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eLearning Thought Leaders: Mark Lassoff November 11, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Interview.
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Mark Lassoff of LearnToProgram.tv

Mark Lassoff of LearnToProgram.tv

I was very lucky to catch Mark Lassoff in between speaking at DevLearn, working on his forthcoming book from Focal Press, and producing his next training video for the company he founded, LearnToProgram.tv. Mark is an anomoly in the world of elearning these days, because he knows how to code.

I’m not just talking about the two big programming languages, HTML and Flash. Mark works with and trains javascript, PERL, XML, CSS, PHP/MySQL, and the new and somewhat talked about HTML5. In a world of rapid elearning tools that eschew code at every turn, I knew I had to talk with Mark, who mixes elearning and code everyday.

eLW Mag Interview  with Mark Lassoff, Founder & Corporate Technical Trainer, LearnToProgram.tv

eLW: I want to ask about your training work at LearnToProgram.tv, but first, tell me about the book you’re writing — I love to get a behind-the-scenes look before books hit the shelves.

ML: I am currently writing a new title for Focal Press called Android Development Code Camp.  It’s part of a new series that I am editing for Focal that will include books geared towards beginners.  I am excited because it will be branded after my LearnToProgram.tv training company.  The people at Focal have been great to work with , and I am looking to produce a book that even a total beginner can read and work through and master beginning level application development in Java with Android.

eLW: You’ve got that technical background, you know all the major programming languages, what courses do you offer through LearnToProgram.tv?

ML: More and more courses every month.  We changed our focus as a company about three months ago and wanted to focus on the consumer or beginner market.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to learn programming, but no one focusing on that beginner’s market.  Right now we have three courses available– HTML and CSS for Beginners (Including HTML5!), Javascript for Beginners, C Programming: iOS Starts Here and Objective C for Beginners.  These courses are designed for people who are trying to learn web development, eLearning development and mobile development.    We’re introducing a new course every month.

Our courses are delivered three ways– an instructor supported, asynchronous option that includes lab exercises, code listings and hours of video lecture is our least expensive and most popular.  Our self-paced HTML course has over 1000 students in it.  We also deliver courses instructor-led online.  There is nothing better than having a live instructor so we offer that option as well.  Finally, any of our courses can be delivered via traditional classroom instruction.

eLW: I took your HTML/CSS course on Udemy.com. That’s a great way to learn code. That’s real elearning, but you’re kind of an outsider to the elearning industry. Explain that.

ML:  Well, I’m not an instructional designer. I have no traditional training in education… However, I am lucky enough to be one of those people who can walk in to a room an teach– and I think teach well.  I find the eLearning industry to be frustrating– It seems to be very vendor driven instead of driven by best industry level best practices, professional ethics, and what is best sound educational practice.  Vendors start screaming “HTML5″ in response to media buzz and all of a sudden eLearning practitioners are all screaming “HTML5″ without having the slightest idea of it’s current implementation in browsers, it’s shortcomings or even it’s structure.  Some vendor said it’s good, and that’s good enough.

I don’t mean to indict the entire industry– There are plenty of hardworking, creative, talented folks creating amazing work.  But the baseline still appears to be Powerpoint (or some easier/ more powerful modification to Powerpoint) and that’s sad.  It frustrates me to no end that people don’t want to learn HTML– they want a tool that creates HTML for the.  It’s easier.  What they don’t know is that there are countless limitations that each tool has.  You box yourself in with tools.  If you can code you can do anything.

LearnToProgram.tv Logo
eLW: I’m curious, too, about the tools of the trade in elearning. So much is done to avoid code and put elearning tools in anyone’s hands. Can you make a case for learning code?

ML:  I think there are many things in eLearning you can’t do without code–for example, simulation.  Do you want the captain of your 737 to have learned in a simulator or from Powerpoint slides?  A few years ago we built a complex avionics simulator to train helicopter pilots from a government agency.  We had to write code–there was no way to do it well without coding.

