Tomorrow I am speaking at the 4th Annual Future Learning Lab conference in Kristiansand in Norway. The conference aims to target the interplay of learning, pedagogy issues, digital media and globalizing forces representing both opportunities, threats and new conditions. The conference web site says new ways and means of learning are paving their way into both formal education, work-life and leisure. Education technologies continue to evolve. Digital communication technology changed the music industry, the film industry and the news media as well as book publishing industry: Do we really think education and the learning field is any different? The media ecology that enables disruption, is global. The new networks being employed, are global. But the consequences and challenges are, for all practical purposes, local. And learning is still an aspect of social interaction as well as personal endeavor.
My presentation (see slide deck above) is based on the work we are doing in the EU funded Learning Layers project, developing the Learning toolbox, a mobile application designed for apprentices in the construction industry. In particular, we are trying to deal with the issue of context. The Learning Toolbox is based on tiles, each a separate application, which can be differently configured for use in different contexts.
Last week was the deadline for submissions to the Online Educa Berlin 2014 conference. I like Online Educa. If nothing else, it is a great end of year opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world. And it is also a great opportunity to engage in wider dialogues around the work we are doing. Online Educa has for some years been experimenting with the format of sessions and attempting to introduce more interaction, rather than just slides and talk. This year they are limiting presenters to just five slides. And they have asked everyone submitting a proposal to send short video describing their proposed session.
So here is my video. It is based on the work we are doing in the EU funded Learning Layers project, developing and implementing technologies for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.
Most of my work at the moment involves the use of technology for learning in work, including in the construction sector, the health sector and in public employment services. It is s subject I have been working on – on and off – for the past 15 years. Although I cannot prove it, my feeling is that there is a greater awareness of the potential of technology for learning now, particularly in those organisations with training departments. And there is growing interest in the potential of mobile devices for embedding learning within work processes.
However practice in patchy at best. Of course there are differences between individual sectors and between different companies within sectors. But the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises, increasingly seen as the loci of future employment growth, is very limited. Which once more raises the question of why and of what the barriers are.
The biggest barrier for me is the capacity of organisations to adopt TEL. This includes a number of different things including the attitude and support of managers for TE, the availability of learning materials, the confidence and competence of trainers and learners in using technology and the technical infrastructure. As I said above, I see increasing support from managers. The movement to open educational resources and the wider use of web 2.0 tools for content creation is overcoming previous problems with the lack of learning materials for occupational learning. Confidence and competence of trainers and learners is harder to assess. If anything, in workshops we are finding greater differentiation – from very confident and keen users to those barely able to operate a computer. This means we need to foster processes of peer learning – with more advanced users and trainers supporting those with less confidence.
The biggest problem we are finding is infrastructure. Whilst I read with enjoyment all these papers about social learning and the web and how it can be transformational in organisations, the reality is most computers and networks in organisations are locked down. How locked down varies – in some it requires the sys admin to install any new software, in others individual websites have to be white listed on the server before they can be accessed. Of course we all love to hate system administrators. But there are real reasons behind this. Most systems contain confidential data and critical systems. They have not been built for learning. And with the increasing risk of hacking – administrators are looking how to tighten up their systems, not open them up. The only answer I can see is to provide completely separate networks for learning. Of course this is not going to be cheap. So once more we are back to persuading organisational managers of the importance of investing in infrastructures for learning. In this at least, nothing has changed
This is an interesting video. Donald H Taylor explains how Learning and Development Departments need to change their attitude to risk in order to keep pace with the rest of the business in today’s modern world. He describes 4 quadrants in which L&D departments fit: Learning Leadership, Unacknowledged Prophet, Comfortable Extinction and The Training Ghetto and explains how and why all L&D departments should join the quadrant of Learning Leadership. However I am not convinced that the major problem is that Learning and Development departments are failing to keep up with changing organisations. In my experience all too often it is the organisations themselves who are holding back change. And don’t forget that most Small and Medium Enterprises, who it could be argued are the prime drivers of change do not have a Learning and Development Department (interesting in that regard that Donald cites Pinterest with 12 employees as an example of a fast changing organisation).
Last autumn, we undertook a survey of how apprentices in the German construction industry use mobile devices. This was undertaken as part of the Learning Layers project. We produced a report on this work in December, when some 581 apprentices had completed the survey. Now we have more than 700 replies. We plan to update our analysis to include those who responded after that date. However a number of people have asked me for access to the report as it is and so I am publishing it on this blog.
