Some of the problems we can anticipate post COVID (for learning and working)

As someone who has long advocated for remote working and has worked on distance learning programmes (in various formats) for a while it feels like a hollow victory that the world has finally come to terms with these concepts only through forced circumstances.

So knowing what we know about remote learning and working, what problems can we expect to see post-Covid when the ‘non believers’ want to return to their old ways:

  1. Content management (or lack there of)
    • I’m sure there are thousands of learning pros, knowledge management and IT professionals currently having palpitations about the volumes of “stuff” currently being produced. This will include a lot of video content, either as videos or recordings of webinars/meetings.
    • Short term, they will be putting a strain on many organisation’s hosting arrangements but, longer term, risk becoming a big issue. Questions that will have to be asked include:
      • “How much of that content is exposed in the ‘correct’ places?” (vs hidden via email or other sharing)
      • “How much will be lost when people leave (for example due to auto deletion of OneDrive or other systems)?”
      • “How must has simply been posted once and instantly becomes both ephemeral (for example lost a long way back up a scroll in social media or Teams) but at the same time a permanent record of that meeting or activity which may be needed in the future for audit, court cases or more?”
    • For someone who was had roles particularly focused on digital content, especially in late 2012 and early 2013, I am of course more than happy to help if you are trying to get your head around this! Remember when we used to specifically refer to this stuff as UGC. Oh those were the days!
    • Also probably a good point to say I really do not recommend recording all your meetings – no matter what some vendors might say!
    • The “stop to think” tagline for my Learning Reducer idea is key here – many people have simply not stopped to think how to deliver online. The drive has been a continuation of service to parents, children, employees, etc. rather than thinking about the best way to layout and distribute content that minimises learning load. Universities “pivoting” (as seems to be the term of choice) are kind of okay with this as they will typically have set out resources on a learning management system already and just amend delivery. If this is good practice remains to be seen, not least through research comparing outcomes to previous years.
  2. Ignoring health and safety, worker rights and more
    • In a crisis it is probably fair to expect people to work from home in difficult conditions. However, if that is the new norm for your workers they should be supported with appropriate supplies – not least a decent chair. I gave up a properly ordered chair when I left a role in 2018, it was amazing and I had not appreciate previously how much that contributed to my back problems. Working from home should not (primarily) be a cost saving exercise by cutting office space.
    • The issues have also shown the lack of efficiency in many systems – not least education. If millions can join a single P.E. lesson why do we have 1000s of teachers creating their own resources? The content management mess is unlikely to be fixed in a way that encourages greater sharing and use OER and thus we will not have gained the economies of scale that organisations should have. This is in part teachers fighting against the machine – trying to avoid the inevitable decline in their responsibilities that will come through smarter AI, VR and other tech. They need to position themselves as guiding agents for learners, facilitators as the corporate world would call them, and not content producers – how many will be able to ‘pivot’ to expound rather than deliver remains to be seen but we can expect ongoing debate about the balance of teacher vs tech vs parents/guardians/environment. Whilst the role of the teacher is being appreciated like never before by parents locked away with their children it is also exposing the high volume of baby-sitting that makes up a traditional ‘teaching’ role. How this works out with the restrictions teachers unions have managed to secure (in the UK and beyond) will be interesting to see.
  3. Messy ecosystems
    • An attempt at an audit within my own team shows about 30 different apps, websites and other services requiring logins/passwords. Now, I think we are past everything needing central IT support, however, the consumerisation of IT has undoubtedly led to a mess of SAAS and cloud platforms with resulting difficulties. As some point these will need to mapped out for clarity (if only for succession and handover purposes).
  4. Sorry, the world HAS changed
    • Millions of people are being exposed to a different way of living (the shock of which has surprised me – see my comment here) and much like when the men returned from the wars of the past we will find that many things will have changed. There will be many who expect more flexible work schedules, school children who find the remote experience more useful for their study (more focus, less bullies, etc.) and more. How organisations and educations systems respond will be very interesting.

Some of the positives though will include that many educators who previously avoided tech in their lives have now had to crack on and make do. Whilst their current experiences are no doubt often not based on good practice or the research it should at least be easier to push on with appropriate technology enhanced learning in the future.

The obligatory Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) post: With virtual working and online learning on most of our minds

This post has been in different stages of draft for a week or more and I am just doing a quick edit of the below before pushing it out – well aware that anything written on this topic soon becomes out-of-date. For example, the Facebook group mentioned below has gone from about 8000 members to 44000 in the last week.

