Microsoft Teams: The platform we’ve been waiting for?

What is a ‘learning platform’?  It, perhaps, needs to support behavior change and knowledge sharing.  Therefore, it has been good to try out this week what Microsoft have launched with Teams and think how it might be used.

Now, it could be used for the Teams communication and sharing.  However, my mind has wandered to how it might work as more of an ESN/LMS if you went for a topic focus – creating open/public teams per topic where the business feels it has needs.

Now there are possible problems – not least that the rather unhelpful banner prompts you download a desktop app.  Hi Microsoft – its 2017 calling, where is the mobile app prompt!

Microsoft Teams Desktop Download Prompt

As for Microsoft – this might be the way to add structure to your sharing of documents and conversations.  However, there are clearly the problems with how this should work between Delve, Yammer and other options.

So what about the LMS?  Well there has, of course, been the “LMS/VLE is dead” narrative for a while, add to this a renewed discussion around disruption.  Therefore, can Teams act in place of the LMS – for example as a “learning experience platform“.  Whilst you could argue with a lot of that article this piece certainly resonates:

A disruptive change has occurred. Companies no longer look at their LMS as the core of their learning infrastructure. It’s now the back-end, and they are searching for a new employee experience, which demands a new set of tools.

There are many exciting things happening in the learning technology space: tools like Workplace by Facebook, Slack, and Skype are becoming enterprise-class, and these tools will likely become primary destinations for learners too. Now we need a new class of learning platforms that bring all this content together, deliver it in a compelling way, and give us the social and mobile experience we use every day throughout our life at home.


Microsoft Display Dock

Initial thoughts on Continuum

A couple of months back I was given the chance by Vodafone to upgrade early. The choice was then clear, stay with Windows (‘upgrading’ from a Nokia to latest Microsoft phone), go back to Android (same as my work phone) or switch to Apple (work phone up-to about a year ago).

I fundamentally prefer the Windows phone/mobile/Windows for phone interface so opted to stay put.

One tempting advantage of moving to the new device (beyond the fresh battery as my Nokia was struggling to last a day) was to try Continuum.

I got very excited about Continuum on release. Here are my pros and cons from a month or so of (attempted) use with the display dock:

·        Very simple to use and setup using the ‘gadgets’ feature which I’d previously not really seen the point of in Windows 10.
·        The dock itself (see pic) is nice and has a ‘paperweight’ kind of feeling – not too light to feel flimsy but light enough to carry easily.
·        Using the phone for control (mouse trackpad and typing) work nice enough.
·        The dock comes with two cables, one with wall connection for power and one for connecting to phone – this has become my home charger with the Microsoft original now at my work office desk.
·        Great at offering functions when my primary home device (iMac) isn’t available – for example going through emails, browsing, etc.
·        I didn’t manage to pick up a dock for free (as has occasionally been the offer) so had to spend a little extra for one on eBay.
·        You don’t get a HDMI cable with the dock, so it has added to the switching on my home TV (2 HDMI ports) between PlayStation, Apple TV and Sky Box. This is another thing you’d have to find and carry when traveling (I didn’t take one on holiday and the gite’s TV only had scart cables so I couldn’t use it).
·        The Store.  It’s perhaps the information manager in me, but the Store is awful. The lack of an easy filter (currently just a limited Microsoft controlled collection/listing for Continuum enabled apps) is a glaring gap. That so many sites and user forums have listings of games and other apps that work with Continuum shows people are having to work around Microsoft’s own approach.
·        Existing non-Continuum apps. It would be really nice if these just appeared in phone dimensions, rather than not being accessible at all.
·        If I was to carry a mouse and keyboard on the go, are you really saving much space from a laptop? Perhaps, but probably not from the netbook I would have used on the go c.10 years ago.
·        The dock to phone cable included is fine for desk usage but not so great (length wise) for working with my TV and wanting to be sat back on my sofa.

·        The sound comes through the phone speakers not my TV. Admittedly the speakers are better than in my last device but it seems, from searching help forums, that audio output is a little random in terms of which monitors/tvs/etc. respond to c’ connections.

Overall, still huge potential.  However the App issues, which normally don’t bother me as I’m happy with what my phone device can do (phone, podcasts, contacts, messaging, Facebook, browsing, maps), become acute when trying to take the phone device to the next level. With the larger screen you want more games and apps.

I would recommend it though for organisations where staff are on the move and could hot desk using Word and other core apps as they go. Perhaps best for those who work in environments such as journalism, consultants (although they may want their own dock for when at client sites) and where you don’t often need to be at a desk but do want to check emails, etc. when you do – perhaps in a retail or factory environment.

