Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Learning Innovations Conference


The first, of what the team at GOSH hope will be an annual, conference on learning innovation in the National Health Service (NHS).  Although I am outside of the NHS, the presentations sounded interesting so I decided to attend.  In reality a lot of the sessions were pretty generic and not public sector or NHS centric.

There were a lot of interesting ideas discussed through the day in what was clearly a mixed audience in terms of awareness of learning technology, innovation, etc.  The day certainly seemed useful especially to those newer to learning innovation/technology.

#GOSHLIC2013 (although I totally failed to tweet on the day as I was busy chatting and typing).

New to me (at risk of sounding ignorant):

  • Delegates and sponsors presumed I was there due to the NHS/KPMG/LINE leadership development program [I had not realised quite how a big a project this was from the NHS perspective].
  • ‘Just Now, Just Right, Just Enough’ as a description of the post-Just In Time world was new I think [is this any different to the idea of ‘Just for me’?].
  • Mobile audience categorization as:
    • “Repetitive now”
    • “Bored now” or
    • “Urgent now”.
  • One of the sponsors = [although I do have a habit of forgetting the names of eLearning companies].
  • An outlined marketing approach (define audience > define proposition > how back it up – substantiation > call to action) more useful to think about than 9Ps [which is the main thing I remember from my marketing training].
  • The Open Source, Adapt framework, being a collaboration between different eLearning vendors.

Longer narrative/explanation of the day’s sessions…

Opening address: L&D for the 21st Century (Donald H Taylor)

I attend various things Don organizes so I had seen some of this before.  However, it was still an engaging call for L&D departments to not ‘go the way of the typing pool’ and avoid becoming a redundant part of the business.

He started with a simple question, ‘what have you seen change in the last 5 years?’  This kicked off several minutes of discussion.  Some of the more interesting points made were where disagreement was sparked in the room:

  • Can remote learning be as social as face-to-face?  I argued that it is social, but often in an ongoing form rather than the 8-hour classroom session followed by drinks model that people have become accustomed to.
  • Change has ultimately been driven by cost cutting?  eLearning and virtual classroom have been a response to funding and business drivers, not learning enhancement?  A key theme to emerge here, and reoccur through the day, was the problems that compliance training in the NHS (and other industries) has created for eLearning.  It was good to hear some stories of more engaging compliance items starting to bring that boat back to shore and help with eLearning’s image problem.
  • We need ongoing learning to support evidence based practice but evidence in NHS of people cheating on eLearning (for example posting crib sheets online and having their team complete tests for them).  Issue is the staff who think cheating is acceptable or the marketing of the eLearning (including the perceived importance staff hold for it)?

There was an interesting metaphor thrown up in the discussions – L&D departments need to act like a DJ.  We can have a planned ‘set’ but if no one is getting on the dance floors then we need to learn to change things to increase engagement and get people moving.

Don then went through the argument about L&D needing to change as fast as the business.  If we get this right then we can have ‘learning leadership’ (formerly labelled ‘risky’), too many L&D departments are behind their business’ change curve and stuck in the ‘training ghetto’.  Don traced the problems back to 1990 and two key changes:

  1. The WWW and the change to ‘frictionless’ information, where we can find what we want in most cases without the need of an intermediary.  The web shows change does not have to be difficult – users have adopted YouTube, Google, etc. without even thinking about it.  RuderFinn index shows the web is primarily used for learning, issue for many corporates is that in-house systems are simply not as easy to use as websites so people ignore them [this is a similar argument that has been made against the continuing value of corporate information/library teams].
  2. Tipping point between value of tangible and intangible value in organizations.  World now all about skills and talent and L&D have not adapted appropriately.

In terms of point 1 above, the question was asked what are key new technologies in changing the environment going forward, suggestions included:

  • Hardware changes are increasing engagement with elearning via touch, voice activation, etc.
  • Personalization of learning paths via improved systems that automatically recognize cross selling of content opportunities and your prowess.
  • Rapid development tools for further democratization of learning production.
  • Augmented reality for contextualizing the real world via web information.
  • Virtual worlds maturing for specific uses in role plays and simulations, partly via gamification techniques.

