Thursday, December 15, 2005

Merry ChRSSmas

Yesterday we had a team CPD day. The team has almost trebled in size over the past year and, even with a few absentees, we were fairly packed in around the table.

We started off with a "state of the nation" type overview from the head of our profit centre, which pretty much did what it said on the tin, giving us a fairly clear idea of where we are in relation to where we had planned to be.

Next, we each got the opportunity (in break-out groups) to share one problem we have experienced during the year and to brainstorm solutions with the rest of the group. This was an interesting exercise and served to provide fresh perspective on some of our frustrations.

After lunch, we reviewed some of our projects from this year, including a behemoth that I'm working on. I'm sure that will generate a fair few posts as it progresses, pushing me outside of my comfort zone and forcing me to acquire new skills hand over fist!

The next session surprised me. We had been tasked with exploring what RSS was, did and could mean to us (more or less). The title of this post was taken from one group's presentation. Full marks for lateral thinking I say. They went on to produce facts about RSS from within Christmas crackers. Three groups in total put forward their findings and, to my surprise, a fair degree of debate followed. I had kind of expected: this is what it is, this is what it does, this is how we could use it, next session. To me, it's a tool, like a screwdriver, and I wouldn't expect people to get hot under the collar disussing the merits of a screwdriver. I never cease to be surprised by the things people become impassioned about!

The final session was an attempt to support one of my peers who has drawn the short straw on a project. She outlined the nature of her challenge and, in break-out groups again, we tried to find some solutions. I can't say I helped at all, but I gather there were a few suggestions made.

All in all, an interesting and challenging day, capped off by a great Christmas meal together.

Friday, December 09, 2005

jisc-cetis 2005

I must remember to have a proper look at these presentations when I have the time.

http://www.e-framework.org/events/conference/programme/ld/

Subversive learning?

George Siemens has an interesting recent post.

http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/47

He talks about learners taking control of the learning process, moving beyond the strictures of the curriculum. These are the sort of learners any teacher would love to have in the group. Obviously, they have signed up for this learning on a far more fundamental level than a mere application form would indicate. Ownership learning, it should be called.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Personalised learning

This document is well worth the read. I particularly like page 9 - the Learner's Charter for a personalised learning environment.

http://www.nestafuturelab.org/research/personalisation/report_01.htm

Pushme Pullyou

I got (very gently) told off this morning for neglecting this blog. I was just surprised to learn that I had a regular reader!

While this blog started life as a "repository for memorable information I am likely to forget", I have increasingly used it as a place to vent my spleen and express my opinionated self. While I can see that the former use might have some benefit to someone other than myself, the latter must surely just be the rantings of someone with the proverbially dangerous little knowledge?

Anyway here I am, with apologies for the delay.

Recently, I have been involved in evaluating an organisation's annual plan for learning materials. The organisation in question is largely resonsible for the development of teachers in this country. The learning materials developed are intended to help the teachers improve their practice. The weird thing is, that the very things that the teachers are being encouraged to do are not being modelled in the development of those materials!

Teachers are increasingly encouraged to follow the global trend towards "pull". They are urged to make greater use of technology when teaching. Pupils are to be encouraged to explore and share their own learning. Collaboration. Sharing. Top-down and bottom-up. All good stuff.

However, it seems what's recommended for the kids is not recommended for the adults who teach them. Are to we to suspect then, that there is doubt as to the true efficacy of pull learning? If not, why is there a preponderance of websites being developed by exclusive teams and then made available to (foisted on?) the teachers? Where are the wikis? Why are there so many face-to-face dissemination events where teachers will be told what constitutes best practice? Where are the online communities?

It smacks of hypocrisy to me. It seems there is no attempt made to collect testimonials from experienced teachers. The value of their experience, informal learning and garnered wisdom is completely overlooked. They have as little say in their curriculum as the children they teach.

Within the evaluation team, I think the word modelling is in danger of being used to death. Time after time, we're finding that the nature of the learning material doesn't model what it's saying. It's the whole "do unto others" thing, I guess. The collective knowledge of the teachers in this country must surely be worth more than that of a group of ex-teachers miles and years from the coalface. To my mind, acknowledging that fact would go a long way towards affirming teachers as valued professionals whose impact on the future of society is arguably only second to that of parents.

It puts me in mind of a friend of mine. She definitely wore the trousers in the home, while her husband simply followed good-naturedly in her wake. One day she heard a sermon on marriage and decided that she ought to relinquish the headship role to her husband. She confided to me several weeks later that it wasn't working - no matter how much she tried to bully her husband into it, he simply did not step into the leadership role.

She honestly could not see why I laughed until the tears ran down my face.

The marriage didn't work. The husband went on to marry a naturally submissive woman and is now happily and confidently the head of his new home.