Seeking the positivies

I would imagine I am in the majority on Coronavirus – namely a group thinking the response seemed excessive but unwilling to speak out too loudly in case this really does spread and start killing a far greater percentage of populations.  As we now hit pandemic stage it feels more real – not least in furthering all appreciation of the incredible medical service staff we have around the world who battle on whatever the conditions. However, whilst turning the corner feels a way off yet we can see some real advantages starting to emerge.

From trade shows, MBAs, sports events and more we are seeing rearrangements and cancellations.  For those, like me, who have been banging the drum for a long time about the advantages of online learning and remote working this might be ‘our time’. 

Remote conferences, trade shows, etc.

For trade shows and conferences the downsides to restrictions are that we lose some of the advantages of events – for example, they can help us find things through serendipity and “on the fringes”, including through chatting and socializing.  This is more difficult when self-selecting webinars and other online events that act as the equivalent of conference sessions. One thing I am trying to do is to network in a wider sense, including reaching out to people on LinkedIn and attending webinars from organisations I have not previously engaged with. Ongoing communicating can replace some of this, not least through peer networking online.

It has always been a bit ironic that some of the biggest online players in their different fields also have huge people gatherings – such as Microsoft, Workday and Blackboard events. In some ways you have to hope the move of events such as the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (BBTLC), for 2020, being moved online will further encourage improvements in the offers of those companies. On a side note, I think it is nine years since I last attended, and presented, at BBTLC! Time flies!

Remote learning

A Facebook group – Educator Temporary School Closure – is already showing the power of informal collaboration and networking in helping those impacted by school closures. This is a massive network already with sharing and supporting in a collaborative way. The disadvatnages are there though – not least Facebook’s poor file management and search. For those of who have been community managers, intranet editors, etc these problems can be frustrating and group owners are clearly playing a loosing battle with people just posting the same questions over and over again. Basically a knowledge management nightmare – but better than no social learning at all!

Of course a problem of the speed here is that people are “getting by” dealing with immediate needs – will organisations find time to breath and realize there are specialists available to help (such as online community managers)? I am torn here a little as I advocate simple solutions but also aware that there will be lots of bad practice – for example generating huge files, duplication of effort due to lack of sharing between organisations, eLearning that ignores accessibility standards, etc. For teachers this is rapid professional development and hopefully, as Donald Clark writes, they will be better teachers for the experience. This all said, it does feel like there are clear opportunities for learning technologists and other groups to help the overwhelming load of free offers and advice that is currently being pumped out (yes, including this article I know). For example, plenty in this image (that was shared with me this week) is debatable:

It is depressing that it has taken something like this to lead to a change for so many. For example a TES article describing this as a chance to start to experiment with flipped learning really got my eyes rolling – I was helping deploy such models at scale about a decade ago (and there are obviously plenty of practitioners with more experience than me).

Parents stuck at home with their children will hopefully also be more useful advocates for digital learning in the future – both for their children but also when back into their own workplaces. In addition, they will have seen many of the difficulties teachers face and we may have a better balance of teacher/parent expectations overall in global society.

Perhaps the real advantage for schools, universities and other education institutions is that this is offering something of a holy grail in education – control groups.  We often hear that you cannot deprive learners of opportunities.  Thus education research is difficult.  Here we have a perfect opportunity to compare, at scale, data against previous years and those not impacted by closures as control groups. We should have some real data about what kind of models work, provided people have some time to number crunch!

Remote working

Remote leadership, willingness to delegate and trust are challenges that have long existed for those who are used to working in virtual teams.  These are now ‘normal’ issues for many more people and we can reimagine work around outcomes, not time spent, and develop our online networking skills. Clair Lew and others have lots of great tips on what meetings can look like remotely and more.

Hopefully commuting will be increasingly seen for what it is (a waste of time and energy for many) and better ways of working will be established. Obviously this does not relate some of the wonderful people out there who will continue to be tied to their place of work in hospitals, shops and other fields. That said, interesting to see Microsoft’s new Teams offer to healthcare being launched at this point in history.

I have written before about my love of Teams and it seems, from browsing Twitter and other sources, that it does seem to have become the de facto platform for many. As Rachel Burnham says, Teams is now everywhere. This is where I would like to add a celebratory gif. Rachel hits a good point though that L&D teams seem to be reverting to thinking about Teams as an LMS. Similarly schools closed for Covid will think about “lessons”, “timetables” and more. These may be useful starting points but the platform can (and should?) be more transformational (of course many are firmly in the S stage of SAMR currently).

