Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Twenty years, and still going strong

28 May 1988
Once I believed that when love came to me
It would come with rockets, bells and poetry
But with me and you, it just started quietly and grew
And believe it or not
Now there's something groovy and good
'bout whatever we've got
And it's getting better
Growing stronger
Warm and wilder
Getting better everyday

(Mama Cass: It's getting better)

Looks like we made it
Look how far we've come my baby
I'm glad we didn't listen
Look at what we would have been missing
They said, "I'll bet they never make it"
But just look at us holding on
Still together, still going strong
You're still the one...

(Shania Twain: Still the one)

Assessment must assess!

I am busy with a project at the moment, on which a bit of a sticking point has developed around the assessments. Some of the assessment questions being forward are, well, inappropriate.

One could argue (and I often do) that the most valid form of assessment is the performance management process. One's team leader and colleagues will be best positioned to assess whether your learning has resulted in any changed behaviours, increased skill, etc.

But there are times when compliance requirements must override such intangible evidence, and quantifiable evidence must be recorded. This generates the need for assessment.

Matters are not helped by the fact that the word that has passed into common parlance (thanks to the terminology used in the various applications) is "Quiz". It's hard to place much credence on an assessment that is termed a quiz, but it is what it is, so we'll move past that point.

The expectations of SMEs and sponsoring clients (and now I'm not just referring to my current project) seem often to be for multiple choice questions that are lifted straight from the text of the learning resource.

If it is possible for a person with no prior knowledge of a concept to take the assessment and pass, then I'd question the validity of the assessment. If the question is followed by a reference to page on which the answer may be found, even more so! At the very least, the questions must call for inference. Primary school children do comprehension tests on extracts from literature, where the answers may be found verbatim in the text. Once they get to secondary school, children are expected to be able to draw conclusions and to conjecture based on the given text. Why, when we're dealing with work-based adults, do we feel the need to revert to the verbatim approach?

We should be able to say with confidence that passing an assessment is indicative of something. Based on the fact that Joe Bloggs has passed this assessment, I should be able to assume that he has a good working knowledge of whatever-it-is. If this is not the case, then surely the assessment is a waste of time and resources.

When there is a compliance requirement for an assessment, this usually means that there is a regulatory body in the background. Let's imagine that a representative of this body is visiting our site. Proudly we tell him/her that 97% of our staff have passed the assessment on, say, first aid in the workplace. The rep asks to see the assessment.

Q1. Do you know where the first aid kit is kept?
(a) Yes
(b) No
(Correct answer: yes)

Q2. The position in which we place a person is known as:
(a) The pike position
(b) The first aid position
(c) The missionary position
(d) The recovery position
(Correct answer: d)

I can't imagine that this will fill the rep with any sense of confidence that, were he/she to take a tumble during that visit, any number of employees would be able to provide appropriate first aid. In fact, perhaps it is worth mentioning that I have a certificate that says I am a qualified first aider, yet I faint at the sight of blood - surely the assessment should have taken this small impediment into consideration?

I would also argue that a straightforward multiple choice assessment has limited validity. There are all manner of urban legends that tell of small children/monkeys/random generators that pass such assessments. All these aside, there are limits as to the challenge that such questions can present. Although it is worth bearing in mind that, with the technology at our disposal, there is much that we can do with multiple choice - instead of four text options from which to select, the user might be faced with images, video/audio clips or cartoon strips.

The trouble with assessment questions that go beyond "select the correct answer" is that they are likely to require some human intervention. Even if the answers are a couple of lines of text, someone will have to "mark" them, since the automated options are a bit thin and unreliable on this front. And this is where the rope hits the rudder. Quite often, elearning resources are requisitioned to obviate the need for human involvement in learning and development. I have lost count of the number of times I have suggested a project-based learning-cum-assessment to be submitted to the line manager within a specified timeframe, only to be assured that (a) the learners wouldn't do it and (b) the line managers would never agree to it.


Let's look at it this way:

  • Do you really need a formal assessment? If not, skip it!
  • Why? Your justification of your requirement will shape the assessment.
  • How will it benefit the learner? And yes, this is the point... unless of course, this is purely a box ticking exercise.
  • What do you want it to prove? What conclusions should I be able to draw from each person's results on the assessment?
Once you have drawn up your assessment, you need to ask yourself whether it serves these purposes. If not, I suggest you go back to the drawing board.