Don’s top three were:

  • Mobile
  • Video
  • The Cloud

Ultimately he argued that the combination of the three can allow for a more fluid learning environment, both in terms of production (such as BT’s successful ‘Dare 2 Share’ program) and maintenance (moving things out of IT control and firewall problems).  I would agree with Don’s point that these three are here to stay and that many L&D departments are well behind the general/end-user curve in adoption.  The point he made about APIs linking more and more of these systems in the cloud, I would say, leads to the big challenge – that L&D successfully moves to full blown use of systems and data.

For Point 2 Don used the analogy of his first car.  Back in the day you would tinker with your car, play with the spark plugs, etc.  Today we are happy with much less control over a far more complex machine; we only alter the oil and water.  He argued L&D needs to stop getting hands dirty tinkering and instead get behind the wheel and drive things forward.  He seemed to be pointing to two things here for me:

  1. The need to be more strategic and play a role in ensuring the business follows a route to success.
  2. That L&D need not be the producers of content but rather guide learners through our information heavy world to the bits of content which are of highest value to them.  This kind of idea always, for me, brings us back to the question of what L&D/Corporate Universities are really for.

Making mobile learning work for you (LINE)

This started with some background to mobile before a (very) abbreviated version of their design workshop (which they would normally engage with a client over half a day or more).

The background content argued that:

  • Traditional eLearning assumed a person-to-PC-at-desk relationship.  Now need to design for a less predictable learning environment, need to recognize workforce flexibility and mobile device use.
  • Just In Case (JIC) training is old hat.  Indeed Just In Time (JIT) is on its way out.  Instead now talking about ‘Just Now, Just Right, Just Enough’.
  • Argued against some of the myths of mobile [I would say a number of these were early presumptions which were never likely to be true].
  • Examples included that people will use devices in complex ways, for example starting tasks on mobile and finishing on a tablet/desktop later (this certainly chimes with me as I constantly send things between my 6(!?!) devices to action via my preferred UX/UI at the best time for me).
  • Tablets were described as ‘consumption juggernauts’ changing the delivery channel of multiple industries.  Learning needs to catch up [I wouldn’t disagree but I would also argue that consumption-centricity is a tablet myth – and will be increasingly so as Windows8 picks up].
  • I liked the idea of mobile as a frontier (as in Wild West or Final) and that it is still new enough for there to be ‘opportunities for all’.

Workshop element:

  • Think about development projects as a Venn diagram between audience, context and content.
  • Google identify three types of mobile user: ‘bored now’ (for example when waiting for a friend or on a train), ‘urgent now’ (need to find something quickly like the nearest garage when your car has broken down), and ‘repetitive now’ (same content over and over, such as, how to do a task or checking the weather forecast).
  • We had a number of worksheets to work through:
    • What business issues trying to solve/what you want to achieve;
    • Audience characteristics, needs and requirements;
    • Mapping the context of use (device, location, mindset, activities, etc);
    • Paper prototyping of actual design.

Following the workshop activity there was a bit on ‘what next for mobile?’.  I would agree that it simply has to be seen as part of the mix/blend of what you offer in terms of resources.  I would also agree that there is a long way to go to achieve true ‘just for me’ learning in most contexts, making use of your mobile’s functionality to recognize who and where you are and what you are doing.

The session ended with a brief plug for Linestream, their solution to all of this.

Content marketing for engagement (MyLearningWorx)

This session only got a fairly small way through the proposed slide deck but it still managed to consider some key messages that L&D could learn from marketing [‘content marketing’ is a bit of a buzz term at the time being the influence of which is being considered in various industries, including instructional design].

Existing logic in L&D is that to gain adoption we need:

  • higher production values (get people to pay attention via quality) and/or
  • carrot and stick.

The second tends to be better than the first but neither is best practice if look at it from a marketing perspective.  Personally, I would also point out that production values can often be irrelevant if you think how popular ‘user generated content’ is.

Marketing has become more specific as data driven in digital era.  L&D catching up in this area with data analytics but still facing some legacy challenges:

  • information overload (too many courses for would-be learners to work through),
  • employees don’t want to do it (no self motivation, insufficient reward),
  • using eLearning for compliance turns people off (as mentioned in the intro session).

The presenter had a full 10 challenges list [slides were deliberately text heavy I’ll try and add a link shortly].

Introduced a four stage process for marketing eLearning – used for 50 years in top advertising agencies:

  1. define audience,
  2. define proposition,
  3. how back it up (substantiation),
  4. call to action.