In summary we found
Around half would like more information about using web tools for learning in the work process and 115 have left their email addresses for us to send further information
The survey indicates that the vast majority of German apprentices in the building trades possess devices and the skills to use them. These devices could be used as part of the Learning Layers project. As the cost of tablets and smartphones becomes cheaper, the digital divide does not seem to be a major issue for this group. Smartphones are used for acquiring work-related knowledge, through personal communication or from the internet. These activities are to a large extent carried out in the apprentices’ own time.
However, the work-related use of digital devices is still uncommon. 20% of the apprentices use their smartphones to make work related photos and such existing practices, could be used by the Learning Layers project for enabling the collective development and sharing of learning materials. The majority of apprentices think that the support offered by mobile devices at the workplace would be useful. The Learning Layers project has the chance to scale up the use of mobile devices by offering apps that are helpful and/or showing the possibilities of making innovative use of existing apps.
Knowledge about work-related apps is gained to a large extent from personal contacts with other apprentices, colleagues, and trainers.
You can download the full report here. If you would like access to the full data please email or skype me.
I seem to be spending a lot of time looking at the potential of various technologies for supporting learning at work. I am not talking here about Virtual Learning Environments. In the construction industry we are looking at how mobile devices can be used to support learning and knowledge sharing between the different contexts of the vocational school, the industrial training centre and the workplace. And through the Employ-ID project we are looking at how to support continuing professional development for workers in public employment organisations across Europe.
None of these is particularly easy. Pedagogically we looking at things like co0counselling and at MOOCs for professional development. And another target on our horizon is Learning Analytics. Like so many things in technology advanced learning, Learning Analytics launched with a big fanfare, then seems to haver sunk under the surface. I was excited by the potential of using data to support learning and wanted to get in there. But there seems to be a problem. Like so often, rather than looking to use the power of Learning Analytics to support learners and learning, institutions have hijacked the application as a learning management tool. Top of the list for UK universities at least is how to reduce drop out rates (since this effects their funding). Rather than look at the effectiveness of teaching and learning, they are more interested in the efficiency of their approach (once more to save money).
So we are back where we have been so many times. We have tools with a great potential to support learners, but institutional managerialism has taken over the agenda. But perhaps I am being overly pessimistic and looking for information in the wrong places. If anyone can point me to examples of how to use Learning Analytics to support real learning please post below.
NB. Another issue concerning me is how to tell users what data we are collecting and how we are using it. Once more, does anyone have any pointers to good practice in this respect
I don’t know quite what to think about the Open Education Challenge. It is good that the European Commission is working to support start up companies in education and especially interesting to note the impressive list of people available to help mentor new start ups. However, 20 companies hardly represents a critical mass and secondly I am not sure that the trudging successful applicants for twelve weeks around “successive European cities: Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin and Helsinki| is the best way to do things.
And although the project is running under the new EU Open Education strap line, it is a bit hard to see just what is open about it (apart from anyone can apply). Worrying is the language of the web site: Europe will be the leading education market for years to come. Is this just another step to using technology to privatise and marketise education? True the talk is of transforming education, not disrupting it. But i am not quite sure what they mean by “All projects are welcome; the only condition is that they must contribute to transforming education.”
I am much impressed with Martin Weller’s blog on the The dangerous appeal of the Silicon Valley narrative. He argues that the popular discourse around MOOCs conforms to the silicon valley narrative, proposing a revolution and disruption. He quotes Clay Shirky as saying “Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC)”. It also suggests that the commercial, external provider will be the force of change, stating that “and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup”. Martin Weller goes on to say MOOCs “were established as separate companies outside of higher education, thus providing interest around business models and potential profits by disrupting the sector. This heady mix proved too irresistible for many technology or education journalists.”
So where does the EU Open Education initiative fit in terms of different discourses. Is it a project aiming at opening up education and developing new pedagogies or is it a market orientated initiative aiming to develop the Silicon Valley discourse in Europe?
I have just read an interesting blog post on mobile learning (via the useful ADL mobile learning email list). Donald H Clark says:
Training Magazine’s annual survey of US L&D professionals shows that just 1.5% of training was delivered via mobile devices. That’s right, after about 7 years of hype and discussion we’ve reached 1.5%. That’s not leaping. That’s trench warfare.
And yet of course we use smart devices for learning all the time.
Every time we Google something, check a map for our location, quiz friends and colleagues for the answer to a question we are operating exactly in the sweet spot of L&D: we are learning something, or using a performance aid.
Of course we don’t call it that.
We call it ‘finding something out’, or ‘doing our job’. The learning is almost invisible because it is embedded in our daily lives; it didn’t require us to go somewhere special, to do anything special. It happened at the best possible time – when we had a need for it, and were attuned to be receptive to new information.
