Posted tagged ‘connectivism’

Something all learning pro’s should do

10 April 2012

Learn a language.

I don’t mean a programming language (although the theory probably still holds). I mean a bone fide foreign language like French, German, Japanese or Mandarin.

By going outside of your comfort zone, you stimulate your brain into new realms. But more importantly, you experience once again what it’s like to be a novice learner.

Now YOU are the one on a steep learning curve.

It’s daunting. It’s awkward. And it’s humbling.

Teacher assisting mature student in class

As a teenager I developed a fascination for the German language. I think it stemmed from my love of history and my desire to understand what the enemy soldiers were saying in the movies.

Over the years I dabbled by doing a class, listening to tapes, buying an English-German dictionary and reading a few language books.

However it wasn’t until recently when I planned to revisit Germany that I made a conscious effort to give it another red hot go. I didn’t want to be one of those tourists who’s first words are inevitably: “Do you speak English?”

No, I wanted to understand – and be understood – auf Deutsch. At least enough to get by.

And I did all right. But in no uncertain terms I reminded myself of what works and what doesn’t in the learning process.

All those fundamental pedagogical principles that had faded into the background came flooding back with avengeance…

Instructivism and formal learning

When you’re a novice in a domain, the guidance of an expert is golden.

For example, the teacher at the front of a language classroom already knows the grammar, vocabulary, phrases, habits and customs that you need to know. He or she is in a prime position to provide you with a programmed sequence of knowledge.

In my opinion, there is no other way of getting up to speed so quickly.

Constructivism, connectivism and informal learning

While instructivism and formal learning are valuable, they comprise only one piece of the puzzle. Anything else you can access is invaluable – whether it be a copy of Der Spiegel, an episode of Inspector Rex, or a Twitter buddy in Berlin.

The motivated learner who extends the learning process beyond the formal curriculum is destined for mastery.

Skills development

You can learn about a language until the Friesian cows come home, but to acquire the skill you have to actually do it. From simply saying new words aloud, through role plays, to full-blown conversation cafes, the objective is to practise.

Make mistakes, improve your pronunciation, get the vocab front of mind.

OTJ, PBL and job aids

Developing a skill is a waste of time if you never apply it in the real world. At some stage you need to immerse yourself in the environment (in my case, Germany) and actively participate (eg order food, buy train tickets, ask for directions). In doing so, you continue to learn.

When you are in the moment, job aids – especially mobile job aids – become indispensable. I gave Google Translate a beating!

Use it or lose it

Repetition is key. I’m not referring to rote learning, but rather to the continual application of the knowledge.

When I was overseas, I must have looked up the same words six or seven times each; they weren’t very common.

On the other hand, other words were everywhere. I only needed to look those up once; they were naturally reinforced thereafter.

Now that I’m back in Oz, I know that I’ll lose much of my German unless I find ways to keep up the reading, writing, listening and conversing.

World in the hand

Of course, I realise I’m not telling you – a fellow learning professional – anything you don’t already know. But honestly, when was the last time you consciously used the concepts and principles I have just mentioned to inform your work?

During the daily grind it’s easy to slip into production mode and put your brain into hibernation. As a profession, we need to shock ourselves out of that state.

It’s time to put some skin back in the game, so why not learn a language?

Wer wagt, gewinnt!

Vive la evolution

15 February 2011

Last week, Laura Layton-James stumbled upon my post Online courses must die! and she left a wonderfully detailed comment.

I was so enamoured with what she wrote that I feel compelled to repeat it here…

An excellent post Ryan. When running courses on how to create engaging eLearning (concentrating on the self-study module) we concentrate on designing, as Cathy Moore puts it, experiences. To me it’s a total waste of time reposting the information that already exists somewhere on the intranet in a pdf. As you say, a waste of resources when L&D’s expertise as learning consultants (which is what we are) can be put to better use creating those skills based activities that will test application rather than regurgitate facts and figures.

Unfortunately, the blame (if we have to lay blame) lies with the increasing need to tick boxes. It seems that if we just point people in the right direction for the information we can’t be sure they’ve read it. So we think the solution is to type it all up again in shorter chunks and ask them a load of questions which only tests immediate recall.

Bored at the computer

If it’s eInformation / eReference that’s needed, that’s fine. We can make that more visually appealing and easier to read on screen. We can even make it more enjoyable to view in the form of videos or podcasts.

Where the real learning takes place is in the analysis of the material in relation to a specific work-based problem. A problem that the learner is likely to face in the workplace.

An example I use is the mandatory fire safety course. It tends to be boring when done in the classroom where facts upon facts about the fire triangle are poured into learners’ heads. If they’re listening carefully enough they might be able to answer some questions on the fire triangle and what constitutes fuel, heat and oxygen (I’m still not sure if I’ve got it right). Tell me, in a fire how many people will be standing there pondering on the fire triangle. Really what would do us more good is to either assess realistic risks, or evacuate safely in the event of a fire.