And above all, it must be possible to fail. If you have created an assessment that anybody can pass then what you have is not an assessment at all. It is an attendance register.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who are "their own people" anyway?

You may be aware of the horrific things going on in South Africa at the moment.

For years, the South African unemployment rate has been sky high. Few of the local people believe the official figures and most believe the real figure to be at least 40%. For some time, Zimbabweans have been streaming in to South Africa, to the point that some sources say that there are more Zimbabweans outside Zimbabwe than inside (although the DFID gives a somewhat less extreme figure).

With violence, poverty and famine spreading across the rest of the continent, a growing tide of refugees is flooding in to South Africa from all over Africa, some from as far north as Somalia.

Forgetting that many of them are themselves the offspring of migrant workers from neighbouring countries, some South Africans have begun perpetrating the most astonishing crimes against immigrants. Some have taken to dragging refugees out into the streets and setting them alight.

As with many South Africans abroad, I increasingly find myself on the receiving end of a barrage of questions. As if I should have some insight into this sort of behaviour. I do not. But do people not realise the extent to which it betrays bigotry to ask (as far too many do), "How can they do this to their own people?"

In what way are these "their own people"? If there were to be an act of violence perpetrated by a gang of English thugs against a German family, or an American gang attacked a family of Canadians, would we ask how they can do this to "their own people"? I think not.

Simply because both perpetrator and victim happen to be black does not make them one another's "own people". In the western world, there seems to be this perception of Africa as a single nation. It is not. It is many nations, within which there are many, many tribes. These tribal bonds are often stronger than the national ones.

When discussing the British Empire's role in the slave trade, many people will mitigate the blame by pointing out that it started with Africans selling "their own people" into slavery. Once again, it was not "their own people" who were being traded, but the members of conquered tribes and nations.

I hate to sound as if I'm lecturing (perhaps I am), but the phrase "their own people" is not a million miles from "they all look alike to me".

I am not for a moment condoning or excusing this behaviour. Quite the reverse. But when deploring the violence, let's have an informed debate and not undermine our position by demonstrating bigoted ignorance.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The down side of good manners

Rant warning - this post has little or nothing to do with learning, but is the outpouring of a heavy heart.

Featuring understandably big in the news in the UK at the moment is the story of a little girl who died of what appears to be starvation in Birmingham. Her 5 siblings were found to be emaciated and underfed. They were taken out of school, after their mother said they were being bullied.

There are few incidences of below-the-breadline poverty in the UK, so it seems unlikely that the parents could not afford to feed their children. Which would seem to indicate that it was their choice not to feed them. Perhaps their reasons will be made known during the course of the investigation.

Naturally, fingers are pointing at social services who allegedly only made one call to the house, finding no-one home, and did not return. The children's father, with whom they were no longer living, has called the situation a disgrace. I yelled at the telly, "Yeah, and where were you?" My husband reminded me that he may not have had access to his children (this is not an unknown situation - we have a very close friend who is still fighting to be allowed to see his twin daughters after their mother walked out him when they were just tots. They are now adults and one is married.)

And yes, if the story is what it appears to be at face value, these children have been failed by their parents and by social services.

But there have been accounts from the neighbours of how these children were so hungry they would take food left out for the birds. And yet these neighbours did not intervene. You see, that would have been rude. Interfering in one another's lives has become taboo in our western culture. "It's none of my business, you see." So we watch from a distance while children die of starvation, neglect and abuse. We tut to each other about the evidence we see of these situations, but we take no action.

I wonder. If my neighbours' stick thin children were "stealing" the food that I put out for the birds, would I not suddenly take it into my head that what the birds really needed to eat was peanutbutter sandwiches? And bananas? Would I not seek to befriend these children and invite them in for the occasional protein drink? Would I not notify the police? Would I not call social services repeatedly until they took action to shut me up? Would I not overcome my reluctance to interfere and try to speak to the parents?

Whatever became of the village it supposedly takes to raise a child?

We're so very quick to storm outside and tell the kids to pipe down when they play raucus games in the street. We aren't afraid to go and knock on the neighbours' door to tell them we're had about enough of their son's loud music. We have no qualms about asking them please not to drive over our lawn. Let them inconvenience us and we will take action.

And yet, under our very noses, in our nice, affluent, first world neighbourhoods, children are being beaten, starved and abused... and sometimes we know about it!

