website ( teaches programming through free, online, interactive tutorials on the basics of coding, and through interactive learning projects that teach how to build websites, games and apps. Major funding and creative marketing have both played key roles in the initial buzz surrounding Codecademy.  The company has procured $12.5 million in funding from some major backers, including, among, others, Union Square Ventures, SV Angel, and CrunchFund.  A marketing strategy of introducing 2012 as “Code Year” — in which people were asked to make a  New Year’s resolution to commit to learning how to code, by signing up for weekly e-mail lessons — garnered the attention of the White House and boasted NYC Mayor Bloomberg as among the 450,000 participants.

In general, Codecademy claims to be taking the mystery and fear out of programming, and making learning to code fun, cool, practical and egalitarian.

The Skeptics

A Learn-to-Code website does not represent a new trend. For nearly 10 years, numerous companies have attempted  both free and paid  online learning of this type.  More generally, in recent years there has been an explosion in educational technology startups in this category, responding to a shortage of skilled programmers and an increased interest in both technical education and online learning.

Critics of the learn-coding-on-your-own approach  fall into a number of categories.  Some doubt the need for more programmers or  the need for non-programmers to learn coding; others do not trust that the learn-on-your-own approach is strong enough to allow participants to sufficiently master coding skills.Those in the first group don’t see the benefit of everyone learning to code.  One states that  “Mayor Bloomberg would not be better at his job if he woke up one morning as a crack Java coder” (posted by Jeff Atwood at

And, some have questioned the efficacy of learning to code online in terms of  content, process, and value.   Specifically, they just don’t trust that a student will become an adept coder by using one of these learn-to-code sites. They suggest that parroting code, in a step-by-step fashion, does not provide the necessary comprehensive computer science background; and have questioned if users will be able to build something from scratch after just going through the guided lessons  (where the initial code is already provided)?   Consequently, they don’t foresee that workplaces will want to hire these self-taught programmers.

Not surprisingly, Codecademy disagrees.

The Response

The Codecademy training pedagogy  is based on its tutorials being interactive and progressive. The site allows users to begin immediately to type in code within their own web browser (no additional downloads needed) and then walks users through progressively more-difficult code.

While the site is interactive in that it will tell you if your code is correct or not, there is no element of human or automated coaching, nor is there any formal feedback or testing. However, users are awarded points and badges for their learning accomplishments.  The points and badges are tracked and shared with an online community of other learners and teachers.

Sims’ response to how to ensure that the material is mastered:  We think Codecademy courses are a form of testing/certification — students’ submissions are tested at each step along the way to see whether they are correct or incorrect.”

Codecademy has proclaimed 2013 as the year to learn to create something with code. Tellingly, the company says that it is now focusing on ensuring that its participants can apply what is learned.

And, this from Sims, when questioned about the hiring potential of Codeacademy participants:  “Many companies have indicated a willingness to hire self-taught programmers – in fact, the vast majority of skills required by technology startups today aren’t necessarily taught at the university level.”

Matching up new programmers with startups and recruiters is part of Codecademy ‘s  overall plan to monetize its operations.

The Future

Codecademy keeps experimenting with additional content: the site has recently expanded to include courses on  JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Python, and Ruby.

Also, this past fall, a pilot partnership with New York University (NYU) in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, allowed students in the department to opt in to a ten-week , non-credit, free course in which NYU professors and Codecademy instructors partner to teach HTML, Javascript and Python,  and also host monthly talks with industry leaders.  The course garnered much student interest, a waiting list of over 150 people, and positive post-class survey results.  This course has lent Codecademy the authority and legitimacy of a university affiliation. In a press release for this pilot program, Codecademy’s Sims stated: “We’re very excited to help NYU teach scores of students to learn to program–it’s great to work with a world-class institution like NYU that thinks on the cutting edge and wants to teach its students the skills and creativity that the labor market require.”

Codecademy is now also beginning to expand to an even younger audience, by offering teachers at elementary and high schools free “starter kits.” These kits include a suggested curriculum and materials to teach coding, along with an online discussion forum for teachers who want to set up after-school programs teaching coding to their students.

A teacher at the McAuliffe International School explains her interest in the program with this: “So many of our top innovators in technology began writing code at a young age. We’re really missing the boat if we don’t expose kids to programming.”

Codecademy’s future plans include seeking additional opportunities to partner with other educational institutions and to continue to expand its international footprint.

Post Script

Codecademy presents a fascinating experiment in e-learning which seems to be garnering a wide-rangeof interest and support, along with a fair number of detractors. But, I had some difficulty trying to get a deeper look at their methodology – there is no formal statement regarding their educational approach or philosophy on their website, nothing came up in my internet search, and they did not provide any additional information regarding their educational approach when given the opportunity to do so.

So – it seems to me that the best course of action would be to try it out for myself.  I plan to document my own user experience with the site and report back in the next article….Stay tuned!