I suspect that learning designers normally do this as part of ADDIE-type models but that the proposition is not strong enough and the calls to action are weak [i.e. we need to focus more on the marketing/curation and less of the content itself].  More detail on the four stages:

  • Audience – capture main stream of audience.  Do not try to capture everyone, if spending money on advertising this is impossible, aim for centre of target.  Indeed, if aim for specific audience you can hold community together (Sheila’s Wheels, etc build on prejudice or other hook). Understanding target market has ballooned as an industry – advertising huge part of big data.
  • Proposition – engage with audience once you know them. Proposition all about the value they will get. Needs to be simple, short and to point – punchy.  Can be something which seems odd or is not the main reason for buying a product (the hole in a mint for example) but about remembering the product – stick in mind of audience.
  • Substantiation – how can you back up the proposition?  About Features combined with Benefits = Evidence (essentially Kirkpatrick in learning context, substantiation of evidence of learning).  Can use course descriptions to make case to potential users/learners.  If we cannot provide evidence, via Kirkpatrick type approach, then the course is of questionable quality. However, the main point made was that it is difficult.  In email marketing you only have 50 characters (for subject) that can make or break you.  Need emotional tie in. Argued for the benefit of rhythm, the flow of words can be more important than content.
  • Call to action – what do we do to get to the goal(s).  The example here was an interesting one – how to chat up a lady.  If marketing a fantastic product (i.e. you are Brad Pitt) then you perhaps don’t need to sell, more likely situation is that you need to break down the deal.  Start with free content (glasses of wine) to get first goal, the contact point such as an email address (phone number).  The initial target being to aim for another selling opportunity (a date).  In other words…start communication to build on later for ultimate success (ongoing relationships).

Overall, the session was a useful reminder that even when you think you have a captive audience you should still consider your ‘pitch’.

Way beyond the course – getting engagement by any means necessary (Kineo)

This session sounded interesting but had a late name change to “10 trends for learning, technology and engagement in 2014”, a presentation covering the outcomes from Kineo’s latest research.

The discussion followed the 10 points in the report:

  • 1/2 – Learning is pervasive seemed to merge in with Design and delivery in a pervasive world.  70/20/10 to 33/33/33 – social/informal/formal [of course there are multiple variations of this, including Q2 Learning’s].  Learning designers need to consider a more complex blend, including the informal and user generated content.  New models are emerging, for example, a major bank has managers post blog entries to demonstrate competencies.  Commenting, ratings and sharing by the audience can be used to judge quality.  Tools can include Hangouts and Skype, many people are already familiar with them and it adds the social element to learning resources.
  • 3 – Assessment is different in a pervasive learning world.  Becoming ever less valid to just Multiple Choice your assessments; Tin Can will record experiences not just scores. Other changes include continuous fluid formative assessment and Open Badges.  Most people in the room didn’t seem to know about Open Badges so changes to certification took up quite a bit of the session, there was an argument that the key point is that they do expire so can enforce keeping your skills current.  There was general agreement that rigor and creditability will be needed for them to be a success but I would suggest we can see badges becoming like anything else – there will be a mix in quality.  We are kidding ourselves if we think every university course is comparable, YouTube videos vary enormously, etc. – Open Badges will vary too, as part of an open ecosystem.
  • 4 – Design and delivery challenges.  Content and learning to be pervasive to all devices, for example, need to move away from Flash.  60% of smart phone use at home so talking multiple ‘devices’, not ‘mobile’.  However, for producers/editors there are major issues with multiple versions of same product, so aim is for versions that respond, not multiple versions.  Some issues with IT still although departments are opening up to Open Source, BYOD, etc.  Kineo have responsive design solution to get around multi device world, Adapt framework – have open sourced it and trying to work with Sponge and LearningPool on this [I had not realized at the LearningPool event that their authoring tool changes were the same thing as this].  There was a brief demo of the tool’s output, including arguing for benefits of a scrolling approach to navigation design rather than old click-through-PowerPoint style.  Bookmark and tracking in LMS will treat an item accessed as one item (i.e. move learning toward the ‘Netflix experience’).  They have an online community in place to support the launch of Adapt and it should be released from early January but are using it in some places – showed public scout training.  Another advantage of html is that it is searchable, so can help with the move from course to resource models.  In designing higher empathy learning, follow ideas of Charles Leadbeater, we need to move to high system/high empathy learning.  Personalize what we offer in the way other systems do (for example Amazon and Google are highly personalized) – Amazon even recognizes when you hover over something but don’t click on it.
  • 5 – Line managers remain critical.  Managers essentially a tool for ensuring empathy at lower systematic level, for example informal coaching.  Time with manager the most important thing for many people when considering development success.
  • 6 – Never underestimate learners’ ability to help each other. Includes, but not limited to, social media.  L&D can help people be more efficient social learners.
  • 7 – Informal learning must not become chaotic. The risk/danger is that single sources of truth are lost in situations where they remain relevant.  However is it L&D’s role to say what should be used? Here arguments for acting as a filter, via curation, came up again. Other options exist too, including Google taking authorship as content authority in search results.  Search internally should recognize importance of author and how much an item has been shared (Google uses shares in search results – power of individuals outweighing automation).  Individual voice needs to come out more in internal resources including eLearning, ultimately it is difficult to empathize with anonymous, designed by committee, resources.
  • 8 – Develop people internally.  This wasn’t really covered due to time – from the report: “With hiring freezes and a desire to recruit for ‘will not skill’ there’s increased focus on internal development through apprenticeships, accreditation and qualifications. Thus a challenge is developing cost-effective trainee/apprenticeship programmes of learning”.
  • 9 – Rapid development as a solution to ongoing more for less.  More demand for evidence from investments will lead to further innovation in area of costs.
  • 10 – Learning will follow web tech, try not to fall too far behind.  We need to look at how Hummingbird is changing the web, what Google Now is offering our staff, etc.  Finished with the question ‘if Google was building an LMS what would it do’ against a list of the current problems with L&D setups [of course Google has dallied in the area as seems to now be throwing itself behind EdX].

