OCTOBER 9, 1998








315-637-0029 (w)

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I am delighted to be here today. I know I have more material than can be covered during my allotted time. Thus, I will be happy to send you a copy of my remarks electronically as an email attachment or via snail mail (normal paper mail) if you care to contact me via one of the other means listed on this transparency. Alternatively you can find this paper on my web page (the URL also is shown on the transparency). The outline you have has similar contact information.

Perhaps the aspect of all our lives undergoing the most transition in current times is the workplace, regardless of the setting (Hiemstra, 1998b). Gone seemingly forever is the time when you started working for an organization, company, or institution of higher education and had an excellent chance of working there for 30, 40, or more years if you so chose. Because I am a prime example of radical workplace change, having been forced into some transitions not of my choosing, I have become interested intellectually with the topic. Thus, this paper combines both that interest and my long time interest in distance education. In some respects the two interest areas seem far apart. However, I contend that the use of distance education to reach people who are undergoing workplace transition has much potential and has not been examined yet at least in terms of what I have found in the literature. If anything I say stimulates your own thinking, I look forward to some dialogue with you. I do hope a few of you may even be inclined to do some of the needed research related to either or both areas.


Most people today will change jobs, companies, and even careers several times in their lifetime, with the typical young person starting out in a career or on a job likely to stay with that situation only two to five years. As I can attest, higher education is no longer immune to such transitions and I contend computerized distance education must be part of the new mix if higher education is to compete well in response to these transitions.

All transitions, whether they are positive or negative, can create stress for the individual undergoing them. Perhaps the most well known model or system for dealing with such stress is what has been referred to as the 4 "S" System, situation, self, support, and strategies (Schlossberg, Waters, & Goodman, 1995). "Situation" refers to identifying the particular situation of the person in transition in terms of past experience or personal ability to adapt to any needed changes. "Self" involves identifying personal characteristics or resources that might help or impede needed changes. "Support" refers to the various support systems a person undergoing change can utilize. "Strategies" deal with the various responses a person can make when dealing with change (Merriam, 1998, pp. 12-13).

In fact, some transitions have great potential in leading to positive personal development. Bee (1966) even suggests that the more unique or sudden a transition, the more likely the person is to go through an internal process of self-reflection and a questioning of personal assumptions or values that can lead to real perspective change. Obviously, this can be positive or negative in nature.

Unfortunately, workplace transitions today are such that people are in transition increasingly more often and it continues right up to and even beyond retirement. Thus, this paper has four parts to it. The first part is concerned primarily with the transition and change being faced by people in various workplace settings. I'll introduce some of these transitions and suggest related implications for higher educators. The second part describes some of the changes taking place in higher education in terms of distance education. In the third part I will talk about how computerized distance education must play a future role in higher education, not only in serving the needs of those struggling with workplace transitions, but also in helping higher educators make appropriate transitions to the next millennium. The final part includes a discussion of some unresolved issues and provides several recommendations for action or research that we can dialogue about during this session or that you can consider later.

Transitions in the Workplace

The constancy of change and transition for those struggling to start or maintain a career is very real. Richard Deems (1995) who frequently writes and teaches others about transition or change, says it this way regarding what is happening in many workplaces today: "Increasingly, instead of having a "career," a worker essentially contracts with a company to perform a set of tasks. Once those tasks--and the worker's assignment--are completed, the worker negotiates another contract with perhaps a different company for a new set of tasks. What will the eventual impact be? We can't know for sure, but what we do know is that the way work gets done is changing."(p. 23)

Increasing numbers of individuals are even choosing to earn their livelihoods though self-employment, working out of their home, in partnership with other self-employed colleagues, for "temp" agencies, or as sub-contractors for the larger organizations as Deems noted above. Terri Deems (1998) recently completed doctoral research that suggests successful workplace transitions involve proactive employees who feel empowered to make any change a successful experience. What this trend will mean for the way we even plan for higher education, training, and the various transitions in adulthood also is unclear, but it certainly means we must rethink much about the education of adults in the future and employ strategies that do empower people. Dolence and Norris (1995) suggest that higher education must be transformed by involving community and campus constituents together in the process.

