Countdown to DevLearn – WillowDNA explore the New Learning Universe

DevLearn simple It’s less than 6 weeks to DevLearn, one of the most important conferences and exhibitions in the learning calendar.  So it’s incredibly exciting to be presenting WillowDNA and the UK learning community at such a prestigious event.  Over the past 12 months, corporate MOOCs and online academies have dominated in conversations and engagements with our customers and during our webinars. So it’s fantastic to continue this over the other side of the Atlantic.  As well as speaking on the MOOCs stream in the DevLearn conference, we’ll also be keen to pick up on the trends, debate and new developments being showcased over the 3 days in Las Vegas as learning experts from all over the world explore ‘The New Learning Universe’. So in the lead up to this exciting event, myself and the team will be sharing our reflections on the New Learning Universe.  From the stakeholder view through to new entrants fresh out of formal education, we’ll be looking at the challenges, opportunities and predictions we expect to dominate the learning landscape over the coming 12 months.  We’ll be kicking off with Emily Cox, who’ll be exploring the new learning skill-set and what the New Learning Universe means to the instructional design community.  So check back in a couple of days for the first in our series.  

The open door to the learning ecosystem – online academies

sign post One of the most difficult challenges facing strategists and learning professionals is relevance – what does L&D now stand for, what does it deliver, how does it demonstrate the value of it’s strategy?  Reflecting on the keynote from David Price’s keynote from Learning Technologies Summer Forum 2014, it an open, truly connected world, how relevant or essential is the learning department if we can find, connect and collaborate on any subject at any time?  David’s presentation was certainly thought-provoking and at first glance, the central tenet of his book ‘Open: How we’ll live, work and learn in the future‘ is that as our behaviour is irrevocably changed by a technology enabled world and a result, questions whether we need to provide learning as part of our organisational deliverables in any formal sense at all! However, as fast as content grows, changes and evolves online, one of the realities of life is although we need to adapt faster, no one has invented a way to pause relative time so I can catch up with this new content, sift it, work out if it’s relevant, absorb it and then apply it.  The fear that the internet would essentially do away with all learning institutions has been prevalent for the past decade – it’s the kickstarter to MOOCs after all. Yet I am a strong believer in the evolution rather than extinction of learning professionals – where’s the obvious value you can create?   As the facilitator and enabler of learning.  Finding, creating and curating great content can now come from any source but making sense of it and creating a learning scaffold around which relevant and efficient research and collaboration can occur is a highly prized skill.  The time saved, the relevance to strategy and key business goals, the efficiency of learning  are all there for the taking if you can create the effective blend of formal learning paths and off piste social learning, self directed research, collaboration and dialogue.  Formal does not mean fixed, but it is a foundation to help keep the informal on track to meeting real business need. One of the most effective ways in which this can manifest itself in today’s organisations is through the online academy.  Academies created around key professional areas or skills in your business can become the vibrant hub for learning, when a blend of trusted, validated and proven content creates the sense of quality, progression in my skills and knowledge and a tangible way to demonstrate my growing value.  But part of demonstrating that value is understanding, applying then creating new knowledge based on that formal scaffold, and so the cycle and evolution continues. If you want to find out more about how this is done and see case studies of online academies in action, why not come along to my webinar next week (25th June at 10am UK time)?