I realize that most elearning departments are understaffed, underfunded and overworked, but even learning HTML and Javascript will give you enormous power to modify, create and design learning interactions that stretch the abilities of even the most powerful toolset.

Tools come and go– We have been coding in HTML now since 1994.  Actionscript has been around as long as Flash has.  If you can learn coding you make yourself a very powerful eLearning Developer.  While it’s difficult to learn to code, it’s not impossible for just about anyone.  Of course– as I think we often forget in eLearning– learning takes time, practice and effort.  There is no Power Point slide deck I can show you — no matter how many avatars I use– that can make you learn to code.  You actually have to do it.  You have to practice.  I’ve been coding for over 20 years– and I am still learning every day.

eLW: You said your clients like you because you’re a skeptic. How does that help?

ML:  I think critically.  If a vendor claims x, y and z, I want to see proof.  At DevLearn one vendor told me that with his tool, “I wouldn’t have to write Actionscript any more!”  Great– What are the limitations?  How would you accomplish this with your tool?  Oh You can’t?  Moving on…

I just think I ask the questions that others don’t want to for fear of being seen as negative– or don’t know to.  

eLW: Our readers are going to want to hear more from you. Can I persuade you to share your technical knowledge and outsider perspective with our readers, writing some articles for the magazine?

ML:  It would be my pleasure.

eLW: Terrific. As long as you are going to write for eLW Mag, can we offer some coupons for your courses in the eLW Basement?

ML:  Sure.. If you go to my site– http://www.learntoprogram.tv, and choose any online, self-paced course, I’ll give you 50% off the published price.  Just enter the coupon code “ElearnWeek” at check out and the discounted price will be applied.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for eLearning developers to have basic HTML and Javascript skills.

Now for a few personal questions that will really give readers a chance to get to know you.

eLW: Word on the street is you have some insane 80s TV trivia knowledge. So I gotta try to stump you. Which show had a character named “Skippy” and who played that character?

ML:  Wow, that’s easy.  Family Ties.  Skippy was played by Marc Price.  As a child Skippy got his head caught in the bannister three times.

eLW: That was too easy, I guess. OK, Square Pegs: most famous actor?

ML:  Well, I think you’re fishing for Sarah Jessica Parker– but the better actor on the show was Jamie Gertz.  Jamie just did an episode of Modern Family.

eLW: OK. Growing Pains. First names of all the Seavers?

ML:  Jason, Mike, Ben, Maggie, and Carol.  The last couple of seasons they had a baby? Right?  I can’t remember the baby’s name, but I remember the baby grew up during hiatus.  At the end of one season she was an infant and then at the beginning of the next season she had speaking lines.  Leonardo DiCaprio was on there for a season as well– He played some runaway that family adopted.

eLW: Who played the kids?

ML:  Easy– Tracy Gold was Carol– Her sister, Missy, was the governor’s daughter on Benson.   Kirk Cameron played Mike.  Jeremy Miller was Ben.  The late Andrew Koenig played Mike’s best friend, Sylvester Stabone.  His father played Chekov in the Star Trek Series.  Got any more?

eLW: You are good. I give up. OK, no I don’t: Mr. Belvedere’s first name?

ML:  Lynn.  Brice Beckman, who played Wesley, just had a series on VH-1 a couple of years ago.

eLW: Amazing. Thank you, Mark. And for our readers who like networking, one final question: What’s next on your conference calendar? Or where can people find you online?

ML:  We are talking about exhibiting at Learning Solutions, but have not yet made a decision.  I will likely be at the MLearning Show in June and will be back at DevLearn next year.  We’re also planning on going to ISTE 2012.

I’d love to hear from people online– My company is http://www.learntoprogram.tv.  I am at http://www.MarkLassoff.com.  My linked in is http://www.linkedin.com/in/marklassoff and my email is mark@learntoprogam.tv.

Hope everybody reads and responds to my upcoming columns.
Buh-Bye.
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