Heading into 2021’s world of online working/learning (plus UEFA’s “Academy Online” as an example online resource)

As we hit the grim milestone of the first anniversary of the first confirmed Covid fatality the news remains full of stories about global lockdowns. These stories are currently very focused on online learning, not least in my media channels as the latest UK measures have seen schools close (again).

During this year’s restrictions, I have helped launch the first learning management system used by a global organisation (more on that here if you’re interested). What this experience has made me think about a lot is the overall ecosystem of different systems organisations will have – especially organisations that have been around a long time – that, to some extent, cover “learning” purposes.

Depending on the historic position of an organisation there are likely to be public websites, private intranets, community sites (either their own or groups on social media), staff profiles on social media, learning platforms, content management systems and many more (including email). The complexity of this landscape is, in part, why organisations have struggled with the push to online learning and working prior to 2020/21.

UEFA’s site as an example

This recently came up in one of my social media accounts. UEFA have made their online academy available to anyone. The site (https://academyonline.uefa.com/) now gives you the option of a login (from an FA or other football related account) or direct (public) access. Firstly, credit to UEFA that this is a nice approach for an organisation that has been criticised in the past with regards to transparency.

Looking at the site today, my public access gives me a searchable/filterable list of 181* “resources”. As said many times on this site before, and in part due to my libraries and information background, I have a tendency to prefer resources over some attempt at “courses”, so this is good. However, this site is a classic example of an “online academy” which is effectively just a video and PDF library.

*the real number of unique items being considerably smaller as a number of entries are duplicated for each language they are available in.

Oddly one resource on the platform is a video for UEFA PLAY. PLAY (https://play.uefa.com/login) is described as much more of a learning platform than the content management of the Academy site, for example, in including knowledge sharing forums. Yet if you access that URL you are redirected to the academy site.

So the academy as a website/platform is an interesting example – in so much as it is separate from the overall Academy learning offering that includes training courses, blended learning programmes, etc. but also shares the same branding. For those of us who have worked in education and L&D – the question therefore is: what do our learning platforms offer over an above Google footprint (in terms of positioning of learning within the public facing web of our organisations and the ecosystem of technologies we all have access to)?

Taking a look at Articulate Rise 360’s “Course templates”

If, like me, you usually use Rise to build courses from scratch, or by copying a house template course, you may never have looked at the option to build new courses from the Rise 360 “Course templates”.

What are the templates? Well as one describes itself:

  • “This template was designed to give you a head start on creating training. It contains lessons you might want to cover in a … course. It includes relevant headings, images, and writing prompts to guide you and is largely populated with placeholder text. You can easily replace this content with your own text and media.”

Last week I spent a little bit of time reviewing these templates so you don’t have to.  Here are some thoughts:

  • These are really rapid authoring taken to another level: not just are you using a simple to use tool but on topics familiar to many (customer service, cultural awareness, etc) there now predefined structures.
  • Nothing revolutionary in the design within these templates (that I can see) but it is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that any level of eLearning used to cost 100s of £/$s and from a cost perspective, if nothing else, we have come a fair way.
  • As well as having the lessons/units within the course pre-structured there is a mix of hold text (usually the Latin bumf as you would get when adding new paragraphs yourself), text prompts to add specific content and some actual content.
  • The actual predefined/recommended content includes a common trait of Rise courses (or at least something I have seen used a lot): the quote as a discussion/activity lead.
  • Annoyingly the quotes that are included are just used out of context so you have to Google who the person being quoted is, there is no hyperlinking to a source (bad practice from a learning, discoverability and copyright perspective).
  • Even when you do search for the original author you realise some odd inconsistencies in the course formats, for example, “Unconscious Bias Training” includes a couple of quotes early in the piece with one source given in the format of “first-name surname” and another “surname first-name”.
  • One criticism I would have is that they are encouraging a silo approach to the topic with the package/course not making use of hyperlinking, that said I did see one example of a link out to a HBR article so that’s not universally true.
  • Unconscious bias, and a lot of the other topics covered out-of-the-box, fall into the mandatory training type category where you suspect they would need deep customization to really mean anything to your specific audience. Therefore, it feels like these are probably encouraging the lazier organisations out there to just “tick the box” on these topics.
  • However, the flip of that argument would be that I could see these as covering the fundamentals for someone being asked to put something together at short notice. We know some of these topics do not really work as one-off knowledge pieces so they could be useful as part of wider programmes.
  • The imagery used, like much in the Rise Image Library, is all very nice and bright. Predictably it is very obviously PC in clearly trying to insinuate a diversity of representation, for example a few inclusions for “wackier” pics to suggest inclusivity (including, unfortunately, men not wearing socks – something that remains a trend I simply can not get on board with). Clearly this is better than stale, pale and male but not necessarily suitable in all circumstances and, as is often the case, would be better replaced by your own offices and teams imagery where possible.

