All big organisations have a Learning Management System.
It’s used to track and record the training that the employees do. In practice, it tends to be used to administer compliance training, though it can be much broader than that.
And this is a good thing. Despite the scorn that LMS’s attract, we should be tracking and recording the training that our employees do – especially compliance training.
But here’s the rub…
Let’s say I work at Bank A. I do all my compliance training within the first 3 months of starting at the company, and I keep those certifications up to date every 2 years. That’s normal.
Then I get a job at Bank B. But because my training records are locked up in Bank A’s LMS, I have to do my compliance training all over again.
This does not make any sense, because the laws governing privacy, anti money laundering, OH&S, and all the other topics, are the same for both banks! If I’m compliant at Bank A, odds are I’m compliant at Bank B as well.
I see re-doing my compliance training as a problem, not just because it’s an inconvenience for me personally, but also because the financial services sector alone employs half a million people in Australia. That’s a lot of people, a lot of movement, a lot of training hours, and a lot of wastage.
There has to be a better way, and as I explain in the video below, I propose the accreditation of compliance training with open badges as the solution.
Now some people misunderstand this idea, and they’ll say it’s not the role of the regulator to train a company’s employees. And I agree, but that’s not the idea.
The idea is that the regulator accredits the training that is delivered by the company to its employees, and authorises the issuing of the official badges for that training.
No matter how much we try to cultivate an informal learning culture within our organisations, this question pops up time and again. It’s a symptom of the way workplace education (and education more generally) has been administered over the years, and while I don’t blame people for thinking this way, I confess to being frustrated by the redundancy of it all. It reminds me of that episode of Peep Show in which Mark presents Jeremy with a life coaching certificate, replete with 4 stars.
The fact remains: people love recognition for what they do. Mozilla’s Open Badges initiative leverages this phenomenon by gamifying the learning experience. The initiative allows training providers to issue digital “badges” to the participants in their courses, who thereby earn online representations of their newly acquired skills. Each learner can earn badges from all manner of verified issuers, collect them in their online “backpack”, and show them off by plugging them into their website or blog.
And you know what, it works. When self-confessed cynic Mark Smithers earned his first badge after completing a jQuery course, he was chuffed:
“I have to say that my feelings were of enormous pleasure at finishing my course and being able to display that quickly and easily. It also made me very eager to get another badge to add to my collection. If feelings like this can be engendered in someone as notoriously cynical as me then that’s a pretty powerful reaction.”
Powerful indeed. And yet I suggest that open badges have more powerful potential still.
To put this into context, let me first explain that Australia is one of the most regulated nations on earth. And that, of course, includes our financial services industry.
Partly credited with shielding our economy from the worst of the GFC, the flipside of our regulation is that it is widely considered to hamper productivity, agility and innovation. Moreover, mandatory compliance training is universally disdained and dreaded in equal measure.
There are reasons for this – and in Take the law out of compliance training I argue that it shouldn’t be so – but the point I wish to make here is: how do we know the training is legally sufficient? Of course we draw the content from SMEs and run it by Legal, but at the end of that long and winding road, we effectively roll the dice and hope it never gets tested in court. I personally believe it would stand up nonetheless, but without going to such extremes, how else could we ever truly know…?
In a conversation I had with a friend the other day, I suggested one solution might be for the various regulatory agencies to develop their own training courses for their minions in Workland to complete. But I have since realised this is a terrible idea. Not only would it put a lot of e-learning developers out of business (compliance being their bread and butter) but government is in the business of governing, not training.
This is where I think open badges can play a role. Instead of a badge representing the provision of training by a particular organisation, it can represent the endorsement of the training by the organisation. It is a subtle difference but an important one. It means training providers such as employers can continue to endorse their own courses (naturally) but so too can other organisations such as ASIC, APRA and Standards Australia. The latter don’t produce the content, but rather review it and stamp it with their seal of approval if it meets their exacting requirements. All for a fee, no doubt.