Can’t help being social

Plans for Barcelona KCA news story on today’s BBC Education site caught my eye and adds an interesting dimension to the social side of MOOCs and indeed any online programme.  Coursera, the US based MOOC provider have decided to open a network of learning hubs where online students can meet and discuss their experiences and share reflections.  As well as trying to tackle the well-documented drop out rate, the feeling is that there is an irresistible social side to learning’ that needs to be addressed. My professional background has roots in Knowledge Management and interestingly, back a decade or so ago, there was a significant effort exerted in ensuring physical environments, from offices through to entire cities were designed in such a way to incubate and foster knowledge exchange and nurture innovation through conversation and sharing of experience. I have fond memories of sitting in the audience at Henley Business School KM forum annual conferences were Professor Leif Edvinsson would show us beautiful architecture rendering of Barcelona, the ‘Knowledge City’.  These were big ambitious capital projects with learning and knowledge at their heart, which may appear to be something of a utopian but ultimately too lofty a concept to apply to the learning strategy of a typical time pressured organisation. However there is a huge amount to take from this ambition that could be applied right down to an individual online programme level.  From knowledge city to a sales academy, fostering conversation and sharing experience adds tremendous value to any interaction with a learning asset. Indeed, back in my role at Orange as Head of Knowledge Communities, although enabling technology was a key focus for the team, one of the most important lessons we sought to instil in our new community facilitators and virtual team managers was the importance of social interaction and making time for a face to face event to launch a community or team.  Why? – Because the quality of online interactions, knowledge assets created and productivity of a virtual team increased when social ties were strongest. When our customer, BPP launched their online degree programme back in 2012, although not a MOOC, they were sensitive to some of the issues that were evident from the MOOC experience.  So although their degree content is delivered exclusively online, part of the rollout included learning hubs in key locations to ensure learners had the opportunity to connect in a physical location to form study groups and action learning sets. When we developed the Performance Coaching Academy for Telefonica O2, a launch event was deemed critical in the formation of action learning sets that would provide the peer review of practice, vital in the development of coaching skills (take a look at our case study to find out more about the design as there are some useful tips for design you can apply to any online academy). Isolation has often been a criticism levelled against e-learning, yet in the past decade, much of focus in the sector has been on production values of the multimedia output, with some wonderfully visually engaging content.  Of itself this of course is not problem, as effective graphic design, user interfaces and imagery are key components in delivering popular and credible content.  Yet it is only in the past few years that we have seen these bespoke content houses start to talk about creating learning scaffolds, what makes an effective learning ecosystem and using terms like learning paths that have been long in the WillowDNA lexicon. As we discussed on the LPi webinar, that is not to say that all learners will want to take up the offer of social learning, be it online or at a face-to-face venue.   Indeed they may value the opportunity to engage in a very personalised learning experience.  But to create effective learning, online or otherwise, as an entire city or as a team of people in an organisation, the opportunity to add context, build links between concepts and create new learning together is surely something to be fostered and supported.  

Do we have the appetite for massive courses?

CrowdMOOCs are e-learning programmes typically delivered, like the best these days, via online platforms with social media components. So there’s no inherent reason why they shouldn’t provide engaging learning experiences, encouraging the lively exchanges with peers that are so valuable in constructing ideas. As with all learning interventions, the key to success is in great design based on sound pedagogy, in carefully crafting authentic activities geared to the needs of learner and organisation. The MOOC format should be able to accommodate all of this, shouldn’t it? Well, yes and it’s the quality that counts of course but, somehow, the very word ‘Massive’ conjures up a monster to me; something that’s surely too big to be friendly. How do you engage with a cohort of thousands? Who do you turn to if you just don’t get it? Perhaps the trustees of the ‘Serious eLearning Manifesto’ had MOOCs in mind when stating their belief that: “current trends evoke a future of only negligible improvement in elearning design—unless something radical is done to bend the curve.” How could a MOOC adapt to learner needs (principle number 9 of 22), or provide support for post-training follow-through (13)? I may be proved wrong, but I’d rather sign up to an OOC than a MOOC. For more on the Serious eLearning Manifesto, see:

More MOOC inspired ideas

ipad image jpgFollowing on my recent reflections on the Corporate MOOCs webinar I presented for the LPi, this article from BBC Business News highlights some interesting considerations and exciting ideas for corporates.  It features the story of a school in Cambridgeshire who have taken  supporting learning resources online ‘making their own online library of lessons and course materials for GCSE, A-levels and International Baccalaureates.  These are interactive resources, with video links and lesson notes, customised for the specific needs and speeds of their classes. There are extension exercises and links to further reading and ideas.’ What leapt out to me is an issue very close to the hearts of any learning design professional – there are many different channels to publishing online content and accessible tools by which to achieve this, but it’s success is inexorably linked to the skills of the education or learning professional developing and orchestrating the content.  The principal at The Stephen Perse Foundation school, Tricia Kelleher at is quoted as saying “The credibility of online learning depends on the teachers who have made the materials,” It highlights the importance of understanding learning journeys and the skills of curation ‘ “You’re getting beyond the one-size-fits-all textbook. You might buy a textbook, but half of it might not be relevant to your school…[this approach allows teachers to] cherry pick from a world of resources”.  It is also an accessible route into developing more personalised learning paths, with alternative mediums and delivery methods to achieve core learning aims. Once again, the stage is set for learning professionals in organisations to take inspiration and start to repurpose, reimagine and refocus their learning programmes by creating scaffolds of content that provide a more accessible, timely and contextualised route to excellence.  So when commissioning support from online learning experts, look for that holistic learning path approach.  The days of the single channel e-learning package are behind us just as much as chalk and talk.