I agree. And in the Learning Layers project we are focusing on the everyday learning that take place with mobile devices. Our focus is on Small and Medium Enterprises. Donald Taylor goes on to say:
Rather than concentrating on writing courses, we should be establishing good practice in our organisations for finding information and experts and for sharing information. Where necessary we should be setting up the systems and then letting people get on with using them. We need to use this opportunity to move from being the gatekeepers of knowledge to the facilitators of conversations and learning.
Once more I agree – to an extent. I think the real potential of mobile learning is to link learning that takes place in different contexts. That mean linking formal learning to informal learning. And to link learning that take place in vocational schools, in training centres and in work. But even greater is the possibility to link what we used to call learning (or training) to developing and using knowledge for work. In the past we have called this work process knowledge. In development term this means we need applications which can ;recognise the different contexts (and purposes) for which the mobile device is being used. Whilst there has been considerable academic research on mobile work based learning, there is only limited accounts of practice.
One barrier is the attitude of employers. A recent survey we undertook on over 500 construction apprentices in Germany found that whilst over 50 per cent said they used their mobiles for finding information related to their work or training, only 20 per cent said their employers allowed them to do so. They said that they used the devices in their breaks and lunch time. And in construction I would argue that mobiles are a working tool anyway. So part of “establishing good practice in our organisations for finding information and experts and for sharing information”, is a task of awareness raising and capacity building with companies for them to realise the potential of mobile technologies for their organisation.
Mind the Gap, says Geoff Stead referring to the gap between theory and practice in mobile learning. And it is this gap which is perplexing me as we attempt to develop an App (code named Rapid Turbine) for use by German construction apprentices.
Writing in a blog for last year’s MobiMOOC Geoff says:
There are a few academic frameworks that can be useful in evaluating, and reflecting on m-learning:
- Laurillard’s Conversational framework (2002) – showing the different roles that technology can play in the process
- Park’s Pedagogical Framework for Mobile Learning (2011) – offering a simple matrix to map the transactional and/or social closeness of a learning intervention
- Koole’s Model for Framing Mobile Learning (FRAME) – 2009 – showing how the mobile learning is an interaction between the technology, the learner and the context.
The one that most connects with my own thinking is FRAME, because it is quite clear that you any theory about m-learning needs to engage with the technology itself (the device), AND the learner (who they are, what they want), AND their social context.
The reason the definition works for me is exactly the reason why I suspect m-learning has proved so problematic to define precisely. It just isn’t one thing. There may well be one core idea in the middle, but this is heavily influenced by factors that are different in different contexts.
Here are some examples, and contrasting ideas:
- while m-learning at work might be about performance support tools, and access to small nuggets of information; m-learning in the classroom might be more about exploring ideas together, and collaborating on a project
- while m-learning on a field trip might be exploring your environment (GPS / augmented reality / mapping / camera), m-learning in a lecture theatre might be about taking notes, and looking up references.
- while BYOD m-learning might be about sharing critical information via any device; a specific iPad activity will be rely on a specific app on a specific, named device
Folks, these are ALL m-learning, but because the circles in the Venn Diagram are filled with different questions, the resulting answer is different.
The core idea behind Rapid Turbine is that it brings teogther learning in different contexts – in the vocational school, in the industry training centre and in the workplace
Thus the pedagogic design of the App needs to be ‘mutable; to reflect these different designs. In the vocational school learning may be more formal and the app needs to scaffold and support apprentices in linking that formal knowledge to the work based learning gained in practice.
In the training centre the use of the App is focused on gaining practical work based knowledge and the presentation of learning materials and learning support needs to reflect that use. In the workplace, the App may be more needed to provide information and knowledge based on the other settings.
The different dimensions of the App should adapt to these different contexts of use. Collaboration, communication and data sharing will vary in each context of use. Thus a use case based on a single scenario or context will only provide us limited help.
Perhaps a dimension or scale lacking in these frameworks is that of depth and breadth, which can be seen as key in linking both the different kinds of knowledge and learning and the different resources which support scaffolded learning.
If we take a particular work task as the basis for an application (as Rapid Turbine does which is why it is high in authenticity and situatedness) then at some points apprentices will want to progress in more depth which perhaps brings in more theoretical learning and in other cases with more breadth which provides more contextual links to other work tasks (and arguably to more holistic work tasks).
The App needs to overcome not just a gap between theory and practice in mobile learning design but the gap between theory and practice in skilled construction work and the gap between informal and formal learning. And that is not easy
Online Educa Berlin
Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.
Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.
The deadline for contributions is 23 June at http://goo.gl/LwR65t.
Social Tech Guide
The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.
The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.
In a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.
The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100′s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”
Code Academy expands
The New York-based Codecademy has translated its learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.
So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.
Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.
The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.
Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.