Posted tagged ‘higher education’

Our secret world of learning

22 September 2016

One of my peers in Australia, Arun Pradhan, is developing an app to help us learn smarter, faster and deeper.

To gain insight on how we learn in the real world, he’s reaching out to L&D professionals, CEOs, entrepreneurs, actors and artists who have mastered complex skills, with the aim of uncovering our “learning secrets”.

Arun asks 4 specific questions and my answers are as follows…

Someone telling someone else a secret

Q1. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from experience, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you used intentional practice, learned from failure, learned from ambitious projects and/or used reflection)

When I first got into e-learning, it was all very new for everyone. Of course computer-based training had been around for decades, but when the World Wide Web took off in the 1990’s, it transformed education.

When I assumed my first role in this space, I learned mostly through experience because there weren’t many alternatives available. I would learn what I needed to “on the go” or just in time, immediately putting it into practice and seeing how it went – whether that be the design of a web page by tinkering with HTML and JavaScript, or the production of a saleable product by getting onto the platform and just working it out.

Q2. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from people, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you learned from project teams, mentors, coaches and/or broader social networks)

Over time I’ve realised that learning from other people is not only important but crucial to my professional development. Conferences get a bit of a beat-up these days, but I always learn something useful from seeing what other people have done. I also like meetups, and social media has taken my peer-to-peer networking to a whole new level.

I think it’s important to maintain relationships with people who are not only knowledgeable and experienced, but also open and generous; these relationships are two-way streets as you learn from each other. I also know someone whom I respect immensely and whom I consider a mentor; I seek his insight on matters that I’m thinking about, and I’ll bounce ideas off him to get his perspective.

So my recommendation is to actively engage with other people, utilising all the various means of doing so.

Q3. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from courses, research or investigation, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you learned from reading on the web, reading books or attending conferences/courses)

It’s all very well to learn from experience and roll with the punches as you go along, but you have to beware not knowing what you don’t know.

When I decided to make e-learning my career, I went back to university to do a Masters in Learning Sciences & Technology. This course opened up my eyes to concepts that I would never have appreciated otherwise, such as learning theory, and raised my awareness of important empirical research.

Post-uni, I read lots of blogs and keep an eye on the academic journals. I also like to run my own “mini” research studies at work by trialling something new and seeing how it goes.

Q4. What’s your top advice for someone who wishes to develop faster and learn complex skills in modern workplaces?

You have to do it. Yes, read widely and talk to lots of people, but not at the expense of giving it a go. Only then can you gain the insights you really need and appreciate the nuances of real-life application.

The workplace is only ever going to get more VUCA, so by maintaining an experimental mindset you can be confident to take on whatever comes.

Blue dot   Blue dot   Blue dot

If you would like to respond to Arun’s questions, he invites you to do so here.

Where is L&D heading?

6 October 2015

Last week I was invited by David Swaddle to be a panellist at the Sydney eLearning and Instructional Design meetup.

The topic of the evening was Where is L&D Heading? and some questions were posted through by the attendees ahead of time, while others emerged through the discourse.

Here is an overview of my answers, plus elaborations and suggestions for further reading, for each of the questions that was (and was not) asked. Feel free to add your own views via the comments…

Businessman holding a crystal ball

With Ernst & Young dropping their degree entry requirement, how do you see the future of universities? Is the race to the bottom on time and price for degrees affecting employers’ perceptions of universities? What respect do MOOC qualifications get?

I find EY’s move here interesting, but I don’t expect other companies to follow suit en mass – particularly enterprise-wide. Having said that, dropping the degree entry requirement could make sense for specific teams such as Innovation, who might be looking for someone with creative thinking skills rather than a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

I see the future of universities as service providers, plain and simple. Students are customers, and increasing competition, deregulation and even the emergence of MOOCs has shifted power into their hands. Yes, deregulation may prompt the $100,000 degree… but who will buy it?

If students are customers, by extension so are employers. I don’t think the time and price of a degree are such big issues for them; instead I think it’s the relevance of the degree. Whether or not we agree the role of the university is to prepare students for the workplace, I think it’s going that way due to market forces.