The fire drill

Encouraging more of a user-generated and peer-to-peer learning environment may not be to everyone’s taste so a VLE such as Moodle will give more control. But L&D’s real and untapped value will be in the nurturing of learners, working with SMEs to provide digestible chunks of information, designing bite-sized resources and providing study guides and recommended personal learning plans so learning becomes more individual and task based.

Definitely, why force individuals to go through the same mandatory content year after year when all they may need is a yearly, skills based assessment. If that assessment highlights skills gaps then a more flexible learning programme will make sure individuals learn only what they need not what they don’t.

It’s no longer about what we know but more about where to find the information and apply it to tasks.

I couldn’t agree more.

Thanks Laura!

Campus firestarter

3 August 2010

Campus firestarter: Connectivism is a theory.

*** UPDATE: Due to popular demand, this t-shirt is now available
in real life. Order it now from CafePress. ***

Online courses must die!

7 July 2010

A touch dramatic, isn’t it?

Now that I have your attention, please bear with me.

There’s method in my madness…

The myth of rapid authoring

The proliferation of so-called rapid authoring tools over the last few years has coincided with an explosion in the number of online courses developed in-house.

In the bad old days, technically challenged L&D professionals had to pay exorbitant fees to development houses to produce simple modules. These days, however, everyone seems to be creating their own online courses and distributing them via an LMS.

In tandem with this trend, though, has been the increasingly familiar cry of “It’s not interactive!”. Critics rail against boring page turners – and rightly so.

Bored at the computer

But you know what? Even when L&D professionals consciously integrate interactivity into their online courseware, I usually don’t think it’s all that engaging anyway. Increasing the number of clicks required to view the content does not make it more interactive. It just makes it annoying, especially for time-poor employees in the corporate sector.

Yes, I know you can embed real interactivity into courseware via games, branched simulations, virtual worlds etc, but hardly anyone does that. It requires time – which you don’t have because you’re too busy building the online course – or dollars – which defeats the purpose of developing it in-house!

So what’s the alternative?

Frankly, there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. Think about it: PDFs display structured text and pretty pictures. Just like a typical online course, without the fancy software or specialist skills.

Businessman typing on keyboardAnyone (and I mean just about anyone) can create and update a PDF. Suddenly SMEs are back in the game…

Write up a Word doc and convert it? Easy.

Update the Word doc and re-convert it? Easy.

Now that’s what I call rapid.

The best of both worlds

If we dispense with online courses in favour of PDFs, how can we incorporate interactivity into the learning experience?

Enter the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

Occupying a place on the continuum somewhere between a VLE and a PLE, an ILE is an informal learning environment that a facilitator manages on behalf of a group of learners.

Essentially, an ILE is a space (like a website or intranet site) that centralises relevant learning resources in a particular domain. The site may host some of those resources and point to others that exist elsewhere.

So your PDFs can go in there, but so too can your audio clips, videos, puzzles, games, quizzes and simulations. Don’t forget podcasts, RSS feeds, slideshows, infographics, animations, articles and real-life case studies. Not to mention blogs, wikis, discussion forums and social bookmarks.

Man working on computer

Unlike a VLE, an ILE is strictly informal. The learners can explore its resources at their own pace and at their own discretion. No forced navigation, no completion status. In this sense, the pedagogy is constructivist.

Unlike a PLE, an ILE is communal. It exists to support a community of practice, whose members can (or more accurately, should) incorporate it into their own respective PLEs. In this sense, the pedagogy is connectivist.

But that’s not to say that the pedagogy of an ILE can’t be instructivist either. The facilitator should provide a learning plan for novice learners which defines a sequence of study, identifying specific resources among the potentially overwhelming array of options.

The sky’s the limit

An ILE is a scalable and flexible learning environment. If we view each resource within that environment as a learning object, we can appreciate how easy it is to add new content, update old content, and remove obsolete content.

Marbles

It’s incredibly inefficient to use up the precious time of an L&D professional to build, publish, test and upload an online course, only to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload it later, just because a few words need to be changed and a graph replaced. Instead, the SME can create and update the object via Word.

If you are keen on creating interactive tutorials, games or virtual worlds, now you can go for it! You have more time, and new tools are coming out that are making these kinds of thing easier to do. The finished product can be added to the ILE as another learning object. Again, if it needs to be updated later, there’s no need to edit, re-publish, re-test and re-upload a whole course – just that object.

If you commission an external developer to build a smokin’ hot immersive scenario, guess what: you add it to the ILE as another learning object. When it needs to be updated, you pay the developer to work on that object and that object only.

In this age of iPhones and Flip cameras, why not encourage your learners to generate their own content too? It’s another rich source of objects to add to the mix.