This all said, I would be tempted to use these. For example, if I was to be asked to build something as a part of a campaign on staff development then the “Developing Your Employees” template actually covers a lot of the basics for a manager to be aware of. It is always easier to knock instructional design than build something great, this is part of the reason why the learning industry is so navel-gazing, critical of itself and self-referential. If anything I would just want to cut these down even more (but that might be the Learning Reducer in me). Fundamentally my desire to cull would be based on a lot of the suggested lessons/topics being very basic – again adjustment to your actual audience would be ideal as we also know that some audiences might find the fuller content useful.

Valid learning eXperiences

Following on from my designing “valid learning experiences” being instructional design, and vice versa, summary in the below post:

https://whoseeducationisitanyway.me/2020/05/27/8-years-on-reflecting-on-my-msc-dissertation/

It was interesting to read through Learning Pool’s eXperience white paper:

First things first, it is probably worth saying that there is a lot in this paper.

Also, it is written somewhat differently to many white papers. It is quite conversational in terms of style and that is, in part, due to the fact it has been influenced by the author’s podcast and other research, with some of the podcast commentators mentioned on the title page as sources. Leonard Houx being one of those:

So, as mentioned, there is a lot to think about in the paper. Not least discussion around the idea of event, programme or organization level experiences. Personally I am on the critic/cynic side of this thinking it is nothing new – rather that we have a long history of different types of learning event/type, taking different periods of time and at different levels of focus (individual/team/organisation). This three level approach to a typology feels lacking.

Necessary difficulties (Bjork, etc) gets a mention and is in part where I was coming from with my “tell people it is going to be hard” line of thought:

https://whoseeducationisitanyway.me/2020/08/19/more-on-the-instructional-text-tweet/

On content curation, which I have worried about as a form of redundancy cul-de-sac in the past:

https://whoseeducationisitanyway.me/2013/11/30/more-on-content-curation-for-learning/

we get a three-step checklist which is, I guess, kind of helpful:

  1. Re-use
  2. Revamp/reframe
  3. Create

All in all I feel the paper is somewhat searching for an answer to a situation not needing an answer. What courses/events/experiences will mean to a professional is more likely influenced by their industry, sector, etc. The need for agreeing a panacea for those working in learning roles feels like the learning industry and vendors seeking to push ideas/products rather than learning. For some, the idea of shifting from a face-to-face course still feels revolutionary, for others (like me) the type of resource-based learning identified in the guide is nothing new. That “resources not courses” is brought in to the argument a few times is something of a busted flush – yes, L&D focus may have been on courses in the past but resource based learning is nothing new. The combination into one platform (the Learning Pool LXP) of various types of experience feels somewhat like what has always been possible in an LMS – just with better tracking of, say, coaching outcomes thanks to xAPI.

Thus in many ways I feel more on the side of the fence with Craig Weiss, slightly oddly described as making a “slightly bad-tempered assault” (bold in the original whitepaper not mine), than that this is something particularly “new”.

What can L&D learn from gaming’s open dev approach

I have recently registered to participate in pre-alpha testing of the new Humankind historical strategy game. This is a very interesting experience with many parallels to when we (aka “learning pros”) try and get L&D and other learning products tested in advance.

Humankind makes content available to test via the Steam platform but news, community sharing and more are via https://www.games2gether.com/ – thus there is a split between delivery and communication.  In some ways this is similar to L&D’s traditional split from marketing/communications and the LMS split from ESN or other coms tools.

Of course the risk is that, particularly a new franchise like, Humankind risks putting potential users/buyers off from the final product. Personally the game looks good and certainly has some nice ideas, even if the combat systems (which seemed to be the main focus of the test so far) seems slow and difficult (to me at least).

Ultimately treating those invited to the prelaunch access as “special” is a great way that L&D can gain traction with the intended audience and develop champions within the organisation. The advantage is in gaining an audience prelaunch, positive word of mouth and more.

My top ten tools (2020)

Not sure on the last time I voted in the annual https://www.toptools4learning.com/ vote but I suspect my list this year has probably changed a bit from previous ones:

  • Google Search – Starting point for virtually any kind of learning. Increasingly the only search and retrieval tool used.
  • Podcast Addict – My personal podcast app of choice. Simple UI, good management of episodes, easy to download, delete, etc. Podcasts are one my main media sources now for entertainment, work related topics and more.
  • YouTube – Along with podcasts, a major media source, both for entertainment and formal/informal learning.
  • WordPress – Longer form personal reflection and record keeping.
  • Twitter – Shorter form reflections and serendipitous discovery.
  • Microsoft Teams – Used a lot in the past couple of years (although less currently), has quickly become essential for remote working and learning.
  • Moodle – Used in a couple of different contexts this year as a hub for learning where an LMS model still makes sense.
  • Articulate Rise – Have been using this again after a bit of a break. Can be frustrating but then you compare it to some old “eLearning” and you realise things have moved on (a bit).
  • LinkedIn – Connections, communication and serendipitous discovery.
  • Zoom – Probably the tool of 2020 in terms of increased use, replacing the omnipresence of Webex (plus Adobe Connect and some others) and making synchronous sessions easy for many.
Honourable mentions to:
  • Old Reader: I still find RSS hugely useful and this remains my go-to choice.