The day closed with a Q&A panel discussion.

Summary of the discussion, including the main arguments, included below.

Still a place for the classroom?

  • Yes, but change those spaces (more flexible, sofas, etc.) and roles (facilitate).
  • Flipped classrooms can extend to organizations’ room design; make offices for collaboration not sitting in a cubicle.
  • Classrooms are an invention, will move back to experiential learning.
  • Can replace and augment, but are physical elements that can still best be done in classroom.

Is humour is missing/impossible in eLearning?

  • Are some good examples, e.g. Video Arts.
  • Mention for John Cleese on creativity, issue is people think serious is solemn.
  • One way is to include Easter eggs for humour, to reward engagement, etc.


  • If difficult to work in, always option to deliver alternatives (inc. coaching) for those who need them.
  • Should get easier with HTML5.
  • Basic stuff should be easy to meet, can always try and familiarize yourself with what your organization needs on top of that.
  • Rapid tools often claim more than they actually can do in this area, especially when compared to Section 508 – tighter than what we have in UK.
  • Need to ensure have alternatives, JAWS compatability, etc. Have to think about it, can code in descriptions for JAWS.
  • Recommendation [that I would echo] for TechDis for advice, etc.

Real faces vs. avatars.

  • Are some virtual humans emerging to supplement training in place of actors, etc.
  • Overall view – better if own face for personalisation.
  • However, to an extent, it depends on the situation – including if want people to be able to fail or provide feedback safely.
  • If honesty needed, should use representation of yourself.

Top tips for starting with mobile.

What will be the next big thing?

  • Ability to measure the unconscious via neuroscience enhancements.
  • Wearable devices will be big thing, inc. recording of unconscious and emotions (Japanese – ears and tail!).
  • Need to be more scientific in use of data, including for personalization.
  • We need to change and do things differently not about tech per se.

LearningPool Live South

Last week I was something of an impostor, attending the LearningPool user community’s third and final regional conference of the season.

A puppy
A dog yesterday

The session I attended on LearningPool itself introduced the organization under their four service offerings:

  1. Content
    • Off-the-shelf resources, including some customer generated eLearning modules.
    • Core catalogs are compliance, health & safety and public sector (including health care).
    • What they develop is based on the customer base (for example they have gained housing sector customers and have responded appropriately).
    • They also offer customers ebooks, resources, image libraries, etc for their own content.
    • Authoring tool (moving to online, producing adaptive content, from desktop) to help you build your own eLearning.
  2. Platform
    • Dynamic Learning Environment (DLE) based on Moodle.  Includes some customizations, such as ‘classroom connect’ for booking onto f-2-f environments.
    • Second solution is based on Totara version of Moodle with more development mapping tools (including user-owned aspirational paths), rather than just a focus on courses, and management tracking dashboards.
  3. Support
    • Offer first line support to customers’ platform users.
    • Learning consultants to help you with your designs and blended experiences.
  4. Community
    • Events such as this one, online communities, sharing of resources, tips, etc.