Regarding MOOC qualifications, I think many of us are still looking at them the wrong way. When we worry about the status of their credentials or lose sleep over their completion rates, we’re perpetuating an out-dated paradigm of education based on formal learning. I prefer to see MOOCs through the lens of informal learning which values the learning over its bureaucracy. If a job applicant lists some MOOCs on their CV, I think it demonstrates an aptitude to drive their own development.

Question mark

How do you see the impact and importance of big data, adaptive learning, mobile learning and micro-learning?

While mobile learning gets a lot of hype – rightly or wrongly – my target audience is office bound. Yes, I can push content to their devices (and there’s a solid argument for micro-learning in this instance) but the truth is no one will do their training on the bus. Outside of work hours, most people don’t want to do anything work related.

I see more scope in pull learning. For example, it’s important that your intranet is mobile optimised, so when someone is away from their desk, they can quickly look up the information they need and put it into action.

The real power of m-learning though is in creating an experience. By this I mean integrating the content with the environment in which the individual is situated, and I see a lot of potential in augmented reality and wearable technologies facilitating this.

And let’s not forget about blended learning. If we allow our attendees to bring their tablets into class, they can participate in online polling, consume content and play games together. While this isn’t actually mobile learning, it leverages the technology.

As for big data, there is clearly a lot of potential in using it to inform our practice – if we can access it. I also see a lot of potential for adaptive learning in personalising the learning experience – if we can work with the tools. My caveat for emerging technologies such as these is what I call the “Average Joe imperative” – if regular folks can’t do it, it won’t gain widespread adoption.

Question mark

What about online social education and Communities of Practice? What are the challenges in using them properly in companies, schools or universities? Where are the success stories?

Beyond the technology, the success of social learning is predicated on the culture of the organisation. If you’re people aren’t the type who care and share, then a platform isn’t going to be much help. Having said that, I believe the managers in the organisation have a critical role to play in leading by example.

My go-to success stories for social learning are Coca-Cola Amatil, who have cultivated active communities of practice across state-based factory floors; and Deloitte, who are the poster child for enterprise social networking.

Question mark

Will interactive videos replace e-learning modules?

I think lots of things will replace e-learning modules!

As we embrace informal learning, we will rely less on e-learning modules in favour of alternatives such as social forums, job aids, games, and indeed, interactive videos.

I see the LMS then being used more for the assessment of learning.

Question mark

What tips does the panel have for coping with reduced training budgets?

My big tip here is that you can do a lot for free or on-the-cheap.

For example, if you want to film a training scenario, you could pay a production house many thousands of dollars to produce a slick, Academy Award worthy video clip. Alternatively, you could use your iPhone.

Sure, the quality won’t be nearly as good… so long as it’s good enough. What really matters is the learning outcome.

Besides, I think in-house production adds authenticity to the scene.

Question mark

Does L&D belong in HR?

I interpret this question as really asking “Should L&D be centralised or distributed?”.

My short answer is both. A centralised Organisational Development function can focus on enterprise-wide capability needs, while L&D professionals embedded in the business can address local capability needs.

Question mark

How does the panel identify whether an L&D professional is good? Does Australia need improved quality benchmarking or qualifications for L&D professionals such as instructional designers?

I think the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, so my definition of a “good” L&D professional is one that improves the performance of his or her business.

There are certain attributes that I value in an L&D pro, including being proactive, consultative, creative, and willing to try new things.

If I were considering an applicant for an instructional design role, I’d ask them to demonstrate their track record, just as I’d ask a sales rep to do. A portfolio would be useful, as would be their approach to a hypothetical project.

Furthermore, I think you can tell a lot about someone’s expertise through simple conversation; if they don’t really know what they’re talking about, it will become painfully obvious.

As for benchmarking and formal qualifications for L&D pro’s, I think they can help but I wouldn’t put too much stock into them. As EY is seeing, acing the qual doesn’t necessarily translate into good practice.

Question mark

What advice would you give to somebody interested in getting involved in ID?

I think getting involved is the key phrase in this question.

Attend meetups and events, get active on social media, participate in #lrnchat, work out loud, scan the academic research, and read blogs – learn from those at the coal face.