Pushing teachers into adopting pull teaching practice is just as doomed. Surely we are seeing enough teachers walking out on this "marriage" as it is?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Formal or informal?

Once upon a time, some very clever person decided that courses of learning should be modularised. That way, people could cherry pick which parts of the course they wanted to undertake and which to omit.

This system meant that existing knowledge could be taken into account for the first time when conducting a TNA. In fact, it was simply a matter of taking the credit transfer concept in practice at universities, and breaking it down into smaller pieces.

Then, along came the world wide web, placing into the hands of Joe Average the power to access information on an ad hoc basis. Nowadays, when Joe needs to know anything - from the lyrics to his favourite song to the principles and practice of cardiac surgery - he doesn't automatically sign himself up for a course. He goes to his any search engine and types in a few key words. Within seconds, the search engine lists for him sites containing those key words - possibly running into the millions. Reading through the extracts in the list, he chooses a few likely candidates. Then he flits from site to site, scanning the information available until he finds one that addresses what it is he wants to know today.

Along the way, Joe might stumble upon a few items that catch his interest and he may well follow links to learn more. In this way, he builds up a collection of scraps of knowledge that may or may not be related to the original topic of interest.

After a few months of doing this, Joe decides that what he really wants to do is become a cardiologist himself. However, he knows full well (he's not stupid, our Joe!) that no-one in their right minds is going to let him realise his ambition, unless he can produce a piece of paper that proves that he has attained certain learning objectives. Joe is halfway through med school, so he has some credits towards his goal, but the university cannot quantify his informal learning and he receives no recognition for his efforts.

Thus we discover the conflict between formal and informal learning.

In pursuit of his particular interest in interventional cardiac catheterisation, Joe has not only read up on the theory as published on the web, he has also read extensive reports on various blogs, he has listened to several podcasts and, on three occasions, has observed an expert in the field at work via a video link. Why is it assumed that what Joe learns through his own efforts and determination has less value than what he learns as he struggles to stay awake through Prof Snodgrass's dry and dusty lecture? Because the university can't ascertain that Joe's informal voyage of discovery has covered the learning objectives of the material as laid out within the curriculum. Consequently, in order to gain this credit, Joe must produce evidence that he has attended at least 80% of the lectures on the subject in order to be permitted to sit the exam. The fact that he has slept through them is entirely beside the point.

I have experienced first hand the frustration that comes with this lack of recognition for learning I have acquired of my own volition.

So how do we address this divide? I know that people like Jay Cross are very pro informal learning and I have great respect for their views. However, the proof of the pudding for me would surely come when a child of mine needed cardiac surgery. Would I be happy to entrust his life to the hands of someone who didn't have all the boxes ticked by some accredited organisation? Fuhgeddit. Perhaps I am simply a product of my educational environment, but I reckon there are still some things that have to be assessed by an impartial, skilled person/body.

So where do we draw the line? I'm still pondering that, but for now - for me - it has to be on the far side of skills that involve taking a person's life (or livelihood, come to that) into one's hands.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A personalised curriculum?

Yesterday, I attended a team meeting with my peers at work. As learning designers, we looked at some of the challenges facing us, both old and new. To start with, we shared insights into our current projects - what was working and what wasn't.

Then one of the team presented a challenge to us in the shape of a design project restricted by the tools currently available to us. At this point, we were joined by some of the advisors from a client company. What was interesting was the differing perceptions of our respective roles and how they meshed together. The exercise itself showed the need for discipline to work within the restrictions of what is available. There is absolutely no point in chasing butterflies if your toolkit doesn't include a butterfly net! My frustration is that butterfly nets are freely available and I can see no reason to be without one.

After lunch, it was my turn to present a session on eLearning 2.0. I opted to simply share what I have learned in researching the subject lately while I've been spinning my wheels between projects. The presentation certainly sparked off some lively conversations, which was precisely the point. Today, my bloglines update gave me this link http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/43 which ties in very closely with what we were discussing.

The final session was taken by our Solutions Architect - a man of prodigious knowledge in the field of eLearning. He challenged us to find ways of identifying a client organisation in terms of areas like learning culture, technical capability, potential for on- and off-line group and idividual resources and activities.

All in all, a productive day.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A blast from the past!

I hadn't expected to find a reference to Tom Peters in the world of e-Learning, but there he was, listed on e-Learning Guru's http://www.e-learningguru.com/ eLearning Blogroll.

When I worked for Applied Learning in South Africa, we used to market Tom's videos to corporate clients, but that was the last contact I had had with him and his work, other than forays into his books. (Note: Since his books tend to be a collection of rants and heart-on-the sleeve fulminations, they don't have to be read in a linear fashion. Pick up and put down. Read one "chapter" seven times and avoid another altogether - it matters not!)