The event also saw advertising for their new Encore product, a tool for learning reinforcement via mobile application, helping to tackle the forgetting curve.

I have been aware of LearningPool and their services for a while and whilst most of the attendees were from their public sector-centric user base the list of speakers suggested it was worth me attending.  This proved the case, with me coming away reinvigorated.

Learning Futures: How new & emerging technologies will impact learning and development

The day started with Steve Wheeler on the ‘developing possibilities’ for future learning.  I have seen Steve present a few times before and this was on some similar lines, indeed he even mentioned how his own views and conference presentations have changed over time.  The biggest shift in his thinking of late being the role of pervasive tech, the web everywhere, rather than being specifically about ‘mobile’ devices.

The biggest eyebrow raising moment on my desk was when Steve argued that Learning and Development staff can no longer be happy working a 9-5.  Now I have mixed feelings on this.  In my current role I have been lucky enough to get in and out of the office largely on my contracted terms, this is quite different to my previous role – not least in that I am contracted for 30 minutes a day less anyway.  However, whilst this means I am home on good time to entertain my puppy (gratuitous photo included) I am then checking Tweetdeck, attending webinars, reading emails, checking my employer’s social network via the mobile app, etc.  This ‘informal’ learning may or may not help my employers directly in the future but will build up my personal abilities in the knowledge economy.  I would argue that you need to be flexible but that is for all staff.  However, as the recent Dispatches episode showed, you need to be careful in moving toward flexible hours, etc.  That said, you have to agree with Steve that, in many ways, you are lucky if you do have a job in the current environment and as such should look to develop yourself to offer a great service in every way possible.

This all said, L&D departments must surely now recognize that their technology enhanced learning solutions must support 24/7 learning.  Steve advocated that this is now developing away from just-in-time (JIT) to just-for-me (JFM) via the personalization options afforded by technology, such as augmented reality, with employer supplied learning options just part of an individual’s personal learning network (PLN).  Digital literacies will be needed to make best use of this and L&D can help develop staff along an evolutionary path, described as:

skills > competencies > literacies > mastery

Within this changing environment, Open Badges were advocated as the way to support the 70 of 70/20/10 and accredit that development activities and competency developments are actually happening.  One term, if not theory, I think was new to me was ipsative assessment – assessing you against your own previous attainment rather than that of others.  These assessment methods are useful when dealing with specialists where bench-marking is difficult due to limited numbers/data and is closely associated with some of the ideas around gamification and motivation.

Why does Employee Engagement matter?

I thought the pieces on PLNs and motivation were interesting in light of the following presentation by Dan Hardaker.  Dan argued that off-the-shelf surveys, such as those supplied by management consultants and ‘best places to work’ surveys, do not tell the correct picture.  What really matters is the combination of engagement, involvement and direction.  Using tips from Genesis Housing created quadrants to label staff from their annual staff survey data.  These quadrants used deliberately provocative names to foster internal discussions which has helped create a participatory organization and speed up the authoring of policies and agreement on ways forward.  Overall, the message was that getting people involved is more important than surveys and other such reports – this is how you get people to ‘offer more of their capability’.

I would agree with much of what Dan said, emotional involvement and a feeling you are making a difference will be key for many staff and opening up decision making will help with this.

Getting the most from your DLE

Andrew Jacobs presented on Lambeth Council’s approach to L&D, now that their team has gone from 7 to 2 with 45% funding cuts.  What Andrew presented is not dissimilar to the approach I designed at my previous employer, using your VLE/LMS/DLE for JIT and self service learning.  Lambeth now offer no face-to-face training bar some classroom health and safety content, with some synchronous learning via virtual briefings.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are responsible for maintaining their subject on the Moodle pages with links to ebooks, videos, LinkedIn, eLearning, etc as appropriate.  Andrew’s team offering fairly minimal support on this.  It is then up to the business and those SMEs to determine the success of what is offered in terms of impact on work and what might need to change.

This is not dissimilar to academic environments where the teacher/lecturer will manage the online environment and be supported by learning technologists.  Andrew may yet be a trailblazer for bringing this model to a corporate environment, albeit one where the business needs to take responsibility for elements they have previously passed on to a support department.  Overall, the approach has brought a culture change where people feel more empowered and the presumption that solution equals ‘course’ has disappeared.  Of course, this partly comes down to what a course is – and the corporate presumption that it is ‘classroom training’ is somewhat disparate to the academic which tends to assume some sort of blended learning these days.