Much of the change in today’s workplace has been fueled by a need for U. S. companies to remain competitive within a global economy. Even in the so-called bull market of the past year or so, behind the scenes of reported increasing financial success has been transitions not always friendly to the average worker. The current topsy-turvy market lends further credence to the notion that many more transitions are in the works and will take place in the future. In Syracuse, for example, only a few months ago a local bank completed a merger with a bigger bank and a reported 200-300 people have already or will soon loose their jobs as various functional consolidation efforts take place. This past spring on the same day two large companies in Syracuse, an automobile parts manufacturing company and an air conditioning manufacturer threatened moves, sales, and loss of jobs, with one of those moves already announced. The day before that happened a union threatened a walkout from a beer producing company because of perceived damage to workers that had taken place during the previous several months. Syracuse University experienced its own difficulties, as several union employees struck for several days this past August primarily over financial issues with eventual ramifications for faculty who actively supported this strike.

For many organizations around the country as they go through their own transitions, this has involved mergers, "take-overs," layoffs, reengineering, and downsizing. Other terms used for reducing the workforce have included "assisted resignation" (Syracuse University's cute term), "involuntary force reductions," "involuntary methodologies," "shrinking to excellence," "focussed reductions," "streamlining," and "reshaping." As Nunberg (1996) notes, all of these relate to what Mr. Dithers would say, "Bumstead, you're fired!"

One of the current "innovations" or strategies in the workplace instituted by some managers and related to the change Deems described is making people reapply for their positions, even if they have been successful in such positions for many years. In terms of transitions and change, it is not yet clear what the resulting costs of such strategies are or will be in terms of morale, further disempowerment of some workers (Filipczak, 1995), and, in the case of many organizations, higher education included, the irretrievability of lost institutional wisdom. Many of us can surmise that there are hidden costs in terms of human discomfort that go unreported during annual stock meetings or unwritten in the fancy propaganda delivered to potential customers, to the general public, or even to parents of potential students in the case of higher education.

There also has been a push to obtain the highest quality product or service at the lowest possible cost. Total quality management remains one of the most active workplace trend, with transitions to team-based structures close behind (Weber, 1992; Workplace Trends, 1995). Total quality improvements, while on the surface benefiting consumers, often have been at the cost of considerable extra training, increased workloads for many employees, and a general attitude of making do or even doing better with less. Friel (1997) talks about the downside of downsizing and TQM efforts: "Although the principles and processes of TQM, downsizing, and reengineering are reminiscent merely of commonly prescribed good management practice, a majority of organizations that embark on these change efforts do not accomplish their objectives" (p. 1). Frequently, such efforts have been "lip-service" in nature with top management not really buying in and the results usually less than desirable. I can speak from personal experience here with a family member who works for a company that invested thousands of dollars and work time in a quality management program. Now, two years after its implementation, it has been forgotten for all practical purposes and the corresponding documents, guidelines, and training materials lie dormant gathering dust. Davis (1996) urges us to look carefully at the ethics of reengineering and related efforts so that we don't leave "a remnant of employees too shocked, frightened, and embittered to be of much use" (p. 3).

The notion of more for less has even impacted the way some managers think about which employees are trained for what areas: "To stay successful, you need value-added services, so everything needs to be evaluated. . . . Management wants to know what value training adds to the business equation" (Gyrus Systems, 1996, p. 1). However, "PeopleWise Organizations" talk about the need to understand values that establish the relationship between an organization's culture, people, and processes (Spitzer, 1996). They urge the use of social contracts between an organization and employees to establish mutual roles, rights, and responsibilities in thinking about such issues as value-added services and training needs.

Training remains very big business for most organizations. More than 52 billion dollars were spent in 1995 for the various forms of training in business and industry, a significant increase over the 43 billion spent only four years earlier (Training Budgets, 1995). There is some hope that such fundamental changes in the way we approach work, training, and earning a living may provide windows of opportunity regarding the way we think about jobs, organizational structures, and corresponding education of people. There will be many corresponding opportunities for higher educators if administrators have the courage and foresight to consider innovative ways of providing service, including computerized distance education.

Unfortunately, the "doing more with less" theme that seems prevalent today in the workplace has meant employing some training techniques that may be problematic in the long run, such as large numbers in training sessions, shorter training periods, and more technology-directed training packages (Hequet, 1995). Higher education will need to be creative in filling such training voids in the typical workplace because of perceived reputations for "fixing" such problems with traditional college courses.