In England, things American are disdained - particularly "things" as rah-rah as Tom Peters. I can't even recall seeing his books on sale here. As a consequence, he had more or less dropped off my radar. However, I am totally sold on the positivity of the American psyche and am a fan of their enthusiastic support for effort and excellence. Tom Peters is concentrated essence of this!

I was therefore never going to be able to resist a peek at his website: http://www.tompeters.com/, when I found the reference to it. He has, of course, aged a great deal in the 15 years, if his picture is anything to go by, but he appears to have lost none of his labrador puppy enthusiasm, romping all over people's toes. The puppy analogy falls short of describing his incisive brain and big-picture perspective, though!

I am currently cherry-picking my way through Project 05, available as a free pdf download - http://tompeters.com/pdfs/Project05.pdf. I so support the current trend of putting stuff out there for people to share and not clutching one's wisdom jealously to one's chest, where it does minimal good!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Researching e-learning 2.0

Next week, it falls to me to present to a group of fellow learning designers on the subject of e-Learning 2.0.

I tried to get a rounded view by making use of several sources. I started with Stephen Downes because, well, that's where one does start on these matters. Trouble is, Stephen is the megabrain's megabrain and a lot of what he says leaves me goldfish-faced, and convinced of my inadequacy! So I toddled off to a few alternative sources in the interests of balance. Sadly, most of them had precious little new to say and simply referenced Stephen Downes fore and aft.

Stephen's own article on the matter in eLearn magazine: http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1 references several sources which have informed his views and findings on the subject. Several of these proved surprisingly useful or interesting - and occasionally both. Some of them served to crystallise my understanding of the context of the material, but will not be covered during my presentation in the interests of brevity. Here they are:
http://www.connectivism.ca

http://www.aishe.org/readings/2005-1/oneill-mcmahon-Tues_19th_Oct_SCL.html

http://www.ewenger.com/

http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm04/erm0450.asp

http://www.workflowinstitute.com/

I have also found that "Googling" the following names returned some valuable material - some of them involved a bit of needle-in-the-haystack determination, but it was usually worth it:

  • Jay Cross
  • George Siemens
  • Etienne Wenger
  • Mark Weiser

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Podcasts

For me, this is a comparitively new arena. I have not yet tried to make my own podcasts, but I have recently downloaded ipodder (http://www.learning2005.com/learningfeeds/) from the Masie Centre onto my system and have started subscribing to podcasts all over the place.

The quality of the podcasts varies enormously in terms of sound, content and presentation. It's pretty much like going to a presentation by a speaker - great content can be poorly presented (and vice versa) and great content and great presenters can fall prey to technology. I am particularly impressed with the Masie Centre, as well as Bob Sprankle's Bit by Bit (http://bobsprankle.com/bitbybit_wordpress/). Several churches have also embraced this technology as a means of making their sermons widely available, and some of them are leading the way (so to speak!), www.godcast.org is an excellent example.

Perhaps I will soon pluck up the courage to create my own. This is a great way to bring online learning to life and it opens up opportunities for people with sight-related disabilities - so much more engaging than a screen reader!

Friday, October 21, 2005

A rant about learning in the digital age...

George Siemens published an article called Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age in elearnspace. I have to confess that I paid it scant attention until Stephen Downes referenced it in his article on eLearning 2.0.
I have always looked on learning theories as being reactions to the "original" three: behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism. However, Siemens makes a valid point: learners have a different attitude and different requirements nowadays. They also have a greater measure of control.

Certainly in my grandparents' day, the learner was a recipient of knowledge which was dispensed according to the wisdom (or otherwise) of the teacher. Things had changed a little (but not much) by the time I went to school, but between my school days and those of my children, we have seen the advent of eLearning, technology-based games, mobile phones, iPods. I simply have to watch my sons with the remote control for the telly - every ad break results in a channel switch. They often watch two programmes simultaneously, see-sawing between them every few minutes or so. It drives me nuts, but it's how they do things these days. When we're watching one of "my" prgrammes, I have to confiscate the remote to put myself in the driver's seat, so that I can make my linear little journey from the start of the programme to the end without deviation, hesitation or repetition (heaven help me when we finally break down and get digital!).

Things are that much more immediate now. My kids are not interested in seeing something unfold - serialisation leaves them cold. Sound-bites are what they want. Cut to the chase. Give me the gist. Dice it and distil it and give me the bottom line. Whether we like it or not, this is reality. Trying to foist the behaviourist teaching of my grandmother's day onto my kids is going to fail. Teaching has to meet the needs of the learner as he/she is, not as he/she "should be" according to who-knows-which self-important authority.(Note: the he/she thing is clumsy and I refuse to use "they" since it's ungrammatical, so, because my children are male, I'm going to settle for he - but it's meant generically in the same way that "mankind" includes both genders)

The learner now has the tools to drive the learning process. Learning materials have to compete with everything else for his attention.