Some of the points in this talk raised eyebrows near me again, including:

  • People can learn what they need via internal networking – external accreditation is facilitating people to leave so your L&D department should not pay for it.
    • I would say this is partly true but it is an interesting one in light of PLNs and that going forward your career may be based more on an ability to demonstrate prowess in multiple ways across multiple media.  However, I would advocate that external training still has a role for bringing in skills to your organization when they are missing, often more economically than hiring an expert or consultant in that area.  The problem comes when you encourage someone to develop via an MBA, or similar development activity, only to then not empower them to use that internally.
  • No training calendar.
    • Before working in corporate L&D I never realized how big a deal this was, enough said?
  • Without face-to-face training budgets they have instead given people a set amount of time that they should be seeking out personal development, for example in a public library.
    • Interesting but I do worry about the future of ‘time tracking’ in organizations and if it is simply unfeasible in the blurred world of learning anytime anywhere.  The need to set such guidelines seems to always suggest, to me, that the relationship between staff and their managers is not working.  However, it does at least give prominence to the idea of learning in the way Google’s 20% time gave prominence to internal innovation.

The argument was that, overall, we need to be the facilitators of training/learning in an organization, not simply the provider of courses.  I asked if Lambeth have a standalone Knowledge Management department, they do not, and I do think their DLE is ultimately being a success partly because it is performing the important task of structuring learning around tacit knowledge.  This is a similar chain of thought that led to me previously querying if Corporate Universities are dead.

The web has shown the way. eLearning needs to follow to be relevant

This presentation from the BBC Academy pointed out some of the old problems with eLearning and suggested some ways forward.  The presenter argued against the course/LMS centric model and that too much is signed off by L&D/HR rather than the consumers.  The point seemed to be to encourage a more open mindset, including breaking the course model to recognize the possibilities of the web (i.e. curating resources).

For what eLearning the BBC does have, an example was shown:

  • It looked nice
  • Navigation was standardized across modules for ease of use
  • Navigation was for discovery not locking progress
  • Visual elements were used throughout
  • Design for mobile first
  • Include onward navigation to web resources

I would hope most people would recognize these are relevant/appropriate, would anyone really disagree?  The only point I would perhaps criticize is a ‘mobile first’ approach as what is possible on different devices should be recognized and those different experiences levered in appropriate ways.

The presenter’s suggested takeaways being:

  • Need a different skill set going forward:
    • Design
    • Information architecture
    • User experience
    • Lifecycle of products, including data analysis
  • Move from course production to products which are improved continuously

Getting out of the Classroom

From the Houses of Parliament ICT training team – talking about shifting support for their 7000 staff from the classroom toward performance support and JIT.

Part of the change has been winning a battle with IT support to break the model of engineers taking calls which were assessed through metrics to one where staff perform floor walks and can immediately go to someone’s desk, having taken a first line call, to help people with what they are trying to do.  In my opinion this is a much more suitable approach in a world where everyone has different skill sets and you/they do not know what they do not know – a major problem in the new world at work and one where Grovo and others offer solutions.  I am a keen advocate of this, having seen how much help I could be to people in the past when pulling myself away from my desk to offer VLE/LMS support serendipitously.  To an extent this is not new, work-shadowing by support teams having been advocated in the past, but is perhaps something which has fallen away as organizations have looked to decrease the relative size of support teams.

This has all been done with the trainers supporting the IT engineers and as such the IT team have found their interpersonal and support skills have improved.  Morale has also jumped in that they are now clearly helping people and are seeing the faces at the other end of the line.

This was an interesting point to end on.  How much is this a success of personal, in-person, support versus making the IT department more transparent which could have been done via social networking, DLEs and other approaches?

Their IT helpline has been rebranded as ‘customer advice and support’ – answering calls with ‘what can I do for you today?’  The challenge for L&D today is, perhaps, how to make sure that all members of staff think ‘what can I do better today?’ with L&D offering the supporting infrastructure to ensure that can happen.

The Value and Importance of Repositories

These are notes from the above CILIP in London evening meeting…I was asked to write the event up for the newsletter so thought I might as well post the longer version of my notes here.

