Hold the front page!

Many thanks to Rob Moss at Personnel Today for publishing my article on e-learning as this week’s lead opinion piece. It looks at how L&D need to shake off the history of past e-learning experiences and embrace the possibilities great online learning has to offer. Would love to know what you think…http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2011/07/12/57784/l-and-d-professionals-should-embrace-e-learning.html

What my Dad taught me about e-learning

There are many things I could thank my father for (such as my Irish heritage that fuels my ability for endless conversation and unstoppable need to bake as soon as I know someone might be visiting!) but for today, I will focus on how his influence has shaped my career in online learning. In many ways, my father was exactly what you would have expected of an engineer – logical, systematic, considered and of course, kept the toolshed meticulously organised! But as I set off to write an article on the art and science online learning design, it put me in mind of why he was both a great engineer and mentor and how the skills he needed are the ones needed in my line of work also. He knew the difference between theory and practice, when to apply trusted techniques and when to employ creative problem solving. He understood that each project stood on it’s own merit – a career forged in the forces was a great education in understanding how each situation requires a solution fit for the environment, not straight out the handbook. So as some food for thought, these are just a few of the things that I, the psychologist and learning designer learnt from my father, the engineer! 1. Know your terrain – a career forged in some of the most politically challenging locations meant my father ensured he was knowledgable in current affairs. A keen appreciation of the political environment you are entering is vital – the over eager puppy that lurks in all those passionate about the possibilities of online learning needs to be reined in from time to time! Early conversations are needed to understand where the starting point is. What is the prior experience of online learning?(the good, the bad and the ugly!) What learning resources are well used, what have struggled to take off? How collaborative is the organisation, is knowledge sharing common or are territories closely guarded? Quickly and poorly executed e-learning can leave bad memories for some time. Creating confidence in the journey you are going to take together is a vital step. 2. In guiding apprentices, it’s about facilitating learning, not proving what you know. My father was never one for the fuss and bother of an officers life and chose to take his promotion in the form of teaching – passing on his experience through mentoring apprentices. It stood him in good stead for stroppy teenagers reluctant to buckle down to revision! Pouring over science textbooks, one equation merging into the other, my father never took the shortcut in helping with my revision. He would ask me questions, use analogy, encourage me to apply concepts to a practical problem. There was so much to learn, so overwhelming – his gift was in signposting, helping build the skills to understand and relate theory to things I was interested in, not to learn an answer by rote. In the world of online learning, there’s so much we could learn, so many resources, no end of user generated content. Our skill is in creating learning scaffolds where learners are provided with the foundations that they can then build on, apply their experience to put things in context, make concepts come alive. 3. Tools that suit your environment – just like me, my father was something of a nerd yet as much as he would have been the first to adopt a new piece of gadgetry, he knew that when out in the jungle, the new ultra sensitive diagnostic tool may not respond well to 100% humidity! Just because a tool exists doesn’t mean it’s suitable – there’s plenty on offer out there and that in itself creates problems. Your client may be adamant that they must offer an iPad app or develop a fully immersive virtual world style simulation, often feeling under pressure to prove their online credentials. This is born of a lack of confidence and is remedied by your ability to keep learning outcomes at the top of the agenda.

And an iPad in an apple tree – a Christmas message

So as I celebrate Christmas by downloading the wordpress app for my iPad whilst trying not to spill my mulled wine over it, I find myself contemplating what 2011 will bring. As head of learning design here at willow, the last 12 months have been particularly interesting. Many years of supporting learning strategies have given me plenty of opportunities to make the case for social learning, mobile learning, collaborative learning and on. However as many of my contemporaries will know all too well, it’s been a tough case to make to a nervous L&D world. But with the inexorable rise of high quality mobile content, better devices, innovative app development and greater connectivity, the audience want more from learning. With iPads and alike tucked under their arms, people expect better from their online learning experience and rightly so. Never has it been easier to access a whole variety of sources, experiences, insights and share, discuss and learn from it all with others. This now changes the game – the choice is not ‘do we deliver this topic using e-learning or workshop or coaching’ etc. It’s how do we make it easier for people to access the best stuff, via the best medium, have the best conversations about it, add the best of their experience, take the best into their work and share it with others? Signposting, creating the learning journey, learning paths – call it what you will, but it’s what everyone who has ever had a passion about collaborative learning, social learning, knowledge sharing and truly creating the learning organisation has been waiting for. It’s the conversation we’ve all wanted to have and now everyone is joining in!

OU makes 100 interactive eBooks available on iTunes U

As big advocates of eBooks and online quick guides as part of the learning mix, we were excited to see that The Open University has made 100 eBooks free on iTunes U and most interestingly, it is not simply a reformatting on existing texts. Having been designed for interactive and the best online learning experience, it highlights the appreciation of the variety in ways learners are interacting and using resources. Read the article from the OU and go to iTunes to check out the range of titles (although you may find the big news there is the Beatles now on iTunes!)

‘Give them a laptop and a group of pupils will teach themselves’

“When I need to know something, I can find it out in five minutes,” says a 12-year-old in Gateshead. This article from the Guardian highlights the movement from formal to informal learning in children as young as 6. An experiment conducted in Hyderabad, India demonstrated that when left to their own devices, they were able to learn not only how to use the laptop but to then interact with it in order to develop their language skills using a speech to text program. Back in the UK, school children were given GCSE questions to work on and a laptop – not only did they get the questions right most of the time but when put in examination setting some months later (without the laptop!) their results were consistently high. This article highlights the wider ongoing learning debate – is it time to ‘let go’ and move away from structure into exploration?

How good software makes us all stupid!

“Imagine for a moment that you have thumbed a ride in one of London’s iconic black cabs… “Where to, guv?” he asks, in typical cockney-twang. You tell him. “No problem – let me just enter that into my sat-nav…” It sounds unnatural, almost deceitful, that any self-respecting London cabbie would ever utter those words. After all, a taxi driver’s ability to know every twist and turn of the capital’s streets is the stuff of legend.” Read about how the BBC believes software  is making a fool out of all of us.