Saving the environment

Science fiction is full of examples where mankind has to face a major event to limit the damage it is doing to the planet, World War 3 in Star Trek for example.  The virus so far has cut pollution in China and offers to cull airlines following the collapse of Flybe and US-Schengen travel.  Many of us will have spent time in pointless or, at best, overly long meetings in the past and this might make us far more appreciate of the implications of travel.

Hopefully the numbers will remain not too bad

This site has some really good graphs and number crunching on the implications of the virus spread, even at this stage the numbers are relatively small and that is something of a positive to hold onto. Best of luck out there to those with health conditions, elderly relatives, etc who are at risk.

Most recent role doth not maketh the person(?)

Imagine meeting people – at a conference, party, in the pub or at a dinner party.  How do you introduce yourself?  What do you talk about?

Unfortunately it feels like too often we steer to current job as the primary focus of who we are, for example my favorite dating column always mentions age and occupation before anything else.  Even LinkedIn encourages this with its “headline” prompts to encourage you to use your current role rather than something that describes YOU. 

This plays into some of the problems in society too, for example paternal leave as still being seen as odd by some or those who have had time out to care for loved ones struggling to get back into the labour market. We have messy lives and current role will rarely be a perfect description of what you are about – even full histories on LinkedIn and CVs struggle to do this.

Now in some areas it may be correct that you are judged on your latest role, for example you would hope the Thomas Cook management team will be judged on that company’s failure and any past success is not used to self promote into other top paying jobs (thus ignoring their role in a brand’s collapse).  However, as we’ve seen from most of the senior figures involved in the 2008 crash, mud often does not stick to those at the top.

I’ve recently just finished the back catalogue of the L&D Podcast.  The first episode, an interview between the host (David James) and Nigel Paine resonated a lot with me.  There were elements of Learning Reducer concepts at play here but on a personal level Nigel’s explanation that he “knows a lot on many things” [possibly sic] feels largely where I am.  I have been keen to develop skills and experience in a broad way, in fields where I feel once you have done something once or twice you have done that and you can move on and learn other things. 

As Nigel mentions, he could have specialized and so could most of us, especially in the learning industry. 

I could, at different parts of my career, specialized by spending more hours on things from delivering information skills (which I’ve actually picked back up just recently), developing eLearning modules (which I’ve picked up a bit recently too), LMS management, LCMS management, classroom facilitation, virtual classroom facilitation, etc. etc.  I fully recognise that there are instructional designers, eLearning developers, etc who will be super specialist in such areas or a particular tool (say the Articulate Suite) where I would say I a am ‘competent’.  However, I can assist organisations via a broad range of learning (or Learning and Development) related areas.

Overall I feel I have a good spread of skills when one considers things such as the LPI Capability Map, as well as leveraging my background in libraries and information to tend to come at learning issues from a different perspective.  To simplify, my default position is often for social collaborative learning, built around curated resources.  However, I am also aware that what the social within this means will change and increasingly be driven by AI.  Or in other words, my default position is not for anything that resembles a sage-on-stage ‘classroom’.  I would rather see people discussing this mentality piece in learning rather than saying we need a “developer”, “facilitator” or other narrow skill set.

There is also a related point that I’ve complained about before, that you can register for webinars for your own personal development but can not access them with a personal email (such as outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo, etc).  Here vendors are being short sighted for their current sales pipeline rather than long(er) term branding and customer development.  Indeed free webinars may well be a good recruitment tool for them – for example, I would happily say I would love a job at Mercer, Brightwave and many others companies due to the quality of their work that comes out at free conferences and webinars.

So, when I introduce myself at an event or in the pub what do I describe myself as?  Good question.  I struggle and I’d happily accept suggestions from readers!  One fact would be that it would not be restricted to any of my previous jobs – we are more than a sum of our parts.  Overall, let’s not pigeon hole people and let’s not forget the power of experience and the “whole person”.

List of premium tools available for Covid impacted education institutions

FINAL UPDATE MARCH 19th 2020: obviously this is a pretty mammoth task now that more US and UK organisations have got involved (and the increase in HEIs closing). Overall, I would recommend looking at what you are due to cover from a learning perspective and working out best approaches from there. Obviously tools should come after topics/tasks/outcomes. Here’s hoping that the digital learning world gets some credit out of this and continues to evolve.

I could not find a definitive listing of these so below is my attempt. The primary source is an uber list being compiled by a Facebook group here but obviously not everyone wants to be on Facebook nor are Facebook groups very easy to find or moderate.

Yes, I know this would be better as a shared Google Doc, Google Sheet or Wiki but I was trying to avoid false advertising from opening up the editing to those pushing products.

