Virtual Free Schools

I’ve mentioned previously, on this site and old blogs, my belief that we need to be look differently at schooling going forward.  Continuing with traditional school models is an option but we also need to look to offer children and their parents new options.  Online options could potentially be cheaper for the state and more appropriate for the learner.

I have done a bit more research around the topic of late – including noticing this article from 2006.  Yep, the benefits were clearly articulated in a BBC article…in 2006!  Indeed Ofsted have reported on benefits too

Now, I know there are virtual school providers in the UK.  However, they remain largely private (fee charging) or for those children outside of the mainstream system (for example those who are vulnerable and in care).  I previously asked the New Schools Network back in 2011 if state funded Virtual Schools were emerging thanks to the changes of regulation resulting in Free Schools (it surprised me this week when I realized that email conversation was 3 years ago!).  Their reply at the time:

We would agree that at present the Free Schools policy and application process are not particularly tailored for this type of school, but we have talked to the DfE and they are receptive to proposals for virtual schools.

So when I reached out this week to NSN and on LinkedIn to a Free Schools group it was good to get one solid reply that work is underway.  In fact I offered my assistance, if I can offer any, as I really believe we need to consider online learning as opposed to the postcode lottery of existing provision.

Not to say that traditional schools are not investigating the possibilities, for example with this director of eLearning post currently advertised.

Anyway – I’m going to keep this Google Drive presentation up-to-date with a vision for an online school, if I ever have the time perhaps I will look to investigate it more.  However, having read Toby Young’s guide to setting up a free school, I doubt I will ever have the time needed to fully support the launch of such a school.

Reflections on a first trip to Asia – and implications on (Instructional Design) training

The MSc I studied is no longer offered as the awarding university opted against running any further cohorts (declining student numbers against a need to update the content).  This is a shame, in my opinion, as it was about the only course I could find, in the UK at the time, that specifically called out “instructional design” (ID) in its content.  The take on ID was probably different to how the more numerous American ID courses viewed the subject but ID was there nonetheless.

Anyway, due to work I recently found myself in Malaysia – my first ever trip to Asia.  All in all, this was an enjoyable experience.  One very obvious thing in Malaysia was the clear messaging that the distinct ethnic groups in the country should support its “unity”, for example this fountain:

Malaysia three bowl fountainMessage of Malaysian unity

This was particularly interesting as I was there during the week of the Scottish Referendum vote, not to mention the ongoing fragmentation within ethnic and religious groups the world over – not least in Syria and Iraq.

On coming back from Malaysia it was then coincidence to see an article on instructional designer training in that country:

On becoming a civic-minded instructional designer: An ethnographic study of an instructional design experience

Now the model created in the article:

The civic-minded instructional designers framework

Source: sorry, I seem to have lost the link to the site this was on

could, in many ways, be applicable to any profession/industry.  However, the suggestion of social responsibility for all is, no doubt, missing in most university education.  Would training bankers in such a way have helped avoid previous crashes?

The article suggests a focus on simply technical skills fails to develop designers of the type that are needed.  This made we wonder – perhaps if there was more universal consideration of social responsibility there would be less reason for so many companies to feel the need to train staff into values that cross-borders and get everyone onto ‘the same page’?  My hope would be, from a Learning and Development perspective, that any values or other cultural change program does not ignore the wider environment (as included in the above ID training model).

The conclusion of the article suggests the need for civic responsibility to increase in the balance against the “career-centric and technically orientated” content of most courses.  However, perhaps too much of a shift would have a negative impact on Malaysia in decreasing the technical ability to compete with, say, India in the global ID marketplace?  “The needs of the design industry” perhaps need to be better articulated with more cross border understanding of ID as a concept, after all my UK MSc almost certainly took a different angle to the predominate North American viewpoint.  Here, through ID, is an interesting example of where we could look to benchmark skills globally whilst providing what a society feels it needs locally, regionally and globally (or micro, macro and mega).

Anyway, something of a rambling post but interesting that some of what I could see as an issue for a country in general is quite clearly embedded into the professional conversation of what it means to be a (ID) professional.