There's a girl in my neighbourhood. She looks to be about 12. She doesn't go to school. She appears to have no friends but her cat. I have never seen her with any parents. I have never seen her smile. She spends hours drifting aimlessly around the nighbourhood on her scooter or sitting on a low wall outside her house, stroking her cat.

I worry about her, and yet I have done nothing. I can't for the life of me think of a valid excuse to go and talk to her. I tell myself to go and talk to her. Then I tell myself it's none of my business and perhaps she's just being homeschooled.

I am so angry with those neighbours whose inaction contributed to Khyra's death. But I am no better.

Mea culpa.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Second Life et al

Right at the outset, let me say that I have yet to be in an environment with enough bandwidth to be able to make Second Life a viable option for me. I have also yet to meet a client with the appetite for a solution which might involve delivery via SL.

That doesn't change the fact that I am deeply curious as to where it might go. and what it might have to offer. These thoughts bubbled up again today after I read Mick's post.

As I said in my comment on his post, it is important to grasp that SL is not a “computer game”. It’s a platform. People who go there and expect exciting things to happen are missing the point. After all, you don’t go to town and then sit around there waiting for things to happen. Nor do you go and drift aimlessly wondering what the point is of being there. You go because you have some fixed objectives in mind.

When the same is true of SL, it makes more sense. If you’re attending a meeting, visting an art gallery, attending a seminar, etc. you have a goal and a purpose and SL becomes the platform by which you achieve it.

Having said that, I see no point in using this new wineskin for old wine. Why use SL to deliver a traditional classroom-based, teacher-led, chalk-and-talk session? Instead, you could have a dispersed team from around the world carrying out a project together and learning as they go. You could have simulated scenarios that can’t be recreated in the physical world for whatever reason, and use those for learning. I have been told that there is a teaching hospital in SL, where patients with predetermined conditions await treatment by student doctors and nurses. Obviously, in the physical world, there is the risk of patients dying or suing. This risk is mitigated in a virtual environment.

I suspect that what people tend to do is to say: "This is what we've always done, let's do it via Second Life, because that will be sexy." Instead, I suggest we should be saying "This is what we want to achieve, is there some functionality in Second Life that will help us get there?"

And, yes, Second Life has been around for a while, now, but it is still a fairly fledgling technology. There are teething problems. The direction these technologies develop in can be dictated by their users. If we start making demands of it, start pushing the envelope in this or that direction, it will have to evolve to keep up.

Think about it this way: we can have a say in what virtual worlds become by dint of the magic words "I want..." This is what I suspect is happening with the Wii.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My reputation precedes me!

Yesterday I attended a design meeting for a new project. It is in its early stages at this point. The client contacted me and asked if I would attend. Apparently the author/SME had asked for me. We had worked together on a previous project, and he felt that the working relationship had been positive. He couldn't remember my name though. Instead he referred to me as that "bossy woman from L&D".

So, if you hear anyone talking about needing someone bossy for an L&D project, it's probably me they're after.

Let them know where they can find me.

Friday, May 16, 2008

NOT teaching to the test

It's exam time here in the UK, and of course, a lot of airtime is being given to this or that expert and this or that kid with an exciting viewpoint to present. The latest two I heard today were (1) that an expert has pointed at the currect system of assessment cannot be truly even handed, since each marker will interpret an answer slightly differently, and that (and this is the kicker) this meant that the assessment system was not a completely reliable picture of a child's abilities in a subject (gee wow!) and (2) that a kid is complaining that their high school education is so focussed on the final assessment that they're not actually getting a worhtwhile education.

We have been thoroughly embroiled in exams with our elder son taking his GCSEs and our younger one doing his key stage 3 SATs.

Interestingly, I have discovered (just today) that my elder son's music teacher has not been one of those that the aforementioned kid was complaining about. The music class has spent the most wonderful year doing all sorts of practical things, and learning blow-all theory.

A couple of weeks ago, as is the wont of teachers at this stage of the final year, the teacher set the kids the task of completing a previous year's GCSE paper. My son apparently scored the highest mark in the class... a magnificent 45/120. Looking at the paper afterwards, the teacher's reaction was, "Hm. I haven't taught you any of this stuff."

So it seems he ignored the curriculum and did his own thing with the kids. Hence the enjoyment of the class. However, if any of the kids want to continue with music into the 6th form, they don't stand a chance of being accepted to do so, because they won't have achieved suitable results.