The past tense of open badges

3 July 2013

Some commentators are heralding open badges as the nemesis of the college degree. I don’t quite see it that way.

It is true they are uneasy bedfellows. As Mark Smithers observes…

“It’s interesting that the reaction to open badges from senior academic managers is often to dismiss them as being child like and akin to collecting a badge for sewing at scouts.”


“I also suspect that traditional higher education providers will resist providing them because they don’t fit in with traditional academic perceptions of achievement and credentialing.”

I wonder if these academics have consulted their own faculties of education?

Of course, open badges and college degrees are not mutually exclusive. If a particular university can overcome its initial prejudice, it will see badges for what they really are: representations of achievement – just like those pieces of paper they dole out at graduation ceremonies.

There is no reason why a university couldn’t award a badge upon the completion of a degree. In fact, it could also award badges upon the completion of individual subjects within the degree. That would give the student a sense of accomplishment while in the midst of a multi-year program, and I imagine showcasing one’s backpack on the university’s VLE would become rather competitive.

Open badges

Speaking of competition, I don’t see open badges as a serious disruptor of the higher education system in the way that MOOCs are. And that’s because MOOCs are disrupting the delivery of education, rather than its credentialing.

A degree will always command a certain level of gravitas. It represents a structured, comprehensive education from – according to broader society – an elite bastion of knowledge and research. In short, it equips you with the intellectual foundation to do something in that domain.

In contrast, open badges are task oriented. Beyond the nebulous notion of “study”, they recognise the execution of specific actions. For example, Mozilla issues its Div Master Badge upon successfully using the div tag at least 2 times in its Webmaker Project.

If the task were passing an exam, the badge could indeed represent the acquisition of knowledge; but the spirit of open badges dictates that the task be performed in the real world, and hence represents the mastery of a skill. And this is meaningful to the corporate sector.

For example, if I were an employer who needed a graphic designer, I would seek someone who knows how to take awesome digital photos and edit them in Photoshop. So an applicant who has earned badges for digital photography techniques and advanced Photoshop operations would be an obvious candidate.

Yet if I were seeking a IT executive, I don’t think open badges would cut the mustard. Sure, badges earned by an applicant for various Java programming tasks might be attractive, but a wide-ranging role requires the kind of comprehensive education that a degree is purposefully designed to give.

Magnifying glass

When we look at learning through the lens of the college degree, we see its application in the future tense. The learner has a well-rounded education which he or she intends to draw from. In other words, the degree recognises something you can do.

In contrast, when we look at learning through the lens of the open badge, we see its application in the past tense. The learner has demonstrated their mastery of a skill by using it. In other words, the badge recognises something you have already done.

So the degrees vs badges debate isn’t really about the latter displacing the former. The emergence of badges is merely re-roasting the same old chestnut of whether degrees are necessary for the modern workplace.

And that’s an entirely different matter.

The future of MOOCs

26 November 2012

MOOCs get a bad rap. Dismissed as prescriptive, or teacher-centric, or unsocial, or something else, it’s like a badge of honour to espouse why you dislike MOOCs.

Despite their pedagogical flaws, however, MOOCs provide unprecedented access to quality content for millions of learners.

It’s all very well for Apple-owning, organic-buying professionals to cast aspersions, but consider the girl in Pakistan who’s too scared to set foot in a classroom. Consider the teenager in central Australia whose school has only one teacher. Consider the young woman in Indonesia who can’t afford college. Consider the boy in San Francisco whose maths teacher simply doesn’t teach very well.

Don’t all these people deserve a better education? And isn’t content sourced from some of the world’s best providers a giant leap in that direction?

Sure, the pedagogy may not be perfect, but the alternative is much worse.

Child learning on a computer

MOOC proponent George Siemens distinguishes between two types of MOOC: the xMOOC and the cMOOC.

The former is the subject of such disdain. Involving little more than knowledge transmission and perhaps a quiz at the end, the xMOOC is widely seen as replicating old-fashioned lectures and exams.

In contrast, the latter leverages the connectedness of the participants. Seeded with content, the cMOOC empowers – read “expects” – the learner to discuss, debate, discover, share and co-create new knowledge with his or her fellow learners.