My vote for the Top Tools for Learning 2016

Here’s what I submitted to the annual poll (

  • Tool 1: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Old Reader – personal RSS reader of choice for news, sharing and current awareness.
  • Tool 1: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 2: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Xmarks – bookmarking for personal knowledge library and sharing of folders/topics with contacts and colleagues
  • Tool 2: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 3: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: YouTube – still most used video platform in terms of access to recorded webinars, tutorials, etc.
  • Tool 3: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 4: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Articulate Storyline 2 – authoring tool of choice for content distribution and for developing support tools.
  • Tool 4: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning

  • Tool 5: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Totara – simplifies our L&D management requirements for regulators, government, etc allowing more of our time on performance support and career development.
  • Tool 5: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 6: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: LinkedIn – learning via groups and 1-2-1 communication. A source for news and useful links (but less so than Old Reader or YouTube).
  • Tool 6: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 7: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: WordPress – for reflection and sharing my learning.
  • Tool 7: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 8: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Prezi – started using it again this year to share messaging where the templates/zooming helps.
  • Tool 8: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 9: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Firefox – as the entry point to other tools remains essential. Used over other tools for speed, plugins, etc.
  • Tool 9: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 10: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Grover Pro – Podcast app of choice for learning on the go.
  • Tool 10: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

Game elements often ignored by learning pros

Gamification has been a buzzword for a few years now but the success of Pokemon Go has, inevitably, led to a raft of ‘what can L&D learn from Pokemon’ articles whilst the even more inevitable backlash has already begun (Should employers clamp down on Pokemon Go?).

1 – Reflections on elements ignored

Electronic gaming has been a huge part of my life (at least if we use ‘time spent’ as a measure) since my brother got his C64 many years ago.  Having, therefore, played games for 30 or so years it is with interest to see a few points missed by many:

  1. Gamers are not one-size-fits all.  Like with other media, gamers are not a universal group.  There have been long running cultural differences between, for example, some Japanese-focused releases versus the American/Europe market based on real (and presumed) preference.  Opera and pop fans are not normally lumped together as ‘music fans’ but even though there are differences, for example those who primarily aim for quick fixes versus being happy to play the long game, gamers often are.  Where there is a more widespread group, such as mobile phone playing commuters they’ve been seen as the exception “casual gamers” rather than what they actually are, the majority (in terms of everyday use as Pokemon has highlighted).  What this means for learning is what we already know – we need to personalise and tailor to the audience.
  2. Games are not one-size-fits all.  Yes, there are some standard elements of games (see “What is a Game”) and there is a science behind gamification (check out Yu-Kai Chou) based on a number of neurological and psychological elements.  However, sports games versus grand-strategy games, for example, represents a decision between, say, a 10 minute commitment versus 100s of hours.  What this means for learning is again what we already know but often fail to implement – activities need to be correct for the desired outcomes, not just fitting into a set time limit based on what regulators, room booking systems, technology or other limiter puts upon us.
  3. Ultimately it is an industry, not just a game.  Games even have a CrashCourse series on the evolution of the market and related topics.  Too often learning is a breed apart from the business and ‘gamifying’ to make things more interactive/addictive is likely to just make this even more obvious.  ‘Serious games’ should be able to avoid this, others need to be used appropriately for your culture.
  4. Effectively game entertainment relies on neurology/psychology.  Gaming can become a very real addiction.  It is not some kind of magic Greek fire that the learning department needs to discover the recipe for for our own means, instead it is about making things compelling which learning pros have traditionally had mixed success with.
  5. Gaming is often to ‘zone out’.  Yes there are engagement design decisions but often a game is taking the place of a book, TV, exercise, etc. as a way to unwind and relax.  The game playing becomes almost subconscious.  The challenge here is to take a new decision when thinking about learning – when is non-engagement okay?  This shouldn’t be a lack of engagement in the way that, say, repeated ‘next’ clicking in an e-learning module creates but instead something where people are able to learn even if they are not necessarily making notes, discussing with peers, etc.  Podcasts are an obvious route to support this, for example by allowing people to pick up key corporate messages whilst on their commute.

2 – Key things to take from gaming

So what else would I say learning can learn from games?  Well there are obviously plenty of people who have written and researched on this topic.  I would particularly highlight:

  1. Be entertaining.  Tackle Netflix, Pokemon and the rest via edutainment.  Podcasts and some other educational media have achieved relative success in this.  In comparison workplace learning remains, too often, a chore.  Narrative, where appropriate, can be key in tackling boredom…remember even a mega budget Hollywood blockbuster can flop if people do not engage with the characters, story and/or special effects.
  2. Be non-linear.  Allow the learner choices, for example, I can lead my medieval kingdom in Crusader Kings down unlimited paths whilst my eLearning is too often a locked down exercise.
  3. Design for “one more go”.  We want deep learning experiences to be addictive or raise a challenge that people want to tackle.  Here we need to balance carrot and stick and this aligns with the Stella Collins’ presentation at the CIPD exhibition last year.
  4. Support around the experience.  Many games do not expect you to become a pro via game-time alone; magazines, user guides and websites have been used to provide tips, cheats and walkthroughs.  Use all the communication and information management tools at your disposal, think beyond ‘learning’ solutions for your blend.
  5. Don’t be cheesy.  Fixing learning into a model such as a car racing visualisation isn’t engaging – you are almost certainly using animation without emotion, chance, risk, etc.  You can of course be ironic in this but it would depend on your culture if people would would like that, for example, I’m trialling putting funny Easter eggs into my e-Learning and seeing what the reaction is – inevitably some people like them whilst others think I’ve lost the plot, ultimately we’re all different…see point 1.1!