Speaker: Nancy Pontika, Repository Manager, Royal Holloway College, University of London

Nancy gave us a taste of life working with scholarly communication repositories, including challenges within the current Open Access (OA) and copyright environment.

She began with a history of the OA movement, starting from the Budapest Open Access Initiative.  Whilst OA seems simple at first, being materials available at “no cost to the consumer”, the presentation focused on the complexity that exists in different OA journal models (‘gold’ OA) and the implications for institutional and subject repositories (‘green’ OA).

Much of the talk concentrated on the difficulties in populating repositories.  Repository owners are not in a position to perform quality reviews and are, therefore, reliant on the existing journal’s peer-review models.  What repository managers can do is ensure their systems correctly implement the available OA metadata harvesting protocols to ensure transparency to search engines and, therefore, avoid the creation of silos.

What repository managers are allowed to deposit depends on copyright.  This can be very complex as different publishers have different rules over issues such as the length of the embargo period between publication and deposit, versions of documents that can be deposited (very rarely the formatted PDF of final publication) and the copyright applied (normally publishers desire all rights reserved).

An interesting point from Nancy was that she thinks we need to talk about copyrights not copyright.  Such a shift in the language enables easier discussion over which rights a publisher or author seeks to keep.  OA advocates have pushed for this so that people can apply the Creative Commons (CC) licence they find appropriate, for example, not opening their work to commercial use.  It was argued that in many ways the most important element of CC licences is that, by being machine readable, they allow information to pass between systems including ensuring they comply with Google’s advanced search filters.  A template[1] allows researchers to easily set out what they want to maintain in terms of copyrights in digital distribution prior to seeking publication.

There has been hope in the OA community that research funders might help swing the arguments away from continuing subscription based journal models.  However, there was disappointment with RCUK who pushed out a gold OA/journal-centric OA policy that depressed the repositories community.  Problems with this include that there are not many big OA journals outside of medicine and that it does not give any encouragement to academics to change their practice as career progressions remain based on prestige and, in most subjects, this means subscription journals (including those who ‘double dip’ by also charging the author processing fees).  The RCUK providing funding to pay for processing charges but it was not enough to cover the costs.  Overall, it was argued that RCUK had left most sides in the process disappointed as this lack of funding is then forcing universities to go down the repositories route while publishers disliked their demands for the CC-BY licence to be applied.  HEFCE meanwhile are supporting an OA future for the Research Excellence Framework but with a focus on repositories over journals, complicating matters even further for those seeking funds from RCUK.

The Q&A session following the talk expanded the discussion to consider how repositories can be used beyond peer-reviewed journal articles.  There was discussion over the value of repositories hosting learning materials and under/postgraduate research papers, could they be used more as a storage backbone to Virtual Learning Environments with the VLE software adding the collaboration and assessment elements of a course?  There was also some discussion around the statistics available from repository platforms, and the resistance to expose these in case it makes repositories or particular academics look underused.  The challenges in managing data in place of, or in addition to, text based research papers were also outlined.

As for the future, the message was very much that things will continue to change and there remains scope for further experimentation.  Nancy’s personal take being that repository owners ideally need a balance of good OA and subscription journals, but the expense of the latter may not make this feasible.  Overall, the talk provided an extensive background to OA and repositories past, present and future.  This was timely as, later in the same week, Creative Commons called for further reform to copyright[2].  Slide basis of the presentation available at:

FutureLearn day one

Today might end up being a truly historic one that we look back to…or it might not.  Either way, FutureLearn caused a stir when it was announced and has created some patriotic drum beating today, the UK entering the online-HE-space ‘race’ (some would say to the bottom), perhaps not coincidentally timed a year from the Scottish referendum vote and largely ignoring the Australian component.

FutureLearn can be seen as a first step, a way to help those considering putting their bum in an actual University seat as well as, you would imagine, something that will develop into a full blown credit bearing beast at some point.  After all, Coursera’s business model was questioned but is increasingly being seen as feasible with the limited purchasing of credit bearing certificates combined with potential sale of courseware.

The issue with FutureLearn as its own credit delivery platform may be that as a consortium tool it works on the best traditions of UK HE in terms of sharing resources and many academics who are keen on the idea will no doubt be keen to make their resources available via OER repositories or elsewhere.  Conflict may come from the FutureLearn parent is looking to make money rather than be some JISC-like ‘for the good of the sector’ organisation.  The value added by what is possible via instructional elements, housed on FutureLearn, should though be the make or break of the tool.  For example, I am currently enrolled on three MOOCs, including:

–       One being run on a Moodle installation, which I’m largely ignoring as I’m picking up the videos on YouTube and that’s about all I have time for.