Certainly there have been some positive benefits from the total quality management and other workplace initiatives during the past few years. Self-directed work teams and efforts to give employees a greater say in the management or operation of companies have been successful in some instances (Orsburn, Moran, Musselwhite, and Zenger, 1990). Companies like Xerox, Procter & Gamble, Ben & Jerry Ice Cream, Motorola, L. L. Bean, and Domino's pizza have won awards or received numerous accolades in the popular press for their efforts in excellence, quality, and learner empowerment. Richard Durr, a manager of training for Motorola, notes that the success of implementing self-directed learning at his company has been very valuable in moving each employee toward "becoming an empowered lifelong learner" (1995, p. 343). However, higher education typically is not the organization turned to for support in creating a company's empowered lifelong learner.

Thus, those of us interested in the future of higher education, in training (or should I say the graduate training of trainers), and various other human resource development issues can revel in notions that many employees, by choice or even by necessity, may be assuming new views about learning. There are other positive results that can materialize from transitions in the workplace. Some people will have opportunities for personal or professional growth as organizations restructure. Others may take pleasure in learning about new technology such as computerized distance education.

The educational implications of such new views and attitudes about learning are many. Some organizations will find new markets for existing higher education programs. Many higher education units or departments, for example, can redesign existing programs to meet emerging educational needs related to transitions in the workplace. This will range from bringing certain programs into the actual workplace setting to tailoring ongoing programs for specific audiences, to utilizing functional context approaches that stress the importance of learners's experiences within their work context (Sticht, 1998). As I will describe in a later section, I believe that computerized distance education must play a big role in such redesign efforts. Opportunities also exist for new partnerships between various employers and education providers that can result in the creation of new training programs. Higher educators also can provide help in creating effective learning environments (Hiemstra, 1991; Stamps, 1998). There even will be increasing opportunities for various higher education programs, units, or departments to build programs for specialized needs, such as total quality management and train the trainer workshops.

However, there are many potential problems associated with troublesome economic issues, such as layoffs, forced relocations, and loss of benefits that also need to be addressed by higher education initiatives. Some fit within the following framework:

* Reduced feelings of self-worth - Many adults tie much of their identity to a career or job. An unexpected workplace transition may cause for some people a loss of morale, lowered confidence, diminished self-concept, and altered employer-employee relationships.

* Less organizational cohesiveness - Some people remaining in a workplace during times of reorganization will experience confusion, loss of friendships, and reduced confidence in central management. A "protect your own little turf" attitude may develop.

* Loss of service to clients or customers - Frequently, in any reorganization or downsizing, the client or customer experiences disruptions or inconveniences. This, in turn, can create feelings of helplessness or remorse among employees and they may even experience feelings of hostility from consumers with whom they had past good relationships.

* Less trust of management - It is not unusual for employees to develop cynical views of or a lack of trust in managers because of the stress associated with workplace changes. This can feed on itself to the point that even supportive managers are suspected of ulterior motives in any decision they make.

* Increased incidence of dysfunctional employees - There have been horror stories in the popular press of disgruntled former employees coming back to the workplace and creating violent acts after some action that affected them (postal workers often seem to lead the way). Other employees during times of change may require special counseling or medical support.

* Increased estrangement between employer and employee - There have been incidences where employees are laid off without advance warning and literally escorted from a building by security out of management's fear that they could do damage to computer systems, assembly lines, or paper files. Remaining employees experience declining morale, distrust in management, and fear of losing a job with no advance warning.

Such issues usually do not lead to positive results for those in the middle of workplace transitions, at least not initially. The human spirit and those inner resources most people carry around with them often help in their rebounding and even eventually counting their blessings when they look back on the stressful situation that had existed in their workplace. But there are implications for higher educators, including adult educators, educational technologists, and instructional designers, in terms of helping make such change easier both on the individual and on those organizations involved.

We can even learn a lesson from the way one higher education institution handled its own organization change. To prepare for necessary downsizing, the University of Pennsylvania's Division of Human Resources developed a Position Discontinuance and Staff Transition (PDST) policy. This policy described the circumstances under which a position may be eliminated, how the affected staff are to be notified, and what benefits and resources, including educational opportunities, are available to help ease an employee's transition (Holtzman, 1996). Such creativity and unique endeavors are indicative of what other higher education institutions can do to deal with transitions.