So where does this leave us?

You teach to the test and the kids learn little they can apply or you don't teach to the test and the kids don't get to carry the subject over to further education.

Surely there must be another way?

Sadly, I suspect it means completely overhauling the education system, not just tweaking the existing one. It means throwing away everything we think we know about assessment and starting again from scratch. Which means, as far as I'm concerned starting with the premise: what do we want to be able to say of a properly educated 18 year old, how do we get them there, and how do we tell when whether we've succeeded or not?

I'm not going to hold my breath!

As it happens, my son has no desire to take music for his A levels. He has chosen Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths (talk about putting all your eggs into one basket!). The tradition is to take 4 subjects for the first year (AS levels) and then drop one, so you finish with 3 A levels. He wants to keep all four going.

I hope he's going to get better support than the "teaching to the test" approach. Much as I deplore the system, I also hope he's going to receive teaching that will enable to him to face the exams feeling that he's on familiar ground. If he's to succeed in his goal of getting into Bristol University to study forensics, he's going to need to play the system.


So, how did you get started... and what difference has it made?

For my dissertation, I'm exploring the impact of the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals. To the consternation of my rathe rconservative university, I am submitting the dissertation in the form of a wiki (although - strictly speaking - is it really a wiki if I don't open it up to the community to co-author, which of course I can't do in this instance).

Be that as it may, I'd like to know your story.

  • How did you get started with social media?
  • What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  • What difference has it made in your professional practice?
If you've already posted on this subject, please just point me at that post/those posts via a comment below. If not, I'd love to have your input. You can either create your own blogpost linking back to this one, or post your contribution as a comment on this post. Please include your proper name (pseudonyms do not make for good references in academic writing), place/sector of employ and job title/description.

Note: I will regard your submission as inclusive of assent for its use in its entirety, or in part in my dissertation. The url for this post, or for the post you create/indicate will serve as the reference.

I'd be especially appreciative if you'd point your readers in my direction, too, since I suspect I'm only reaching a small group here!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

If I had a hammer...

Mark Berthelemy addresses one my key concerns about the proliferation of rapid elearning materials.

I have seen some pretty dire PowerPoint presentations posing as learning materials in my lifetime. The thought of these perpetrators authors - being able to sex these things up and get away with inflicting them on learners for even longer...

Silk purse, anyone?

You gotta have mojo

I've lost my mojo. Last seen hightailing it out of the door of my office towards the end of March this year. If anyone sees it, please return it to me c/o The Learning Doldrums.

Since I escaped the tyranny of the formal education system (with apologies to all you wonderfully dedicated, overworked, underpaid teachers), I have been the most driven, self-motivated, passionate learner I have ever encountered. I love knowing new things.

But a strange thing happened to me on the way to an MA award which served to remind me of the importance - nay criticality - of one characteristic of the successful learner: motivation.

Because I want to know stuff, I process it and assimilate it at an alarming rate. Because I want to remember people's names, I can match more names to faces than most people I know. Because I want to. Because I am motivated.


Then, just before we left for our holiday in South Africa, I finally received the results of an independent studies paper I had submitted in January. The university commits to returning results within 4 weeks of submission. It had taken 8 weeks for these to come back, during the last four of which I had made a pest of myself with repeated emails and phone calls, requesting my feedback.

I had failed!

I had never failed an assessment in my life. I even passed my driving test on the first attempt. It's true to say that I scraped through history in high school by the skin of my teeth, but I did scrape through. This time I had failed. Failed, I say!

The feedback said that I had submitted what read like a lively presentation but did not qualify as a piece of academic writing. Also, I had not cited enough references.

I felt hollow. Deflated. And it was at that moment that my get-up-and-go got up and went.

You see, other than the independent studies module, all that remained was my dissertation. As I began writing the IS paper, it dawned on me that I was doing very well on my MA programme. I had passed all but one paper with merit or distinction. I realised that I stood a chance of coming out of this with a merit, maybe even a distinction overall! Wow! What a thought for a girl who had to wheedle her way onto the programme without a B degree. I decided I might as well give it a shot. So I figured it out. If I scored 82% for the IS paper, and got a distinction for my dissertation, that would give me an overall distinction.

I worked harder on that paper than all my others put together. I put in far more work than a 3,000 word essay warranted. I was pretty sure I'd get at least a merit, probably even a distinction, but would I hit that magic 82%?