–       One being run on CourseSites, which I’m largely ignoring but is interesting in that the tutor has agreed licences with Pearson for value added materials you would not normally have open access to.

My point being, will the FutureLearn ‘courses’ delivered be much more than a mix of media that can be accessed elsewhere?  The instructional glue and communication elements are therefore essential.  Unlike Blackboard users transferring courses to run as MOOCs on Coursesites, by being on its own system it at least suggests that some thought will go into ‘MOOCing’ the content.

The real annoyance for many who have worked in Learning Technology is the sale in the media of MOOCs as something new.  Yes, the scale goes beyond what has been done before but otherwise these are not so revolutionary.  The networked learning that may have been attached to some of the truly open courses at the movements beginning is fast becoming mainstream, even in corporate environments.  Indeed it is noticeable the focus give to FutureLearn’s mobile compatibility in the initial press reports, i.e. this is about learning when and where you want to not necessarily how you might best learn.  In addition the MOOC detractors are picking up on issues such as how to avoid cheating in MOOCs, something which has been worked on in the online sphere both by learning and technical focused staff for some time.  There are solutions here but of course it comes back to the quality of the learning design.  What seems to be missing in many of the MOOCs I have attended is that if you really need more dialogue than a university length course can afford, should these experts rather not engage people in an ongoing community where people can continue to learn over time, influence by the latest research and not with a solitary ‘tutor’ voice?  What I would really love to see is a community of interest introduced via a MOOC, rather than universities trying to advertise their expensive offerings.

There is a good summary here that considers the importance of brand in all this and again the two MOOCs I mention above fail.  Emails the tutor sends me from Blackboard or Moodle are largely plain text, no branding, no really obvious sign where or who they have come from.  I am presuming this will be different in the three FutureLearn courses I have signed up for.  Indeed it would seem FutureLearn are ‘going alone’ in the technical regard with a recent job advert (for a Learning Technologist) on LinkedIn combining an interest in online education with substantial technical skills in analytics, programming (including Ruby on Rails) and writing to “top ranking journals” quality.  The boldness of the approach, not least from the technical side is further covered here.

Reflections on trying to map the l(earning)ms landscape

A couple of webinars, that I have attended recently, have included some commentary on approaches to tackling learning technology, including via quadrant based approaches to analyzing the Learning Management System marketplace:

1. – Ten Secrets For Selecting the Right Technology

2.     Understanding the European Learning Technologies market with the Elearnity 9-Grid™

I think mapping/quadrant approaches are a useful one for the debate and, as Elearnity pointed out, helps direct procurement decisions rather than directly making any.  Of course, as always, context is the key piece which such generic guides cannot cover.  Whilst this guide is more UK/EMA friendly than the often US-dominated landscape there still lacks a certain amount of objectivity here.  For example, an LMS to launch bits of learning is very different to one which houses full curricula and the associated social tools.  However, it’s perfectly justifiable for an organization to want different things depending on what else they have in place to support users in terms of HR systems, portals, etc. etc.  It is also difficult to fully support the idea that big corporate vendors necessarily hold potential/performance than open source solutions.  For example Moodle’s extensive plugin library means you can add in support, for example, for Tin Can or you can choose not to.  Here context comes in again, in that a corporate customer may prefer a corporate relationship whereas many Higher Education LMS users prefer an Open Source mentality.

So how might you bracket Learning Management Systems?  Well, here’s a very basic mockup of an alternative from me with ‘Potential’ (which would partly be based on track record but also future gazing where, for example, there is a big VC financial backing) vs. a ‘Course > Collaboration’ judgment on the basis of a system’s cope from launching SCORM and resources as opposed to something which could actually act as your social enterprise hub.  I would argue this offers a different paradigm to ‘performance’ which would help identify what type of system you are looking at.

Quadrant approach to LMS options, performance vs collaboration tools

Acting as such a hub might not be that ‘bleeding edge’ for many orgs but I still like to think that most people would, ideally, be looking to push the barriers of what’s possible so that’s a reasonable title to assign to it.  It might just be that their ‘bleeding edge’ learning tech is scaled back by what is already in place internally as appropriate.

I might revisit this if I go through an RFP or other process at some point…