The cMOOC’s participant is active whereas the xMOOC’s participant is passive. As Siemens puts it, cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.

Despite Siemens’ evangelism though, I don’t think the cMOOC is necessarily better than the xMOOC. (I’ll explain later.)

Ethernet cable

Love them or loathe them, xMOOC or cMOOC, the fact remains: MOOCs have arrived, and they are here to stay.

Moreover, I submit they are yet to wreak their full vengeance on the education industry. When I look into my crystal ball, I foresee that MOOCs will rock our world, and they will do so in 15 ways…

Fortune teller

1. Universities will finally accept they are service providers.

As the latest edition of Educause Review indicates, universities are fee-for-service businesses. That means they are subjected to market forces such as competition.

MOOCs beg the question: If I can study at Stanford University for free, why would I pay tens of thousands of dollars to study at your dinky university and subject myself to your arcane rules?

2. The vast majority of students will be overseas.

Countries that currently attract foreign students to their shores will need to brace for the impact on their local economies, as an ever-increasing proportion of students choose to gain an international education without leaving their home country.

3. The pecking order will be reshuffled.

While the world’s most prestigious institutions will enjoy a windfall of new students, those that rely more on age than ability will ultimately fail as the target audience realises how pedestrian they are.

Conversely, some of the smaller, younger institutions will emerge from the shadows as the world sees how good they really are.

4. Research will become a competitive advantage.

There’s nowhere to hide on the global stage, and cutting-edge expertise will be one of the few aspects that a university will have to distinguish itself from the others.

No more lazy professors, no more specious journal articles. Faculty who don’t generate a flow of new knowledge for their students will have their tenure terminated.

5. Universities will flip their classrooms.

Bricks’n’mortar establishments will become expensive relics unless their owners redeploy them. One way to do that is to leverage MOOCs for content delivery and provide value-added instruction (discussion, Q&A, worked examples, role plays etc) to local students – who of course will pay a premium for the privilege.

Studying on campus will become a status symbol.

6. The role of the teacher will evolve.

There’s no point rehashing the same lectures when the world’s best authorities have already recorded them and offered them to the world as OERs. It’s how the teacher uses that content to support learning that will make the difference.

7. The pedagogy of MOOCs will be enriched.

While MOOCs typically comprise video clips and perhaps a quiz, they will inevitably include more instructional devices to assist distance learning (and remain competitive).

Over time, content providers will supplement their core offerings with live webinars, interactive exercises, discussion forums, wikis, social networks etc. Some may even organise real-life meetups at selected sites around the world.

8. Content providers will charge for assessment.

A certificate of completion is good; an official grade is better.

Assessment is one of the ways universities will monetise their MOOCs, and edX is already going one step further by offering proctored exams.

9. Universities will offer credits for MOOCs.

Again, this is already being considered by the American Council on Education.

Of course, a certificate of completion won’t suffice. Ka ching!

10. Online cheating will mushroom.

An ever-present thorn in the side of online education, cheating will be almost impossible to prevent in the MOOC space. But surely we can do better than onsite exams?

11. Academic inflation will skyrocket.

Every man and his dog will have a ream of courses listed on his CV. Employers will consider certificates of completion meaningless, while maintaining a reserved suspicion over assessment scores.

Outcomes-based activities that demonstrate the applicant’s knowledge and skills will become a component of best-practice recruitment.

12. Offshoring will become the rule, not the exception.

Deloitte’s global CLO, Nick van Dam, told me that American firms are using MOOCs to upskill accountants based in India on US accounting practices.

Dental, anyone?

13. MOOCs will target the corporate sector.

Current MOOCs are heavily geared towards school and college audiences. Over time, an increasing number of narrow, specific topics that link to corporate competencies will emerge.

Content providers will wag the long tail.

14. The corporate sector will embrace xMOOCs.

Learners in the workplace are time poor. They don’t have the luxury to explore, discover, and “make sense of the chaos”. They need the knowledge now and they are happy for the expert to transmit it to them.