Erm... no.

To make things worse, I had chosen to do a case study on a failed project (looking into whether it had failed because corporate trainers don't know enough about learning). Because it had failed, the staff had been re-deployed. Some had moved out of the business altogether. A rewrite was out of the question. Also, a rewrite would garner me a "pass" at best. No merits, no distinctions.

I was astonished at the extent of my demotivation. Not only did it impact the module I had failed, but it spread to the dissertation as well. It has been nearly two months, and I haven't touched it. Not a word.

I'm really struggling to pull myself together to care. In my head, I know I want to finish this. But my heart just isn't in it.

I know we tend to pooh-pooh old Bloom and his domains, but let me tell you that the affective domain has overridden the cognitive in this instance, even though the cognitive is trying to fight back.

Maybe you've got some learners who've lost their mojo, too. Maybe they need a little help getting it back. But don't give them mine! I need that back, please.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Need I say more?

Just recently, I had a conversation with a client. It went as follows:

Client: "Is it possible to make it so the user can't see the assessment until they've finished all the modules?"

Me: "Why would you want to do that?"

Client: "Well, because otherwise they might just do the test and pass, and then not do the modules."

Me: "Why is that a problem?"
I am adamant that, if a person already demonstrates competency in a particular area, in accordance with the criteria set by the regulatory body, there is no reason to waste their time (and consequently the organisation's money) by forcing them to plough through material that they already know.

Quite apart from which, consider the impact that this will have on the person's attitude towards learning resources in the future. As if we don't have enough of an attitudinal barrier to overcome as it is.

Please, please, please... let's remember that, in the field of corporate learning, we are dealing with grown-ups!

Friday, May 09, 2008

The lost generation... there is hope

This is both clever and heart-stirring. Thanks to Lynn Wernham for the link.

Are you famous?

When they left the Learning Technologies conference in January, Jay and Jane were struggling up the stairs at the station with a heavy bag. I was torn. Should I abandon my own bags on the platform and go and help them? Fortunately, I was beaten to the punch by a teenage boy who separated himself from his gaggle of friends and went to their aid. He returned to a chorus of gentle teasing from his friends and announced "He called me a gentleman and a scholar."

To save him from the teasing of his friends, I asked if he knew who Jay was. When I was met with blank looks, I gave them a potted history. "So is he famous?" one of them asked.

Good question. Is Jay Cross famous?

I have said before that I don't do star struck. I have met enough "stars" in my life to know that we all use loo paper for the same purpose and there are too many people who think that famous= superior, which it most decidedly does not. I once cause dismay and consternation by treating Lord Someone-or-other, former secretary of Northern Ireland, as an equal when he visited the college where I was teaching. He didn't seem to mind.

Many years ago, my niece once made a throwaway reference to her "famous aunt". That would be me. I asked her what on earth had given her the idea that I was famous, to which she replied, "Everyone knows who you are." She had lived all her short life in a small town where I had once been a prominent member of the amateur dramatic society. In my prime, I tended to play some pretty hefty parts, and sang at my fair share of weddings. Then I left and moved to Cape Town, shortly afterwards presenting a music programme on national television (I did a terrible job and my contract was not renewed). This meant that people regularly asked my sister about me (she looked enough like me to be instantly recognisable to anyone who knew me). My niece witnessed all of this, put it together in her young head and came out with famous. That's a bit 2 + 2 = Tuesday, but there you have it!

So I don't gush over movie stars and musos. And I have no appetite for people who are famous for being famous. During an infamous confrontation in Celebrity Big Brother (what a dreadful programme!) some time ago, the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty - at the time a bigger star than than Hollywood's Cameron Diaz, according to some sources - was denigrated by one of the other contestants, Jade Goody, for having delusions of grandeur. Goody had come to prominence during an earlier non-celebrity version of the programme and was cut down to size by Shilpa's riposte that Big Brother was her only claim to fame. The incident brought worldwide coverage to the programme, all but destroyed Jade Goody's (ahem) career and made Shilpa Shetty (who went on to win the programme) a household name in the UK.

I tend to rave about people most folks have never heard of. "I got a shout out on Stephen Downes's blog!" I once announced delightedly in the office, to a round of "Who?" I got much the same response when I listed my dinner companions after Learning Technologies.

So is Stephen famous or isn't he?

