Archive for the ‘e-Learning and SMEs’ Category

Using technology to support informal learning in SMEs

June 11th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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.

Barriers to learning with technologies in enterprises

May 22nd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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

Changes in Learning and Development

May 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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).

How do apprentices use mobile devices for learning?

April 9th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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

  • 86,7 per cent of apprentices survey have a smartphone, 19,4 per cent a tablet
  • 94 per cent  pay for internet connectivity themselves
  • 55.6 per cent use their smartphone or tablet more than 10 times a day
  • 42.8 per cent say they use their mobile or tablet often or very often for seeking work-related information. However this relates to use outside work time, in the workplace the numbers are much lower.
  • 58% use mobile devices for work-related conversations and 53.2 for work-related information
  • 11.2 per cent say they often or very often use web tools in the workplace
  • 95.9 per cent had heard of WhatsApp, only 16.7 per cent of the BoschApp designed for the construction industry
  • The most frequently used app in the workplace was the camera, with 19.6 per cent using it often or very often
  • 79.3 per cent sought information in text format and 59.2 per cent video.

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.

What is happening with Learning Analytics?

April 7th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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

 

What is the discourse behind the Open Education Challenge

January 23rd, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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?

 

More on mobile work based learning

November 18th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

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.

 

Closing the gap: notes on developing a mobile workplace elearning App

August 23rd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

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:

  1. Laurillard’s Conversational framework (2002) – showing the different roles that technology can play in the process
  2. Park’s Pedagogical Framework for Mobile Learning (2011) – offering a simple matrix to map the transactional and/or social closeness of a learning intervention
  3. 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.
frame-venn-i1.png
FRAME model

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

How to make multimedia learning materials for the construction industry

August 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

by Graham Attwell, Owen Gray and Martina Luebbing

We wrote in an earlier post about the Rapid Turbine app which we are developing through the Learning Layers project. Rapid Turbine is a prototype demonstrator, designed to show the potential of mobile devices to support learning by apprentices in the north German construction industry training centre, Bau ABC. Apprentices at Bau ABC learn through undertaking a series of practical projects, detailed in a paper based White Folder.

The task sheets are used both outlining the tasks to be undertaken, the tools required, materials and health and safety concerns etc and for recording learning. Through developing a mobile app it is intended to make updating 0of tasks easier but most importantly to allow closer links between the learning apprentices undertake in the training centre, with their courses in vocational schools and with their work undertaken on construction sites.

The task we are developing for the prototype is called Rohrleitungsbau (pipe and sewer laying). Our main aims are to test the pedagogic approach and design of the app and to develop a work flow so that trainers can themselves produce mobile learning materials.

One of the key aims for the Learning Layers project is to encourage the development of peer produced learning materials. Peers might be apprentices themselves or trainers in the training centres. We are aware that a major barrier to the take up of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises is the high cost of buying or commissioning the production of learning materials. Furthermore we are aware of the need for vocational expertise in the development of these learning materials, expertise we do not have as researchers and developers.

Although it is beginning to change, most traditional e-learning has been very heavily text dependent. This is not really suited to practical and wok based learning, especially using the mobile devices which can allow apprentices to access learning materials directly in the training centre or workplace.

Therefore we are keen to videos into the app related to the different tasks being undertaken. Once more, fairly obviously the trainers are the best people to make these videos. Originally we had thought of going to Bau ABC and filming these videos ourselves. But this would have been very time consuming and is not really sustainable. Our next thought was to use wearable video devices and we experimented with prototype smart glasses with video capacity. However, the quality was not great and the controls were difficult to use.

So our latest solution is to use an Go Pro camera, attached to a construction site safety helmet. The cameras are reasonably easy to use and importantly, having originally been designed for recording extreme sports,  are extremely rugged, and with the cover fitted, water proof and dust proof. They can also be controlled through a Wireless based phone app. We need more work to find out what makes a good short learning video to be accessed on a mobile device. We’re starting out trying to make a series of handy tips, based one each task, but will review this as we go. And we are encouraged that some of the trainers have already been making their own videos using an ipad. I suspect they will have more ideas than us.

The helmet mounted camera will be delivered to the training centre tomorrow and as soon as we have some videos we will shared them on this site.