Office design

Partly due to the excellent The Brits Who Built The Modern World TV series, reflections on my own past experiences and changes in my current workplace I have become quite interested in all things ‘office design’ of late.  Part of my reason for this is that, as we consider the future of learning in the workplace, I am increasingly of the mindset that we can not separate this from where that learning may happen.

For example, one of my first experiences of eLearning was training during a brief stint working for B&Q (almost identical to Home Depot for any Americans out there).  To complete this training (mostly health and safety based from what I remember) I was sat, by myself, in a room which was predictably cold and dark (it was night shifts in Sheffield after all).  Now the training might have been fine but my memory is that room and nearly dozing off after a full day at university.  Forward on 10 years or so and many of our knowledge workers will find themselves in open, airy spaces – not locked away in little rooms – but the opposite problem will often happen.  Whilst the B&Q room was overkill in providing a quiet study space we now have call centers where, when you call as a customer, you cannot hear the operator over all the other discussions happening in the surrounding area.  The open plan office debate rages on.

‘Traditional’ eLearning though can realistically happen anywhere, the aspects of listening and reading being easily enough done on a bus (for example) provided it can be deployed to mobile.  My major concern is with virtual classrooms, whilst often deployed from the ‘safe walled garden’ of an LMS/VLE, we expect these platforms to offer a comparative environment to a classroom – engaging, full of discussion and activity.  Therefore, where in office design are we seeing spaces for individual activity?  Well here a couple of examples of what is possible:

I tend to support the idea of home based and flexible working where people can actively participate in an environment where they will naturally ‘open up’ – it also deals with the notorious question of what to feed people on training events!

So, if I come into the office, what do I need?  I would say two major things:

  1. An ability to ‘dock’ into a multiple screen display – much more efficient for multitasking such as video production whilst emailing, etc.
  2. Proximity to people I need to talk to regularly, realistically my direct team to learn from them and discuss current tasks face-to-face.  That proximity may be virtual for team members who are elsewhere – in which case ideally the office will not be so open plan that talking on the phone seems antisocial to other teams around you.

My most productive time in work was probably when I sat in a team of about 4 within a space than held about 8 desks (everyone in that room being part of my extended department).  This was small enough to be intimate but large enough that you still heard about what different teams were up to and not isolated in your particular task.  I’m increasingly thinking that the 8-10 people model may be the best – flexibility is no doubt key, as illustrated in some of the ‘trendy’ offices recently picked up on by BBC Business.

The recent PWC report suggesting traditional offices may start to disappear is something I agree with but I do think we need the better joined up collaboration, learning and workflow tools that I have mentioned in previous posts – only with this can the organization remain efficient in an increasingly distributed ‘office’.  Part of that efficiency will also be to consider how people remain engaged as things change, the impact of office (space) design of engagement should not be underestimated in my opinion, although pieces regularly call up Google for examples of good practice of course.

What future for education? MOOC – Week 2

It has been a little while since I’ve engaged at all with a MOOC.  I continue to sign up for the odd one but having moved into a house which is now proving a ‘money pit‘ my spare time has largely been taken up with cleaning, worrying about money and general panic about the years of work we’re facing.

This has been educational in itself – full building surveys are there for a reason, do not buy houses based purely on character, garden sheds are difficult/impossible to fix, foxes are very similar to dogs, etc etc but I am trying to get back into further personal development (including the recent splurge of posts here).

Anyway, the WFE MOOC seems to have picked up a bit of traction with people I follow online and whilst I largely ignored Week 1, the activities for week 2 are a bit more interesting:

1 – the discussion task

Offer an example of someone who is considered to be intelligent or gifted BUT who has had to be an expert learner. Tell us something about that person (they could be real, someone you know well, or a celebrity or fictional character). Outline why you think they are a “good” learner. THEN choose two posts from the discussion forum (not your own) and post a response to them: why do you think their learner is a good example: what does it tell us about intelligence and learning? Please read our forum posting policies before posting or starting a new thread.