Janet made a point today that resonated with me, as well. Sometimes the most unexpected people will make reference to something I have written on this blog. People who I would never have expected to count among my readers. So are we famous, too, Janet and I?

Of course, in the final analysis, it makes not the blindest bit of difference, but it's an interesting question. Maybe Andy Warhol was right. Perhaps everyone is now famous. Does someone call you in with a megaphone when your 15 minutes are up?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Whose call is it anyway?

I am looking for a dressing table. For the first time in the 20 years since we got married, we finally have enough space in our bedroom for me to have one... and I can't find anything that (a) I can afford and (b) is fit for purpose.

I have googled the matter till I'm blue in the face. I have seen more dressing tables than I could have imagined. I wouldn't have thought it possible to make them out of such a wide range of materials. Plastic, wood, metal, glass.

I have one question, though.

Why do the designers of dressing tables insist on incorporating tiny little drawers in their products? Up to 8 of the flipping things! What do they think I want to do at the dressing table? Collect stamps? Where's the cupboard bit with the standing space for my lotions and potions? I mean, wake up, dressing tables are primping stations. Don't they know this?

It got me to thinking about learning solutions. I wonder how often users grind their teeth in frustration and say to themselves "Why don't these designers get a clue?"

It's the end user who gets to decide how a thing should be and what constitutes good, bad and indifferent.

Over the weekend, our family was having a Led Zep fuelled debate in the car (I love that our sons enjoy much of the same music we do). Is their all time greatest song Stairway to Heaven or Whole Lotta Love? I was reading the sleeve notes of the Mothership album, and discovered that when when questioned about the former and its status as the definitive Led Zep number, Robert Plant (or was it Jimmy Page?) insisted that it wasn't. Kashmir was.

Now with all due respect, I don't think it's their call to make. Kashmir might have been the band's favourite. It might even have been the song that they felt defined them, but I reserve the right, as a listener (and therefore a consumer and customer) to say that they're wrong. For me, while Stairway is a unique, standalone song which will endure the test of time, the song that encapsulates Led Zeppelin is and always will be Whole Lotta Love.

Just as, when I buy a dressing table, I get to say what constitutes good design, and what it utterly useless.

Just as my users get to say when I have designed a resource that is the cat's whiskers and when I've designed a lemon.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Natives schmatives!

This month's big question from LCB centres on whether it is necessary to design differently for digital natives.

For me, the first hurdle is that I question the relevance of the whole native/immigrant thing. I find insupportable the notion that there is a point in history which serves as a watershed.

Yes, there are people who were born after digital technology became part of the scenery, and those who were born before, but so what? Technology has existed since man rubbed two sticks together to make fire (and threw sharpened sticks at animals so that they could cook them over that fire). So we are all native some form of technology. Technological advancements are now happening so fast that people born today are native to a technology that people born last week, last month, last year are not.

Also, a person born in one part of the (so-called flat) world has no access to the technology freely available elsewhere, so being born into the "digital era" doth not a native make.

Many are the people, born well before the hypothetical digital watershed, who have taken to the technology without a murmur, while others born long after haven't the foggiest. This matter has been addressed in inimitable style (which will be utterly lost on anyone who struggles with the concept of irony) over the past few of days by the irascible Grandad, one of my favourite bloggers (language warning). On the other hand, my nieces, born indisputably into the digital era, can't blog about their difficulties with the technology, because they wouldn't have a clue how!

Rather than trying to divide people into two camps, I would suggest that we approach each project without preconceived ideas:

  • Who is my audience for this project?
  • What do they need in relation to this initiative?
  • What is the best way to meet their needs, taking into account all factors, constraints and available tools?
Then, when the next project comes along, throw away the information compiled for this project and start again with a blank slate.

One size does not fit all. One size doesn't even fit most. One size fits one size... and one shape.

Biblical precedents for modern L&D practice

At the Learning & Skills Group conference on Wednesday, I was struck more than once by the Biblical precedent for current wisdom in the field of L&D and knowledge management.

Wells and cisterns
The first instance came during a discussion with Clive Shepherd about the open-handed approach to knowledge: that conflict between the corporate tendency to play your cards close to your chest to keep your competitive edge, and the learning world tendency to share what we know and learn, so that the whole community can benefit.

It brought to mind the issue of cisterns and wells as addressed in the Bible. Cisterns were static stores into which one place water purely for one's own use, whereas wells were dynamic - fed by underground springs. Obviously, the water in the cistern could become stagnant, while the water in the well was always fresh and new.

