Archive for the ‘ICT and SMEs’ Category

Developing a Work Based, Mobile Personal Learning Environment

July 6th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

As regular readers will know, for a long time I have been fascinated by the potential of mobile technologies for developing work based learning and work based Personal Learning environments. Mobile technologies can allow learning to take place directly in the workplace. Learning can be recorded and for that matter reflection on learning take place as a direct part of the work process. In such a way the workplace becomes part of the Personal Learning Environment and conversely the PLE becomes part of the work process. At the same time, such an approach can bring together both formal and informal learning. Through sharing learning processes and outcomes, learners themselves can contribute to a growing ‘store; of learning materials.

It hasn’t happened yet and it is worth thinking about why. One reason maybe that only recently has seen the spread of sufficiently powerful mobile devices and applications. Another is the suspicion of employers about the uses of such devices in the workplace. Most importantly may be the failure to develop pedagogic approaches for mobile learning. Most developments to date have essentially been about consumption of learning materials, albeit sometimes in innovative ways. And much of the publicity or mobile learning has emphasised consumption of short episodes of learning away from the workplace – or for that matter the classroom (for some reason we will all be learning on the bus or the train on our way home from work in the future or so the vendors say).

That is not to say there have not been attempts to develop more radical thinking. Members of the London Mobile Learning Group have, like others developed new ideas for work based mobile learning pedagogy. Yet still, as far as I can see, there have been few attempts to implement such ideas at any scale.

It is for these reasons that I am so interested in the development of the Learning Toolbox, initially targeted at apprentices in the construction industry, as part of the EU funded Learning layers project. Perhaps the biggest thing I have leaned from this work (apart from how difficult it is) is the need for co-development processes with end users and stakeholders in the industry. The new paper we have written for the PLE2014 conference documents the research we have undertaken and the co-development process, as well as our understanding of the issues around context and how to address such issues.

You can download the paper here. As always any and all feedback is very welcome.

Developing the capacity to mdoernise workplace learning

June 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I like Jane Hart’s work on learning in organisations. And I like this presentation on 20 small changes to modernise the workplace learning experience. However, I am not so sure that the changes she advocates are so small. True each one on its own may represent just a small step forwards. But to be effective the changes need to be taken together. And that requires a big change on organisational practice. Many, if not most, organisations, especially Small and Medium Enterprises do not have the capacity to take these steps. That is why in the Learning Layers project we see capacity building as central to developing technology supported informal learning in SMEs. Capacity involves the confidence and competence of trainers and others who support learning, the understanding and support of managers, the physical infrastructure and perhaps most critically the culture of organisations.
We are working to produce an ‘e-learning readiness tool’ to help organisations assess where they are in termsn of capacity and plan the steps they need to take in order to develop tehir capacity. I will publish a draft of the tool in the next few weeks if anyone is interested.

Learning Toolbox

June 11th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

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.

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.

Aumented Reality, practice and performace

March 12th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Last week I went to the Bristol Mobile Ideas in Mobile Learning Symposium (programme and links here). I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Just a general point before I get to the specifics. I am increasingly bored with large conferences where you sit passively listening to string of paper inputs – good bad or indifferent – and then perhaps get to ask one or two questions. Smaller events such as the Bristol symposium, allow a real discussion and best of all, continued debate in breaks and in the evening. This is the kind of event which promotes learning!

I made a presentation on the Learning Toolbox mobile application we are developing for the Learning Layers project in the penultimate session of the symposium. I followed an intriguing presentation by Daniel Spikol on Using Augmented Reality, Artistic Research and Mobile Phones to Explore Practice-based Learning (see video above). Daniel has been working with Dance groups in Sweden, using the Aurasma Augmented Reality app for recording and augmenting dance performances. At first sight that would seem a long way from my work on developing an app for apprentices in the construction industry. But there were many links. Amongst other things Daniel made two key points which I could relate to. One was the need for continuing and iterative development in the use of apps (and here it was interesting that they had used an existing application, rather than trying to develop their own code). Second was the use of technology in capturing and representing physical performance. And in terms of work based learning, that is exactly what we are trying to do (and struggling with) in using mobile devices. In this regard I am interested in the ideas about practice.  Practice is related to competence and qualification and includes cognitive, affective, personal and social factors (trying to find citation for this). In terms of learning (and using technology for learning) practice based activities – whether based on formal or informal learning – are:

  • Purposeful
  • Heavily influenced by context
  • Often result in changes in behaviour
  • Sequenced in terms of developing a personal knowledge base
  • Social – involving shared community knowledge

Returning to Daniel’s questions, the challenge is how we can design and shape technology to augment practice.

 

 

 

New thoughts on Personal Learning Environments

November 19th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

One of the frustrations with the Personal Learning Environments conferences has been the time it has taken us to publish papers after the conference. This year we tied up with e_learning Papers who publish an electronic journal on the European Commission Open Education Europa portal. And I am delighted to say they have just published a special edition of the journal on PLEs, edited by Ilona Buchem and  Tapia Toskinen.

The foreword to the edition is included in full below together with links to the different papers.

“The proliferation of learning innovations such as personal devices, granular and distributed applications, services, and resources, requires the learner to develop his or her own strategies for managing the various information streams and tools to support learning. Such strategies are necessary not only in educational settings, but basically in any life situation which can become a moment or an episode of learning. Digital and non-digital building blocks can be individually combined by learners in their own Personal Learning Environment (PLEs).

More of an approach or strategy than a specific learning platform, a PLE is created by learners in the process of designing and organising their own learning, as opposed to following pre-arranged learning paths. In this way, PLEs are distinctly learner-centred and foster autonomous learning. PLEs are by no means isolated; they are interconnected in a digital ecosystem of media, tools and services. Instead of asking learners to navigate within one monolithic environment, PLEs act as a gateway to an open and connected learning experience. This approach marks a shift towards a model of learning in which learners draw connections from a pool of digital and non-digital building blocks, aggregating, mixing and combining them into unique constellations as part of learning.

While emphasizing the active role of a learner, the PLE approach implies that learning is not located in a specific time and place, but is an ongoing, ubiquitous and multi-episodic process. As PLEs allow the collocation of diverse learning activities, tools, and resources, contexts permeate and learning becomes connected. In this sense, PLEs challenge some dominant paradigms in education and in the traditional understanding of borders, be it in view of learning places, educational roles or institutional policies.

This special issue builds on the current PLE discussion and focuses on crossing the boundaries of learning contexts. It features some emerging practices, including the construction of PLEs as part of an augmented localised learning experience with mobile devices; PLEs as an approach to supporting learning through work practice; and using gamification and open badges as part of the PLE approach. The findings and insights of the articles in this issue demonstrate the rich contribution of the PLE approach to the opening up of education.”

Download Print Version

Articles

Personal Learning Environments in Smart Cities: Current Approaches and Future Scenarios
Author(s): Ilona Buchem, Mar Pérez-Sanagustín

A gamification framework to improve participation in social learning environments

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.

 

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