Note these are where there there seem to be clear attempts at offering longer free trials than normal or specific, short term, free upgrades/accounts. This goes over and above ‘always free’ tools such as ft.com (via their schools programme) and YouTube (free to all). I will try to add to this over time:

  1. Kahoot – quizzing, games, etc.
  2. Century tech – one of the emergent AI assessment platforms that could break down the time spent on marking for teachers
  3. Google Hangouts/Google Education – largely irrelevant for Microsoft shops but I guess they are hoping to convert some work from homers
  4. Discovery Education – free access (for US schools) to the Discovery resource libraries
  5. Quizlet seems to have a 30 day trial for teachers, I think this is longer than normal (although the URL says it is the Black Friday deal) – quizzes and flashcards but the teacher version offers tracking of student progress and other tools
  6. Britannica School free during Covid closures – the long standing Britannica brand now in the form of eLearning resources around encyclopedia content
  7. Nearpod are offering additional support (webinars and staff development) as well as access changes (to get a trial you have to fill in what seems like a rather excessively long form)
  8. Twinkl Resources are apparently free if you contact them to upgrade existing accounts
  9. Minecraft EDU – extended access during Covid
  10. InThinking Distance Learning – resources for various subjects
  11. Gizmos simulations – 60 day free trials
  12. Bookcreator – upgrade to collaboration level use of the iPad tool
  13. BrainPOP – free access to their animated movies, assessment resources and creative tools
  14. Buncee – not familiar with this tool: seems to be a learning management system with some synchronous learning components
  15. Classwork Zoom – GoogleClassroom plugin (for student progress tracking)
  16. Education Perfect – lots of resources for K-12 subjects, currently available for free till May 1st. Powerful looking assessment engine, including proctored assessments.
  17. Elementari – “write and code interactive stories” (I might have to have a play with this one!
  18. Kami – “Kami is the leading PDF & document annotation app for schools”
  19. Lalilo – Phonics platform for early years
  20. Mangahigh – slightly confusingly (given the name) a maths platform with lots of resource based learning
  21. Mystery Doug – K-5 science video platform free till June 1st
  22. Parlaydiscussion and chat tool, free till April 30th
  23. PearDeck – formative assessment including MCQ, etc.
  24. Sutori – social science content, history examples on home page
  25. Tynker – coding platform with free trial, current 30% off beyond
  26. WeVideo – online video editor
  27. Zoom – amendments to the always free version (some geographies only?)
  28. Pearson qualification schools have access to (60 day trial) resources here

Have I missed something? Send me a tweet.

Note this excludes eBook platforms as they often tweak their “free” models between educator, parent and other uses – such as Epic!, Story Time from Space and Storyline Online.

Not technically the kind of list I was trying to create but an interesting one has also been setup over on this page: https://covid19edresources.glideapp.io/

Another big list over here on Wakelet: https://wakelet.com/wake/ebca9f61-b708-4674-b1f8-f684df739cf9

Another big list here: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/135609/list-of-education-companies-offering-free-subscriptions/

MIT’s K-12 resources

Some resources here

IBO contingency guide

Master tools list from the Facebook group here (more of what I thought I had originally missed):

http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com/?fbclid=IwAR2u-X7HG4PEuf6SuGBtGovUY0eGYQk0w3q9Fxr7MaXcjoMsd9OID9BJenc

The often ignored realities of talent management (#6): leadership styles do exist

I will admit that I had forgotten about this little mini-series but the recent news over bullying allegations at the top levels of the UK’s government bring to the forefront once again the issue of leadership “styles” and the conflict that can come from different priorities and personalities in the workplace.

There will of course be lots of column inches on this story, even if “none of us really knows what transpired between Ms Patel and Sir Philip Rutnam“. What can be said is that this very public conflict highlights failures to lead in a democratic or consensus building way – which of course may well be deliberate.

Thus it comes to personality and, perhaps above all else, how you are willing to behave to others. The BBC’s take that this is a government “willing to rattle cages in order to get things done” makes it sound like a business bringing in ‘fixers’ to overhaul operations. The problem is that such forced or aggressive change in business tends to have to transition to a softer ‘end state’ when people can operate ‘normally’ again as a ‘new normal’ or BAU takes shape. This is difficult in government, at least in the UK democratic system where consensus building and concessions are typical practice and civil servants tend to last longer than their ministerial ‘bosses’.

In organisations too often leadership and management development and corporate values scratch the surface of issues. Ultimately we need to be clear what expectations are so as to not allow someone’s talent (normally meaning their revenue generation) to go against what we are trying to achieve in terms of behaviour towards other human beings.