This slightly modified approach to open badging promises significant benefits for the stakeholders:
For the regulatory agency, it weaves its governance more tightly into the workplace, not to mention generating a new revenue stream.
For the employer, it instills a sense of confidence in their training program, not to mention a legal defence.
For the employees, it gives them the shiny recognition they crave, not to mention better protection of their and their customers’ safety and security – which of course is the whole point of compliance.
And that’s not all: open badges can also facilitate the portability of employee training records. Currently, if you complete your training at one organisation and then leave to join another, you leave your training records behind and thus have to do your compliance all over again. What a laughable and desperately inefficient proposition.
If, however, you earned ASIC- and APRA-endorsed badges from your previous compliance training, all you would need to do is authorise the connection of your backpack to your new employer’s LMS.
In other words, you wear your badges wherever you go.
People familiar with my blog will know that I’m not a member of the anti-LMS brigade.
On the contrary, I think a Learning Management System is a valuable piece of educational technology – particularly in large organisations. It is indispensible for managing registrations, deploying e-learning, marking grades, recording completion statuses, centralising performance agreements and documenting performance appraisals.
In other words – and the name gives it away – an LMS is useful for managing learning.
Yet while LMSs are widely used in the corporate sector, I suspect they are not being used to their full potential. You see, when most people think of an LMS, they think of formal learning. I don’t.
I think of informal learning. I think of the vast majority of knowledge that is acquired outside of the classroom. I think of the plethora of skills that are developed away from the cubicle. I think of reading a newspaper and chatting around the water cooler, and the myriad of other ways that people learn stuff. Relevant stuff. Stuff that actually makes a difference to their performance.
And I wonder how we can acknowledge all of that learning. We can hardly stick the newspaper or the water cooler into the LMS, although many will try in vain.
No – the way we can acknowledge informal learning is via assessment. Assessment represents the sum of learning in relation to a domain, regardless of where, when or how that learning was done.
The assessment need not be a multiple-choice quiz (although I am not necessarily against such a device), nor need it be online. The LMS only needs to manage it. And by that I mean record the learner’s score, assign a pass or fail status, and impart a competency at a particular proficiency.
In this way, the purpose of learning shifts from activity to outcome.
Having said that, the LMS suffers a big problem: portability.
I’m not referring to the content. We have SCORM to ensure our courses are compatible with different systems. Although, if you think migrating SCORM-compliant content from one LMS to another is problem free, I have an opera house to sell you. It has pointy white sails and a great view of the harbour.
No – I’m referring to the learner’s training records. That’s the whole point of the LMS, but they’re locked in there. Sure, if the organisation transfers from one LMS to another, it can migrate the data while spending a tonne of money and shedding blood, sweat and tears in the process.
But worse, if the learner leaves the organisation to join another, they also leave their training records behind. Haha… we don’t care if you complied with the same regulations at your last organisation. Or that you were working with the same types of products. Or that you were using the same computer system. We’re going to make you do your training all over again. Sucker.
It’s hardly learner-centered, and it sure as hell ain’t a smart way of doing business.
Enter Tin Can
According to my understanding, Tin Can is designed to overcome the problem of training record portability. I imagine everyone having a big tin can in the cloud, connected to the interwebs. When I complete a course at Organisation A, my record is recorded in my tin can. When I leave Organisation A for a better job at Organisation B, no worries because I’ve still got my tin can. It’s mine, sitting in the sky, keeping all my training records accessible.
This idea has taken the education world by storm, and some LMSs such as UpsideLMS have already integrated the API into their proprietary architecture.
Furthermore, I can update my tin can manually. For example, if I read a newspaper article or have an enlightening conversation with someone around the water cooler, I can log into my account and record it.
This sounds admirable prima facie, but for me it raises a couple of concerns. Firstly, the system is reliant on the learner’s honour – ! – but more concerningly, its philosophy reverts back to activity over outcome. Recording reams and reams of minor learning interactions all seems a bit pointless to me.