Have you ever wondered why ADD is so fashionable these days? Someone has to explain why kids can't focus on dull-as-dishwater activities for longer than a few minutes. It has to be something we can classify as a disorder so we can put the onus on the parents to feed kids on a special diet or, even better, so that we can drug them into submission.

One of my sons was diagnosed with ADD at the age of 5. Aghast, I read everything I could find on the subject and drank it all in. In the intervening years I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the child's attention span. He is capable of playing drawn out games of chess, of reading tomes that would scare most adults, of watching 3 hour movies without even so much as a "bathroom break". Attention deficit, my eye! When he is engaged, this child has the attention-tenacity of a bull terrier. This is the new generation, and teachers simply have to learn how to keep these kids engaged. The methods that worked with my grandfather (who would be caned for stepping out of line) just are not going to work in this day and age where the teacher has been largely disempowered and the learner holds all the cards.

And enough time has passed that this generation is now a growing part of the workforce. As learning professionals, we have to address their needs. A customer who has received poor service chooses not to spend any more money in that store. The learner who is not engaged will simply seek an alternative provider... and there are a lot of them out there!

Learning materials need to be broken down into discrete units that can be threaded together by the learner to build towards the learning objectives of his choice. "Truth" changes so fast these days, that it must be possible for sections of material to be updated in an ad hoc fashion - much like changing a tyre (or several tyres) on a car without needing to replace or even retune the whole car.

Perhaps some post-apocalyptical day, learning will revert to the way it was in my grandparents' day, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, we have to be governed by the same rules that hold sway in the high street - find out what the client wants and supply it!

Okay, I'll put my soapbox back under the desk now!

E-learning 2.0

An extract from an article in the eLearn magazine by Stephen Downes (National Research Council of Canada):
"The breaking down of barriers has led to many of the movements and issues we see on today's Internet. File-sharing, for example, evolves not of a sudden criminality among today's youth but rather in their pervasive belief that information is something meant to be shared. This belief is manifest in such things as free and open-source software, Creative Commons licenses for content, and open access to scholarly and other works. Sharing content is not considered unethical; indeed, the hoarding of content is viewed as antisocial. And open content is viewed not merely as nice to have but essential for the creation of the sort of learning network described by Siemens."

The whole article can be found at http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1
It makes for thought-provoking reading!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Distance learning blues

I am trying desperately to formalise my knowledge of instructional design by getting a degree from a distance learning organisation. Many offer master's degrees in education and related matters, but none appear to offer equivalent bachelor's/graduate degrees. However, all require you to have at least a bachelor's degree to your name before you enrol. How is one supposed to obtain the entrance requirements if they're not on offer anywhere? How do you spell ngngngngngngng?

Friday, September 30, 2005

Colours

http://gmazzocato.altervista.org/colorwheel/wheel.php
This website is very useful if you need to know how various people will be able to see (or not, as the case may be!) your combination of foreground and background colours in online learning material, based on their visual acuities.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pragmatist; Activist; Reflector; Theorist

http://www.bouchami.com/news.htm
Check out this link for an article on the four learning styles according to Honey and Mumford. I'm an Activist - no doubt about it. Since I'm kinaesthetic, I guess that stands to reason!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Knowledge about knowledge

Stephen Downes again - this time tackling the rather abstract matter of knowledge. Trying to define it is a little like trying to nail jelly to a wall, but he makes a good start!
http://flexiblelearning.net.au/community/
GlobalPerspectives/content/article_2972.htm

Stephen Downes on learning

I wish I could attend a seminar addressed by this man! Funny - since he's an authority on the virtual community.

http://flexiblelearning.net.au/community/
ProfessionalDevelopment/content/article_6321.htm

Monday, July 11, 2005

Points to remember when designing an e-learning module

I have found that, having been a classroom based trainer for many years (especially having taught public speaking), I am subconsciously designing modules that will support a live instructor. Half way through my induction project module, I realised that this was the case and had to go back to the beginning. It is important to remember that the module must be able to stand alone.

It is also vital to be creative in finding ways to engage the learner. Elearning often makes it too easy to be passive. If elearning has been undertaken on an individual basis, with no accountability structure in place, it is a simple matter to rack up courses completed without there being any evidence of an achievement of the learning objectives. Elearning material needs to provide a system of checks and balances in order for outcomes to be measurable.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Do we need learning objectives?

A controversial look at a sacred cow.
http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/20

Monday, July 04, 2005

Instructional design

How does online learning address the needs of the different learning styles at various levels of pre-existing knowledge?