‘Professional development teachers receive has a tremendous impact in the classroom’ (Nicky Morgan…*facepalm* and my BETT 2016)

I missed BETT last year due to work commitments so it was good to go this year and see the usual mix of product evolution and emerging ideas.

Enthusiasm I had from the event was though, at least partly, brought back down to earth by the email I received from the BETT organizers not long after getting home or, at least, by the subject line:

‘Professional development teachers receive has a tremendous impact
in the classroom’ (Nicky Morgan today)

The Day 1 highlights video that was included in the email is here:

Now, that specific quote from Nicky Morgan is not actually in the above video, it is in her 14 minute talk embedded below (text version here):

Whilst you might think the sentiment in the quote seems fair; for me, the quote is a real face palm moment.  Why?  Well, because it summarizes so many of the problems with education today.

The fundamental issue I have is that professional development is not something that should be talked about as being received, it is something you should undertake by seeking out opportunities and sharing with colleagues, it is personal, yet collaborative.  If the Secretary of State for Education is reinforcing such a fundamentally incorrect concept about lifelong learning it really is a worry.  Whilst I recognize teachers are among the very busiest professionals we have in the UK, so it is difficult for them to reflect on their practice, engage in communities of practice, etc. it would still be better to encourage all teachers to engage with improving their skill sets.  Instead she links teacher CPD to DfE, university and private sector funding, all of this whilst standing in possibly the biggest single free personal development event of the year.  Oh well, opportunity missed I guess.

There are plenty more points in the presentation that I could complain about but I’ll resist with the exception of the below piece:

“we have made it clear…that knowledge is the key to excellent educational outcomes…probably the worse attitude that we can take is that access to search engines is somehow a substitute for knowledge, it isn’t”

Let’s ask the future what they think of that opinion:


Okay, okay, so we perhaps do not need to go as far as to believe we live in a world where we can just ask a computer when we need to recall something (I’ll not go so far as to suggest tools such as Cortana and Siri are there yet).  However, there is the implied suggestion that the curriculum and assessment become recall assessments as a result of a focus on ‘knowledge’, rather than skills.  Let us see what the business community (well Accenture) has to say on that kind of approach:

Indeed, even if we just look at the “knowledge is…key” opinion from a Blooms Taxonomy perspective (aka Learning and Teaching 101), then recalling knowledge is clearly a pretty low level skill.  I understand the point that the EBacc has been introduced to ensure core knowledge, with higher level skill development possible on top of that, but it jars to me to suggest that search engines should not be recognised as a hugely powerful resource.  My own instructional design aims to avoid ever redesigning/reinventing/redelivering content that exists on the open web without, at least, adding value through context.

So what about my day at BETT 2016?  Well, there was not much that really caught the eye and I did not attend too many talks as I wanted to get around the whole show.  However, some thoughts below:

  1. Adaptive tech, as mentioned by Nicky Morgan, continues to bubble away as a potential game changer.  In the Higher Education sessions I caught Desire2Learn talking about their LeaP product.  The possibilities here for automated semantic matching to create bespoke learning pathways are hugely interesting.  It was also interesting to see how D2L had one of the smallest stands in the exhibition space when Instructure had a huge one for Canvas, I guess it goes to show how the funding of tech companies changes over time (albeit that Canvas was being pushed to the event’s core schools market).
  2. I tweeted before the event that it seemed around half of all stalls were new this year.  That number astounds me but shows there is still a lot of buoyancy in the learning tech market – or at least a lot of investment speculation.  To be fair this is partly skewed by the very small stalls where people are effectively pitching ideas – there were some interesting stalls in those spaces including around analytics products.
  3. The best demo I saw was of – cloud based mapping technology, with a wide arrange of options and data mapping all within the browser.  Even better is that a lot of the tool’s functionality is public, with education users able to use it for just £100 a year (per school) as part of their CSR – their profit making sales coming from other users.
  4. Microsoft.  The main sponsors/partner for the event had quite a lot going on in their exhibition spaces (including the above Arcgis presentation).  Interesting to see them pushing the idea of combining apps (including OneNote), devices 1-2-1 (Surface), session recording (OfficeMix) and more for an integrated classroom experience.  With Google and others present it really does seem to have become the battle of the ecosystems, however with Office Apps on non Windows platforms I wonder how much value Microsoft can really suggest the bundling approach creates.  LP+365 was particularly interesting in looking to turn Office365 into an LMS, in contrast to the longer standing SharePoint solutions (such as this one).
  5. Discendum seem to have cracked some of the Open Badge deployment challenges, I liked the idea of learners being able to come up with their own badges and recommend colleagues/fellow students for those.