Now I find this task description a little complicated, the need to use BUT and THEN in the way they have kind of highlights that there could/should have at least been use of bullets to better set out the instruction. From one of the staff replies, to someone seeking clarification, there is also something clearly missing in the above description:

“The idea is to consider the learning process of people who are considered to be gifted or intelligent.
There are examples of people who are highly successful who were even at some point in their life considered to have learning or other difficulties, overcoming this by developing expert learner skills
A little reading up on people who you consider to be particularly intelligent or gifted might give you some ideas. (musicians, businesspeople, scientists, nobel prize winners etc)”

There is a clear difference here between identifying a good learner (lets say Napoleon as an example of someone who studied hard at military school and quickly learned on the job afterwards) against someone who has overcome a learning or other difficult by becoming an expert learner (Stephen Hawking type examples here I guess or the business leaders for whom ‘school didn’t work’ only for them to still be a success and find out later that they had severe dyslexia or something similar).

This all highlighting one problem of running a MOOC – that you open yourself up to a world of nitpicking!

2 – the reflection activity

  1. During your own education, how has your “intelligence” been assessed?
  2. How has this affected the educational opportunities you have been given?
  3. What judgments have people made about you that have been affected by an assessment of your “intelligence”?
  4. Do you consider yourself to be a “learner”? why

Personally I would say all animals are learners, in incremental ways we change our behavior continuously from dealing with basic needs, such as sourcing food, to highly technical skill development.  The education system typically assesses our recollection of information (exams) or ability to research, analyse and articulate (essays/vivas).  Recollection can be more complex, for example in Mathematics, but rarely would my formal education have assessed in more detailed ways.  Few opportunities were given for more detailed investigation, coursework in practical subjects at school would have at least combined physical skills with mental activities.  Intelligence can of course be judged in many ways, Howard Gardner etc etc, but as the image in course menu suggested, we revert to ‘clever’, ‘brainy’, ‘smart’ and many negative options too.  Ultimately we will all learn but combinations of our neurology, previous experiences and environment will impact what this means in reality.

The inevitable backlash to ‘curation’

One of the popular terms of the last eighteen months or so, both on the wider web and specifically in L&D circles, has been ‘curation’ – indeed I mentioned it back in August 2013.

Well, inevitably the backlash has begun:

or at least the backlash against people who “don’t get it”.  Ultimately my take on this has not really changed…

Curation is nothing new.

Directories drove the early web until search improved.  We now see ‘live’, largely automated, directories aggregating content on an ongoing basis – albeit at the risk of rehashing old ideas and not moving the conversation forward.  Quality curation is one way to raise, above the noise, genuinely new insight, research, data, etc.

Information skills are essential to any non-automated approach and there would certainly be an argument that where ‘time is money’ some level of automated curation (as part of a personal learning and information system) could be supplemented by people focusing on information management/curation and distribution in your organisation (rather than the potential for duplication of effort, etc by everyone spending time managing their own).  However, I see two major challenges:

  1. Personal network versus “supported learning network”.  The inevitable problem for any kind of internal awareness, communication or learning curation will be that it has already been captured by an individual’s personal system.  For example, a colleague may share something on my team’s internal social tool which I have already engaged with via Twitter.  We have moved past restrictions enforcing only ‘work tools on work time’ so how can we balance this without boring ourselves and our audiences via multiple sharing/discussion streams?
  2. ‘Human touch’ curation capabilities are limited.  The cutbacks of recent decades to information-related teams mean that the focus is more likely to fall on the individual, supported by groups such as internal communications (for distributing key messages) and knowledge/record management (for longer term curation).  I see the recent focus of L&D on curation, to capture quality content and share appropriately as one area where my information background and learning technologies crossover – quality content has been the core reason for libraries and now we are seeing transformation of learning away from ‘our stuff’ to recognizing the value in UGC and integration with 3rd party materials.  Ultimately we would want everyone’s daily work to be built around a single company virtual space which can do everything we might need around learning, sharing, communication, etc.  The challenge is that this system realistically does not exist and, in all probability, existing businesses face fragmentation and silos.

So I would say lets strive to ensure our organizations appropriately curate but recognize it will have failings and is not the solution to every form of learning/content need.