I have several ideas regarding the role higher educators, including adult educators, educational technologists, and instructional designers, can play in facilitating positive change in times of transition. For example, the whole area of how employees are trained has implications for higher education. We can learn from what some organizations have already discovered. The Motorola Corporation frequently earns recognition for how it goes about training its employees (Durr, 1995). Its highly publicized policy of guaranteeing 40 hours of training annually has dubbed it an exemplar learning organization. However, as Stamps (1998) points out, other companies exceed that total. Saturn Corporation, for instance, provides employees with about 100 hours each year for learning and training. In this geographic area the Carrier Corporation, as well as many other companies, provide varying amounts of financial or other support to employees who take courses directly or indirectly related to their work or personal self-improvement.

The Education Development Center from Boston has carried out research that suggests that every hour of formal training in which an employee is engaged yields four hours of additional informal learning, in essence a beneficial multiplier effect. Davenport and Prusak (1998), Imel and Kerka (1992), and Rowden (1996) urge us to think about how informal knowledge is measured or understood. Marsick and Watkins (1990) believe that informal and incidental learning in the workplace represent a neglected but crucial area of practice for all of us to consider better understanding and responding to in terms of determining strategies for best serving employees. I suggest computerized distance education is a wonderful fit here.

There are a number of educational strategies the practitioner can utilize, too. Senge (1990) has made the notion of an organization as a learning community popular in the past few years. He talks about the core disciplines needed in building the learning organization, such as personal mastery efforts, the use of mental models, efforts at shared vision, and team learning. Asselborn and Jans (1995) add information about the importance of continuous adaptation to the changing environment, itself. Any of these strategies could be used to help people build mutual support groups for dealing with transition. Waitley (1995) also talks about the importance of autonomy and individual empowerment for employees. These, too, can be fostered by a skilled practitioner who understands how to increase an employee's self-directed learning ability. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) and Durr (1995) describe some of the techniques for fostering such ability.

Foster and Heling (1995) talk about the value of coaching, counseling, and mentoring in any sort of organizational development or change. They also suggest using third party people who can provide help with organizational change or make consultation interventions to promote a process conducive to successful transitions.

Deems (1995) suggests that in any workplace transition employees must be helped to keep a positive attitude and to know when to ask for any help they need. He suggests various proactive strategies that an adult education practitioner can focus on in helping managers in any organization learn to deal with change and transition work in a conducive manner or, in some cases, in helping employees become better equipped to deal with change:

* Anticipate workplace change and be ready for it.

* View change as an opportunity for growth, advancement, and the acquisition of new knowledge.

* Practice ahead of time effective stress-management strategies.

* Find out what needs to be done that is not getting done and take appropriate corrective ideas to the right decision-maker.

* Make sure that necessary work is being done accurately and on time.

* Build bridges of communication and support with any people involved in a transition.

* Look for ways to increase activity and productivity.

* Help people who may be affected to be positive and enjoyable to be around.

* Help people not only be productive during times of transition but to let others know about their efforts.

I urge all of you to think about such strategies in terms of what your higher education unit could do to provide appropriate programs, training opportunities, or support mechanisms.

The Changing Picture of Distance Education

The number of higher education institutions offering courses and even complete degree programs via some form of distance learning increases almost daily. In some cases these initiatives are in response to reduced numbers of faculty and staff as institutions go through the types of reorganization or downsizing I described in the previous section. In others they are related to learners' needs for increased flexibility. Whatever the reason, if colleges and universities are not studying such options carefully in this time of increasing financial constraints, they may well lose a competitive edge.

Following are several examples of such distance education endeavors. In most of these, students from any location can participate in the corresponding courses and frequently at tuition costs lower than what might be found in a local institution of higher education.

Central New York

North America

Distance education clearly is here to stay. Any institution of higher education that places its head in the proverbial sand on this change will simply be less competitive over the next few years. Thus, I believe such institutions need to be proactive in helping to harness these innovations and ensure that issues like standards, learner needs, and widespread accessibility are truly addressed. I also make the point in the next section that CMC has high potential as a vehicle to help higher education in such a quest.

