Posted tagged ‘meta-learning’

Workplace learning in 10 years

24 March 2009

The Learning Circuits Big QuestionThe Learning Circuits Big Question for this month is:

If you peer inside an organization in 10 years time and you look at how workplace learning is being supported by that organization, what will you see?

To answer this question, I’ve organised my own two cents’ worth under six major banners…

1. The responsibility for e-learning development will decentralise across the organisation.

In 10 years’ time, I believe organisations will rely less on external development houses to produce e-learning solutions, and instead bring more – if not all – of it in-house.

Of course this is already happening; however, it’s usually associated with the appointment of a specialist “E-Learning Team”. While such a team may fill a gap in the short term, it’s akin to appointing a Photocopier Operating Team, a Word Document Authoring Team, a Google Searching Team and an Email Sending Team. While all of these technologies were novel at one time or another, everyone has since learned to integrate them into their day-to-day activities.

E-Learning development should be no different. My view is that it’s unsustainable for a specialised E-Learning Team to remain responsible, in the long term, for developing all of the e-learning solutions for everyone in the organisation. Soon enough they’ll get swamped, their turn-around times will lag, and their colleagues will start to say silly things like “e-learning doesn’t work”.

It makes more sense to me to train the organisation’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in rapid e-learning authoring. Then, whenever a learning need arises, the SME has both the knowledge and the skills to develop their own e-learning solution, quickly and effectively.

Hand Work 1, courtesy of jmark, stock.xchng.

Sure, the interactivity of the e-learning that is produced by the SMEs will take a short-term hit. However, that should change over time as their confidence and experience grows with using these tools. I’m sure you’re better with Word now than when you first started?

Of course, the support and guidance of qualified e-learning coaches will be crucial during this transition period.

2. E-Learning will shift from instructivism towards constructivism and connectivism.

In a previous article, I said that workplace learning has thankfully become more constructivist and even connectivist over time. I think in 10 years’ time it will be even more so.

A driver of this shift will be people power. As staff familiarise themselves with blogs, wikis, RSS, YouTube and Twitter, and as more tech-savvy Gen-Y’s & Z’s join the organisation, the demand for self-paced, self-directed learning will accelerate.

Conquer the world 1, courtesy of Mart1n, stock.xchng.

Couple that with the increasing demand for e-learning more generally across the organisation, and no one will be able to afford the time and effort to prepare perfectly pre-defined, pre-packaged content for all occasions. Something’s gotta give; open it up to Web 2.0.

I still maintain that instructivism will remain relevant in the digital age. However, with less hand holding from a “teacher”, meta‑learning (or learning how to learn) will become an increasingly important skill set.

3. Staff will collaborate and share knowledge.

The shift towards constructivism and connectivism will demand organisation-wide collaboration and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, facilitated by blogs, wikis, discussion forums and other online media.

Toplaps, courtesy of ugaldew, stock.xchng.

Single-point sensitive gurus are a liability; everyone has the obligation to share their knowledge with everyone else. This might seem a lofty or even altruistic notion, but the principles of Wikinomics tell us that the organisations whose staff don’t do this won’t be able to compete effectively in the marketplace.

This shift will be accompanied by formal acknowledgements of informal learning. Sure, you can learn something anywhere, but the organisation still needs to be confident of your capability. Insert summative online assessments here.

4. Learning will be fully networked.

As the virtual workplace gains in popularity, more and more people will be working from home, in different cities and different countries.

Virtual classrooms will be the norm for centralising everyone in the one space, while emerging technologies such as virtual worlds and holograms will also bridge the geographical divide.

5. M-Learning will be popular.

Ragan reported recently that only 10% of Americans use their cell phones to access the web daily. My gut tells me this statistic is reflected right across the corporate sector.

Palmtop Series 1, courtesy of bizior, stock.xchng.

However, advances in mobile technology and connectivity, coupled with the business world’s shift towards cloud computing, will eventually render the cell phone an indispensable learning and working tool.

Why? Because everything will be online. Why wouldn’t you use your phone to get it if you needed it?!

6. E-Learning will be smart.

Finally, while many technological advances will continue to improve knowledge distribution, it’s on another plane to personalise it so that it’s relevant to the individual learner. I think we’re just seeing the beginnings of artificial intelligence and the dawn of the semantic web.

So, do you agree with my predictions?

How do you see workplace learning in 10 years’ time?

Advertisements

Connectivism and the modern learner

28 December 2008

Recently, I read a blog article about connectivism by Debora Gallo. Soon after, I attended a presentation about m-learning by Jan Herrington, in which she too mentioned connectivism.

This got me thinking… I don’t know anything about connectivism!

So after several hours of unenlightened googling, I decided to bite the bullet, go back to first principles and read George Siemens’ seminal paper, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.

Theoretical foundations

Siemens describes connectivism as “the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organisation theories”.

Network spheresAccording to Chaos Theory, everything is connected, as illustrated so eloquently by the Butterfly Effect.