Some thoughts about MOOCs

August 14th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I’ve avoided writing  much about MOOCs lately. Not because I am not interested or because I don’ think MOOCs are important, but mainly because I have been overwhelmed by the deluge of announcements and developments, blog posts, studies and lets face it, just hype.

Some couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join a partnership for a tender application to the EU about MOOCs for web developers. So I have spent soem time looking rather more intensively at the literature and trying to make some sense of it. Here are a few observations.

Firstly are MOOCs really disrupting universities. I guess the answer is yes and no. The great majority of MOOCs are free, and despite emergent business models around for example, selling e books or charging for accreditation, there remains question marks over the business models for MOOCs. Of course if the purpose and structure of universities is to provide free and open higher education then this wouldn’t be so important. But in an era where university funding in many countries is increasingly reliant on fees, this does become a major issue.

However, I am by no means convinced that those signing up for MOOCs – and there are a lot of enrolments – are students who would have previously signed up for a fee bearing course. Instead I think the real phenomenon of MOOCs is that they show the massive pent up demand for education. Some of this is to learn new skills but I suspect many participants are just driven by personal interest. Indeed a study we undertook some six or seven years ago on the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) (download book as PDF here), found that although few employers were aware of the potential, many employees were participating in job related on-line learning, more often through participation in communities, out of personal interest.I suspect that MOOCs should better be compared to community and adult education, rather than to university programmes. In some countries such as Germany face to face provision of community education is continuing to thrive, but in other countries like the UK the economic crisis and subsequent cuts in public expenditure have devastated provision.

We also found out through the SME study that most SME employees were not particularly concerned with accreditation and certification – indeed some told us that if the learning programme was to be assessed that would be a deterrent to their participation. So although it is often said that the lack of accreditation or credentialism other than certificates of participation is a problem for MOOCs I am far from convinced this is so.

A further much commented issue is the very high drop out rates – or non completion – on MOOC courses. Once more, I am unconvinced this is a major issue. I suspect that many MOOC curriculum designers may be underestimating the time it takes to properly participate in a course and that of course is a problem. But I suspect that many people are dropping in and out of courses, following the parts in which they are most interested. I suspect that large MOOC providers like edX and Coursera may change their design to provide shorter or unit based programmes.

There is nothing new in this of course. Curriculum designers have been providing modular or unit based courses for years, and despite the danger of incoherence, these have been largely successful. In our study of the use of technology in SMEs, we were surprised at the ability of learners to structure their own learning and to judge the level of learning resources that they needed.

The lack of feedback and support for learners through a MOOC may be a more serious issue. Of course this varies greatly, with cMOOC providers seeking to develop community peer support.  I think MOOC designers are going to have to rethink how support can best be developed in the future.

Many observers have pointed out that in reality there is nothing new about MOOCs and in a densely cited Wikipedia article on MOOCs traces their precursors back to the correspondence courses of the late 19th Century. And indeed, although there is considerable innovation in the original cMOOC design, many of the ‘mass produced; MOOCs show little different than online courses which have been available for some time. To that extent MOOCs may just mark the final coming of age of Technology Enhanced Education or whatever we choose to call it. Possibly the interest may reflect a younger generation who have grown up with Google and are used to managing their own learning to a greater or lesser extent through the web. Possibly it may also reflect more ubiquitous connectivity, the spread of mobile devises and the ease of producing, distributing and consuming video. Indeed perhaps most worrying is that many MOOCs retain the weakness of previous incarnations of online learning with little interactivity or social learning.

having said this, there are many flavours of MOOcs and I suspect that we will see more and very different models develop over the next year or so. Perhaps calling them all MOOcs is not particularly helpful and there have been many suggestions of different names of different varieties. Yet the term MOOC has seized public attention – or more prperly the attention of teh press. Incidentally, the fact that some of the more right wing news media are using MOOCs to announce the end of public education should not put us off; such pronouncements can be found with the advent of radio and television as well.

More important is the learner experience and here more work is needed on design rubrics and evaluation tools: data mining cannot provide sufficient feedback alone.

My own interest is in the potential of MOOCs for vocational and occupational learning, both initial training and perhaps more importantly continuing education and training. Here I think their are some significant challenges which I will write more of tomorrow.

 

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