Posted tagged ‘formal learning’

The moot point of MOOCs

21 January 2013

Some people are head-over-heels in love with MOOCs. Or perhaps more accurately, the idea of MOOCs. They believe the new paradigm will democratise – and even revolutionise – education.

Others, however, consider MOOCs a passing fad, an unsustainable business model, yet another a buzzword destined for the scrapheap like so many before it.

I happen to stand somewhere in the middle. I believe MOOCs will democratise education to some extent, and they will revolutionise the delivery of education. Importantly though, I don’t think they will revolutionise the science of education; after all, a MOOC is arguably an extensible version of what we’ve been doing all along – albeit on a massive (and free) scale.

I also think the business model will become sustainable, as soon as the providers adopt a freemium model. By that I mean the content is free, but the formal assessment and certification attracts a premium.

And don’t forget the intangibles of marketing. Perhaps a MOOC is a loss leader, or a branding exercise, or a CSR strategy. The ROI might be more complicated than the profit-and-loss statement suggests.

Woman using computer

So I appreciate the arguments both for and against MOOCs pitched by their proponents and detractors. Nonetheless one aspect of the argument that I don’t grasp is the high dropout rate. Apparently if relatively few participants officially complete the course, then the educational experience must have been be a failure. I just don’t buy it.

Annie Murphy Paul recently blogged about this phenomenon (The Truth About MOOCs: Only 10% Of Students Actually Finish Them), in which she makes the point that…

…for all the hype about making education available for free on the web, we need to work a lot harder to create the psychological conditions that promote persistence, accountability, goal-directedness, responsiveness to instructors’ and classmates’ expectations, and whatever else it is that makes students keep going to class in the real world.

Fair call, but I think there’s more going on beneath the surface, and the post attracted some excellent comments to that effect. For example, Arthur Clarke commented…

…I wonder if we might not overstate the problem. How many unfinished books do you have lying around? If you are like me you have quite a few. Does that mean that I have wasted my time and, puritanically, should castigate myself for being a quitter? Perhaps we need to look at learning differently.

Perhaps we need to look at learning differently indeed.

My reaction to the 10% completion rate for MOOCs is:

Who cares?!

The proponents of informal learning don’t care. Nor do the proponents of constructivist learning. Nor, dare I suggest, do the proponents of social, mobile and blended learning. To these people, the completion rate of a MOOC is a moot point.

The only people who seem to care are the MOOC providers themselves (naturally), the proponents of formal learning, and the ever-present killjoys.

To the MOOC providers I say: Adopt the freemium model already! I’m no accountant, but I expect a 10% completion rate would be financially viable.

To the proponents of formal learning I say: Formal learning certainly has its place, but that doesn’t mean it meets everyone’s needs. One size does not fit all.

To the killjoys I say: Identifying an obstacle does not impress me. Explaining how to overcome it does.

A defence of the “Next” button

4 June 2012

The “Next” button doesn’t have many friends in the e-learning community. The humble yet shiny arrow is associated with boring page turners.

Next button

Hell-bent on avoiding the “Next” button, many instructional designers will delinearise the content by creating a course homepage with a raft of topics represented by funky icons. The learner is free to explore and discover the knowledge contained therein at their convenience and – more importantly – at their discretion.

While I broadly agree with the constructivist sentiment of this approach, I can’t help but think it’s a band-aid for a much deeper issue.

Let me explain by rewinding a little…

In my previous post Informal first, I articulated a mindset that prioritises informal learning over formal training. I argued in favour of providing all the necessary learning resources to the target audience in an open, structured format. I had in mind an Informal Learning Environment which would host the bulk of the content and enable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

This is constructivist design. It facilitates pull learning at the convenience and discretion of the learner, and moreover it supports on-the-job learning just in time. Its primary focus is not on training, but on performance support.

Having said that, I am the first to agree that sometimes training is necessary. This is where an online course can step in.

By design, an online course is meant to transmit knowledge to the learner. By design, it’s meant to be programmatic in nature. By design, it’s meant to be ruthlessly efficient.

In other words, it’s meant to be linear.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that an online course should be stripped of all constructivist principle. On the contrary, I highly recommend that the learner be empowered to explore and discover the contents of the course as they wish, free of the yoke of forced navigation. However, it is important to note that such freedom is not mutually exclusive with linearity.

What I am suggesting is that the instructional designer who rails against the “Next” button is valiantly (but futilely?) trying to backfill a void in their organisation’s learning architecture. Because open, searchable, browsable, accessible content does not exist, he or she feels compelled to create it. But the LMS is not the place for it!

Open, searchable, browsable, accessible content should be available to the learner all the time on an open, searchable, browsable, accessible platform.