While chaos may appear a random mess at first glance, the theory holds that order does in fact exist.

So if we view chaos through the lens of Network Theory, we see the universe as a massive, complex network. While the millions of nodes may appear disparate and unrelated, they are all indeed connected (however indirectly).

The point for the learner is whether you can recognise the underlying pattern. Meaning already exists in the world… but can you see it? Mother Nature hasn’t drawn any lines for you: you have to join the dots yourself.

Learning in the digital age

Siemens bills connectivism as “a learning theory for the digital age”.

The amount of knowledge in the world is growing exponentially – and to make matters worse, it’s superseding itself quicker than ever before. So while it’s one thing to join the dots, new dots are popping up all over the place!

In this context, the idea of connectivism re-defines what it means to “learn”.

These days, we can’t know it all. There’s simply too much to internalise and it changes too quickly. Instead, we need to exploit technology to extend our knowledge beyond our own brains.

World, keyboard and mouse

Specifically, we need to connect to sources of information, and to form connections between them. In other words, we need to recognise meaningful patterns among distributed sets of information. This is the new process of “learning”.

In a sense, connectivism is about self-organising our personal learning networks. We don’t have all knowledge in our heads right now, nor do we necessarily want it. Most of it is hosted elsewhere, but through judicious networking we assume it as our own. In this way, we have access to it whenever we need it.

In fact, Siemens maintains that “the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing”. I interpret this to mean that as time goes by, new knowledge becomes more relevant in the real world, while existing knowledge becomes obsolete. Therefore we need to maintain our connections to the new knowledge.

That’s why connectivism focuses on the sources of information, rather than on the information itself. Information comes and goes, but the source of the information will always provide you with the latest and greatest. (That’s the idea, anyway.)

Hence, connectivism represents a major shift in instructional design. Rather than continually feeding learners static information, we need to support their evolution in becoming their own personal knowledge managers.

The hornet’s nest

I didn’t realise that connectivism was so controversial, eg Pløn Verhagen, Downes.

I must admit that I struggled with some of the basic concepts when I first read Siemens’ paper, and I found the lack of practical examples frustrating. A part of me found solace when I realised that others with impressive academic credentials were also questioning various aspects of the theory.

Wasp

However, I accept Siemens’ subsequent point that the discourse since his article was published has helped to create a context of understanding. As I have not participated in those discussions, I shall try to limit my own “unsubstantiated philosophising”.

Moving on

It seems to me that the academic argy bargy has focussed on the epistemology of connectivism.

The constructivist approach to learning, for example, can still involve the same sources of information as the connectivist approach; so the argument isn’t about how or where the learner accesses information, but what they do with it in order to “learn”.

As far as I can gather, no one’s arguing about the pedagogy of connectivism.

It’s universally accepted that the practice of learning has changed in the modern world. To keep up to speed in the knowledge economy, we need to connect to sources of new information. These days we have many excellent tools to do just that, and the modern learner is using them.

Click Me!, courtesy of wagg66, stock.xchng.

So regardless of our theoretical biases, connectivism informs us that we need to supplement the learner’s “know-how” and “know-what” with “know-where”.

Applications

One of the ways we can apply connectivism in the corporate sector is by enriching our employees’ PLEs with relevant, high-quality sources of new information. Consider the following:

  • Create a social bookmarking account to share useful websites.
  • Recommend news feeds, podcasts, blogs and discussion forums.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook to foster social/professional networking.
  • Maintain wikis as JIT knowledge repositories.
  • Promote industry conferences and other external events.

But facilitating connections to good sources of new information is only part of the solution. The learners also need to form the connections between them to drive self-organisation.

Context setting is particularly important. Don’t just insert a simple hyperlink to an information set: explain its purpose. For example, “this website contains full-text copies of the legislation that governs the financial services industry”; “this wiki hosts our product information”; “this news feed informs you of our daily interest rates”.

Let the learners know that they don’t need to remember every clause of every act of law; nor do they need to learn the obscure details of every product the company sells; nor do they need to memorise the company’s interest rates, which are prone to change anyway.

However, they do need to know where to get this information when they need it.

Meta-learning

Finally, connectivism demands some serious meta-learning skills.

Not only must learners identify and self-organise sources of information in the wider world, but they must also continually evaluate the contents. The digital age has set off an avalanche of information: learners need to distinguish between what’s important and what isn’t.

Falling 1's and 0's

To support the development of connectivist meta-learning skills, consider the following:

  • Encourage your learners to find further sources of information for themselves.
  • Encourage them to share these sources with their colleagues via Web 2.0, and to explain their relevance.
  • Run exercises or workshops to develop their content evaluation skills.
  • Provide case studies illustrating how new information has affected existing situations in the real world.

Our role, therefore, is not only to assist our colleagues in sourcing new information, but also in managing it effectively. Only then can they become self-directed, self-regulated and, ultimately, self-made in the knowledge economy.