Computerized Distance Education and CMC

The use of personal computers for home, business, and education has increased tremendously in the past decade. Schieman and Jones (1993) list computer based instruction as one of several important distance education approaches. At the same time notions about the information age are rapidly becoming reality as more people communicate together or access data bases through large electronic networks.

There are also various related education and training opportunities. For example, Forrer and Leibowitz (1991) describe various ways to use computers for human resource development. The relationship of students to each other and their increasing control over time, place, and pace of study are important features. Eastmond (1992) also describes various "electronic university degree programs, dedicated to learning solely though computer network technologies" (p. 155).

Although the term distance education has been in existence for at least 100 years (Rumble, 1986), it was not popularized until the 1960's when French and German educators used it to identify some programming activities (Moore, 1987). Moore's (1992) notions about the separation of facilitator and learner that makes using media necessary are important aspects of a distance education theory, especially in light of the competitive edge notion I mentioned in the previous section, and the case I am making for CMC.

Garrison and Shale (1987) propose three criteria for characterizing distance education: (a) noncontiguous teacher-learner interactions, (b) two-way communications, and (c) the use of technology to mediate such communication. Hodgkinson (1991) presents some similar notions but refers to them as physical, social, intellectual, and culture distance.

Of the new computer-based technologies, CMC seems especially promising to meet such criteria (Berge & Collins, 1995). The Ohio State University Center on Education and Training for Employment (1990) examined several computer conferencing training activities:

Wells (1992) notes that CMC courses are increasing. Harasim (1987), for example, describes a successful use of computer conferencing in graduate level courses. Burge (1992), Kaye (1992), Mason (1992), Paulsen (1992), and Waggoner (1992) describe various CMC efforts. Hiemstra (1998a) is only one of many who have developed web sites within the past two years devoted to distance education and CMC.

It is not surprising that CMC is gaining in popularity. Knowles (1983) predicted that by the end of this century most educational programs and resources will be delivered electronically. Blackwood and White (1991) and Carrier (1987) point out this means educators and trainers must be able to use electronic technology in congruence with adult learning principles.

Roberts (1988) prefers computers in instructional efforts over other technological forms: "The computer is active. Unlike television which can only present to the student, the computer can only work with the student. It is individualized, interactive, and diagnostic and through networking and conferencing the computer is out reaching" (p. 38).

There also is tremendous potential for learners to access considerable information electronically (Heerman, 1988). As Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) note, "having access to such a system can add immensely to the power an educator has in meeting the needs of adult learners. Self-directed learners may, in fact, benefit the most from access to increased information and improved retrieval systems . . ." (p. 165).

Pratt (1987) suggests that instructional effectiveness in using technology actually depends on several interacting factors, including the content, technology, time availability, costs, learning experience quality, and ability of instructors to respond to differences among learners. Blackwood and White (1991) and Hiemstra and Sisco (1990) suggest various corresponding roles for teachers, including assessment, counselling, and helping learners take more responsibility for their learning.

Robinson (1992) found that students' abilities to access information according to their own time schedules was an important factor, too. However, it should be noted that researchers have discovered some students experience difficulties in using CMC (Eastmond, 1995). Grint (1989) found some learners who had trouble carrying out conversations in the asynchronous time feature of CMC. Manninen (1991) found that class differences affect some CMC participants, with middle class learners accessing computer networks easier than lower class learners. Thus, there are several instructional design issues that must be considered (Rohfeld & Hiemstra, 1995).

On the other side of the coin, there are several strengths in this delivery mode. CMC is self-documenting, no instructional performing skills are needed, and it allows time for reflection (Bacsich, 1987). With CMC, learners participate in small or large group discussions, submit assignments, interact with other learners and with faculty, and exchange information via electronic communication. The medium also facilitates participation around a learner's schedule, rapid responses from instructors and colleagues, and access to various resources through the home campus computer or computers anywhere that are accessible electronically.

Although still in the beginning stages as a distance education medium, CMC gives opportunities for individualizing instruction, offering education in various locations, and even providing learning opportunities to people who ordinarily would have difficulty participating. Higher educators can turn such opportunities to their advantage in terms of the competitive edge notion mentioned earlier and, I contend, find a niche in serving the needs of people going through the types of workplace transitions I described in the opening section. 