15. An xcMOOC hybrid will emerge as the third variant.

Sooner or later, the powers that be will remember that an instructivist approach suits novices, while an increasingly constructivist and connectivist approach suits learners as they develop their expertise.

Hence, the MOOC of the future may resemble an xMOOC in its early stages, and morph into a cMOOC in its later stages.

The black hole of adult education

6 March 2012

So the Russians want to build a research base on the moon, and they want NASA and the European Space Agency to help them.

Anyone who has read Off The Planet by Jerry Linenger knows that this idea has about as much chance of getting up as Vladimir Putin has of winning American Idol.

Linenger knows better than most: he spent 5 months on Mir. Despite the years of training and the millions of dollars poured into the program, he and his two cosmonaut colleagues had to rely on their collective ingenuity, tenacity and sheer luck to remain alive.

Endangered on a daily basis by the incompetence of the Russian Federal Space Agency and the political expediency of the US Government, he was caught between a rock and a hard place – while floating between the third rock and outer space.

Space Station Mir Over Earth

One of the most shocking parts of the story takes place in Star City – the cosmonaut training compound located outside Moscow. Linenger was sitting in a classroom, struggling to interpret both the Russian language and the technical complexity of the subject matter…

My only saviour was oftentimes an outdated, hand-drawn engineering diagram hanging in the classroom beside the instructor’s blackboard … During many of my one-on-one lectures, I would block out entirely what the instructor was saying and memorize the diagram hanging on the wall. The diagrams themselves were outdated — showing only the original configuration of the Mir and not the myriad modifications made over the eleven-year lifespan of the station — but so were the lectures. Most of the instructors looked as if they had been teaching the subjects since the time of Yuri Gagarin. They had not kept abreast of the changes on Mir.

Furthermore I had the impression that my understanding the material presented was almost irrelevant to the lecturer. What was important was that they got through the canned lecture word for word, just as they had for the past ten years.

It gets worse…

What struck me as different about the training sessions, as compared to all the schooling I had ever received, was the lack of written materials or handouts. All of the material was presented orally … instructors realized that their job security, to a large extent, hinged on their knowledge of a system or component of the space station. Write the information down and their corner of the market would be lost.

For a fledgling language student like myself there is no more difficult way of learning space systems than by lectures delivered entirely in Russian … I learned very little during the 4:00PM to 6:00PM lecture time-slot, other than how to appear attentive while daydreaming. I spent much of my time asking myself, “What am I doing here?”

And yet it gets worse…

After hearing pleas for assistance from every astronaut training in Star City, NASA shuttle-Mir program managers finally sent over American trainers to help produce some translated, written materials … The Russians were uniformly uncooperative … The goal of helping cosmonauts and astronauts better prepare for a mission was not a shared goal.

The Russians were being paid to train the American astronauts. Each minute of training was paid for. If written materials — clear, understandable, and readable — were made available, we would eventually require less instructor time. Less time, less money. The Russians finally agreed to at least explore the possibility of making training manuals, but insisted that they be paid handsomely for their “vast knowledge and experience”.

Linenger goes on to describe the continuing obstructiveness of the Russian administrators, their exorbitant fees to accommodate minor requests, his interrogation-style exams, the futility of his complaints, his frustration over the lack of change, and how the astronauts on a subsequent mission threatened to leave Space City en mass.

Russian soldiers guarding the newly unveiled monument to Sputnik at Star City, courtesy of Spaceports.

If you think I’m just picking on the Ruskies, you’re missing my point. Some of my best friends are Russian.*

On the contrary, I could write a book about all the parallels I can draw between Linenger’s mission and the state of education in the West today. I’m thinking along the lines of:

• Organisational culture
• Activity vs outcome
• Formal vs informal learning
• Instructivism vs constructivism
• Andragogy
• Learning styles
• Authenticity
• Flipped classrooms
• Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing
• Motivation
• Special needs
• Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation
• Academic tenure

… the list goes on.

If you haven’t read Off The Planet, I highly recommend you do so.

Furthermore, I challenge you to apply Linenger’s experiences to your own working environment, and to consider how you can effect positive change.

It’s not rocket science.

* To be read as per Tallulah Bankhead in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.