So where to from here?
Plurality is a brilliant short film watched by the participants in Week 2 of The University of Edinburgh’s E-learning and Digital Cultures course.
The film paints a dystopian vision of the future whereby everyone’s personal details are stored in an online grid, which is controlled of course by the government. When you swipe your finger over a scanner, the computer reads your DNA and identifies you. This is convenient for automatically deducting the cost of a sandwich from your bank account, or unlocking your car, but not so convenient when you are on the run from the cops and they can track you through everything you touch.
Despite the Big Brother message pushed by the film, it prompted me to recognise an emerging opportunity for Tin Can if it were to re-align its focus on assessment and exploit the Internet of Things.
Suppose for example you are sitting in a jumbo jet waiting to take off to London or New York. If the cockpit had a scanner that required the pilot to swipe his finger, the computer could check his tin can to confirm he has acquired the relevant competencies at the required proficiencies before activating the engine.
Or suppose you are meeting a financial advisor. With a portable scanner, you could check that she has been keeping up with the continuing education points required by the relevant accreditation agency.
Competencies and assessment tend to cop a beating in the academic sphere, but in the real world you want to be reasonably confident that your pilot can fly a plane and your financial advisor knows what she’s talking about.
If the film’s portrayal of DNA is too far-fetched, it need not be the mechanism. For example, the pilot could key in his personal credentials, or you could key in the financial advisor’s agency code.
But maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all. The Consortium for the Barcode of Life – based at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, no less – is currently researching DNA barcoding.
And still, maybe Plurality is looking at it the wrong way around. We can already store digital information in synthetic DNA. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future our training records will be coded into our natural DNA and injected back into our bodies. Then instead of the scanner referring to your tin can in the cloud, it mines your data right there in your genes.
How does that compare to what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I ask you this because what we think we should be doing and what we actually find ourselves doing are often two very different things.
That concerns me because I’ve been blogging a lot about a revamped learning model which relies heavily on Web 2.0 technologies to support informal learning.
In the back of my mind, I realise that revolutionising the learning model in this way would shock some organisations.
To work effectively in those environments, the model would demand significant shifts in roles and responsibilities away from the status quo, towards what I suggest the employees should be doing instead.
Allow me to elaborate…
The role of the learner
In my view, every employee has the obligation to drive their own development.
An Informal Learning Environment (ILE) empowers them to do just that. It’s a space where they can explore content, ask questions, and seek help from their peers.
This relieves the L&D professional from alternately spoonfeeding and coercing grown adults into doing what they should be doing for and among themselves.
In short: the role of learning should be assigned to the learner.
The role of the subject matter expert
Taking the logic one step further, every employee also has the obligation to share their knowledge with their colleagues.
Web 2.0 empowers them to do just that. With tools like blogs, wikis and discussion forums, they can contribute content, participate in the conversation, and keep everyone up to speed in their domain.
This relieves the L&D professional from developing and managing content over which they have no authority.
In short: the role of knowledge sharing should be assigned to the SME.
The role of the manager
Must it be said that every manager has the obligation to manage the development of their own staff..?
With the help of their subject matter experts, managers should identify required competencies, assess proficiencies, assign development goals, fund and approve training, and hold regular development discussions.
This relieves the L&D professional from getting bogged down in technical matters over which – again – they have no authority.
In short: the role of managing the team should be assigned to the manager.
The role of the L&D professional
So if the L&D professional is no longer responsible for babysitting and strong-arming employees, conjuring content, and doing the managers’ jobs for them, what on Earth are they responsible for?
The answer is plenty, including consulting, training needs analysis, instructional design, developing content for which they are the expert (eg development plan templates, development discussion workshops), facilitation, community management, training evaluation, research and governance.
In short: the L&D professional supports the learners, subject matter experts and managers in playing their parts to improve the capability and performance of the organisation.
In the 99% of organisations in which a greenfield opportunity does not exist, my revamped learning model represents a paradigm revolution.