In contrast, an online course should scaffold the learning experience to achieve a pre-defined objective. It should not be played with for hours on end, and it certainly should not be used for ongoing reference.

Next button

So whenever you are consumed by the burning desire to deride the “Next” button, ask yourself whether you are assigning guilt by association.

Perhaps the true guilt lay closer to home?

Next!

Informal first

21 May 2012

It is well documented that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal.

Business woman using computer

According to extensive research undertaken by the Center for Creative Leadership:

   • 70% of learning occurs “on the job”
   • 20% of learning occurs through feedback from others
   • 10% of learning occurs “off the job” (eg attending classes, reading)

This 70:20:10 breakdown has since been supported by subsequent research, though sometimes the ratio is represented as 80:20 to reflect informal learning and formal training respectively.

Yet despite knowing these statistics – and sprouting them at opportune moments – many L&D professionals spend their time, energy and dollars in inverse proportion:

   • 80% on formal training
   • 20% on informal learning

Jane Hart and Jay Cross visualise this scenario in terms of the workscape evolution: the earlier an organisation is on its learning journey, the more formal and pushed is its training. As its philosophy matures, the process of learning becomes increasingly informal, self-directed and collaborative.

5 Stages of Workscape Evolution

While the evolution of today’s workscape is currently underway, I contend that more must be done by L&D professionals to accelerate its progress.

And one way of doing that is by committing to “informal first”.

What is informal first?

Informal first is a mindset that prioritises informal learning over formal training in practice.

Whenever a development intervention is being considered, the primary objective of the L&D professional should be to provide all the necessary learning resources to the target audience in an open, structured format.

These resources will no doubt include text, but should also include images, audio, video, interactive scenarios, a discussion forum, downloadable job aids… you name it. Whatever is required to make the learning experience authentic and effective.

This pedagogical foundation facilitates pull learning at the convenience and discretion of the learner.

Moreover, it may stand alone to meet the organisation’s development need. In other words, there might be no reason for an employee to ever set foot in a classroom again!

Empty classroom

Having said that, in some cases more instructional support will be required.

While “not liking this form of learning” is not a valid excuse in the modern workplace, other drivers might include: the subject matter being complex and thus requiring hand-holding by an SME; or the development need being time sensitive and thus requiring an SME to expedite the upskill; not to mention the fact that some training is just better done instructor-led, for whatever reason.

So, after informal learning has been addressed, sure – supplementary formal training can be considered.

Vive la revolution!

The “informal first” principle revolutionises the corporate learning model.

No longer is formal training the central offering with informal learning relegated to a support role. On the contrary, when we adopt the informal first mindset, informal learning becomes the central offering.

Formal training becomes value add.

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!

Doctoring the Informal Learning Environment

3 May 2011

Anne Marie Cunningham is a GP and Clinical Lecturer at Cardiff University, Wales. She authors the blog Wishful thinking in medical education, which she uses to advance thinking about the training of student doctors.

Recently Anne Marie blogged Location and Learning (which I have reproduced here) and she asked me whether or not I consider her central idea an example of an Informal Learning Environment (ILE).

My short answer is “yes and no” – which I will explain – but for the moment please read Anne Marie’s idea for yourself…

Hospital corridor

In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about how we can support the learning that takes place when medical students are on placement.

We know that entering wards can be a daunting experience for students. They don’t feel part of a team. They don’t know who everyone is. They don’t understand what is happening. They don’t want to interrupt nurses attending to patients or junior doctors catching up with paperwork at desks. They see other members of the team wandering in and out of the ward but they don’t know what their role is. They don’t recognise the social worker or the pharmacist or the OT. They might not even know what their own role is. They miss out on opportunities to attend meetings and teaching sessions because they don’t know they are happening.

In fact they spend too long waiting around for someone else to turn up to teach them, and on activities that have little educational value. They generally have a haphazard learning experience.

But placements are very rich environments with many unique opportunities to learn. So what can we do?

Imagine instead that before coming to the ward the students had access to a network which let them find the profiles of all the staff who worked on that ward. They could see the timetables for teaching. They could even see what the last students who had been on this placement had seen and learnt. They can select what they would particularly like to gain from the placement, and this will become part of their profile which will also be available to all the staff on the ward.

The network will also contain links to information about initiatives that are happening in the ward to address patient safety and quality improvement. The students can see if there are opportunities for them to get involved in this work and learn about the input their colleagues have had in the past.

When they turn up on the ward the students check in. They can see the profiles of the staff who are working there and when they should be finishing, when they will be on call and what clinics or theatre sessions they will be doing that week. Their calendar updates with activities that are happening that day that they should know about.