Not Your Grandfather’s Courthouse: iPads, Electronic Document Filing, and Innovative Training Practice

by Evelyn Levine

by Evelyn Levine

The United States Federal Court System, despite a generally conservative user base along with a high level of security concerns, is increasingly relying on technology to work more efficiently during these budget-conscious times. Over the past decade, the federal court system has undergone a gradual revolution towards “paperless courthouses” and currently it is mandatory that all case-related documents are filed electronically by attorneys and available to the public on the internet. Court personnel rely on an electronic case management system to assist the public, to monitor case-related activity and to run statistical reports. Even many Federal Judges have gone electronic and iPads are now used by 60% of all federal judges at work, according to a 2012 court study.

With this investment in technology, the need for training has increased – both to limit frustration with new technology and to ensure its most effective use.  But there are significant obstacles – time is always limited in the courts; and with the current budget climate – money is especially tight.  Also, communication does not always flow freely among all the various levels of court personnel nor is training always given enough resources and validation in a hectic court environment.

Here is where the national cadre of court trainers comes in; with Court Trainer Luta Pleiss (District of Nebraska) leading the way. I spoke with Luta about her efforts in online community building, virtual project teams, and other innovative training solutions.

An Online Community of Practice for Court Trainers

Working in conjunction with the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), Luta has coordinated a grass-roots community of court trainers, termed ATCOP (All Trainers Community of Practice) where, since 2008, approximately 300 court trainers across the country meet online to share ideas and training materials, work on national projects: and can draw upon a continuously expanding resource bank of materials and contact people, as needed.

According to Luta, it all began with a casual conversation between two trainers in very different locations, but with similar concerns, realizing that collaboration was needed to save time and money, and so that “we do not have to continually reinvent the wheel”.

One a recent project, Luta recruited a national team of trainers to develop a series of tutorials for new law clerks on legal research, electronic case filing and management, and other court software. This was done with the input of several Judges and with money from a grant supporting innovative court projects. Trainers developed individual tutorials using Adobe Captivate which were edited and collated by an outside vendor to be put on an internal training site. As courts hire many law clerks for a one to four year term and replace them regularly, this is an invaluable training tool saving time and money and ensuring that law clerks can get up to speed as quickly as possible.

Another program, offered in conjunction with the FJC, provides an opportunity for an individual court to develop an IT training team with a variety of stakeholders such as a Judge, an IT trainer, and IT support staff.  Court teams develop local IT training plans, with the help of a training professional using educationally sound  principles of needs assessment, design, development, implementation and evaluation, thereby ensuring appropriate and timely training is provided.

The trainers’ online community uses technology for train-the-trainer events  including distance-learning and on-demand training tutorials, one-time learning events, ongoing classes (such as a recent popular class on transitioning from WordPerfect to Word software–WordPerfect has remained popular in the legal community) and the option of virtually attending bi-annual national training conferences.

What have made these efforts so successful, according to Luta, are both the already existing collaborative court culture and a sense of being part of one court family, as well as the clear need for resources to meet the ever expanding training needs of the court community during these tight budget times.

In the future, Luta envisions the online community evolving to include a court exchange/marketplace where court trainers can advertise their particular expertise so that other courts can contact them to provide in-person or online training sessions.

iPads in the Courtroom?

Trainers are not the only ones working to meet the challenge of innovation in the courts.  Notably, one federal judge, Judge David Nuffer (District of Utah), a nationally recognized expert in court use of technology, also works in an advisory capacity on national court training issues, and advocates for increased training, at all levels, as a way to bolster the impact of the new technology.

I spoke to the Judge about his efforts to facilitate his colleagues’ use of technology to be more efficient in their daily tasks in the office, in the courtroom, and on the road.  Technology can positively impact the daily tasks of a judge which include managing cases, writing opinions, scheduling cases and hearings, managing courtroom proceedings, and working remotely from home or while traveling. An example of just-in-time performance support:  In the courtroom, during a trial, a Judge may need to access a document filed in a related court case. Now, the Judge can accomplish this using his iPad and logging into the court’s electronic database – all while still sitting on the bench and presiding over the trial in the courtroom.

The Judge also focused on how training Judges to utilize the technology available presents unique challenges. Training is seen as most credible when it is accomplished through Judge-to-Judge tutorials which are designed by and for Judges; and when training is directly linked to the daily tasks of a Judge. Additionally, IT Awareness programs are designed specifically for the older Judges and those who may not even know what is possible with the new technology.  At all levels, training is now seen not as a discrete event but as a continuous process.

Now is a time of rapid change in the federal courts, made all the more challenging since now is also a time of budget constraints, staff reductions and limited resources.  Currently, the courts face what could be described as a perfect storm of opportunity to promote innovation:  the need to be more efficient in order to save both time and money, the technology available to make that happen, the need to learn to use that technology quickly and effectively and concurrently the opportunity to use that technology to deliver the training needed.

About the Author

Evelyn Levine is currently the Training Manager for the U.S. District Court/Eastern District of New York.  Evelyn holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University. She has been an active member of the ASTD-NY chapter and has served the chapter as the newsletter editor and VP, Membership.