Given legacy systems, entrenched practices and perhaps a less-than-booming corporate culture, successful implementation would require skillful change management to say the least, not to mention a lengthy, multi-phased rollout period.
Dare I suggest the new paradigm may also prompt a review of the organisation’s recruitment criteria?
I was immediately interested because, like me, Mott is striving to bridge the gap between the organisation’s LMS and the learner’s PLE. He articulates his position as such:
“…a one-or-the-other choice between the two is a false choice between knowledge-dissemination technologies and community-building tools. We can have both.”
Amen to that.
But how do we bridge the gap?
Mott’s blueprint is the Open Learning Network (OLN). Mine is the Informal Learning Environment (ILE).
While both proposals have remarkable similarities, the pedagogical philosophies that underpin them are fundamentally different.
The ILE recapped
An ILE is a space that centralises tools and resources that the learner can use to drive their own development. In How to revamp your learning model, I propose three core components:
1. A comprehensive wiki,
2. An open discussion forum, and
3. A bank of personal profiles.
These components work in tandem with the LMS and system reports, which in turn comprise the core components of the Formal Learning Environment (FLE).
The organisation manages the ILE on behalf of the learners, who are free to search, explore, ask and share at their own pace and at their own discretion, and – ideally – integrate the system into their broader PLE.
The OLN compared
While the ILE is designed to bridge the gap between the LMS and the PLE, it purposefully keeps them apart. Not only do I believe in the right of the learner to keep their PLE strictly personal, but I also believe in the power of separating “learning” from its administration.
The OLN takes a different approach. Mott states:
“The OLN is not intended merely to allow the LMS and PLE paradigms to coexist in harmony, but rather to take the best of each approach and mash them up into something completely different.”
The OLN model connects private and secure applications on the organisation’s network (such as the student information system, content repository, assessments and transcripts) to open and flexible tools and applications in the cloud (such as blogs, social networks and non-proprietary content) via a services-oriented architecture.
Both the OLN and ILE are modular because they comprise standalone resources or “learning objects”. This makes them flexible because the objects can be easily replaced by others that are more current, relevant or useful.
The key difference between the two models is interoperability. In a nutshell, the objects in an OLN can talk to one another via web service protocols such as LTI. Mott elaborates:
“In the simplest terms, web services-enabled applications leverage the elegantly simple Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that gave life to the World Wide Web. This means that applications use a common set of verbs (such as GET and POST) and nouns (standard definitions of ‘student,’ ‘course,’ ‘score,’ etc.) to share data (as XML) via HTML. A robust services architecture will also implement role-based security and authentication protocols to manage data and application access and permissions. Within such a framework, any tool can securely interact with any other tool, passing user IDs and course and role information. Activities are then logged in the second application so that data can be passed back to the originating application (via a secure HTTP POST in the browser).”
The ILE model is not as technologically complex! It makes no demands for interoperability among the components of the PLE, ILE and LMS; in fact, it celebrates their independence. The common denominator is authentic assessment, which represents the sum of all learning regardless of its sources.
So while the major difference between the OLN and ILE is apparently their respective technical framework, that is simply a manifestation of their true difference: pedagogical philosophy.
I see the OLN as a solution for monitoring the student’s progress during a program of study in the digital age. It formalises the informal. The underpinning pedagogical philosophy, therefore, is formal learning – which I recognise as entirely appropriate in the Higher Education environment.
In the workplace, however, the vast majority of learning is informal. I would even go so far as to suggest that we hinder the learning process by drowning it in bureaucracy.
I see the ILE as a solution for self-directed learning, peer-to-peer discourse and knowledge sharing. It informalises the formal. The underpinning pedagogical philosophy, therefore, is informal learning – which is crying out for support in the corporate sector.
Horses for courses
So yes, Mott and I propose two similar yet fundamentally different learning models – but we have our reasons.
Neither is necessarily right; neither is necessarily wrong.