All these examples illustrate my central premise: when content is managed in the form of independent learning objects, it remains open and flexible, which means you can keep it current, relevant and organic.

Rockin’ role

Under the ILE model, the role of the L&D professional finally evolves.

Happy professionalThe SME is empowered to produce content, which frees you up to apply your own expertise: instructional design. This may involve a greater focus on engagement and interactivity.

The responsibility of learning is assigned back to the learners, which frees you up to guide, scaffold, encourage, discuss, prompt, probe, challenge and clarify. In other words, facilitate learning.

Your value in the organisation goes through the roof!

Take the ass out of assessment

I claimed earlier that there’s nothing most online courses do that a PDF can’t. I glaringly omitted assessment. Please note I left it out on purpose.

There are just some things that the company must know that you know. You get no argument from me on that.

However, how we assess that knowledge is bizarrely old fashioned.

Ass

While it’s convenient to wrap up some content and a quiz into a single package, I just don’t see the point from an instructional design perspective. Forcing someone to register into a course, just to pass a dinky quiz at the end, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

It is widely acknowledged that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal. From exploring an ILE to chatting around the water cooler, there is a myriad of ways that people learn stuff. Assessment should represent the sum of that learning.

This is where the LMS comes in. In my view it should manage assessment, not content. More specifically, it should deliver, track and record standalone tests that are linked to particular competencies.

When the LMS is used in this way, the L&D model aligns more closely with the learning process. The employees learn informally all over the place, using an ILE as their central support resource, then (if necessary) they record their competence. The focus of measurement shifts from activity to outcome.

This unorthodox approach makes many people nervous. Their primary concern is that someone can jump straight onto the test and pass it immediately, without ever “doing the course”. In response, I make these three points:

  1. You can jump straight to the assessment in most online courses anyway.

  2. If someone bluffs their way through the assessment and passes, clearly it wasn’t robust enough. That’s your fault.

  3. Conversely, if someone passes the assessment because they already have the knowledge, what’s the problem? You are recording competence, not making people’s lives difficult.

Of course, this kind of nervousness isn’t confined to the corporate sector nor to e-learning. For example, many universities have a minimum 80% attendance policy for face-to-face lectures. I don’t see the point of turning up just to fall asleep with my eyes open, but that’s another story!

The method in my madness

Online courses must die because they are unsustainable in the modern workplace. They aren’t rapid, flexible or scalable, and they usually don’t take full advantage of their medium anyway.

So unlock your content and manage it in the form of individual learning objects in an ILE.

Shift the bulk of the content to PDF. In the age of e-readers, no one will notice much difference.

By all means invest in authoring tools, but only in ones that will help you create interactive and engaging objects – easily.

Exploit Web 2.0.

Use standalone tests to record competence on your LMS. They cover all sources of knowledge.

Informalise learning. Formalise assessment.

My award-winning IQ

10 June 2010

Ryan collects awardToday I had the honour of collecting a Best Blended Learning Solution Award (Gold Level) at the 2010 LearnX Asia Pacific Conference.

The blended learning solution in question is “IQ”, an intranet-based portal that I developed for my colleagues at my workplace.

My driver for creating this portal was the realisation that, in a big corporation like the one I work for, knowledge is distributed everywhere – on random intranet pages, in obscure folders, in people’s heads – which makes it really hard to find.

As an L&D professional, my concern was: if someone wants to learn something, where do they start?

The answer is IQ

Essentially, IQ is a site that centralises learning resources for staff. It doesn’t host content itself, but rather points you in the right direction.

Businessman typing on keyboardFor example, if you want to attend an advanced negotiation skills workshop, you can look up the sessions delivered by our preferred training providers.

If you want to read about leadership, you can refer to our book list or search our e‑book catalogue.

If you want to do a self-paced course on Java programming, you can jump onto our e-learning platform.

In this way, IQ covers the full range of delivery modes that are available to our staff, from face-to-face classes and online courses, to books, e‑books, podcasts, blogs, wikis and other social media. I’m also keen to add information about our mentoring and coaching programs.

It’s our first port of call for learning.

So what?

Reading this, you might be scratching your head and asking yourself what all the fuss is about.

I’m the first one to put up my hand and say, as a blended learning solution, IQ is really simple. It doesn’t involve any new whizz-bang technology. After all, it’s an intranet site.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that it’s also an important step in the evolution of the learning model at my workplace.

5 Stages of Workscape EvolutionIt shifts an instructivist pedagogy towards a more constructivist and connectivist one.

It transforms a formal learning environment into a more informal one.

It returns the power (and responsibility) of learning back to the learner.

That’s why I’m so pleased to claim this award. It’s not just a pretty trophy to sit on my desk; it’s the validation of my instructional design by my peers in the industry.


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