The network that they are tapping into is the same one that all the staff in the hospital use to keep themselves up to date. The students can record their learning and their thoughts about how the ward works. Their input is valued by the staff on the ward and their fellow students from other disciplines.

Do you think this will happen soon? Why hasn’t it happened already? And how could patients use this network?

[Source: Location and Learning]

Light bulb

What a wonderful idea!

Given the realities of the workplace for student doctors, shifting the pedagogy – if ever so slightly – from formal to informal sounds long overdue.

I certainly support the idea of staff profiles. If they include the name, photo, role, expertise, work roster and contact details of each staff member, the student can identify the right SME for their problem and avoid wasting precious time on a wild goose chase.

I also support the idea of the student having their own profile, and connecting it to a personal blog. The blog provides the student with a vehicle to express what they hope to gain from their placement, record their experiences, reflect on what they have learned, and even voice what they have struggled with.

Other students could read the blog to find out how their fellow student is faring, and perhaps make a social connection. The administrators and teaching staff could also read the blog to evaluate the student’s experience and remedy any problems.

Using laptop

In addition to profiles and blogs, I would also suggest facilitating an open discussion forum. Unlike a blog (which may or may not be read by others) a discussion forum enables the student to push a question to the crowd, thereby leveraging the collective intelligence of the hospital.

Senior doctors and nurses could participate in the forum to contribute their expert knowledge and lead the students in the right direction. Of course the student can also share their knowledge by answering someone else’s question, and they can learn incidentally by reading the questions and answers of others.

The discussion forum would also be a suitable vehicle for promoting the various initiatives that Anne Marie speaks of, providing reminders about upcoming teaching sessions, advertising project opportunities, and sharing other hospital-related news.

Doctor with iPad

Having said that, I think a big missing piece of this puzzle is a wiki or some other form of bulk content repository.

I would imagine that in a big institution like a hospital, knowledge is distributed everywhere – on scraps of paper, in folders on shelves, on a poster in the canteen, in people’s heads – which makes it really hard to find (especially when you need it). A wiki enables the hospital to centralise that content so that it can be retrieved quickly, easily and on‑the‑job via a mobile device.

I’m salivating over the thought of the kinds of resources it might contain!

Essentially, then, I would base the hospital’s ILE on three core components:

1. Wiki – the first port of call,
2. Discussion forum, the second port of call, and
3. Staff profiles, the third port of call.

Of course I recognise the importance of formal learning too. I’m not suggesting the hospital ditches face-to-face instruction, for example, with 3D animation. On the contrary, I believe formal and informal modes of delivery complement each other. The trick is determining which is best in each situation, and it might involve a combination of both – why not run a face-to-face demonstration and make the animation available in the wiki for future reference?

In the hospital, then, formal teaching sessions remain a core component of the student’s learning environment. They require support resources such as timetables, agendas and follow-ups.

Taking this one step further, the student’s shifts in the ward may also be considered a core component of their learning environment, as they are instances of on-the-job training. They require support resources such as a roster and perhaps an online check-in facility.

So Anne Marie’s wishful-thinking learning network for student doctors could look something like this:

Hypothetical medical learning environment

As you can see, the interface segregates learning from its management.

The former comprises the ILE (wiki, discussion forum and staff profiles) plus elements of the FLE (work shifts and face-to-face teaching sessions). This zone is where the student goes to learn something.

The latter zone comprises the remaining components of the FLE. This is where the student attends to administrative matters (calendar, floor maps, 60-day checklist), assessment (quizzes, assignments, due dates, grades) and performance management (PMA, development plan, 360° feedback, performance appraisal, manager’s reports).

Stethoscope

As an organisation shifts its pedagogy towards the informal end of the learning continuum, its ILE and FLE increasingly represent the distinction between the act of learning and its management.

However, organisations are rarely so extreme in their learning model, and some (like hospitals) probably never will be because formal instruction is so crucial.

So I see nothing wrong with “doctoring” the ILE by associating it with formal elements. ILEs and FLEs are flexible concepts that should be manipulated according to the contexts in which they will be used.

Doctor with iPad

I know if I were a student doctor, I would completely immerse myself in this learning environment. I would get myself an iPad and carry it with me at all times as an indispensable learning aid.

I would check in every day. I would look up what was going on. I would attend teaching sessions. I would search content. I would browse. I would post queries. I would discuss. I would contact SMEs. I would blog. I would read other people’s blogs. I would check out my fellow students’ profiles and perhaps meet up for lunch.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced this idea is bigger than any individual hospital. It is something the Health Department should implement across the sector. Now.


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