Some Issues and Recommendations

There are many unresolved issues to be addressed by instructional designers and researchers.

1. There remain issues of learners' accessibility to computers, modems, and inexpensive connect time. Thus, higher educators need to evaluate CMC's appropriateness for any clientele they wish to reach. Kirkup's (1988) research on less accessibility to computers for women exemplifies the needed knowledge. We must take care that increasing adoption of computer technology for reaching people with educational opportunities doesn't exacerbate a "haves" and "havenots" dilemma.

2. Research is needed to more clearly understand information acquisition issues, such as the time and knowledge learners require for successful course participation. For example, Davie (1989) addressed what is called the "small window" problem, where only one to two screens worth of information at a time may work best.

3. Research is required to better understand various social effects of learning via CMC. Manninen's (1991) research on class differences, Roberts (1990) on self-concept, and Kirkup and von Prummer (1990) on female learners' needs are examples of such scholarship.

4. Facilitators need a wide set of skills, such as learning to set the appropriate climate, modeling good communication and scholarship skills, and understanding the value of "extraneous" discussion. Davie (1989; 1998), Eastmond (1992, 1995), Harasim (1987), Paulsen (1998), and Rohfeld and Hiemstra (1995) are some people examining such areas.

5. Traditional expectations for personal contact among learners or for personal attention from instructors need to be addressed in relation to CMC. Research on self-responsibility (Burge, 1988) and on autonomy (Lewis, 1988) are examples.

6. There is a need to better understand how high degrees of motivation and persistency for certain learners in CMC settings can be stimulated. Grint's (1989) work on participation is an example.

7. Facilitators need to learn more about techniques for building group rapport in CMC discussion and reenergizing learners during inevitable periods of inactivity. Such techniques as learning partnerships, same-time electronic discussions, personal journal writing, discussion forums, and student-led discussion should be examined (Hiemstra, 1996; Rohfeld & Hiemstra, 1995). Harasim (1989), for example, describes an interesting technique for involving learners in debates.

8. Facilitators need to help learners understand their own learning styles and how they can maximize learning skills. DeJoy (1991) describes several learning skills required in CMC.

9. Facilitators need adequate support from their employers to meet the inevitable problems that students encounter with technology. Mann (1987) describes several such problems and related issues.

10. Determine ways to dynamically link formal education with informal learning so the multiplier effect can be further enhanced.

11. Work more closely with business and industry leaders to share research information and success stories from around the world regarding workplace transitions.

12. Bring together as many different points of view as possible and create a setting that is conducive to sharing ideas and information, perhaps through a discussion series or the formation of a community advisory council.

13. Help employees and companies understand the need to interface humans with digital resources. In essence, this means create programs or training opportunities on learning efficiency in the use of resources like the World Wide Web and its virtual educational experiences (Dolence, 1998).

14. Many aspects of the corporate model, including training and education, still hew to rigid methodologies that sometimes ignore the human dimension of learning. Instructional designers, for example, can work with corporate officials to incorporate more humanistic viewpoints (Buchanan, 1998; Hiemstra, 1988; Hiemstra & Brockett, 1994).

15. Many people in the workplace going through a transition will see value in working toward future college degrees. Thus, Sisco (1998) notes, "a final suggestion is in order to help colleges and universities better serve adults in educational transition: provide a reasonable means of assessing prior learning that may be counted toward degree requirements." (p. 27)

16. Authors and designers of multimedia training are moving more and more training programs to the internet or to intranet delivery. This can be a daunting task, but Masie (1997) suggests that it will be less painful than most people believe. He recommends that we design for portability, plan carefully so moving to new formats will be easily accommodated, design in other than HTML for best flexibility, build in audio features to provide for varied learning styles, and create in shorter more modular units to maintain learner involvement and interest.

Thus, it is imperative that adult educators, educational technologists, and instructional designers play a significant role in higher education's efforts to utilize distance education and CMC in meeting various future needs. Whether it is helping people cope with workplace transitions, finding new ways to serve higher education students, or simply leading the way in helping higher education evolve into an institutional base prepared for the next millennium, the opportunities are many. Can we meet the challenge? 


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(1)Portions of this paper have been adapted from Hiemstra (1996) and Hiemstra (1998b).

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