I can't remember who it was who explained how generosity with knowledge makes good fiscal sense, but the notion sits well with me at a gut level.

Many years ago, I belonged to a network of female professionals in Cape Town. One month our speaker was the most highly qualified female banker in the country at the time, who also happened to be an ordained minister (one of the first women to achieve this, as well). She explained how the Biblical concept of personal tithing made macro-economic sense. It seems the principle holds true for more than just material wealth!

New wine/old winsekins
The next was when Donald Clark was pillorying the use of resources such as Second Life to run traditional classroom teaching events. Why are we forcing old models onto new technology? Why are we pouring new wine into old wineskins? The old wineskins aren't able to cope with it. We should look at the new technology and ask ourselves how we can use it to meet the needs that exist, rather than how we can use it to do what we have always done.

Of course, that portion of Scripture goes on to declare that "no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'" Which is where the analogy breaks down for me in respect of L&D... although I know of some who would say that this principle applies to teaching and learning methodologies, too!

Ironically, Dave Snowden used the new wine/old wineskins analogy yesterday, too.

Here endeth the lesson ;0)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Getting beyond courses

Yesterday, I attended the Learning & Skills Group conference. This group was born out of the Learning Technologies conference earlier in the year, and served as a follow up during which the community got to discuss issues of interest to us, under the guidance of some leaders in the field.

I attended four sessions and found common threads across them all, which I will probably address over the next few days.

Isn't it frustrating when someone prominent stands up on the platform and says stuff that you've been saying for years? Only, no-one listens when you say it. But when this person gets up and says it, everyone nods sagely and declares it wise and original.

I don't flatter myself that I am an original thinker, but for at least two years, I have been pushing for a concept which has gained little traction, and that is this:

We need to stop thinking that work related needs=training=courses.

One of my colleagues shared how her team has a tendency to claim not to have received any training if they haven't attended any courses. And we're talking learning professionals here, who should know better.

Charles Jennings, in his presentation, spoke of Reuters' 70:20:10 rule (which is a variation on Jay Cross's 80:20 rule. The idea is that 70% of work-related learning takes place as "learning on the job", 20% is learning through coaching, feedback, networks, etc. and only 10% is the result of formal learning. But of course, it is into this 10% that the bulk of our training budgets are poured.

This implies that it is the learning, or worse: the training, that is the goal. But work-based learning is supposed to be a means to an end. It is supposed to enable people to do their jobs better and more confidently.

Two years ago, I presented a proposed solution design to a client. The client was introducing new business processes and new IT systems to support them. The solution I proposed consisted largely of an interactive map of the business processes, which the user could use to drill down into the various phases of the process and the various tasks involved in each phase. It also included:

  • search facilities
  • contact details for identified experts on each of the phases/tasks
  • the option to drill down into a list of tasks associated with a certain job role
  • user generated top tips, discussion forums, FAQs, etc.
When I presented this to the client, the client-side learning professionals looked at me and asked, "How is this learning?" They were adamant that this constituted information, not learning, and insisted on the inclusion of a by-task learning path through the material for each role, topped and tailed into... a course.

My approach had been to talk to the users and identify what would best suit their requirements. I pictured a person working their way through the still unfamiliar process and thinking, "What do I have to do at this point, again?" "How does that go, again?" What I designed was a solution that would give them access to this information as quickly as possible so that they could get on with their jobs.

As it turned out, the project bombed, so the matter became moot anyway, but can you tell thay it still galls me just a tad?

During his session yesterday on the "Curse of the Course" (in between giving teachers an unwarranted hard time) Donald Clark reminded us that much of what is labelled as blended learning is in fact blended teaching, with the focus on the material or the teacher/trainer.

We're supposed to be in the business of enablement. Of empowerment. This is why I drive people nuts by banging on about the learner's perspective. We need to look beyond the learning to the person who's going to be using it and ask ourselves whether it will do the job, deliver the goods.

In fact, Charles Jennings made a strong argument to stop talking about them as "learners" and instead to refer to them simply as "people". By referring to them as learners, we major on their usage of our learning solutions, putting the solutions at the centre of the equation. By referring to them as people, it puts them back in the centre and the solution in its proper role of support resource.

So perhaps it's just semantics, but a paradigm shift is certainly called for, and if semantics will help...